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

Getty Images.
Show Hide image

Voters are turning against Brexit but the Lib Dems aren't benefiting

Labour's pro-Brexit stance is not preventing it from winning the support of Remainers. Will that change?

More than a year after the UK voted for Brexit, there has been little sign of buyer's remorse. The public, including around a third of Remainers, are largely of the view that the government should "get on with it".

But as real wages are squeezed (owing to the Brexit-linked inflationary spike) there are tentative signs that the mood is changing. In the event of a second referendum, an Opinium/Observer poll found, 47 per cent would vote Remain, compared to 44 per cent for Leave. Support for a repeat vote is also increasing. Forty one per cent of the public now favour a second referendum (with 48 per cent opposed), compared to 33 per cent last December. 

The Liberal Democrats have made halting Brexit their raison d'être. But as public opinion turns, there is no sign they are benefiting. Since the election, Vince Cable's party has yet to exceed single figures in the polls, scoring a lowly 6 per cent in the Opinium survey (down from 7.4 per cent at the election). 

What accounts for this disparity? After their near-extinction in 2015, the Lib Dems remain either toxic or irrelevant to many voters. Labour, by contrast, despite its pro-Brexit stance, has hoovered up Remainers (55 per cent back Jeremy Corbyn's party). 

In some cases, this reflects voters' other priorities. Remainers are prepared to support Labour on account of the party's stances on austerity, housing and education. Corbyn, meanwhile, is a eurosceptic whose internationalism and pro-migration reputation endear him to EU supporters. Other Remainers rewarded Labour MPs who voted against Article 50, rebelling against the leadership's stance. 

But the trend also partly reflects ignorance. By saying little on the subject of Brexit, Corbyn and Labour allowed Remainers to assume the best. Though there is little evidence that voters will abandon Corbyn over his EU stance, the potential exists.

For this reason, the proposal of a new party will continue to recur. By challenging Labour over Brexit, without the toxicity of Lib Dems, it would sharpen the choice before voters. Though it would not win an election, a new party could force Corbyn to soften his stance on Brexit or to offer a second referendum (mirroring Ukip's effect on the Conservatives).

The greatest problem for the project is that it lacks support where it counts: among MPs. For reasons of tribalism and strategy, there is no emergent "Gang of Four" ready to helm a new party. In the absence of a new convulsion, the UK may turn against Brexit without the anti-Brexiteers benefiting. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.