Clegg must speak up against web snooping

It is Clegg, not David Davis, who should be leading the liberal charge.

What should be giving the Lib Dem leadership pause for thought today is how the grassroots of the party found it all too easy to believe that reports of the new internet snooping legislation were 100 per cent accurate.

How have we come to the point when a report of a potential assault on our civil liberties is greeted by howls of anguish from party members who automatically presume that some back room deal has been done by "the quad. We steel ourselves for the speeches "positioning" the change as a "careful balancing act" between protecting civil liberties and "the safety of the nation". We await reports of the off-the-record briefing reminding everyone that even unanimous motions passed at conference are not binding on a government in power.

It's not helped that while David Davis leads the liberal charge, we get the odd blog post reminding everyone that it's not yet clear exactly what is being proposed. There should be a Lib Dem leader out there intoning the words of the coalition agreement:

"We will implement a full programme of measures to reverse the substantial erosion of civil liberties and state intrusion".

Nothing less will do. And don't give me any of the "we don't comment on rumours'"nonsense. Two years ago, Nick was willing to go to jail to defend civil liberties. What's wrong with saying that again? Today?

There is, it seems, an increasing gulf between the party members and the leadership. First on tuition fees, then the NHS, now this. Even if these rumours are nonsense and the reports hopelessly inaccurate, the fact that Lib Dem members all over the country assumed it to be true speaks volumes for how distant the leadership seems from the grass roots.

The Lib Dem members of the government need to reconnect with the base of the party. We need to know that every word of the motion on civil liberties passed by conference just three weeks ago will be followed.

Currently, the silence is deafening.

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

There is an increasing gulf between Lib Dem members and the party leadership. Photograph: Getty Images.

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

Photo: Getty
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Who will win the Copeland by-election?

Labour face a tricky task in holding onto the seat. 

What’s the Copeland by-election about? That’s the question that will decide who wins it.

The Conservatives want it to be about the nuclear industry, which is the seat’s biggest employer, and Jeremy Corbyn’s long history of opposition to nuclear power.

Labour want it to be about the difficulties of the NHS in Cumbria in general and the future of West Cumberland Hospital in particular.

Who’s winning? Neither party is confident of victory but both sides think it will be close. That Theresa May has visited is a sign of the confidence in Conservative headquarters that, win or lose, Labour will not increase its majority from the six-point lead it held over the Conservatives in May 2015. (It’s always more instructive to talk about vote share rather than raw numbers, in by-elections in particular.)

But her visit may have been counterproductive. Yes, she is the most popular politician in Britain according to all the polls, but in visiting she has added fuel to the fire of Labour’s message that the Conservatives are keeping an anxious eye on the outcome.

Labour strategists feared that “the oxygen” would come out of the campaign if May used her visit to offer a guarantee about West Cumberland Hospital. Instead, she refused to answer, merely hyping up the issue further.

The party is nervous that opposition to Corbyn is going to supress turnout among their voters, but on the Conservative side, there is considerable irritation that May’s visit has made their task harder, too.

Voters know the difference between a by-election and a general election and my hunch is that people will get they can have a free hit on the health question without risking the future of the nuclear factory. That Corbyn has U-Turned on nuclear power only helps.

I said last week that if I knew what the local paper would look like between now and then I would be able to call the outcome. Today the West Cumbria News & Star leads with Downing Street’s refusal to answer questions about West Cumberland Hospital. All the signs favour Labour. 

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