Tim Farron replies to Lib Dem members’ letter: “Britain must be more liberal and free as a result of Liberal Democrats in power, not less”

Earlier this afternoon, Lib Dem Voice published An open letter to Lib Dem party president, Tim Farron: Concerns over our liberal identity and mission in government following recent suggestions the government would seek to increase the authorities’ web surveillance powers. Signed by more than 150 Lib Dem members (with many more adding their names in the comments thread) it urged the party’s ministers “to heed our call – block these illiberal proposals and lead the charge for reform of RIPA to ensure our citizens enjoy the fair, free and open society we seek to build and safeguard.”

Tim Farron has sent us this response:

Thanks very much for the letter, I will raise this directly with Nick and his team.

I think you probably know my views on this matter. As a Liberal I was extremely concerned by the press reports of new surveillance powers potentially to be included in the Queens Speech.

I also agreed very much with Julian Huppert’s article on Lib Dem Voice — there must be no question of the authorities having universal internet surveillance powers.

We are reasonable people and we should be prepared to look at what will now be draft legislation with an open mind, but we should be prepared to put our foot down and pull the plug if we consider the proposals to be illiberal. We must not as Liberal Democrats fall into a position of trying to amend, unpick or apologise for a piece of authoritarian Tory policy.

Over the last couple of years we have made some mistakes, which is OK so long as we learn from them. This is our opportunity to put those lessons into practice. Britain must be more liberal and free as a result of Liberal Democrats in power, not less. The proposals as they were first set out undoubtedly cross a red line, we’ve crossed enough of those already – no more.

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32 Comments

  • Very pleased with this response Tim. Good luck with raising this with our ministers – I wish you every success.

  • Thank you for the response Tim, it is so good to see a real Liberal Democrat voice speaking sense on these invidious proposals.

  • Great reply Tim – good to know at least one MP in the leadership is listening. You are a fab President! Keep up the good work!

  • Sam Barnett 6th Apr '12 - 6:12pm

    Excellent, prompt response. Honestly, though, we’ve been reasonable enough in letting it get this far. The logic behind this proposal runs counter to a liberal worldview, and we can’t reconcile with that.

  • If anyone sees a YouTube video of a lunatic doing an odd shuffle/hop dance in the middle of B&Q….thats me on reading this reply 🙂

  • Great quote you found there Andrew Page!

    I’m also thrilled that Tim has taken such a firm line on this – I think his response should settle a few nerves in the party.

  • Andrew Waller 6th Apr '12 - 6:27pm

    It is good to see a direct and rapid response from the party president to the activists who have expressed their sincere concerns about potential legislation which threatens to build on previous authoritarian attempts by government in the last decade. There is a reason for the Liberal Democrats to exist, and we must be seen to be fighting hard for what we believe.

  • Roger Roberts 6th Apr '12 - 6:45pm

    Thanks Tim – I know that I speak for many in the House Of Lords who are alarmed at the prospect of Liberal and Liberal Democrats appearing to accept totally illiberal proposals. We do so because we are Liberals =- not Tories or Labour. The old Liberal party constitution stated that in everything we “put freedom first”. Freedom has its risks – we know that – but the only way to avoid this would be to put us in cages or tag everyone of us ! A friend passed the comment that George Orwell’s” 1984″ is a novel not an instruction manual ! If we do not put an end to the undermining of our civil liberties we might as well admit that we have betrayed our essential values, shut up shop and
    disappear !

  • Martin Pierce 6th Apr '12 - 6:45pm

    Good, straightforward and sensible response from Tim. Look forward to seeing what happens next….

  • Cadan ap Tomos 6th Apr '12 - 6:50pm

    I know many within the party – myself included – were rather unnerved by these proposals. I’m glad to see our President is taking a firm stance against these plans. Now, don’t let us down, Tim!

  • Tim, A reasoned response.
    However, I’m concerned about,………………… “The proposals as they were first set out undoubtedly cross a red line, we’ve crossed enough of those already – no more”…………
    .I hope the ‘no more’ bit is sacrosant.Sadly, the first part reminds me of the NHS bill; that too ‘crossed a red-line’ but, somewhere along the way, the ‘red-line’ became blurred.

  • Yes, this set of proposals would “cross a red line”, but many of us also feel that going along with tabloid influenced Tory policies on the party’s approach to caring for the vulnerable in society, unjustified cuts to public services, and privatisation (not just in the NHS) was crossing quite a number of red lines. Underlying this, is also the ideological red line of appearing to agree with laissez faire free market economists, and not with a number of neo Keynesians and others who would take a radically different approach on public finance.

    I hope Tim’s letter presages a much tougher approach on all these issues.

  • I hate to point this out, but most of us believe red lines are those that will not be crossed. How will the approach to this one be any different then the ones Tim already admits crossing????

    I guess the others were just pinkish rather than red….

  • Good response from Tim. He is not alone among Lib Dem MPs. The letter is a marker for the Tories as much as for the Lib Dems.

