Labour attacks civil liberties lobby


8:14 am - June 20th 2008

by Alix Mortimer    


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I do wish terribly, terribly unpopular politicians wouldn’t try to flimsily badmouth their opponents. The snidily nervous smile, will-this-work, will-they-love-me-again? No. Stop pissing over your own doorstep. You are embarrassing me.

Still, the cringeworthy moment in this case has at least resulted in some incidental publicity for the campaign against 42 days’ detention without charge. Shami Chakrabarti’s threat to sue culture minister Andy Burnham unless he apologises for his allegedly defamatory remarks about her recent interactions with David Davis is thetop story on the Guardian politics page.

Can’t argue with that. For those who have been living under a rock for the last twelve hours, this is what Burnham said to Progress magazine:

To people who get seduced by Tory talk of how liberal they are, I find something very curious in the man who was, and still is I believe, an exponent of capital punishment having late-night, hand-wringing, heart-melting phone calls with Shami Chakrabarti.

Shami’s responding letter, gleefully described by the Mail’s Benedict Brogan as a “belter” says:

I am writing in relation to your recent article in the ironically titled “Progress” magazine. In that article you set out to smear my dealings with the former Shadow Home Secretary. I must say that I find this behaviour curious, coming as it does from a Cabinet Minister; let alone someone with a partner and family of his own.

By your comments you debase not only a great office of State but the vital debate about fundamental rights and freedoms in this country. Indeed you seem reluctant to engage in that debate except in this tawdry fashion.

I look forward to your written apology as I’m sure does Mrs Davis. If on the other hand you choose to continue down the path of innuendo and attempted character assassination, you will find that the privileged legal protection of the parliament chamber does not extend to slurs made in the wider public domain. The fruits of any legal action will of course go to Liberty (the National Council for Civil Liberties).

It’s both good politics and good ideology, what she’s done. On the one hand, this increasingly depressing government deserves to be challenged on every bit of blithe excrescent arrogance that leaks out of its collective flabby backside. This comment had an inappropriately personal tilt and something of the spiteful stench of pure office politics gone very sour. Put simply, it was unprofessional in a politician, and in any other line of work Burnham would have got a rap for it.

So, as Anne Perkins points out over at CiF, the fact that he felt the need to make such a comment hardly reflects well on the quality of the other pro-42 days arguments at his disposal. You’d have to be a fool not to drive home that point if handed the opportunity on a platter, and this lady ain’t no fool. Why, she’s even managed to split the grassroots Tories on the comment thread at the Tory diary into dinosaurs and fluffy bunnies yet again.

But she’s also absolutely right. Not necessarily because of the feminist angle. No, to be honest, I don’t believe Burnham’s comments had that much to do with conscious chauvinism, though I see Lynne Featherstone is among those who do favour that interpretation. I think it’s more complex and more serious than that. The comments sprang from a subconscious, short-sighted, self-aggrandising boorishness – which often involves chauvinism, but is in fact a different beast. It’s the arrogance of the territory-jealous middle-manager run power-mad (not a bad description of the Labour experience as a whole, in fact).

We’ve all been half-bullied by these half-people at some time (or maybe I just think we all have and it’s actually just me…) and the drip-drip narrative goes something like this: You disagree with me, ergo everything you do is worthy of ridicule, all your motives are untrustworthy and you are to be treated with contempt.

It’s a narrative that twists facts to fit its own picture of how the world should be – Davis obviously must be a lying snake in the grass, therefore any impassioned discussions he may have with senior civil liberties figures can only be a “joke” that reflects badly on both of them.

In fact, I can hardly put it better than one of the (female) commenters on that Tory Diary thread:

I am surprised at the naivety of some of the comments above, its the oldest trick in the book, as they must know – make a ‘funny’ comment, which is quite snide as well, and then say ‘It was only a joke’, or ‘can’t you take a joke!’

It’s an attitude of mind whose permanent destruction would make the world an immeasurably better place, but since that is probably impossible, all energies should at least be focussed on driving it out of politics. Knockabout across the despatch boxes is one thing (not that it’s any more attractive there, but at least it is ritual and contained) but this was not Westminster theatre, it was a reflective interview in sympathetic company.

Which, of course, brings me to the most sinister part, as outlined by Spyblog: how does Andy Burnham know what time of day David Davis and Shami Chakrabarti have been on the phone and what the emo-political tone of the conversation was? Is the government tapping the phone lines of known 42 days’ opponents?

And does anyone better versed in Freedom of Information and suchlike matters have any idea as to how we can demand to be told?

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About the author
Alix Mortimer is a regular contributor to Liberal Conspiracy. She is a freelance writer and researcher living in London. As a Liberal Democrat party member she was recently shortlisted for the party’s Campaign for Gender Balance Best Blogger Award 2008. Also at: The People’s Republic of Mortimer
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Story Filed Under: Blog ,Feminism ,Labour party ,Westminster

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Reader comments


Good politics? Unquestionably. Good ideology? I’m not so sure.

Perhaps someone could set me straight on this, but I would’ve been far happier seeing Chakrabarti call Burnham out for being the loathsome, smear-happy little shit that he is than seeing her seek solace in our appalling and lliberal libel laws.

It’s very easy for people of wealth and privilege to use our outdated libel laws to innoculate themselves from even the slightest criticism, as anyone with a superficial knowledge of Blighty’s blogsophere would be able to confirm (http://blogs.guardian.co.uk/greenslade/2007/10/bloggers_turn_britains_libel_l.html). Reforming this crap should be an issue for a civil liberties group like Liberty, and it saddens me that Chakrabarti is resorting to a threat which validates its existence.

It’s a cold day in hell when I agree with someone at Harry’s Place. I may need a shower.

*I meant ‘illiberal’, of course. Ah, what I wouldn’t give for a ‘preview post’ button…

Neil, I wouldn’t call making extremely suggestive remarks about two civil liberties campaigners “the slightest criticism” – I’d call it demeaning and insulting.

http://lettersfromatory.wordpress.com

Spot on as usual, Alix.

What drives Labour to behave like this? I think they believe that all “liberal”/”progressive” movements, like Liberty, owe them some sort of allegiance, whatever shit they actually do when in government. Thus this is seen as a betrayal and prompts an emotionally unbalanced reaction.

They expect it, because it is what they get from rank and file members of the Labour Party who seem to believe – whatever shit the government actually does – that it has an essential hidden core that deserves their support.

Tory,

My wording was imprecise: ‘slightest criticism’ wasn’t referring to Chakrabarti, but to those people (like in the Guardian link I posted) who think they can throw around threats of libel to suppress criticism. Obviously you’re spot-on about Burnham’s comments, but I just don’t see how it’s coherent for a steadfast defender of civil liberties to threaten people with illiberal laws that are in need of reform

6. Padraig Reidy

Since when was Culture Secretary a ‘great office of state’?

The whole thing’s a little silly, isn’t it? I mean, the thing about late-night calls seems a turn of phrase to me, and certainly not an insinuation. But it was still a little bit pathetic.

As was the response.

Padraig, she’s written great office of State, not Great Office of State, I suspect she both knows the difference and is using a turn of phrase to make him look worse (high office demeaned by fool). Culture Secretary isn’t a top ranking Cabinet job, but Burnham’s still an arse.

I agree with Joe, Labour in office doesn’t seem to understand that those that supported them in opposition will change their mind if they stop being worth supporting, and then feel betrayed when it’s blatent. They also seem completely unable to understand the shifting alliances of pluralist politics.

