Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Alex Carlile and independence

I have an open mind on Liberal Democrats co-operating with the government.

Matthew Taylor's work on rural housing problems (which he writes about in the current Liberator) seems to have been worthwhile, whereas Shirley Williams's role advising Gordon Brown on nuclear disarmament has never been mentioned again.

But it is becoming increasingly hard to feel anything other than deeply worried about the way Alex Carlile is interpreting his role as the government's independent reviewer of terrorism legislation.

I say this in view of his contribution to the Lords debate on the proposed 42 days' detention for questioning of terrorist subjects. Simon Hoggart, from this monring's Guardian, sets the scene:
Lord Carlile stood up. The Earl of Onslow stood up. Lord Carlile sat down. Onslow sat down.

Then they both stood up. When more than one peer wants to speak, the others can indicate whom they prefer, by murmuring the name loudly, if you see what I mean.

"Carlile, Carlile, Carlile," they shouted diffidently, like a shy train guard on Lancaster station.

Finally Carlile got his way.
And as Hoggart says, he was all in favour of 42 days and poured scorn on his opponents. In particular, he described a newspaper advertisement from Liberty as "shameful" and told the House that Magna Carta is "sexist and racist" - you can read the whole speech in Hansard.

These are the sort of arguments you would expect from a brown-nosing Commons backbencher faced with an unarguable case. What they were doing coming from government's independent reviewer of terrorism legislation defeats me. Shouldn't he be above the fray to some extent rather than getting down and dirty with the government's greatest opponents?

The result of the vote - the government lost by 309 votes to 118 - makes it clear that only the payroll vote turned out. It is hard to see how Alex can justify joining them.

I would also be interested to know how he squares acting as a partisan for a Labour government with taking the Liberal Democrat whip.


Tristan said...

I'm not one for suspending people because they differ with party policy, but Carlile does seem so far outside a central theme for the party and totally opposed to the idea of liberty and freedom that it seems like this is a case for suspension at least.

(perhaps its one rule for parliamentarians, another for the rest of us?)

Jennie Rigg said...


Anonymous said...

Or maybe - just maybe - Carlile actually believes what he is saying and thinks it is important that someone says it, regardless of the consequences for himself? In which case the rush of loyal Lib Dems to condemn him and try to silence him speaks volumes for the party's claims to favour free speech and tolerance.
I'm used to left-wing sects trying to impose monolithic dogmas on all their members, and the Tories aren't exactly trustworthy when it comes to encouraging independent judgement and defiance of the party line, but it's somewhat sickening to find the Lib Dems indulging in exactly the same kind of tribalism. But such is the way of the world. All hail the power of Clegg Cable Thought! Death to those who don't believe every word printed in the Guardian! Nonconformists for Conformism! (etc.)

Jonathan Calder said...

Trying too hard.