The new dawn of control orders-lite

The cynics were right. Control orders were repackaged and rebranded and it worked: the Lib Dems cave

Those of us of a cynical bent were, as usual, proved right. Control orders haven't been scrapped or "replaced" -- they have been rebranded, rebadged and repackaged. Officially, they're now called "Terrorism Prevention and Investigation Measures" but I agree with those who call them "control orders-lite".

Alex Deane of Big Brother Watch, who once worked as chief of staff to a younger David Cameron, has sent me his eloquent and erudite response and it is worth quoting in full:

Certainly, they have been watered down and renamed. But, while any dilution of these oppressive and unjustifiable orders is to be welcomed, their continuation is completely wrong. The orders, now replaced with "Terrorism Prevention and Investigation Measures", or -- and this just trips off the tongue -- "Tpims", are control orders with a cosmetic makeover. Yvette Cooper is right. What's been announced today is not the much-heralded (and promised) end of control orders -- rather, the government has simply modified control orders -- meet the new boss, same as the old boss.

Control orders were introduced when the courts stopped the government of the day imprisoning suspected foreign terrorists who could not be deported. That was the explicit justification for them given to parliament. But, today, all the "controlees" are British. So what's the justification for them now?

The current 16-hour curfews will be replaced by an "overnight residence requirement", typically of between eight and ten hours. And the new powers will be limited to two years and will only be renewed "if there is new evidence that they have re-engaged in terrorism-related activities", which -- depending on what will be considered to be "new evidence" -- is welcome.

But, in many ways, the new orders are worse than [what we have] at present. These powers will no longer need to be reviewed every year -- plainly restrictions against those labelled terrorists without any sight of the evidence against them are now permanent. Furthermore, the "overnight stays", which might sound like a nice school trip but aren't, will be monitored using electronic tags. And the rest of the package of unpleasantness is still at hand if the powers at be want to wield them: curfews and further restrictions on communications, association and movement could all be brought in as part of "exceptional emergency measures", the Home Office said.

The injustice remains. The violation of the presumption of innocence remains. No matter how serious a judge claims things to be or how gravely he shakes his head, no assurance from a judicial source should be regarded as an acceptable substitute for a proper trial process. A judge is no substitute for a jury. It is simply never acceptable for the word of a servant of the state to be enough to lock you up -- no matter how senior or supposedly well-informed he may be. There has to be an external, verifiable, testable validation process that stands between the state accusing you and incarcerating you. In this country, we have established an excellent system of doing that: it's called a trial.

So, nobody will be fooled by this childish slight of hand -- except, perhaps, the Lib Dems, because none are so blind as those who will not see -- they can now pretend that they haven't broken their manifesto commitment.

But, of course, they have. Again. And, this time, they can't blame the deficit or the financial crisis or Greece or whatever else they've blamed in the past. The 2010 Lib Dem manifesto is clear. On page 94, it says:

We believe that the best way to combat terrorism is to prosecute terrorists, not give away hard-won British freedoms. That is why we will:

- Reach out to the communities most at risk of radicalisation to improve
the relationships between them and the police and increase the fl ow
of intelligence.
- Scrap control orders, which can use secret evidence to place people
under house arrest.

As I asked, in a Guardian piece last month: "The question the Liberal Democrats have to ask themselves is this: if they are not for liberty, then what are they for?"

 

Mehdi Hasan is a contributing writer for the New Statesman and the co-author of Ed: The Milibands and the Making of a Labour Leader. He was the New Statesman's senior editor (politics) from 2009-12.

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After Richmond Park, Labour MPs are haunted by a familiar ghost

Labour MPs in big cities fear the Liberal Democrats, while in the north, they fear Ukip. 

The Liberal Democrats’ victory in Richmond Park has Conservatives nervous, and rightly so. Not only did Sarah Olney take the votes of soft Conservatives who backed a Remain vote on 23 June, she also benefited from tactical voting from Labour voters.

Although Richmond Park is the fifth most pro-Remain constituency won by a Conservative at the 2015 election, the more significant number – for the Liberal Democrats at least – is 15: that’s the number of Tory-held seats they could win if they reduced the Labour vote by the same amount they managed in Richmond Park.