8. Padraig Reidy

Oh. Capitals. I see.

9. Padraig Reidy

“Labour attacks civil liberties lobby”

Oh for God’s sake. Labour is not ‘attacking’ the ‘civil liberties lobby’. Unless David Davis and the Conservative Party are now officially the ‘civil liberties lobby’.

A Labour politician is having a go at a Tory politician. A third party who was mentioned, and who works for a civil liberties organisation, has decided to take offence and threatened to sue over a a comment that was in absolutely no way defamatory.

Come on people. Get a grip. There’s still scope for this to be won in parliament without getting sidetracked by this little adventure.

And it is in the news for an eighth day.

Smart.

😀

11. Padraig Reidy

Indeed, Rachel. Indeed.

Can they keep this up til 17 July?

12. Conor Foley

Padraig: there are only a certain number of times that people can say “we must not allow ourselves to be sidetracked, by this by-election stunt, blah, blah”. The fact that you want to ignore it does not mean that the rest of the world will.

The story is going to keep on running, in one way or another, until the by-election is over because that is the way things are and that should have been obvious from day one.

As an ex-Liberty employee I would also have taken offence if one politician used me to have a go at another one. The sexist innuendo in his remarks are also obvious and it just reminds everyone how nasty New Labour are when they start spinning (Burnham is so used to it by now he probably didn’t realise what he was doing)

13. Padraig Reidy

Conor, I don’t want to ignore it, I just want a bit of realism about it. I simply do not believe the fight on this will be won in Davis’s constituency, which is how it’s being portrayed at the moment.

Padraig: I don’t think anyone is fighting as if this by election will win the fight are they? It was my understanding that we were trying to focus here on making sure the fight continues and that it isn’t lost. A poor DD showing in Haltemprice, a poor turn out, or a split decision will just mean that Labour will have an easier time making this legislation stick.

Is anyone really kidding themselves that a DD big win is going to make 42 days go away, I didn’t think anyone was?

Ever one for being the contrarian and in the vain hope that my brain doesn’t run into mush between now and the middle of July, we can happily sum up today’s developments in the great campaign for civil liberties as…

1. Vote Davis because Burnham’s a snivelling little shite – just be grateful it wasn’t McNulty or we might have had a cock-sucking gag chucked in as well.

Meanwhile, in other developments…

2. Britain’s leading independent advocate for civil liberties has disappeared up her own arse by responding to a piss poor joke with the threat of litigation instead of simply calling Burnham a twat.

3. The Sun has run up the white flag and gone back to wittering on about Big Brother.

4. Davis is set to face two opponents, one whose only comment on Liberty has been to wonder whether they’ve got any discounts on Jimmy Choos this week, while the other is still wondering exactly where you put the apostrophe, and

5. Anyone who didn’t hear Shami Chakrabarti tell the audience of the Today programme that she had a phone call from Davis, after the 42 day vote, to tell her he was going to resign is busily running around looking for spooks under the bed.

Have I missed anything here, like maybe something that’s actually about civil liberties or should I just pick up a couple of stotties and wait for the clowns to come on?

16. Padraig Reidy

“A poor DD showing in Haltemprice, a poor turn out, or a split decision will just mean that Labour will have an easier time making this legislation stick”

See this is my problem, Lee. It’s a byelection in an already safe seat: it’s not a referendum, and I don’t think anyone will really be in any solid position to use any result to beat anyone else over the head with.

Oh well, at least Sadie’s got a bit of perspective here…

Once again the left have emerged from this one looking like a bunch of humourless, anorak-clad conspiracy theorists whose arguments can be easily dismissed as the work of a bunch of single-issue loons who think M15 have bugs in every third cressplant in Kettering and who spend their Sunday afternoons faxing the Commons Banqueting Department complaining that Moira Stewart is laughing at them out of the TV.

Great work, guys!

Oh, and this just in – The Economist is trying to talk about civil liberties and public opinion and has just published a YouGov poll which, for once, nicely puts things into perspective.

Here’s the headline graphic…

Economist Poll

And here’s the full poll results

Key thing to note with this one is that its actually pretty decent reflection of how the public respond to the main arguments on either side of the debate – balance is an ephemeral thing in opinion polling but at least you can see how the main lines of argument play out and about the only thing that draws a strong negative is the government collecting more data about the public, which shows the influence of the raft of lost data stories over the last few months.

Otherwise, the public loves CCTV, is a bit half and half on the DNA database, in favour of the NHS database by a decent majority, just about in favour of ID cards where they think it will combat terrorism and illegal immigration, 60:30 in favour of banging up terrorism suspects for up to 6 weeks and only 23% think Davis would actually stand up for civil liberties if he ever became Home Secretary against 38% who think he’s just wrong and 26% who think that while he might talk a good fight in opposition, he’d basically be just as bad as the lot we’ve already got in government.

Okay, so you can argue about the extent to which the public are able to separate fact from propaganda in all this but based on what the Economist have got perhaps the most positive thing we could do to improve the standard of public debate would be to firebomb the offices of the every tabloid newspaper in the country, as that would at least force the public to engage with the arguments rather than drool insensibly over whatever its says in the editorial column of the Sun/Mail/Express/ Mirror.

#9

> Unless David Davis and the Conservative Party are now officially the ‘civil liberties lobby’.

Unfortunately, it seems as if they are, or at least *he* is, in the eyes of the mainstream, for the next few weeks anyway. And, double-unfortunately for some, the blame for this unhappy situation lies squarely at the door of the Labour Party. Hoping this can be won in parliament, with the help of its undemocratic wing, seems optimistic, to say the least. It’s already been lost there once. And Brown’s already factored-in the savaging it’ll get in the Lords. But there’s no way he’d have factored-in a resounding victory for a rogue by-election candidate standing on a ‘civil liberties’ platform, no matter how imperfectly.

19. douglas clark

Unity,

Ré the Economist Poll above. Is that not the reason we ought to have common cause with DD? I certainly get the impression, by and large, that that poll does reflect public opinion. He claims to want this debate in order to change public opinion. There is little or no prospect of changing it unless it is discussed. My opinion, for what it’s worth, is that civil liberties is not a hot button issue for the electorate and that they still, wrongly, assume that our Orwellian Big Brothers know best. At least challenging that assumption seems to be a worthwhile endevour.

2. Britain’s leading independent advocate for civil liberties has disappeared up her own arse by responding to a piss poor joke with the threat of litigation instead of simply calling Burnham a twat.

This, I’m sorry to hear, is absolute bollocks.

Yes I know some of you don’t want to hear DD’s name every again and all the rest of it. But the comment that Alix links to above is spot on.

I am surprised at the naivety of some of the comments above, its the oldest trick in the book, as they must know – make a ‘funny’ comment, which is quite snide as well, and then say ‘It was only a joke’, or ‘can’t you take a joke!’

This isn’t a joke. This is like pinching a woman’s bum at work and then calling her a prude if she reacts adversely. And there’s no point blaming the libel laws – they are what they are. I don’t see Labour lining up to change them. So please don’t use them as an excuse to say Shami shouldn’t use them to her disposal.

Burnham has made a deeply sexist remark and he’s done so because the cabinet does want to discredit Shami Chakrabarti and Liberty. Its disgusting.

Unity I know you’re in overdrive to try and convince us that the Tories are not the ones for our civil liberties… but perhaps your time would be better spend convincing Labour itself that its the one to blame for this state of affairs.

