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Civil liberties tossed out of the window as Labour is mesmerised by security services

big-brother-1984The emergency surveillance bill rushed through Parliament this week was somewhat overshadowed by David Cameron’s reshuffle and the luridly misogynistic coverage of it in parts of the Tory press. But this bill, which gave government emergency powers so that the police and security services can continue to access phone and internet records, represented a new low in the manipulation of the Parliamentary timetable.

The obvious warning signal about this bill was that all three party leaders had struck a deal about it. When the three front benches close ranks against their own bank benchers, it is a sure indication that they are up to no good. In Britain we have no written constitution or the checks and balances of other political systems. The only check on government is vigorous opposition and proper scrutiny. But the three party leaders came together in order to make proper scrutiny of the emergency surveillance bill almost impossible.

MPs were given a couple of days’ notice that the bill would be introduced on Tuesday. This left campaigners with no time to mobilise and get information out to MPs. Successful parliamentary rebellions usually need weeks of preparation to build up a head of steam. With this bill there were only three days to organise against it. Furthermore, in order to leave nothing to chance, the government imposed a timetable motion (with Labour support) which gave parliament exactly one day to discuss all stages of the bill.

Normally taking a bill through all its stages in the House of Commons would take months. Government ministers, and their Labour shadows, tried to claim that there was not enough time to give this bill the normal process. This was a preposterous claim. The bill was a response to a European Court ruling in all the way back in April. As was pointed out during the debate, the civil service would have had a version of this bill drafted just in case we did lose the court case. Instead of introducing the bill promptly, the government waited until the last full week before parliament shuts for the summer to introduce the bill and then claimed that there was not enough time for proper discussion.

The naked manipulation of this move is made worse by the fact that Parliament has had an exceptionally light legislative program. There would have been ample time to debate the legislation fully if it had been introduced at any time since April.

The other advantage to the government in bringing the legislation forward at the last possible moment is that the Lords will be unwilling to amend it. This usually involves the bill going backwards and forwards between the Lords and the Commons so-called parliamentary “ping pong” But, a few days before the end of the session, many MPs and peers have their holidays booked and would be unwilling to prolong the parliamentary session for proper debate of the bill.

The method of bringing in this bill was bad enough. But the government (and Labour shadow ministers) tried to claim that there was nothing new in it. This was not true. Civil liberties campaigners made it clear that the bill did indeed increase government powers. Liberty said:

The bill contains new and unprecedented powers for the UK to require overseas companies to comply with interception warrants and communications data acquisition requests and build interception capabilities into their products and infrastructure…This fast-track legislation contains sweeping surveillance powers that will affect every man, woman and child in the UK.”

The UN human rights chief also criticised Britain’s rush through parliament of the new emergency law

So one of the most depressing aspect of this bill was the way the Labour Party was rolled over in support of both the content of the bill and the dubious way that it was railroaded through Parliament. Once again senior Labour figures were mesmerised by the security service and swallowed their claim that law enforcement as we know it would come to a halt if this bill wasn’t passed in this exact form and on this exact truncated timetable. Civil liberties concerns were tossed out of the window in favour of looking like a ”responsible” opposition.  Of course, in reality, it was extremely irresponsible opposition to allow this bill to go forward without proper debate.

New Labour, in the height of its neo-liberal pomp and power, was very careless about civil liberties issues. But these are exactly the issues that are particularly important to erstwhile Liberal voters who Labour has to win over. Standing up for civil liberties, as Labour failed to do over the emergency surveillance bill, is not just the right thing to do but is also smart politics.


  1. jeffreydavies says:

    im sorry the little tory party hasn’t thrown out its blairites yet and would ever be one outcome

  2. David Melvin says:

    Parliament has failed in it’s primary duty to scrutinise legislation. I expect the bloated payroll vote to support the government, but not the so-called Official Opposition. On this as so many issues Caroline Lucas carrys out the role of Leader of the Opposition.

  3. swatantra says:

    I’m afraid there are a lot of nasty people out there Diane who want to do us in. So I am in favour of greater security measures these days.
    Islamofacists are the greatest threat to our security since the IRA on our mainland, and we have to keep tabs on these kind of people.

    1. Robert says:

      Yep well time to shut the doors to any more no more immigration..

  4. Mr jeffrey l davies says:

    tabs nah they now look inward at the likes of you and I under thise guise haven’t they got people working who can put stuff out there on the web going around and around looking for for said stuff yes they got the ability to put out Trojans and the like just for this but allowing this bill is another nail in our coffin yes I not a criminal or anything else but concerned no they the torys have pushed through a Trojan horse not foe whot they told you for but to use against its own people trust ask the a tory for the truth of it and all one gets is lies or the delete button don’t talk of service I am who served and this bill will do harm to the british people not the criminals they not that stupid they have their own virus writters Trojan makers so they now its not going to damage them jeff3

  5. Robert says:

    Now the government can order the police and security groups to look for information on Paedophiles in it’s ranks and simple remove the information, under the guise of national interest.

    This little bit of rushed legislation well all parties have people in it’s ranks who were worried.

    I bet labour said ok simple because this group who it seems were running a paedophile rings are now more or less safe.

    Nothing like telling us they are looking for crime, in secret.

  6. Rod says:

    “these are exactly the issues that are particularly important to erstwhile Liberal voters who Labour has to win over.”

    What is most important to Ed and his Progress chums is maintaining the failed New Labour/neo-liberal ideology.

    We’ve had Harman promising higher taxes for the squeezed-middle. We’ve had Miliband’s anti-trade union campaign at Falkirk and the subsequent dumping of the TU link. And Miliband’s support for the disastrous military intervention in Libya.

    We’ve had Reeves promising to be tougher than the Tories on ‘scroungers’. We had Labour’s Muslim-baiting, knee-jerk proposal of implementing an unnecessary law against armed forces discrimination…

    What is it with these out-of-touch Progress numpties – do any of them actually know how to eat a bacon sandwich?

    1. Robert says:

      Progress or as they now call them selves the One Nation under an English flag have you seen the One Nation Union jack they picked out and highlighted the English flag.

      Miliband has to be the record breaking disaster for labour, god he’s weak, he is controlled and he labour party is dead.

  7. Chris says:

    LOL, everything’s “misogynistic” these days, isn’t it?

    News flash: the Mail is a paper aimed at women. They’re just doing what they think will appeal to their FEMALE readers.

    Probably right too.

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