The new divide in British politics is between "civil liberties" and "authoritarianism", Chris Huhne, a Liberal Democrat leadership contender, said last night. Mr Huhne attacked Tony Blair for being "illiberal", and the Tories for being unreliable defenders of liberty.
His attack followed Parliament's decisions to back ID cards, ban smoking in pubs, and introduce a new criminal offence of "glorification" of terrorism.
Speaking to a meeting organised by the left-wing think-tank Demos, Mr Huhne said: "Never have we needed the rule of law more than we do today. The old battle between the individual and the state is taking on a new aspect in our troubled 21st century."
He added: "One of the crucial divisions of opinion in Britain in the future will be between the party of civil liberties and the party of authoritarianism. The Prime Minister tells us that we must lay down our freedoms for our lives, but perhaps he should remember all those people in past generations who laid down their lives for our freedoms."
He also attacked the Conservatives as "fair-weather friends" of British liberty and said as party leader he would step up the campaign to defend liberty. "If we, as Liberal Democrats, did not speak up for civil liberties," he asked, "who would?"