All I’m hearing is excuses.

Padraig:
It’s a byelection in an already safe seat: it’s not a referendum, and I don’t think anyone will really be in any solid position to use any result to beat anyone else over the head with.

I disagree with this. I think it will have an impact.

21. Padraig Reidy

Would anyone seriously think that Burnham was implying there was something improper between Davis and Chakrabarti if she hadn’t said so? Am I (and from a straw poll in the office, all my colleagues) that innocent?

Douglas,

Davis will not change public opinion in any meaningful sense because:

a) There simply isn’t the time to develop the debate sufficiently to educate the public to the issues, and

b) Because most of the public don’t give a toss anyway.

That’s basically why he’s resigned his seat.

He’s been banging on at these issues for the last few years as Shadow home Secretary to no significant effect whatsoever except where a government screw-up has dropped the ball right in his lap, as it did with the lost data disks thing.

The only thing he can do, which is the option he’s taken, is to try to leverage the public’s general mistrust of politicians by trying to set himself up the image of being a man of principle and juxtapose that against the claim that the government, being politicians, are no more than a bunch of unprincipled bastards.

There are two problems with that:

1. It does nothing to improve the public’s understanding of the issues, and

2. If it works, it sets Davis up as an authority figure in whom the public has invested its trust and if, somewhere down the line, the wind blows in the other direction and suddenly its Tory government wanting to, say, extend detention without charge even further, then as long as they can wheel out Davis in support then a large segment of the public will go along with it just because they have a mental picture of him as having principles so if its okay with him, it;ll be okay with them.

As I’ve been saying all along, the dynamics of this whole situation are nothing like as simple as some seem to have taken them to be.

Davis isn’t the cavalry riding to the rescue of civil liberties, he’s a politician and, by all accounts, an intelligent and calculating one who’s more than capable of parleying anything he gains out of this in terms of public profile/perception into political advantage for either himself or the Tory Party.

Douglas is absolutely right: the results of that poll show exactly why this debate is so desperately needed. Sadie has also missed the point entirely, and I’m sure that certainly isn’t for partisan reasons: it doesn’t matter whether the conversation was intercepted or not (it obviously wasn’t, as Burnham was just picking up on what Shami had told the Today programme), what matters is it was the sort of smear that has come to be associated with the Labour party when it is in deep trouble. Hence Dr David Kelly was a “Walter Mitty character”, etc. Sense of humour bypass on the behalf of Liberty or not, it was still an underhand tactic and complaining about such things does not make you some single-issue anorak.

Burnham shouldn’t have made the comment, but I can’t see that there was anything libelous about it. No right-thinking person would believe that Burnham was suggesting an affair was going on. To threaten to sue has certainly kept the issue in the headlines, but it was also incredibly over the top and adds even more to what is increasingly becoming a media circus. Just take a look at Guido’s page to see which way this debate is going. Davis’s actions, and these histrionics from Shami are at risk of turning an important debate into a joke.

#22 Unity

There’s a lot of ifs and hypotheticals and maybe-at-some-point-in-the-futures in there. What’s for sure, right now, is that Labour are trying anything they can to paint themselves as the only tough guys in the playground, and that Davis has perhaps chucked his future career in the bin in order to draw a line in the sand. Of course there’s politics going on – I don’t think many out there are naive enough to think otherwise. But I’d suggest we deal with whatever he says 3 years from now, in about 3 years from now. For the time being, I honestly can’t see the problem with saying we agree with him in principle, on this limited set of issues, and trying to milk the situation for as much publicity as possible.

> Davis will not change public opinion in any meaningful sense

Well, he’s already changed the Sun’s opinion, if only for now. Everyone’s gotta start somewhere.

I think Sunny is absolutely right on this one, as is Dominic Lawson (http://www.independent.co.uk/opinion/commentators/dominic-lawson/dominic-lawson-this-is-more-than-a-political-knockabout-ndash-its-the-inexcusable-smearing-of-an-opponent-850984.html).

It seems clear that this innuendo has been doing the rounds of Westminster for some time now. Andrew Neil implied on This Week the day after Davis resigned that he had discussed it with Shami and got her approval.

Liberty’s success depends on good dialogue with MPs and a reputation for cross-party working, which is why it punches much higher than its weight and achieves much more than, say, Amnesty at that level. This may well bother some progressives out there, the same who stratch their heads at the idea that Shami should even be talking to the Shadow Home Secretary. Let’s leave aside the obvious ridiculousness of that (posturing at the sidelines doesn’t win Parliamentary votes people). The Burham remarks clearly emerged in this context and were meant to imply exactly what they did imply. On their own, they may have been ignored. But maybe it was felt that this was where the line should be drawn, not only on a personal level but in terms of the creeping damage to Liberty’s reputation in Westminster.

So for Sadie, Padraig and Unity to not only pass on their recommendations on how Shami should take personal insults but to also start talking her down (all in the name of civil liberties unity against reactionaries, natch!) is pretty silly.

Let the argument against DD stand on its merits. If it was ‘just a joke’ Burham will have no problem issuing a formal apology and the story will be over.

No right-thinking person would believe that Burnham was suggesting an affair was going on.

I think this misses the point of how smearing works. Its not necessary to overtly smear anyone, you just have to run a whispering campaign or turn them into somewhat of a joke. So for example, the whispering campaign against the Libdem MP Mark Oaten started off by jokey whisperings about him standing around children’s playgrounds and all that.

And then theere have been this talk that “Gordon Brown is somehow creepy” sort of stuff, which Paul Linford has written about.

With women its easy – just insinuate there’s something sexual going… or say they’ve become “hysterical” or are prone to become “emotional” and half the job is done.

It doesn’t matter if there’s clear insinuation of an affair. You don’t have to go that far.

Sunny, I’m not saying it wasn’t a smear. But it definitely wasn’t libel. Shami must have known this, so presumably either a)wanted to make him back off, or b) got carried away. If it was a) then it seemed to have worked, but still seems over the top. Accusing someone of libel is something of a smear as well.

29. Padraig Reidy

I haven’t ‘talked her down’. I have criticised her threat to use the defamation laws.

‘I think this misses the point of how smearing works’

Again, Sunny, as I’ve already said, no one I’ve spoken to outside of this thread would have thought this was a smear if she hadn’t said it. It would have died completely. Who even reads Progress?

‘And there’s no point blaming the libel laws – they are what they are’

And she doesn’t have to use them, or threaten to use them.

Sunny:

This isn’t about whether or not the Tories are the ‘one’s for our civil liberties’ any more or less than Labour may or may not be.

This is about understanding the power dynamics of this situation against the background of an opposition party that has a serious expectation of forming the next government of this country.

Just think back to what Blair and New Labour did between 1994 and 1997 to sweep to power.

1. They smeared the hell out of the Tory government with a stream of sleaze allegations and made them out to be tired, out of ideas and a bunch of unprincipled and incompetent bastards.

2. He kept the policy content to a minimum and stuck wherever possible to pitching the electorate a bunch of deliberately vague but pleasant sounding platitudes about how the world would all be a much more wonderful place when he was PM, and

3. He found a signature issue – PR and electoral reform – which he used to suck the Lib Dems inside the tent to construct a ‘coalition’ to get the Tories.

Wind forward to 2008 and we already had the sleaze, character assassination and general incompetence stuff in spades.

We’ve got the detail-lite policy agenda and the platitudinous sound-bites about a broken society and how the Tories will usher in a new golden age and god knows what else.

