One of the worst aspects of the Blair/Brown Labour governments was its casual disregard of the most basic civil liberties.Â Â It was perhaps the only area of policy in which there seemed to be some reason for optimism that the formation of the Coalition government would result in an improvement on what went before.
The reasons for this optimism were twofold â€“ firstly the Cameron/Osborne Tory party seemed to be far more liberal in its instincts than earlier recent incarnations under Howard, Duncan-Smith and Hague.Â Â Secondly and far more importantly the Coalition included the Liberal Democrats for whom this issue was their raison dâ€™etre.Â Â The Lib Dems had a proud record of opposing the authoritarianism of New Labour, its extension of the security state, control orders, detention without trial and Blair’s mealy mouthed position on the US torture state.
One of the big pledges when the government was formed was for a new era of liberty, with many of the authoritarian powers of the state being rolled back and protections being restored.Â Â Like so much else this now seems like ancient history.Â Â News today that the government is proposing to bring forward new legislation as early as next month to require Internet Service Providers to retain indefinitely all users entire internet browsing and email history represents a truly terrifying extension of the power and reach of the state.
The proposal was, of course, mooted back in 2009 by Labour but, as a result of widespread opposition (in particular from Nick Clegg and the Lib Dems), it was dropped.Â The Coalition Agreement itself pledges the government to â€˜end the storage of internet and email records without good reasonâ€™.Â Â Â However, as we sawÂ from the experience of the Health and Social Care Act, the Coalition Agreement will be wholly ignored when it suits the Tory agenda.
It is not yet clear why this is now being pushed by the government.Â Â It may well be a Conservative attempt to shore up law and order credentials with the Tory tabloid press, who have been giving them an unrelenting series of bad headlines since the debacle that was George Osborneâ€™s budget.Â Â It may be institutional capture â€“ in that all governments seems to get seduced by the Home Office and the spooks, into giving them ever more powers.Â Â Â It may be a bit of both.
What is baffling though is that this is the quintessential Liberal issue, a policy that the Lib Dems are not required to supportÂ – indeed given the express statement in the Coalition Agreement, it is a policy that they are required to oppose.Â Â There can be no tuition fee style nose peg excuses with this proposal. Yet the only prominent political voice of opposition so far is that of Tory civil libertarian, David Davis who rightly described the policy this morning on the Today programme as making things â€™60 million times worseâ€™.
The Lib Dems have since May 2010 made it clear that they have abandoned their proud social democratic tradition which has dominated the party for most of the last 20 years.Â Â If the Lib Dems do not oppose a measure as illiberal as this and prevent it from reaching the statute books, it will give every impression that they have also abandoned their liberal tradition.Â What on earth is left?