political

Two oddities about the muted official Lib Dem response to David Miranda’s detention

Jonathan Calder catches one of the oddities well in his tweet from last night:

There’s certainly a role for caution in forming a firm view about a specific case until you have heard the protagonists explain their reasoning. To take another recent example, think how different the Joan Edwards bequest case would have sounded if the very first story had included asking and publishing the answer from her lawyers as to why her money went to political parties – ‘because that is what she told us verbally she wanted’ – rather than omitting that part of the story completely as if their reasoning was completely irrelevant.

Whether or not you think the parties should have taken the money or asked more questions, go back and read many of the early reports to see just how odd, incomplete and often downright wrong they read now knowing that one little fact from her lawyers (though it’s not worth doing this for the Daily Mail website, as – oddly – the Mail has been rather better at updating its incomplete early versions of the story online than others such as The Guardian or the New Statesman who normally look down their editorial noses at the Mail).

Such sensible respect for knowing the facts before forming a view – slower and more inconvenient than taking a pre-formed view and forcing it on to events it is true, but also rather wiser – however still leaves plenty of room for concern over David Miranda’s detention. For example, “The reports so far are shocking and it’s important that we know the full story about what happened and why. That’s why we need the independent reviewers of terrorism legislation to look into this case and report promptly to the government. Freedom of the press is a vital part of the fight against the dictatorial world terrorists want and we must never confuse inconvenient press stories with terrorism”.

Moreover, the politics of the muted response (a comment from Ming Campbell here, a softly worded late official unnamed spokesperson quote there) are also odd. It’s not just that the anti-terrorism law in the spotlight is one introduced by Labour, it’s that the Lib Dems have successfully supported its reform once in government and there is legislation currently going through Parliament to remove some of the excesses that have been in the firing line – cutting the maximum amount of time someone can be detained for and giving access to lawyers. Perhaps when we know more about who did what and why, those reforms will look to be insufficient, but it’s particularly odd to be silent about a heavily criticised law when you’re already getting it changed rather than to talk about the fact that you’re getting it changed.

Sometimes there is a tension between principle and pragmatic politics. In this case both point towards saying more, saying it sooner and saying it more strongly. Which makes the muted official response all the stranger.

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