Is Sadiq Khan right to say that Labour is now the party of civil liberties?


9:05 am - September 20th 2013

by Robert Sharp    


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Writing in the New Statesman, Labour Shadow Justice Secretary Sadiq Khan brazenly declares that the Liberal Democrat’s record in Government has left Labour as the party of civil liberties. This has kicked of predictable outrage from Lib Dem activists, with most people citing the poor record of the last Labour government.

Despite the Blair Government’s terrible approach to civil liberties and counter-terrorism, its wrong to call Khan a hypocrite.

For starters, he was one of the Labour rebels who voted against Tony Blair’s 90-day detention policy, back in 2005. More recently, he has admitted the party’s mistakes on human rights and civil liberties. Part of his Charter 88 anniversary lecture was a scathing critique of the last Labour Government’s approach:

And I hold up my hands and admit that we did, on occasions, get the balance wrong. On 42 and 90 days, and on ID cards, where the balance was too far away from the rights of citizens… On top of this, we grew less and less comfortable with the constitutional reforms we ourselves had legislated for. On occasions checked by the very constitutional reforms we had brought in to protect people’s rights from being trampled on. But we saw the reforms as an inconvenience, forgetting that their very awkwardness is by design. A check and balance when our policies were deemed to infringe on citizens’ rights.

If an opposition spokesperson says this, I think they ward off the charge of hypocrisy when they subsequently criticise the civil liberties failings of the Governing coalition. Whether the voters believe Labour or not is another matter, but I think the fact that the spokesman is someone who was a Government rebel on 90 days, and who has been a target of surveillance himself, make Labour’s position that little bit more credible.

Yvette Cooper, the Shadow Home Secretary, included similar nostra culpas in her Demos speech on security and surveillance.

Meanwhile, at the Liberal Democrat annual conference, delegates have approved motion F41 [PDF], a reaffirmation of their party’s committment to human rights and the Human Rights Act.

These debates make me happy. What Khan and McNally’s comments show is that both Labour and the Liberal Democrats have begun to see the promotion of human rights as a vote winner. This is by no means a given in British politics, and not something to be taken for granted.

Regardless of Labour’s past failures, or the Liberal Democrats’ current, shaky record in office, we should still applaud these commitments to protect the Human Rights Act.

The alternative is the gutting or abolition of the Act, and a withdrawl from the European Convention on Human Rights, which the Conservatives are threatening to do (David Cameron even had a populist pop at the idea of human rights in a conference speech before he became Prime Minister).

When a politician speaks out in defence of human rights, the public need to show their approval of such statements and publicise them widely.

Who knows, if the politicians see that such positions are a vote winner, we may find that Nick Clegg is inspired to fight a little harder for rights and liberties in this parliament… and that Secretary of State Sadiq Khan is emboldened to defend and extend human rights in the next.

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About the author
Robert Sharp designed the Liberal Conspiracy site. He is Head of Campaigns at English PEN, a blogger, and a founder of digital design company Fifty Nine Productions. For more of this sort of thing, visit Rob's eponymous blog or follow him on Twitter @robertsharp59. All posts here are written in a personal capacity, obviously.
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Story Filed Under: Blog ,Civil liberties ,Labour party ,Westminster

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Reader comments


The Liberal Democrat’s record in Government has left Labour as the party of civil liberties.

Wowzar ~ A party acted worse than our worst so we take first place. . .

Labour and the Liberal Democrats have begun to see the promotion of human rights as a vote winner.

So its not coming from a vision of how the world could be, fairness and justice…it only entered their minds because they realized it gets votes?

Serious?

2. Paul Peter Smith

“Despite the Blair Government’s terrible approach to civil liberties and counter-terrorism, its wrong to call Khan a hypocrite.”

No its not, regardless of which draconian Labour legislation he voted against, his party didn’t and he’s comparing the respective parties record, not his own. The LibDem’s are suffering the embarrassment of having to admit that their ridiculous ‘everyone can have everything’ opposition policies cant stand the light of day. They have had to face up to the limitations of coalition government and have taken some of the Tories heat as a result. That’s not even close to new Labour’s Neo-Thatcherite assault on civil liberties (not to mention its rejection of core Labour principles i.e. nearly all of them).

Yes and paul2′ the only one he voted against wax 90 days, he voted for the other two,

True leadership is hard work, pure authority on the other hand is easy. So it’s no real surprise that parties out of power appreciate freedom and civil liberties, and then quickly fall far short of their original ideals once in power.

“Yvette Cooper, the Shadow Home Secretary, included similar nostra culpas in her Demos speech on security and surveillance.”

Surely “nostris culpis”?

It’s really an insult to the intelligence of the people for Labour to pose as champions of civil liberties. In any case, all Khan is saying is the classic BS line about ‘getting the balance right’, which is nothing but a justification for the state taking whatever rights and liberties it wants from the people, and even when it violates its own laws, we are faced with denials and obfuscation for years, as we have no effective means for holding the agents of the state to account. The mass surveillance of the recent controversy is a fine example. Hague tells us no laws have been broken, everything’s fine and proportionate, so nothing to see hear, folks. The supposed opposition cannot challenge this, because they have already surrendered the argument by using the ‘finding the right balance’ cliché. Once this is done, then it’s merely a question of the fine detail, which only the government and the state’s agents are allowed to see.

I am sure there are some Labour politicians who are sound on civil liberties, as there are also in the other parties, but given the record of Labour in government and the record of Tories in opposition (oh, how they cared back then) the evidence is emphatic: the state cannot be trusted, and the politicians are either incapable or unwilling to control or restrain the state machinery.


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