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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Can Philip Hammond save the Conservatives from public anger at their DUP deal?

The Chancellor has the wriggle room to get close to the DUP's spending increase – but emotion matters more than facts in politics.

The magic money tree exists, and it is growing in Northern Ireland. That’s the attack line that Labour will throw at Theresa May in the wake of her £1bn deal with the DUP to keep her party in office.

It’s worth noting that while £1bn is a big deal in terms of Northern Ireland’s budget – just a touch under £10bn in 2016/17 – as far as the total expenditure of the British government goes, it’s peanuts.

The British government spent £778bn last year – we’re talking about spending an amount of money in Northern Ireland over the course of two years that the NHS loses in pen theft over the course of one in England. To match the increase in relative terms, you’d be looking at a £35bn increase in spending.

But, of course, political arguments are about gut instinct rather than actual numbers. The perception that the streets of Antrim are being paved by gold while the public realm in England, Scotland and Wales falls into disrepair is a real danger to the Conservatives.

But the good news for them is that last year Philip Hammond tweaked his targets to give himself greater headroom in case of a Brexit shock. Now the Tories have experienced a shock of a different kind – a Corbyn shock. That shock was partly due to the Labour leader’s good campaign and May’s bad campaign, but it was also powered by anger at cuts to schools and anger among NHS workers at Jeremy Hunt’s stewardship of the NHS. Conservative MPs have already made it clear to May that the party must not go to the country again while defending cuts to school spending.

Hammond can get to slightly under that £35bn and still stick to his targets. That will mean that the DUP still get to rave about their higher-than-average increase, while avoiding another election in which cuts to schools are front-and-centre. But whether that deprives Labour of their “cuts for you, but not for them” attack line is another question entirely. 

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

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