And now we’ve got signature issue – civil liberties – to suck the Lib Dems and a few other into the tent into an anti-government coalition.

Yes. Brown is very much the architect of his own problems here because he’s falling for this as much as anyone at the moment but that doesn’t mean that the power play here is any different to that which Blair, Mandelson and Campbell set up and executed in order to shoot down Major.

I’m not excusing Labour’s record on civil liberties, merely noting something that should be fairly obvious here.

If public opinion continues to run, in two years time, the way its running now – as evidenced by the Economist’s poll will an incoming Tory government?

a) Tell the public and the Daily Mail, Sun and Express that they’ve had it wrong all along, that the world isn’t really anything like what people have thought it was like for the last few years and that CCTV is a terrible thing, etc. or

b) Will it go with the flow and the Daily Mail’s headlines and start enacting all the things that it current reckons are absolutely terrible simply to ensure that it stays popular and on top of the polls.

New Labour lacks any substantive ideological base, which is why it can be easily pushed into excesses on civil liberties and law and order.

Cameron’s brand of ‘liberal conservatism’ is similarly lacking a clear ideological platform and is many respects a reversion to the pragmatism of pre-Thatcherite but the conservatism but the Tories do still have ideological platforms out on the right of the party in its relatively small libertarian wing and its larger Thatcherite wing, the latter being much more at home with the kind of authoritarian stance on civil liberties that has been characteristic of New Labour.

Unlike Blair, who never had to face a serious challenge from the ideological ‘old Labour’ wing of the party, which was pretty comprehensively discredited by the 1983 election, Cameron has no such luxury simply because Thatcher was never discredited by going down to defeat in a general election and as we’ve seen on the few occasions that he’s tried to go up against them, as happened on grammar schools, he lacks the strength to face them down in the manner that Blair faced down the Labour left.

Now, with those dynamics kicking around this situation can anyone really be confident that taking anything other than independent line at the moment isn’t paving the way for a whole heap of trouble further down the line?

Perhaps calling the response ‘pathetic’ could legitimately be described as criticising the decision to threaten legal action.

But “Would anyone seriously think that Burnham was implying there was something improper between Davis and Chakrabarti if she hadn’t said so?” certainly suggests to me that this is ‘all in her head’. I think some of the stuff I laid out points to what Sunny is also highlighting, that Burham’s comments are the most public edge of a long series of little whispers and innuendos that correspond exactly with classic mysogynistic tropes.

I think that stands whether or not she should suggested the use of libel, or whether DD is a hero or an arse, or anything else. At the very least, let’s drop the pretence that a former Special Adviser (i.e. spin doctor) ‘accidently’ implies something personally damaging to his political opponents.

Again, Sunny, as I’ve already said, no one I’ve spoken to outside of this thread would have thought this was a smear if she hadn’t said it. It would have died completely. Who even reads Progress?

I think that irrelevant, as Alix points out above. These sexist whispering campaigns have to be challenged even if they’re aimed at a small group.

They should be nipped in the bud. And even then, its more disgusting that this cretin makes such remarks and that too because they look so foolish over the DD campaign that even the Sun has changed its tune.

33. Padraig Reidy

‘Perhaps calling the response ‘pathetic’ could legitimately be described as criticising the decision to threaten legal action.’

There’s no question of whether the word ‘pathetic’ could perhaps legitimately be described as a criticism of the decision: it is a criticism of the decision.

‘But “Would anyone seriously think that Burnham was implying there was something improper between Davis and Chakrabarti if she hadn’t said so?” certainly suggests to me that this is ‘all in her head’.’

Again, you’re desperately seeking a sexist agenda where none exists.

You came out with the ‘all in her head’ line, not me. You’re invoking hysterical woman, not me. I don’t think she’s hysterical: I just think she’s wrong.

Unity:
Just think back to what Blair and New Labour did between 1994 and 1997 to sweep to power.

So your point is that the Tories are now behaving like Labour did in 1997.

We’ve got the detail-lite policy agenda and the platitudinous sound-bites about a broken society and how the Tories will usher in a new golden age and god knows what else.

Yes I’m aware of that. Neither do I like the Mayor of London. But the Tories are the party of opposition not the ones enacting the decisions. So rather than blaming the Tories for the lack of any ideas, surely you should challenge Labour to come up with something of substance… something that we can ideologically support?

Now, with those dynamics kicking around this situation can anyone really be confident that taking anything other than independent line at the moment isn’t paving the way for a whole heap of trouble further down the line?

I’m not convinced. Maybe you are. But I do know that I’m so sick of the current system that the status quo isn’t preferable. Neither will I make excuses for it by simply blaming the Tories.

Padraig,

I didn’t claim that you were sexist, that you had an agenda or that you were calling her a hysterical woman. If I’d wanted to say that, I would have.

I said that you were talking her down. I guess we can just leave it as an honest disagreement on whether asking if Shami is the only person who thinks it was a slur is or isn’t the same thing as saying that it’s all in her head.

36. Padraig Reidy

I am not ‘talking her down’! I am ‘disagreeing with her analysis and actions’.

Oy

I think this misses the point of how smearing works.

It definitely misses the point that the negative briefing around Davis and Chakrabarti originated in the Tory Party and that Burnham, albeit crassly, is simply repeating what passes for current lobby gossip, which may explain Guido’s mild amusement with all this as its saved him the job of dropping this into the public domain.

As Adam points out, the comment itself isn’t libellous and barely makes the grade as a bit of mild innuendo and as for the sexism angle is, to say the least, more than a little tenuous as well.

Alix is right in one sense – attacking Burnham down this particular line is a clever move because it deflects attention away from any questions of just how close a working relationship is Liberty developing with the Tories onto an issue that is, at most, a bit of sideshow and it would have worked perfectly has Chakrabarti not over-egged the pudding by tossing in the unrealistic proposition of a libel action.

Smears cut both ways and the suggestion that Burnham’s rather banal comments might somehow be actionable is just as much a smear, in its own way, as the mild innuendo its intended to counter.

Unity,

What is this about a ‘close working relationship’ with the Tories? The Government puts forward a proposal damaging to civil liberties. The only way for that to be defeated is for elected MPs to vote against it. How is a civil liberties pressure group which focuses on activities in Parliament over public campaigning supposed to proceed except by talking to MPs?

Is the suggestion that Liberty have dropped an important plank of civil liberties defence in order to win Tory votes against 42 days? Or that some other fundamental compromise has been made?

If not, I’m not sure I understand the criticism.

39. douglas clark

Unity,

I do not think, never have done, that David Davies by election alone can change public opinion. But it is a part of a process, not an end in itself. What it will do, whether you or I like the messenger or not, is raise the profile of civil liberty issues through the media.

Three further points if I may:

You have said:

It does nothing to improve the public’s understanding of the issues

.

Frankly, I don’t understand that. The entire campaign is likely to have Davis, Rachel North, Chami Chakrabati and hopefully Sunny Hundal filling up all the dead air time of the 24 hour news channels, not to mention the miles of newsprint that will be written about it. If we cannot, as a Liberal Conspiracy, use that to educate or influence then we are not very good at what we ought to be about, which is changing perceptions.

For instance, your article today – ‘Please sign this blank contract’- is just the sort of issue that we should push. We should not allow any party to present us with something as ill fleshed out as these proposals are.

Secondly, I think everyone here should be saying ‘when it works’, not ‘if it works’. It is as clear as day that Davies will win by a mile. There is nothing short of a mega scandal that will stop it.

