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

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

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

Recruitment Genius: Experienced Bookkeeper - German Speaking - Part Time

£23000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This firm of accountants based ...

Recruitment Genius: Operations Manager

£30000 - £38000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They are a financial services c...

Ashdown Group: Field Service Engineer

£30000 - £32000 per annum + car allowance and on call: Ashdown Group: A succes...

Recruitment Genius: Sales & Marketing Co-Ordinator

£15000 - £17000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Well established small company ...

Day In a Page

Read Next
A woman runs down the street  

Should wolf-whistling be reported to the Police? If you're Poppy Smart, then yes

Jane Merrick

Voices in Danger: How can we prevent journalists from being sexually assaulted in conflict zones?

Heather Blake
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The acceptable face of the Emirates

The acceptable face of the Emirates

Has Abu Dhabi found a way to blend petrodollars with principles, asks Robert Fisk
Nepal earthquake: One man's desperate escape from Everest base camp after the disaster

Escape from Everest base camp

Nick Talbot was sitting in his tent when the tsunami of snow and rock hit. He was lucky to live, unlike his climbing partner just feet away...
Adopting high fibre diet could dramatically cut risk of bowel cancer, says study

What happened when 20 Americans swapped diets with 20 Africans?

Innovative study in the US produces remarkable results
Blake Lively and 'The Age of Adaline': Gossip Girl comes
of age

Gossip girl comes of age

Blake Lively is best known for playing an affluent teenager. Her role as a woman who is trapped forever at 29 is a greater challenge
Goat cuisine: Kid meat is coming to Ocado

Goat cuisine

It's loved by chefs, ethical, low in fat and delicious. So, will kid meat give lamb a run for its money?
14 best coat hooks

Hang on: 14 best coat hooks

Set the tone for the rest of your house with a stylish and functional coat rack in the hallway
Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

How a costume drama became a Sunday night staple
Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers as he pushes Tories on housing

Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers

Labour leader pushes Tories on housing
Aviation history is littered with grand failures - from the the Bristol Brabazon to Concorde - but what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?

Aviation history is littered with grand failures

But what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?
Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of Soviet-style 'iron curtains' right across Europe

Fortress Europe?

Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of 'iron curtains'
Never mind what you're wearing, it's what you're reclining on

Never mind what you're wearing

It's what you're reclining on that matters
General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

Chuka Umunna: A virus of racism runs through Ukip

The shadow business secretary on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe's problem

Yemen's exotic war will soon affect Europe

Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign, says Patrick Cockburn
Marginal Streets project aims to document voters in the run-up to the General Election

Marginal Streets project documents voters

Independent photographers Joseph Fox and Orlando Gili are uploading two portraits of constituents to their website for each day of the campaign
Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins

The real-life kingdom of Westeros

Is there something a little uncomfortable about Game of Thrones shooting in Northern Ireland?