UK Politics

Saturday Diary: A Chance for Nick Clegg to Put His Foot Down

7 Apr 2012 at 18:55

  • The government has got itself into yet another unholy tangle this week over secret courts and surveillance powers. I have never quite understood why it is that when opposition politicians get into power, they almost immediately become authoritarian and fans of increasing government powers. Take David Blunkett. When he was a left of centre firebrand in the 1980s and an opposition Labour MP in the 1990s he was a devout defender of civil liberties. And yet he went on to become the most authoritarian Home Secretary in living memory. In opposition David Cameron firmly opposed Labour’s proposals on pre trial detension for Terror suspects. He opposed Jacqui Smith’s plans to create a giant database containing details of every phone call we make, every text message we send, every website we visit and every email we send. And yet this week he made clear he intends to introduce a virtually identical scheme. All in the interests of national security, naturally. I am sure the Police and the security services have put up many arguments for increasing their powers, but it is the job of politicians to resist them, not meekly accept everything they ever say. I am fully in favour of surveillance by whatever means of terror suspects, But I will never accept that the State has a right to know who I am texting, which websites I visit or who I call. It is frankly nobody’s business but mine. The government’s plans mean that they will have all this information, although to be fair there would need to be a warrant issued to access the content. If this legislation were introduced in a country like China or Iran we would be the first to denounce it, as a limit of the freedom of the individual.

For Nick Clegg, this offers him a unique chance to put his foot down. If the Liberal Democrats can’t resist this sort of authoritarian legislation you have to ask what on earth they are there for. As a Conservative civil libertarian I could not possibly vote for these proposals. I wonder if Liberal Democrat MPs will have the courage of their convictions and not just say the same, but vote against it. If they don’t they will have lost any semblance of credibility that they still have

  • Ken Livingstone may have lost the London mayoral election this week. His contortions on tax have lost him the support of many of his own party workers. Several Labour activists have said to me they cannot bring themselves to campaign for a man they regard as a tax dodger. Having challenged Boris Johnson and the other candidates to release their tax returns he has failed to do the same himself. Livingstone relied on his control of the London Labour machine to get selected again as Labour’s mayoral candidate and he has relied on his cheeky chappy image to court popularity with the electorate. But if he is to overcome this latest blast of adverse publicity he’ll need more than that. Labour Party officials are tearing their hair out – or going on holiday. It was revealed this week that Labour’s general secretary, Iain McNicholl, is taking a two week skiing holiday slap bang in the middle of the local election campaign. Labour staffers are in uproar. All this is hugely relevant, because if Labour loses in the mayoral election and does badly in the local elections, there could be dire consequences for Labour leader Ed Miliband. Unlike the Tories, Labour is never good at stabbing their leaders in the front, but this time may be different.
  • This week I received my author copies of my new history of Norwich City. Any authors among you will know that feel of excitement when you see your book for the first time. It’s not quite akin to giving birth, but you know what I mean. The book NORWICH CITY: WHEN FOOTBALL WAS FOOTBALL is an illustrated history of the club from its formation right through until the UEFA Cup run in the mid 1990s. You’ll be reading more about it in the EDP in the next fortnight, and Canaries supporter Ed Balls will be reviewing it. And I will be signing copies in Jarrold’s in Norwich on 12 May, the day before City’s last game of the season.
  • On my LBC show on Thursday night I covered the issue of carers and why we, as society, don’t seem to value them in the way we should. There are six million of us who care for loved ones and yet for many people, they feel utterly isolated and on their own. Some are too proud to ask for help. Some don’t even know there is help available. The voluntary sector does a fantastic job in helping provide respite care. I well remember the superb work done by BREAK which I saw first hand when I fought the North Norfolk seat. I talked to a lady on the programme last night whose husband was diagnosed with a brain tumour only six months after they had met. She has spent the last nine years as a full time carer. She doesn’t regret a single moment, and yet she only gets about three hours a week of “me time”. Could any of us honestly say we could cope with such a life. But she’s driven by love for her husband, all the time knowing that their lives will never be what they had once both hoped for. Carers are the unsung heroes of our society and we should all do more to acknowledge that.
  • This article appears in today’s Eastern Daily Press.

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