Lastly, voting for someone once, because they say something you agree with, doesn’t turn you into an automaton. If, in the future, Davies supported something completely opposite to what he put his political career on the line for, I for one, would be given pause for thought. But I’d judge the issue on it’s merits at the time.

40. douglas clark

Shami Chakrabarti, not Chami Chakrabati. Please, don’t sue!

Unity:
albeit crassly, is simply repeating what passes for current lobby gossip,

Awww… poor widdle Burnham is simply repeating what the other nasty gossipers are saying. Why blame him? He’s just a poor widdle cabinet member who no one listens to. After all, we stopped listening to them ages ago right? So why beat up poor widdle Burnham? Is that your point. If it is, then its a pretty bad one.

as for the sexism angle is, to say the least, more than a little tenuous as well.

So let’s assume someone insinuated that Sadiq Khan MP was a bit hard to believe because he was a Muslim and you know…. who knows who they might be working for? – would that still be ok?

I geddit Unity – you’re annoyed with Liberty because they’re no longer standing shoulder to shoulder with Gordon Brown especially since he made that big Governance of Britain speech last year.

I geedit – you don’t want to hear about DD either. But I’m afraid your normally impeccable instincts are being clouded by the fact that you’re just annoyed over the whole DD saga. This is subtle, disgusting sexist innuendo.

And I’m glad Lynne Featherstone and other MPs have called him up on it.

42. Padraig Reidy

“So let’s assume someone insinuated that Sadiq Khan MP was a bit hard to believe because he was a Muslim and you know…. who knows who they might be working for? – would that still be ok?”

Where in God’s name did this come from?

43. Padraig Reidy

Seriously Sunny, where did that come from: if you go back to Burnham’s comment, he’s clearly describing Davis as unbelievable, not Chakrabati.

if you go back to Burnham’s comment, he’s clearly describing Davis as unbelievable, not Chakrabati.

It comes from the view that if a man and a woman in politics are working together, that to discredit them, the best thing to do is suggest something sexual.
The question to ask is, if Davis was working with another man over this, would that “heart melting” phrase be used?

Sunny:

The ‘status quo’ is that the political agenda is driven by a circular relationship between the press, public opinion and politicians in which we have a current government that lacks any consistent political or ideological base that would serve as brake on that cyclical mechanism.

All of which has puts us on a downward spiral into authoritarianism because the dominant force that driving this mechanism is pessimistic in character; fear uncertainty and doubt.

The alternative in front of us, if we merely remove the existing political element, is a replacement whose leadership similarly has no consistent political ideological base to serve as a braking mechanism but which, at the grass roots, does have an ideological base that is largely social authoritarian in character.

Simply replacing one political component with the other won’t break the status quo it will simply feed the cyclical mechanism that already exists, causing it to turn that much faster, and so we end up spiralling downwards that much quicker.

As Mencken aptly put it:..

Civilization, in fact, grows more and more maudlin and hysterical; especially under democracy it tends to degenerate into a mere combat of crazes; the whole aim of practical politics is to keep the populace alarmed (and hence clamorous to be led to safety) by an endless series of hobgoblins, most of them imaginary.

That pretty much describes the current status quo to a tee.

To break the status quo you have break the cycle, not just put some new in charge of the hobgoblins, which is where this currently heading.

Perhaps the best response to innuendo (whether sexist or merely sexual) is to avoid responding negatively – it’s better to accept flattery than to get flattened in a tidal wave of miscommunicated invective just as it’s easier to gently bat away misdirected affection than to struggle against a torrent of affectation.

Andy Burnham has done himself no favours by acting in this inappropriate manner: he has washed his own name in gutter effluent and the stench will linger around him for the rest of his career.

It must be an embarassment for the Labour hierarchy to know that this is dwelling place of their ‘highfliers’ as it doesn’t speak well for their future prospects.

47. Padraig Reidy

yes, yes it would.

Round my way it would anyway. What should he have used if it was man to man? ‘Football-watching’? ‘Beer-drinking’ ‘all-round backslapping’.

The implication is that it’s odd thinking of a bruiser like Davis getting all emotional, and, y’know, sad 🙁 on the phone to Chakrabati worrying about 42 days detention when in so many other senses he’s a macho, hang ’em, flog ’em kinda guy.

Ye’re all obsessed with sex. Seriously.

48. Padraig Reidy

‘Civilization, in fact, grows more and more maudlin and hysterical; especially under democracy it tends to degenerate into a mere combat of crazes; the whole aim of practical politics is to keep the populace alarmed (and hence clamorous to be led to safety) by an endless series of hobgoblins, most of them imaginary.’

The solution is clear. Six weeks detention for hobgoblins.

Unity is rather excellently looking at the bigger picture, but I still think this misses the point about what we’re dealing with right now. I realise Sunny had a rather daft brainstorm that suggested that brown people should vote Conservative, but I hardly think the rest of us who are supporting David Davis in this instance and this instance only are going to be advocating a vote for them at the next election. Unity has already summed up why, but I think a more pithy summary of why that would be a bad idea is that all the Conservatives are offering is the new Blairism; still the nicer face of Thatcherism, but this time even less pleasant in the long run than what we’ve already had.

I might be more inclined to feel the same way about Davis’s stand if he was being directly supported by Cameron, but he clearly isn’t. Again, I also think that the 28 days issue is also a misnomer: as much as we’d like the current detention limit to be well below that, there simply isn’t the support there from almost anyone for that to happen, so we’ll have to put up with it. Also, as Diane Abbot pointed out, many voted for 28 because they believed that it would put a lid on the whole issue at least until after the next general election. Because of Labour’s manoeuvring, that hasn’t happened. In these specific circumstances, I think Davis still deserves support, and it’s still going to be the best chance we’re going to have of anything approaching a genuine debate on civil liberties. That he’s so managed to get Labour running scared, with Gordon Brown giving a piss-poor speech clearly aimed at him without even mentioning his name, refusing to put up a candidate to even make the argument to the electorate on 42 days, and then cabinet ministers making unsubtle and passive aggressive comments shows that they him, and defenestrating him because of his other views will do nothing to help our cause in the long run.

Er Unity (45), we aren’t talking about electing a Tory government here, we’re talking about electing a solitary Tory who happens to be a mild embarrassment to much of his party. I think you are probably right that the Tories would be no better on this issue, and they could easily be worse. So what?

This is no reason not to give Labour a good kicking when it is deserved, and to applaud the man who is doing it. The bigger Davis wins, and the more serious attention his campaign gets, the better.

As it is you seem to be doing your darnedest to confirm what I said in my previous comment (4).

#50 Joe
> I think you are probably right that the Tories would be no better on this issue, and they could easily be worse.

Well, if Davis bombs, they’ll have carte blanche to be as illiberal as they fancy when they form the next government. I’d suggest *part* of his motive is trying to bind the Tories to repealing 42 days.

As Rachel has said before, the professional politicos *are watching* this. So, while the scope of a site like this to influence policy is limited, don’t think Cameron and his government-in-waiting aren’t looking on to see how this ‘we’re liberal, honest’ brand of Conservatism flies with wonks and the electorate. Much like the Blairites, they don’t have any real principles of their own: they’ll happily dress themselves in whatever looks to be working.

Douglas:

The reason this by-election will do nothing to increase the public’s understanding of the issue is because, as these debates continue to demonstrate, within the prevailing political culture the issues inevitably end up taking second place to the personalities.

