Labour as the party of civil liberties? We won't be fooled that easily

It is the Liberal Democrats that have secured the return of the freedoms curtailed by Labour.

Oh Sadiq. How could you?

Over here in the Lib Dems we’re used to you, ahem, 'borrowing' our policies. So now Labour is in favour of a mansion tax, a 2030 decarbonisation target, a reduction in the voting age to 16 and the removal of Winter Fuel Payments from the wealthiest 5% of pensioners? All this seems terribly familiar stuff. Because they’re policies and proposals championed by the Lib Dems.

And you’re probably cursing the fact you didn't make a promise of free school meals as well. Although I’m reminded of my favourite Oscar Wilde anecdote; hearing a friend utter a fabulous witticism, Wilde whispered to his companion, "I wish I had said that". "Oh don’t worry Oscar", replied the friend – "I’m sure you will…"

Surely, imitation is surely the sincerest form of flattery.

But now, Sadiq, you’ve gone too far by claiming Labour, and not the Liberal Democrats, is the champion of civil liberties. How quickly you must think we forget. Let’s review what the Convention of Modern Liberty said about civil liberties in its review of Labour from 1997-2009:

- 60 new powers introduced across 25 Acts of Parliament breaking pledges in the Human Rights Act and Magna Carta, all to reduce civil rights.

- 28-day detention without charge (And I seem to recall you wanted 90 days – 90!)

- Stop and search at airports without reason

- Control Orders

And what was the other thing you wanted to do? Oh, that’s right – introduce National Identity Cards. Words fail me.

Compare that to the Lib Dems in government. An end to child detention in immigration cases. The blocking of the Snooper's Charter. Ending the storing of DNA of innocent people. Reform of the libel laws.

Labour could have done any of this. But you didn’t. And even on our one Achilles' heel, secret courts, the grassroots in the Lib Dems have done their job – and the leadership have accepted their mistake. Only this week, conference rejected proposals for technologically impractical internet filters. What’s Labour’s policy on this? I don’t think you have one. Presumably you’re waiting for us to decide ours first so you can pinch it.

The Labour Party is many things. But claiming to be the party of civil rights? Now, that is a taking a liberty.

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

 

Shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper speaks at the Labour conference in Liverpool in 2011. Photograph: Getty Images.

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

How Jim Murphy's mistake cost Labour - and helped make Ruth Davidson

Scottish Labour's former leader's great mistake was to run away from Labour's Scottish referendum, not on it.

The strange revival of Conservative Scotland? Another poll from north of the border, this time from the Times and YouGov, shows the Tories experiencing a revival in Scotland, up to 28 per cent of the vote, enough to net seven extra seats from the SNP.

Adding to the Nationalists’ misery, according to the same poll, they would lose East Dunbartonshire to the Liberal Democrats, reducing their strength in the Commons to a still-formidable 47 seats.

It could be worse than the polls suggest, however. In the elections to the Scottish Parliament last year, parties which backed a No vote in the referendum did better in the first-past-the-post seats than the polls would have suggested – thanks to tactical voting by No voters, who backed whichever party had the best chance of beating the SNP.

The strategic insight of Ruth Davidson, the Conservative leader in Scotland, was to to recast her party as the loudest defender of the Union between Scotland and the rest of the United Kingdom. She has absorbed large chunks of that vote from the Liberal Democrats and Labour, but, paradoxically, at the Holyrood elections at least, the “Unionist coalition” she assembled helped those parties even though it cost the vote share.

The big thing to watch is not just where the parties of the Union make gains, but where they successfully form strong second-places against whoever the strongest pro-Union party is.

Davidson’s popularity and eye for a good photo opportunity – which came first is an interesting question – mean that the natural benefactor in most places will likely be the Tories.

But it could have been very different. The first politician to hit successfully upon the “last defender of the Union” routine was Ian Murray, the last Labour MP in Scotland, who squeezed both the  Liberal Democrat and Conservative vote in his seat of Edinburgh South.

His then-leader in Scotland, Jim Murphy, had a different idea. He fought the election in 2015 to the SNP’s left, with the slogan of “Whether you’re Yes, or No, the Tories have got to go”.  There were a couple of problems with that approach, as one  former staffer put it: “Firstly, the SNP weren’t going to put the Tories in, and everyone knew it. Secondly, no-one but us wanted to move on [from the referendum]”.

Then again under different leadership, this time under Kezia Dugdale, Scottish Labour once again fought a campaign explicitly to the left of the SNP, promising to increase taxation to blunt cuts devolved from Westminster, and an agnostic position on the referendum. Dugdale said she’d be open to voting to leave the United Kingdom if Britain left the European Union. Senior Scottish Labour figures flirted with the idea that the party might be neutral in a forthcoming election. Once again, the party tried to move on – but no-one else wanted to move on.

How different things might be if instead of running away from their referendum campaign, Jim Murphy had run towards it in 2015. 

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

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