Why I will vote for the Lib Dems

All my life I have voted Labour. But that Labour Party has ceased to exist
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The Independent Online
Two conditions characterise this general election: the poverty and deprivation in which a growing number of children, families and single men and women live; and the laws to which both Conservative and Labour parties are committed, which, in their scope and implications, surpass even the emergency powers of the national government during the Second World War.

As The Economist has said: "The legal powers of the British government now extend far beyond what other established democracies consider tolerable ... public officials have been granted breathtakingly wide powers."

These powers are: the Criminal Justice Act, the Criminal Procedures and Investigations Act, the Crime (Sentences) Act, the Asylum and Immigration Acts and the Police Act.

During this general election the prisons minister, Ann Widdecombe, has banned Emma Nicholson, the Liberal Democrat MP, from returning to Campsfield House, a notorious detention centre for asylum seekers, and from visiting any detention centre, immigration centre or prison service establishment, including Dartmoor in her own constituency. Ms Nicholson is opposition spokesman for prison-related subjects and for human rights, and the Liberal Democrats are committed to opposition and repeal of the Asylum and Immigration Acts.

All my life, I've voted Labour. The history of the Labour Party still moves my instincts to vote Labour. That Labour Party has ceased to exist. With the passing of the Police Bill, UK citizens and asylum seekers have lost all the civil/human rights fundamental to democracy, with the exception of trial by jury. The Labour Party supports all this legislation. Labour further promises to reduce the statutory age by which a child can be tried on criminal charges. Both parties are committed to locking up into secure training units (to be managed by Group 4 Security) youngsters who have committed three offences.

The European Court of Human Rights has found the British government in breach of its convention 43 times, more than any other government. Never have so many human rights organisations, charities, law-lords, solicitors, church commissions and even government-appointed commissioners protested and reported so emphatically against the conditions and the laws passed since the last election.

The Conservative Party proclaims "Britain is booming". On 6 April the Sunday Times named 1997 a "Vintage Year for Wealth".

Facts and figures tell the other side of this story: child poverty and malnutrition; loss of health and homes; unemployed youngsters; desperate conditions for pensioners, the disabled and the mentally ill; women committed for offences involving poverty; deaths in police cells; imprisonment and criminalisation of those seeking refuge from war, famine and dictatorship.

The Eurostar Labour Force survey shows 20.6 per cent of households with children in the UK have no wage-earners, the highest percentage in the EU (France, 8.8 per cent, Germany, 8.4 per cent). Research for the 1997 report The Hunger Within shows that 2.33 million schoolchildren (four to 19 years old, please note, Mr Blair) in families on income support are deprived. Figures for Family Credit show 1.3 million more children are only marginally better off.

There is no national screening programme for malnutrition, so children under four cannot even be reached. Calcium, vitamin D and iron deficiencies have brought back TB and rickets.

There is a causal connection between poverty and deprivation, "soaring asset values", and the laws that have deprived UK citizens of their fundamental rights. I can tell it simply with the story of the British-Asian Hillingdon Hospital workers. Six months after the hospital contracted out cleaning services to Pall Mall, these women were ordered to accept a 20 per cent wage cut with loss of sick pay. There was nothing they or their trade union could do within the law, to prevent other workers being employed at Hillingdon at lower wages and/or as part-time workers.

The Criminal Justice Act together with the Police Act make "aggravated trespass" out of peaceful pickets, and marches or demonstrations into criminal offences. There is a new definition of serious crime: "conduct by a large number of persons in pursuit of a common cause".

There is to be a National Crime Squad (NCS Service Authority) and a National Criminal Intelligence Service. Citizens can be bugged in their homes, their offices or their solicitors' offices, and their documents purloined. They have no right of appeal, and the judiciary are deprived of their powers to control or authorise such activities.

It is for these reasons that the Charter for Basic Rights was started. I am proud to campaign for this charter, along with Harold Pinter, Edward Bond, Helena Kennedy QC and Gareth Peirce, the courageous solicitor, among others. The charter is not a political party - we will continue to campaign for repeal of all the Acts of Parliament already mentioned, along with the anti-trade union laws, and the Prevention of Terrorism Act. We call for unconditional all-party talks for an end to the war in Northern Ireland and for the release of political prisoners on both sides, as happened in the Middle East peace accord.

I shall vote Liberal Democrat in the constituency where I live, because of their opposition to the Asylum and Immigration Acts and the Criminal Justice Act, which in my view are the cornerstone of the present police state powers. Oskar Schindler and Varian Fry, the two anti-Nazis who saved the lives of Jews and opponents of the Nazis by giving jobs and false documents to escape the Gestapo, would be criminals today in Britain.

I do not consider a vote for the Liberal Democrats as "lost", nor should it be renounced for tactical reasons. In the coming months we all need every Schindler and Try there is, in or outside the EU.

The Charter for Basic Rights is at 112 Upper Tooting Road, London SW17 7EN.

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