“In the last twenty years we have witnessed the steady erosion of civil liberties in Britain. One by one, our once treasured freedoms have been stripped away. A country that once prided itself on being free is now undermining the most basic rights of its citizens.“
Chris Huhne’s words introducing the Lib Dems’ Freedom Bill. In fact, his words introducing it almost a year ago. I realise that the Liberals tend to get squeezed out of the media in the run up to an election, but bugger me, they’ve kept this quiet.
I can sympathise with them. The party that wraps together many of the single-issue causes and minority interests that are increasingly a substitute for politics in the UK, must know it’s standing on very thin ice when discussing the idea of freedom. Policies on the environment and public health, for example, would present (were the LDs ever get a toehold on national government) an interesting obstacle to the implementation of any meaningful desire to strengthen liberty beyond headline actions such as dumping ID cards from the agenda.
Unarguably correct though the 20 measures proposed in the draft are, the Bill goes nowhere near far enough. Freedom comes in many flavours and textures, but the draft excludes anything but political and judicial mechanics. The unfair nature of the current extradition treaty with the United States, for example, vexes me every time I think about it, but blanket banning smoking in public places, curtailing the expression of sincerely-held religious opinions or worrying about being fined for putting a tin can in the wrong waste bin all have a far more toxic effect on my day-to-day existence. To push the point to an extreme, admittedly an enjoyable one to ponder, imagine the internal blood bath resulting from any LD government attempt to repeal the hunting ban. They’d be beating each other to death with organic, home knitted nunchucks before you could say tally ho.
So, eight out of 10 for recognising that we have something of a freedom deficit to address, but a paltry two for not having had the guts to go even a step beyond the bleeding obvious.