Leading article: A victory for civil liberties – and a challenge for Labour

Will the new leader, Ed Miliband, attempt to defend the indefensible?

Share
Related Topics

The Coalition's Freedom Bill will be introduced tomorrow. Presuming it is passed, this promises to be a significant victory for civil liberties after more than a decade of depressing reversals.

The Bill's reach will be broad and deep. The national identity register will be formally abolished, signalling an end to the threat of Britons being required to carry ID cards. The police's DNA database will be restricted, too. At the moment, the police automatically take a sample from anyone who is arrested and keep it whether or not the person is subsequently convicted of a crime. The new Bill is expected to implement the safeguards that exist in Scotland, where samples are destroyed if a person is not convicted.

The thickets of official bureaucracy that have sprung up around those who work with children will be drastically cut back too. The Vetting and Barring Scheme will be reined in, henceforth applying only to those who have intensive contact with the young. This follows the scrapping, over the summer, of the ContactPoint database, which was designed to collect and store the details of every child in the country.

There will, apparently, be measures to stem the proliferation of CCTV, plus new safeguards of the right to protests and restrictions on the libel laws. The notorious RIPA law that allows local councils to spy on residents suspected of lying about where they live will be struck out.

We await the full detail of the Bill before passing final judgment. Last year, we were told that the Coalition would end the storage of the public's internet and email records without good reason. But there remain fears about the security of patients' information on the NHS Care Records database.

And the giant "Big Brother" database – which was proposed to store information on every phone call, email and internet visit in the UK – could yet be resurrected. It is also unclear how the Coalition will curb the expansion of CCTV when most of the cameras are put up by local councils. But the direction of travel from the Coalition has been encouraging.

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?

React Now

Latest stories from i100
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Austen Lloyd: Corporate Solicitor NQ+ Oxford

Excellent Salary: Austen Lloyd: CORPORATE - Corporate Solicitor NQ+ An excelle...

Reach Volunteering: Financial Trustee and Company Secretary

Voluntary Only - Expenses Reimbursed: Reach Volunteering: A trustee (company d...

Recruitment Genius: Senior Project Manager

£45000 - £65000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Shopfitter

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity to join a successful an...

Day In a Page

The Liberal Left should stop feeling guilty about flying the flag of St George and have no qualms about celebrating Englishness, one of Ed Miliband’s closest advisers said  

Don't sneer at the white van driving flag waving man

Stefano Hatfield
Mau Mau uprising: Kenyans still waiting for justice join class action over Britain's role in the emergency

Kenyans still waiting for justice over Mau Mau uprising

Thousands join class action over Britain's role in the emergency
Isis in Iraq: The trauma of the last six months has overwhelmed the remaining Christians in the country

The last Christians in Iraq

After 2,000 years, a community will try anything – including pretending to convert to Islam – to avoid losing everything, says Patrick Cockburn
Black Friday: Helpful discounts for Christmas shoppers, or cynical marketing by desperate retailers?

Helpful discounts for Christmas shoppers, or cynical marketing by desperate retailers?

Britain braced for Black Friday
Bill Cosby's persona goes from America's dad to date-rape drugs

From America's dad to date-rape drugs

Stories of Bill Cosby's alleged sexual assaults may have circulated widely in Hollywood, but they came as a shock to fans, says Rupert Cornwell
Clare Balding: 'Women's sport is kicking off at last'

Clare Balding: 'Women's sport is kicking off at last'

As fans flock to see England women's Wembley debut against Germany, the TV presenter on an exciting 'sea change'
Oh come, all ye multi-faithful: The Christmas jumper is in fashion, but should you wear your religion on your sleeve?

Oh come, all ye multi-faithful

The Christmas jumper is in fashion, but should you wear your religion on your sleeve?
Dr Charles Heatley: The GP off to do battle in the war against Ebola

The GP off to do battle in the war against Ebola

Dr Charles Heatley on joining the NHS volunteers' team bound for Sierra Leone
Flogging vlogging: First video bloggers conquered YouTube. Now they want us to buy their books

Flogging vlogging

First video bloggers conquered YouTube. Now they want us to buy their books
Saturday Night Live vs The Daily Show: US channels wage comedy star wars

Saturday Night Live vs The Daily Show

US channels wage comedy star wars
When is a wine made in Piedmont not a Piemonte wine? When EU rules make Italian vineyards invisible

When is a wine made in Piedmont not a Piemonte wine?

When EU rules make Italian vineyards invisible
Look what's mushrooming now! Meat-free recipes and food scandals help one growing sector

Look what's mushrooming now!

Meat-free recipes and food scandals help one growing sector
Neil Findlay is more a pink shrimp than a red firebrand

More a pink shrimp than a red firebrand

The vilification of the potential Scottish Labour leader Neil Findlay shows how one-note politics is today, says DJ Taylor
Bill Granger recipes: Tenderstem broccoli omelette; Fried eggs with Mexican-style tomato and chilli sauce; Pan-fried cavolo nero with soft-boiled egg

Oeuf quake

Bill Granger's cracking egg recipes
Terry Venables: Wayne Rooney is roaring again and the world knows that England are back

Terry Venables column

Wayne Rooney is roaring again and the world knows that England are back
Michael Calvin: Abject leadership is allowing football’s age-old sores to fester

Abject leadership is allowing football’s age-old sores to fester

Those at the top are allowing the same issues to go unchallenged, says Michael Calvin