The Independent leader-writer comments on the Coalition’s Freedom Bill, expected to be introduced tomorrow:
The fact that ministers have been able to demonstrate their liberal credentials merely by dismantling the work of the previous government should be an acute embarrassment to Labour. The party is now under new leadership. But it still needs to demonstrate that it has learned the lessons of where it went wrong in power. Labour became convinced there were legislative fixes to complex social problems. Ministers exhibited a blind faith in computer technology, no matter how often those projects proved to be expensive failures. They convinced themselves that every terrible crime needed to be met with a hyperactive response. When the police and the security services asked for extended powers, the instinct of ministers was not to ask questions, but to acquiesce.
But it was, at heart, a problem of values. Labour was careless over civil liberties because it did not, ultimately, think they mattered. In his memoirs, Tony Blair described the civil liberties objections to ID cards as “absurd”. His successor, Gordon Brown, extended the detention period for terror suspects solely in order to present himself as “tough” on terrorism in the belief that this would win him support in the right-wing press.
Labour’s illiberalism was reflexive. It is this casual attitude towards traditional British freedoms that Ed Miliband needs to root out of his party if Labour is to be fit for government again. This Freedom Bill presents a test for Mr Miliband. Will he attempt to defend the indefensible? Or will he turn the page on an ignoble chapter in Labour’s history