Qatada's deportation won't end Cameron's headache

The Lib Dems will frustrate Cameron's efforts to reform human rights law.

It was with cheers that Conservative MPs greeted Theresa May's announcement that Abu Qatada has been arrested and will be deported to Jordan at the end of the month. Having decided not to contest the European Court of Human Rights ruling blocking Qatada's deportation, the government has received "assurances" from Jordan that evidence obtained by torture will not be used against him.  After nine years, it looks as if the man who allegedly acted as the intellectual inspiration for 9/11 hijacker Mohammed Atta and other terrorists is on his way home.

But ministers are keenly aware that the Tory backbenches won't be satisfied for long. In her statement to the Commons, May pointedly referred to the need for "a British Bill of Rights". As things stand, for instance, the government is unlikely to win its appeal against the ECHR's ruling in favour of prisoners' votes and it may struggle to deport other extremist preachers. But as long as the Tories remain in coalition with the Lib Dems, it's hard to see any progress being made towards a British bill. The government commission examining the proposal is dominated by supporters of the ECHR (one Conservative appointee, Michael Pinto-Duschinsky, resigned in protest) and Clegg is determined not to see the Human Rights Act undermined. As he declared in his speech to last year's Lib Dem conference:

The European Convention on Human Rights and the Human Rights Act are not, as some would have you believe, foreign impositions. These are British rights, drafted by British lawyers. Forged in the aftermath of the atrocities of the Second World War. Fought for by Winston Churchill. So let me say something really clear about the Human Rights Act. In fact I’ll do it in words of one syllable: It is here to stay.

Cameron's recent statement that the Tories "would be going quite a bit faster, in fact, quite a lot faster" if they weren't in coalition was an admission that the Lib Dems are winning this political tug-of-war.

Jordanian preacher Abu Qatada was arrested on Tuesday morning by officers from the UK Border Agency. Photograph: Rex Features.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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How the Lib Dems learned to love all-women shortlists

Yes, the sitting Lib Dem MPs are mostly white, middle-aged middle class men. But the party's not taking any chances. 

I can’t tell you who’ll be the Lib Dem candidate in Southport on 8 June, but I do know one thing about them. As they’re replacing a sitting Lib Dem (John Pugh is retiring) - they’ll be female.

The same is true in many of our top 20 target seats, including places like Lewes (Kelly-Marie Blundell), Yeovil (Daisy Benson), Thornbury and Yate (Clare Young), and Sutton and Cheam (Amna Ahmad). There was air punching in Lib Dem offices all over the country on Tuesday when it was announced Jo Swinson was standing again in East Dunbartonshire.

And while every current Lib Dem constituency MP will get showered with love and attention in the campaign, one will get rather more attention than most - it’s no coincidence that Tim Farron’s first stop of the campaign was in Richmond Park, standing side by side with Sarah Olney.

How so?

Because the party membership took a long look at itself after the 2015 election - and a rather longer look at the eight white, middle-aged middle class men (sorry chaps) who now formed the Parliamentary party and said - "we’ve really got to sort this out".

And so after decades of prevarication, we put a policy in place to deliberately increase the diversity of candidates.

Quietly, over the last two years, the Liberal Democrats have been putting candidates into place in key target constituencies . There were more than 300 in total before this week’s general election call, and many of them have been there for a year or more. And they’ve been selected under new procedures adopted at Lib Dem Spring Conference in 2016, designed to deliberately promote the diversity of candidates in winnable seats

This includes mandating all-women shortlists when selecting candidates who are replacing sitting MPs, similar rules in our strongest electoral regions. In our top 10 per cent of constituencies, there is a requirement that at least two candidates are shortlisted from underrepresented groups on every list. We became the first party to reserve spaces on the shortlists of winnable seats for underrepresented candidates including women, BAME, LGBT+ and disabled candidates

It’s not going to be perfect - the hugely welcome return of Lib Dem grandees like Vince Cable, Ed Davey and Julian Huppert to their old stomping grounds will strengthen the party but not our gender imbalance. But excluding those former MPs coming back to the fray, every top 20 target constituency bar one has to date selected a female candidate.

Equality (together with liberty and community) is one of the three key values framed in the preamble to the Lib Dem constitution. It’s a relief that after this election, the Liberal Democratic party in the Commons will reflect that aspiration rather better than it has done in the past.

Richard Morris blogs at A View From Ham Common, which was named Best New Blog at the 2011 Lib Dem Conference

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