The Tories have two Brexit headaches, electorally speaking. The first is the direct loss of voters who backed David Cameron in 2015 and a Remain vote in 2016 to the Liberal Democrats. The second is that Brexit appears to have made Liberal Democrat candidates palatable to Labour voters who backed the party as the anti-Conservative option in seats where Labour is generally weak from 1992 to 2010, but stayed at home or voted Labour in 2015.

Although local council by-elections are not as dramatic as parliamentary ones, they offer clues as to how national elections may play out, and it’s worth noting that Richmond Park wasn’t the only place where the Liberal Democrats saw a dramatic surge in the party’s fortunes. They also made a dramatic gain in Chichester, which voted to leave.

(That’s the other factor to remember in the “Leave/Remain” divide. In Liberal-Conservative battlegrounds where the majority of voters opted to leave, the third-placed Labour and Green vote tends to be heavily pro-Remain.)

But it’s not just Conservatives with the Liberal Democrats in second who have cause to be nervous.  Labour MPs outside of England's big cities have long been nervous that Ukip will do to them what the SNP did to their Scottish colleagues in 2015. That Ukip is now in second place in many seats that Labour once considered safe only adds to the sense of unease.

In a lot of seats, the closeness of Ukip is overstated. As one MP, who has the Conservatives in second place observed, “All that’s happened is you used to have five or six no-hopers, and all of that vote has gone to Ukip, so colleagues are nervous”. That’s true, to an extent. But it’s worth noting that the same thing could be said for the Liberal Democrats in Conservative seats in 1992. All they had done was to coagulate most of the “anyone but the Conservative” vote under their banner. In 1997, they took Conservative votes – and with it, picked up 28 formerly Tory seats.

Also nervous are the party’s London MPs, albeit for different reasons. They fear that Remain voters will desert them for the Liberal Democrats. (It’s worth noting that Catherine West, who sits for the most pro-Remain seat in the country, has already told constituents that she will vote against Article 50, as has David Lammy, another North London MP.)

A particular cause for alarm is that most of the party’s high command – Jeremy Corbyn, Emily Thornberry, Diane Abbott, and Keir Starmer – all sit for seats that were heavily pro-Remain. Thornberry, in particular, has the particularly dangerous combination of a seat that voted Remain in June but has flirted with the Liberal Democrats in the past, with the shadow foreign secretary finishing just 484 votes ahead of Bridget Fox, the Liberal Democrat candidate, in 2005.

Are they right to be worried? That the referendum allowed the Liberal Democrats to reconfigure the politics of Richmond Park adds credence to a YouGov poll that showed a pro-Brexit Labour party finishing third behind a pro-second referendum Liberal Democrat party, should Labour go into the next election backing Brexit and the Liberal Democrats opt to oppose it.

The difficulty for Labour is the calculation for the Liberal Democrats is easy. They are an unabashedly pro-European party, from their activists to their MPs, and the 22 per cent of voters who back a referendum re-run are a significantly larger group than the eight per cent of the vote that Nick Clegg’s Liberal Democrats got in 2015.

The calculus is more fraught for Labour. In terms of the straight Conservative battle, their best hope is to put the referendum question to bed and focus on issues which don’t divide their coalition in two, as immigration does. But for separate reasons, neither Ukip nor the Liberal Democrats will be keen to let them.

At every point, the referendum question poses difficulties for Labour. Even when neither Ukip nor the Liberal Democrats take seats from them directly, they can hurt them badly, allowing the Conservatives to come through the middle.

The big problem is that the stance that makes sense in terms of maintaining party unity is to try to run on a ticket of moving past the referendum and focussing on the party’s core issues of social justice, better public services and redistribution.

But the trouble with that approach is that it’s alarmingly similar to the one favoured by Kezia Dugdale and Scottish Labour in 2016, who tried to make the election about public services, not the constitution. They came third, behind a Conservative party that ran on an explicitly pro-Union platform. The possibility of an English sequel should not be ruled out.  

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to British politics.