  • I exchanged comments with Tim on Twitter, saying many would see this as a resignation issue. I wasn’t just referring to members – I think many of us would struggle to support a leadership or parliamentarians who took an illiberal stance over this issue.

    The Home Office will always want the most powers it can get, and use protection against terror (or other heinous crime) as the excuse. The reason we have elected representatives at all is to temper such demands. “But Minister, thousands might die” is a potent argument. It must be resisted by acknowledging that the state cannot protect us against every threat all of the time, and that the risk must be weighed against the cost. Extremists have won if we remove our liberties from ourselves, as New Labour did repeatedly post 9/11.

  • Tom Southern 7th Apr '12 - 9:44am

    “We must not as Liberal Democrats fall into a position of trying to amend, unpick or apologise for a piece of authoritarian Tory policy”

    Alas, where was this spirit two years ago when the party leadership so comprehensively lost the student vote for the next few elections, or last year with the NHS bill? We should not be in a position that we have to apologise for any Tory legislation, yet here we are…

  • Stuart Mitchell 7th Apr '12 - 12:23pm

    “we should be prepared to put our foot down and pull the plug…”

    Problem: If Lib Dems show that they are able to “pull the plug” on this one, then voters will be entitled to ask why they spent the last two years claiming they didn’t have the power to pull the plug on all those other Tory schemes they voted for. The “it wasn’t us, Gov” defence will no longer work.

  • Stuart Mitchell: this is the “have you stopped beating your wife” attack. Not very clever – you imply you would prefer us to allow Tories free reign, because then you get to attack Lib Dems and Tories at once.

    What you are watching is a watershed moment. The rank and file have shouted “stop”, and the party leadership will have to listen. This also happened over the NHS but too late. To quote The Who, we won’t get fooled again.

  • Given the proximity of this to the elections, when the party will be looking for members to be unpaid posties again, am inclined to feel this is too little too late. Talk to me again when instinctive liberalism is in vogue again.

  • Bill Miller 7th Apr '12 - 9:41pm

    Tim’s response keeps me in the party for the time being. Thank you. This is an issue too far … by far. There is a difference between unpalatable concessions and illiberal ones. This one would be illiberal.

  • Jayne Mansfield 7th Apr '12 - 10:25pm

    The LIberal Democrat Party have crossed so many red lines. Why not this one?

    As far as I am concerned, a red line is something that should not be crossed. I suppose that if I did cross one of my personal red lines, the first time would be hardest. After that, blurring the red line on other issues would probably become easier.

  • David Allen 7th Apr '12 - 11:15pm

    “Problem: If Lib Dems show that they are able to “pull the plug” on this one, then voters will be entitled to ask why they spent the last two years claiming they didn’t have the power to pull the plug on all those other Tory schemes they voted for. ”

    Fair point.. The answer should be that we have at last learned to stand up for ourselves, and that this will just be the first of many schemes we must pull the plug on.

    “What you are watching is a watershed moment. …the party leadership will have to listen. … To quote The Who, we won’t get fooled again.”

    You’d better be right, Growler.

  • David Allen: If I am wrong, I will have a tough choice to face. Walk away or fight to save this party from the illiberal.

  • David Allen 8th Apr '12 - 12:15am

    Growler: I suspect both of us have already made a tough choice. We’re still here. We can’t just abandon our party to the Tories. Now we face the next tough choice. How will we fight back?

  • I’m heartened if surprised by the reaction to these proposals. Surprised because with the Coalitions’s entrenchment of control orders and effective retaining of 28 days detention I didn’t get the impression there were any Lib Dem red lines on civil liberties. There will need to be sustained pressure on the Coalition to ensure we don’t end up even less free in 2015 than we were in 2010. Despite the ‘Englishman’s home is his castle’ strain of liberalism represented by people like David Davis the Tory party is instinctively and essentially an authoritarian party and is likely to press ahead with more authoritarian legislation the longer they are in power.

  • YouHaveNoIdea. 8th Apr '12 - 9:29am

    Sounds like another ‘we will look at the policy’ excuse then once more you will claim you have made enough changes to make it ‘safe’, ‘workable’, ‘acceptable’ and ‘fair’. As the recent NHS risk assessment judgement makes clear you did with the NHS.

  • Count me in on this particular red line. It simply must be stopped.

    However in no way do I see that this means re-looking at all decisions made by the coalition government which involve discomfort on our part. Compromise and give and take are still crucial to this enterprise and that will not change during its lifetime. It’s just that there are red lines. This is one of them.

  • David Allen: from the reports of the conference call on this issue, followed by Tim Farron’s here and on the Marr show this morning, I am confident that the party leadership have heard the message loud and clear. I think it would be a foolishly brave whip who sought to force our MPs into a lobby in favour of illiberal proposals, and a leadership far more foolish than ours who would instruct them to do so.

    Tim is clearly articulating the feelings of most Lib Dems over this and many other issues. Whilst Nick and Danny will dominate 2015, I doubt they will survive to 2020. Tim will.

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