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

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No, Jeremy Corbyn did not refuse to condemn the IRA. Please stop saying he did

Guys, seriously.

Okay, I’ll bite. Someone’s gotta say it, so really might as well be me:

No, Jeremy Corbyn did not, this weekend, refuse to condemn the IRA. And no, his choice of words was not just “and all other forms of racism” all over again.

Can’t wait to read my mentions after this one.

Let’s take the two contentions there in order. The claim that Corbyn refused to condem the IRA relates to his appearance on Sky’s Sophy Ridge on Sunday programme yesterday. (For those who haven’t had the pleasure, it’s a weekly political programme, hosted by Sophy Ridge and broadcast on a Sunday. Don’t say I never teach you anything.)

Here’s how Sky’s website reported that interview:

 

The first paragraph of that story reads:

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn has been criticised after he refused five times to directly condemn the IRA in an interview with Sky News.

The funny thing is, though, that the third paragraph of that story is this:

He said: “I condemn all the bombing by both the loyalists and the IRA.”

Apparently Jeremy Corbyn has been so widely criticised for refusing to condemn the IRA that people didn’t notice the bit where he specifically said that he condemned the IRA.

Hasn’t he done this before, though? Corbyn’s inability to say he that opposed anti-semitism without appending “and all other forms of racism” was widely – and, to my mind, rightly – criticised. These were weasel words, people argued: an attempt to deflect from a narrow subject where the hard left has often been in the wrong, to a broader one where it wasn’t.

Well, that pissed me off too: an inability to say simply “I oppose anti-semitism” made it look like he did not really think anti-semitism was that big a problem, an impression not relieved by, well, take your pick.

But no, to my mind, this....

“I condemn all the bombing by both the loyalists and the IRA.”

...is, despite its obvious structural similarities, not the same thing.

That’s because the “all other forms of racism thing” is an attempt to distract by bringing in something un-related. It implies that you can’t possibly be soft on anti-semitism if you were tough on Islamophobia or apartheid, and experience shows that simply isn’t true.

But loyalist bombing were not unrelated to IRA ones: they’re very related indeed. There really were atrocities committed on both sides of the Troubles, and while the fatalities were not numerically balanced, neither were they orders of magnitude apart.

As a result, specifically condemning both sides as Corbyn did seems like an entirely reasonable position to take. Far creepier, indeed, is to minimise one set of atrocities to score political points about something else entirely.

The point I’m making here isn’t really about Corbyn at all. Historically, his position on Northern Ireland has been pro-Republican, rather than pro-peace, and I’d be lying if I said I was entirely comfortable with that.

No, the point I’m making is about the media, and its bias against Labour. Whatever he may have said in the past, whatever may be written on his heart, yesterday morning Jeremy Corbyn condemned IRA bombings. This was the correct thing to do. His words were nonetheless reported as “Jeremy Corbyn refuses to condemn IRA”.

I mean, I don’t generally hold with blaming the mainstream media for politicians’ failures, but it’s a bit rum isn’t it?

Jonn Elledge edits the New Statesman's sister site CityMetric, and writes for the NS about subjects including politics, history and Daniel Hannan. You can find him on Twitter or Facebook.

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