It’s easier to pick a fight over Andy Burnham’s comments in Progress than it is to tackle the question of how best to strike a balance between positive and negative liberties or between security and liberty or just about anything else on the civil liberties agenda that can’t be summarised in a Daily Mail headline.

There’s the irony of the situation – David Davis sat there on Question Time, last night, as said that his decision to resign was, at least in part, down to a desire to explore the civil liberties issue in detail, which he couldn’t do because the media plays everything out in sound-bites.

What does he think the media are going to do over the next few weeks if not report his campaign as a collection of disjointed sound-bites, in which case the campaign become entirely self-defeating.

For instance, your article today – ‘Please sign this blank contract’- is just the sort of issue that we should push. We should not allow any party to present us with something as ill fleshed out as these proposals are.

Exactly – but now look how many comments that article gets, or how many the previous one on the changes to bail – which actually sets a much more serious precedent on habeas corpus than 42 days as even if you’re banged up under detention without charge you can still apply for a writ of habeas corpus and challenge the police to demonstrate to a court that their investigation is going somewhere – got compared to articles about whether the New Statesman has fallen out with Brown and may or may not runs its own candidate.

It’s not just that particular individuals, parties or third-party organisations are compromised in this situation it that the system itself is compromised and its not just this one debate its across a whole stream of them.

And to take Sunny’s point head-on, I’m certainly not annoyed with Liberty for not standing shoulder to shoulder with Gordon Brown, in fact I’m pretty sure that any hint of them standing shoulder to shoulder with New Labour disappeared off into the Sunset at least by the time of the Iraq War if not somewhat before then.

I find it a little absurd that Chakrabarti would respond to Burnham’s comments by making threats of litigation when a sharp retort of the ‘how dare you’ variety would be no less effective a put down, if not a more effective put down for it lacking the appearance of overweening self-importance that threatening to lawyer up actually creates.

That’s something of tactical miscalculation as I see it, not to mention something of a sign of discomfort which does make me think that either she, or others within Liberty, may be beginning to get a bit uncomfortable with something.

Exactly what, now that’s the question.

Nothing concrete I’m sure but I do wonder whether, coming on top of the Tories having made a big thing of talking her up over the last year or so to the point that she’s turning up fairly high on the list of people who’re ostensibly influential with the Tories, whether the cumulative effect of all the good press she’s had has started to raise questions about both whether her personality and public profile is beginning to overshadow the work of the organisation and equally whether this is create a public perception of her that’s starting to compromise Liberty in terms of the appearance of being independent and politically non-aligned.

For a civil liberties organisation its actually much easier to operate notionally on the left because we have two ostensibly socially left-wing parties, Labour and the Lib Dems so its not that difficult to be see to be charting a bit of course between them and on occasions where both Liberty’s interests coincide with those of both parties the fact they’re agreeing with both precludes them being seen to be favouring a particular party.

Working with the Tories, who not only occupy the political right but effectively are the political right so far as many people are concerned is a much more awkward proposition simply because its that much more difficult to avoid being seen to be aligning yourself with party interests.

Its also, I think, just a little questionable whether she would have responded in quite same manner had the situation been one in which it was a Tory who surfaced publicly with the innuendo that Burnham dropped into his piece in Progress.

As counterattacks go this one works because it keys directly into the left’s preconceptions of itself – play the same tactic against a right-winger and pretty much you’re guaranteed is 500 comments at Guido’s on the general theme of whinging about political correctness and ‘does anyone know if she’s lesbian?’

Nothing in any of this, so far, is based on anything but the most careful political calculations, and its that people need to have in mind here or you may find you’ve signed up inadvertently to something you really weren’t expecting.

Unity,

“Exactly what, now that’s the question.”

Yes, it is. And I don’t think you can keep begging it without setting up some kind of case for what it is that Liberty has done wrong.

The fact that Shami is lauded by some Tories, and some Lib Dems, and some Labour types (notably Diane Abbott) proves nothing at all about Liberty’s overall position. And the fact that her personal style has had such an impact on the reputation of Liberty since 2001 hardly indicates that the problem is getting too close to the Tories. Lots of MPs use Liberty’s arguments in debates because they’re pretty tightly argued from a legal perspective and are directed at flaws in Bills line-by-line.

Now, when the official Tory line is more favourable to civil liberties on a particular issue (42 days) than the official Labour line, the fact that Tories quote or praise Liberty more than Labour MPs (if that’s even statistically the case) hardly means that Liberty has gone too right-wing.

Again, I’m not sure what it is that you want from a pressure group working in Parliament – for Shami never to talk to Tory MPs? For her not to attend meetings of the Conservative Civil Liberties Group, because other Tories may believe in flogging? For her not to coordinate tactics with the Shadow Home Secretary in a Party officially opposed to damaging proposals? For her to block the calls of senior politicians with influence over what enters the statute books?

By the by, since the decision on 42 days was always going to come down to backbench Labour MPs (since the Tories declared fairly early against it), I think you’ll find that Shami and Liberty generally spent a lot more time pressuring and meeting with Labour MPs than with any other party. Not to mention that Shami personally saw Gordon several times before the proposals were finalised in an attempt to talk him away from macho posturing.

What more is it that you want?

Er Unity (45), we aren’t talking about electing a Tory government here, we’re talking about electing a solitary Tory who happens to be a mild embarrassment to much of his party. I think you are probably right that the Tories would be no better on this issue, and they could easily be worse. So what?

Momentum, that’s what…

Six months down the line, when Davis is firmly back in the Tory fold and parked right behind Cameron at PMQs while he tries to lay in Brown on the government’s record on civil liberties, how many people will remember that the Tory’s commitment to 28 days was a forced move pushed onto him by Davis.

This isn’t some serial Labour rebel, like Bob Marshall-Andrews, facing off against Brown this is a senior Tory whose spent the last few years shadowing one of the Great Offices of State not to mention Lord Ashcroft’s chosen man during the last Tory leadership contest.

If Davis succeeds in nothing else, he’s do everything he can to ensure that, having got over the hump of resigning his seat, his own party will benefit from any welts he can raise on Brown during this campaign.

We may not be electing a Tory government, but that doesn’t mean to say that, if we’re not careful, we might not be making a contribution to their main cause, which is winning the next election.

There an unwritten rule of election campaigns that all party’s follow, but for the occasional aberration like Margaret Hodge’s comments about the BNP, and that’s that you never talk up an opponent for fear of lending them even the credence of treating them as credible opponent – that’s not just a bit of political superstition but a practice forged by experience of quickly things can change if an opponent gains even the slightest bit of momentum.

Look how quickly Obama went from ‘who?’ to front-runner during the recent primaries – that what political momentum can do and that’s why politicians will avoid giving any of it to their opponents if at all possible.

Pablo:

You missing my point, which is not that Liberty or anyone associated with them have done anything wrong but rather that their credibility as an organisation is very much founded on the being – and more importantly on being seen to be – operating independently of any individual political party.

All I am suggesting, and I think quite reasonably at that, is that is that the Tories obvious and very public courting of an association with Chakrabarti over a period of months may be starting to raise concerns that public perceptions of Liberty as a non-partisan organisation may become compromised, particular if the focus of public attention shifts too far towards personalities and away from the work of the organisation.

This isn’t that difficult a scenario to figure out.

