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30 June 2008

Greens: We’re civil liberties party

Just which party is the standard bearer for civil liberties? Well Adrian Ramsay says it is the Green

By Adrian Ramsay

Was David Davis right to resign and precipitate a by-election over the erosion of civil liberties? That is a question that could be debated for months, but now that the by-election is in process, the important issue is whether David Davis and the Conservatives can really claim to be the standard-bearers for civil liberties. There are 26 candidates standing in the by-election. If voters are to give a clear signal to the government on civil liberties, then all candidates should be clear and honest about their policies.

It is the Green Party that has strong policies on civil liberties that are consistently followed by our elected representatives. Therefore, I hope the New Statesman will back Green Party Candidate Shan Oakes in this by-election.

As the New Statesman has rightly pointed out, David Davis’s credentials on civil liberties are dubious in the extreme. Was David Davis upholding civil liberties when he argued in favour of the death penalty?

Where was his concern for civil liberties when he voted against equalising the age of consent for hetero- and homosexual couples, or when he vigorously defended the notorious Section 28 of the Local Government Act which prevented the teaching in schools that homosexual relationships are as valid as any other?

It is for these reasons that Peter Tatchell, one of the country’s foremost human rights campaigners, is an active member of the Green Party, not the Conservatives.

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David Davis was right to take a strong stance over the extension of detention without trial to 42 days. However, his claim to uphold civil liberties is somewhat diminished by his whole-hearted support for the introduction of 28 days detention without trial. Liberty and other human rights campaign groups have rightly argued that no-one should be held for more than one week without being told the charge against them. 28 days is already the longest period of detention without trial in any western state. As Liberty has pointed out, there are far more effective measures that could be introduced to tackle terrorism – such as enabling phone tap evidence to be used in court and making it illegal for individuals to refuse to hand over passwords and encryption codes for computers.

An even more systemised form of intrusion is the proposal for ID cards, and in particular the information database that sits behind them. David Davis is now voicing opposition to the scheme, but in 2004 he voted in favour of a national ID scheme.

Again it is the Green Party that has provided consistent political opposition to ID cards: we have endorsed the NO2ID campaign (something David Davis and the Conservative Party have conspicuously failed to do). In Charles Clarke’s constituency of Norwich South (where the Green Party is the main opposition party to Labour) we strongly campaigned against Clarke’s authoritarian proposals as Home Secretary – including his attempts to bring in 90 days’ detention without charge.

Green Party MEP Jean Lambert has stood up against the use of biometric data for border management in Europe. As she has stated: “The collection of much more detailed private information from citizens is being proposed without any real justification. There is no evidence to suggest that more pervasive data collection will offer any greater degree of security or be effective in tackling trafficking of people.” This lack of evidence is typical of the Labour Government’s approach to security matters.

The Green Party has consistently campaigned against ID cards, against human rights abuses at Guantanamo Bay, against weeks of detention without trial and in defence the Human Rights Act. Furthermore, unlike David Davis, the Green Party’s strong stance on civil liberties is not contradicted by dubious disregard for the rights of homosexual couples or by support for capital punishment.

The New Statesman leader column on 19th June called for a candidate to stand against Davis who would “make the genuinely liberal argument against 42 days, putting up a robust defence of the universal human rights that Davis does not support… Such a candidate would receive the full backing of the New Statesman.”

Shan Oakes is that candidate. I hope that the New Statesman will back her and I urge voters in Haltemprice and Howden to vote Green on 10th July – to help protect civil liberties.

Adrian Ramsay is the Leader of the Opposition on Norwich City Council, where the Green Party holds 13 seats. He is also the Green Party’s Parliamentary Candidate for Norwich South

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