Saturday, March 02, 2013

Will we still like Mike after Monday's secret courts vote? #no2secretcourts

New Eastleigh MP Mike Thornton's life is about to change immeasurably. On Monday he takes his seat in Parliament. I don't know if he's visited the place before, but even now I've been there many times, my jaw drops every single time. When you go into the Scottish Parliament, it's all bright and shiny and new and modern. With Westminster, you can feel yourself stepping back a century or two when you step off the escalator from Portcullis House. I am sure it's going to be quite an overwhelming experience for him.

One of the very first things Mike is going to be asked to do is to vote on the dreaded Justice and Security Bill. For some reason, the vote on Part 2 is happening first, on Monday. That's the bit about secret courts which the party has made clear it opposes outright and wants to see deleted. Liberal Democrat MPs Mike Crockart and Julian Huppert tried to get the secret courts clause deleted at Committee stage and failed by one vote. Labour voted with them.

We don't yet know how Labour will vote on Monday. But if they decide that the Bill is too illiberal for them, the same people who wanted us all to have to carry ID cards or who wanted to lock people up without charge for 3 months, our civil liberties credentials will be severely compromised.

What's the problem with secret courts? Well, how can you possibly have a fair trial if one side is not allowed to see all of the evidence? If it's shown to a judge and a special advocate, but not to the person suing the Government. One of the foundations of our legal system is that decisions are made after evidence is properly tested in court. That means that all parties have to have sight of all of the evidence. If they don't, for example if some has been withheld, then it's a miscarriage of justice.

The other thing we need to think about is that surely the very essence of a liberal party is to protect the people from the excesses of the state. Why would we put the state in a position which makes it much easier for it to cover up complicity in torture. Did you see that Channel 4 drama, Complicit, the other week? The plot showed an MI5 officer basically ask a foreign "security official" to torture some information out of a British citizen he suspected had been sorting out smuggling of ricin into Britain. We never know whether the suspect is guilty or not. The information gained under torture proved to be false and he was pretty severely injured. Had he then sued the British Government for compensation for complicity in his torture, the chances are that would be heard in a secret court where he would not be able to see the evidence the government presented in its defence. The whole thing was presented as Moral Dilemma Central, but I'm afraid I don't see the dilemma. Torture is never, ever acceptable. And anything which makes it easier for a government to overstep the boundaries is really not on.

I think it would be good to give Mike an idea of how strongly the party feels about this. Conference was very clear last September that it wanted to see Part 2 of the Bill deleted. I think it might be a good idea for all of us who are opposed to secret courts were to email him this weekend and tell him why he should vote against this legislation. I understand it would be quite difficult for him to make his first ever vote in Parliament against his party. He wouldn't know where to go for a start. So it would be much easier if he had some company. Why not email the rest of our MPs and ask them to vote against the Bill too so he has company in the voting lobby. There will be some history geeks out there, I'm sure, who will be able to tell me if any MP has ever rebelled on their first vote.

But back to Mike. He very nicely sent us an email thanking us for all our help last night. I suspect that replies to that don't go straight to him, so I think it would be more effective to use his council email address,

Oh, and as far as my question in the title of this piece is concerned, of course we will still like him. We liberals don't fall out with people because they disagree with us. Or we shouldn't, anyway. The activists from all over the country who poured into Eastleigh or spent hours on phone banks at home will really, really love him, though, if he does what Conference asked and voted to get rid of unfair and illiberal secret courts.Let's get to filling his inbox. Don't write loads - we don't want to overwhelm him - but do write. His first vote could be his most important.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

"Oh, and as far as my question in the title of this piece is concerned, of course we will still like him."

How sweet. But why don't you just distribute a tee shirt bearing the legend "MPs wipe your feet here"?


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