You’ve got a Tory Party that doing everything it can to get shot of a reputation for being the nasty party and the natural home of the hang ’em and flog ’em brigade who, in addition, get a gift horse lobbed their way by a Labour government that obsessed with not being outflanked on the right by the Tories on law and order and security issues.

So, if you’re Cameron you recast your part as champions of civil liberties more or less in the safe and secure knowledge that Labour are now so far out to the right that you keep your own native ‘Laura Norder’ headbangers pretty sweet and still come out looking a bit more liberal than the other lot, and to sweeten the deal you do a bit of very visible cosying up to Liberty.

If you’re the Labour Party and you’re unwilling to shift on your commitment to staying out to the right but worried about the Tories getting good press out of hanging around Liberty’s coat tails then as you’re limited in the attacks you can throw at the Tories, your next best option is to try to compromise Liberty’s reputation by dropping hints that they’re getting a bit too cosy with the right and staring to show signs of turning blue.

It ain’t subtle, but if people get to thinking that Liberty are starting to take sides on the terms of a political party rather than one their own terms then it’ll hurt because for many of its supporters it actually matters that they take a non-partisan stance.

Quite why an exercise in working the odds and trying to understand the dynamics automatically has to be considered partisan is anyone’s guess but I’m just calling it as I see it and nothing more.

56. douglas clark

Unity,

OK. I see the point you are making. If you are right – and I’m still having a left brain / right brain moment on that – then absolutely nothing can be done, ever, about anything. On a slightly more optimistic note, the facts are that the media will see this as a David (hah!) -v- Goliath story and will clear out time and space to let it run and run. There ought to be opportunities to inject a bit of reality in there.

Unless David Davies has been watching, “Churchill – The Wilderness Years”, or some such, I fail to see the careful political calculations, at least on his part.

Unity:
All of which has puts us on a downward spiral into authoritarianism because the dominant force that driving this mechanism is pessimistic in character; fear uncertainty and doubt.

I agree with that. So given that we think Labour (or Lib dems) should be striving to make society less authoritarian, how ill backing Labour over this DD thing break this cycle. It won’t. Now, I’m increasingly unconvinced by David Davis’s stance, but isn’t the chance that he might inspire people to rally on a more libertarian platform lead to a rush to the opposite side – where Labour feels it has votes to win on becoming less authoritarian?

We all want to break this cycle. Which is why many like Rachel North want to help David Davis. If you have an alternative plan – let’s hear it.

I might be more inclined to feel the same way about Davis’s stand if he was being directly supported by Cameron, but he clearly isn’t.

Not only that, one can also argue that by pushing David Davis, we could open up a schism within the Tory party, whereby its new libertarian minded recruits find with the old Conservative, authoritarian roots. Why else is ConservativeHome so worried about all this?

We may not be electing a Tory government, but that doesn’t mean to say that, if we’re not careful, we might not be making a contribution to their main cause, which is winning the next election

To be honest, the Brown govt has done a much better job of nixing its own electoral chances that the Tories have ever done of promoting them. so really, your ire should be directed at their people who keep coming up with some illiberal, idiotic minded policies, and now character assassination.

Its like Flying Rodent said quite pertinently on here last week – we are the reason why the Labour party is in the position its in.

And lastly:
Quite why an exercise in working the odds and trying to understand the dynamics automatically has to be considered partisan is anyone’s guess but I’m just calling it as I see it and nothing more.

Ok, but basically this is an extension of the vicious circle you talked about above. Now, you an either register your annoyance and say you want to break out of this circle – and the ministers who do this should pay – or you can say ‘I’m just describing the realpolitik’ and then say that Shami Chakrabarti should think carefully about who her friends are.

Isn’t the problem with British libel laws that they are open to abuse by the strong in their attempts to crush the weak?

In that case, surely a private citizen challenging a cabinet minister with them is an example of when they work as they should?

59. douglas clark

Unity,

I have always admired your analysis, particularily when you have dug the dirt on a subject. What you do is pretty well unique in UK blogging.

You can see the ‘but’ coming, though, can’t you?

With due respect, it is absolutely no answer to even hint that Shami Chakrabarti is not entitled to find allies where she can. Equality of opportunity should be offered by Liberty to each and every political party. If the Tories, or more exactly, an ex Tory, yes he’s a Tory, oh no he’s not supports a Libertarian stance, why should she reject it?

Now that wouldn’t make sense.

I happen to think this issue transcends sectarian politics. You, quite frankly do not. It’s a DNA thing isn’t it?

[Sunny – I know you have a lot on your mind, but a Preview function would be a joy to behold. I am writing HTML blind, almost definitely badly]

OH BLOODY HTML

TRYING AGAIN. IPlease – sorry – gnore comment above, I hit send too soon.

We may not be electing a Tory government,

but that doesn’t mean to say that, if we’re not careful, we might not be making a contribution to their main cause,

which is winning the next election.

Others – other voters – almost certainly ARE going to elect a Tory Govt. I see the wind blowing, I’m sad, but I accept it. I’m thinking next Govt now. But whoever wins, I would like them to win having realised the public really care about civil liberties and won’t accept this crap anymore.

But that doesn’t mean’ t say that, if we’re not up for it, we might be making a contribution…. to them nailing their next big cause ,which could be civil liberties,

( imagine – hug a hoodie, hug a husky – now, hug a liberty could be the next big thing)

I would like to be part of a movement that makes politicos stop, look, and see how civil liberties excites and unites many people across the spectrum, by running with this, one-off event of a shadow home sec chucking it in for 42 days. ( Shadow. Home.Sec. Chucking .It .In. 42 days. I mean, one off-or what?)

Or, we could sit back and watch the Tories and the Labour decide the authoritarian future thing is what the public want. They monitor the blogs, the vote, the column inches, see it die out, and rub their hands with glee.

61. douglas clark

Rachel,

I think you are having as much trouble with HTML here as I have.

If I can attempt to dig out your main point, if I may:

We might be helping them to stop, look, and see how civil liberties excites and unites many people across the spectrum, by running with this, one-off event of a shadow home sec chucking it in for 42 days. ( Shadow. Home.Sec. Chucking .It .In. 42 days. I mean, one off-or what?)

That frankly is why I prefer your comments to those of others. You are an optimist, and so am I. If you and I have a Shadow Home Secretary willing to throw his name into this ring, then what do we have got to lose?

Take care.

62. douglas clark

Rachel,

What I wrote above is not the point.

Sorry about that.

I have your book ‘Out of the Tunnel’ on my library shelf.

And you, yes you, explained to me how the tin foil hat brigade were a lot of idiots. I’d like to thank you for that. It saved me from making myself a bigger fool than I already am.

But you are under no compulsion to be something you are not.

You are under no obligation whatsoever to share your suffering with us. Whether you make it public or keep it private is up to you.

It could have been someone else on the tube that day. Fact, it was you. And frankly you have suffered a great deal. Through sceptics and idiots. It is frankly disgraceful.

Rachel North, I respect you. I think you are a strong person and I think you were half pissed when you wrote what you did…

Though the HTML excuse is good.

Douglas:

It’s not the case that Chakrabarti is not entitled to find allies where she can.

However, what organisations like Liberty also have to be mindful of, having gone to great lengths to cultivate an image of political independence, is how those alliances may appear from the outside in certain circumstances.

It’s the sexual innuendo that’s potentially damaging here is the implication that there may be a lack of political impartiality beyond a mere alliance on a single issue that is.

While issues may sometimes transcend party politics, politicans rarely, if ever do.

Yeah, shouldn’t post after 3 glasses of white. *shame* What I was trying to say was in response to Unity saying
We may not be electing a Tory government, but that doesn’t mean to say that, if we’re not careful, we might not be making a contribution to their main cause, which is winning the next election.

It is more than likely there will be a Tory Govt. Either way, whatever Govt. is in power, it would be good to have them in power realising the public are fed up with the Blair/Brown/New labour project of eroding civil liberties.

By getting involved in the public debate, and backing DD on a civil liberties awareness-raising exercise, it becomes harder for the next Govt to say ‘nobody cares ‘about civil liberties and the public just want to have all measures taken to protect them’ and continue down this path.

A grass-roots cross party big public debate has started and DD has got it into the news – nine days now it’s been running in the media – and whatever you think of him, nobody has done that before and it is because of who is is: an (ex) Shadow Home Sec front-bencher senior politician. I don’t; see what there is to lose in the long term.

re. second post> Ta. Yep, could have been anyone on the tube, that’s the whole point. Like millions of others, I have a blog where I go on about things that are significant to me. Anyone can start a blog and write about things they care about, (including anyone else who was on the tube on 7/7). This debate should not be about 7/7 anyway, but if it is going to be raised I will pipe up and point out that not everyone who was there backs the Sun’s point of view. It’s my way of trying to knock out the ‘soft on terrorism/think of the ‘victims’ thing that I think is being used to emotionally blackmail people into a hardline position and get the debate back where it should be which is non-emotive and clear-headed. Dunno if it makes much difference but it’s one small thing I can do so I’m doing it.

I am now off on holiday so drunken ham-fisted postings will cease til next week, you’ll probably be glad to hear.

Sunny:

Where in this have I suggested backing Labour?

So far…

I’ve correctly called Labour’s decision not to stand and explained pretty why their standing against Davis was a none starter from the outset.

I’ve tried remind people of some of the many political realities in this situation, which has meant dealing with a fair amount of realpolitik.

Written two articles highlighting ongoing civil liberties related issues that barely get a mention, especially the bail issue which the press broadly support, and

Argued throughout that in order to see any gains out of this that won’t rapidly be co-opted by the Conservative Party, we actually need to push beyond the limited stance that Davis is taking and set out a clear agenda.

I have to say that Nigel Farage had the right idea on QT when he pulled Davis on 28 days – we need more of that.

In essence, the message to Davis needs to be ‘if want our support you need to go further than the limited package of issues that you’ve put on the table so far’, so the need is to engage Davis in debate as much, if not more than anyone else.

66. douglas clark

Rachel @ 65,

That’s my view too. Has David Davies invited you to share a platform with him?

Have a good break.

Unity, I know this isn’t perhaps how you want to come off, but to me your articles and their timing have appeared to be a way of diverting the issue away from 42 days. This is surely the most pressing issue? I can’t help but feel that without a bit more of a stamp on this 42 day issue, the things you talk about will never even get properly raised or debated in the future.

I’m with Rachel and others on this, the time is ripe for pressing the issue of civil liberties and what it means to want to keep them, and that the best way of doing that is the way it is being done now…we can then keep the issue rolling and progressing in a positive way.

We’re told the information about late night calls etc, and Shami allegedly trying to stop Davis’ sacrificial suicide, is the talk of the bars and lobbies of the Palace of Westminster. The most likely source of this information is of course David Davis himself. The idea that the culture minister has one or both of them tapped is ridiculous, particularly when DD is running around emptying his head to anyone who will listen, including people who are not 100% on side or free of a gossip gene. I think that Shami tackling a minority LP clique publication on this was tactically, strategically wanting. Made this silliness a story.

This isn’t about whether or not the Tories are the ‘one’s for our civil liberties’ any more or less than Labour may or may not be.

This is about understanding the power dynamics of this situation against the background of an opposition party that has a serious expectation of forming the next government of this country.

Just think back to what Blair and New Labour did between 1994 and 1997 to sweep to power.

1. They smeared the hell out of the Tory government with a stream of sleaze allegations and made them out to be tired, out of ideas and a bunch of unprincipled and incompetent bastards.

2. He kept the policy content to a minimum and stuck wherever possible to pitching the electorate a bunch of deliberately vague but pleasant sounding platitudes about how the world would all be a much more wonderful place when he was PM, and

3. He found a signature issue – PR and electoral reform – which he used to suck the Lib Dems inside the tent to construct a ‘coalition’ to get the Tories.

Wind forward to 2008 and we already had the sleaze, character assassination and general incompetence stuff in spades.

We’ve got the detail-lite policy agenda and the platitudinous sound-bites about a broken society and how the Tories will usher in a new golden age and god knows what else.

And now we’ve got signature issue – civil liberties – to suck the Lib Dems and a few other into the tent into an anti-government coalition.

Yes. Brown is very much the architect of his own problems here because he’s falling for this as much as anyone at the moment but that doesn’t mean that the power play here is any different to that which Blair, Mandelson and Campbell set up and executed in order to shoot down Major.

I’m not excusing Labour’s record on civil liberties, merely noting something that should be fairly obvious here.

If public opinion continues to run, in two years time, the way its running now – as evidenced by the Economist’s poll will an incoming Tory government?

a) Tell the public and the Daily Mail, Sun and Express that they’ve had it wrong all along, that the world isn’t really anything like what people have thought it was like for the last few years and that CCTV is a terrible thing, etc. or

b) Will it go with the flow and the Daily Mail’s headlines and start enacting all the things that it current reckons are absolutely terrible simply to ensure that it stays popular and on top of the polls.

New Labour lacks any substantive ideological base, which is why it can be easily pushed into excesses on civil liberties and law and order.

Cameron’s brand of ‘liberal conservatism’ is similarly lacking a clear ideological platform and is many respects a reversion to the pragmatism of pre-Thatcherite but the conservatism but the Tories do still have ideological platforms out on the right of the party in its relatively small libertarian wing and its larger Thatcherite wing, the latter being much more at home with the kind of authoritarian stance on civil liberties that has been characteristic of New Labour.

Unlike Blair, who never had to face a serious challenge from the ideological ‘old Labour’ wing of the party, which was pretty comprehensively discredited by the 1983 election, Cameron has no such luxury simply because Thatcher was never discredited by going down to defeat in a general election and as we’ve seen on the few occasions that he’s tried to go up against them, as happened on grammar schools, he lacks the strength to face them down in the manner that Blair faced down the Labour left.

Now, with those dynamics kicking around this situation can anyone really be confident that taking anything other than independent line at the moment isn’t paving the way for a whole heap of trouble further down the line?

Excellent comment, truly excellent. Too few seem to be able to grasp the historical context at work here…

Bollox fucked up the html, can you believe it!?

Leon: I’m perfectly aware of the historical context, but those that still feel to be Labour supporters miss the main point here…why is Labour winning an election any better a situation? Both the parties are pissing our liberties down the drain, both of them are showing themselves to be equivalently economically incompetent when the chips are down. I don’t see how “don’t support Davis, it’s paving the way for a Tory government” is any more an argument against this situation than “support Davis, it paves the way for a Labour defeat” Both are pretty depressing situations to get to, both realistic options are going to be bad to some degree, but at least by supporting Davis on this there can be a push on the liberties issue rather than in the eyes of the media creating a situation that allows Labour to continue infringing these liberties easily and with another argument in their pocket.

You didn’t read the last couple paragraphs of Unity’s post properly.


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