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.

6 responses to “Two oddities about the muted official Lib Dem response to David Miranda’s detention”

  1. “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’ ”
    It would have made no difference whatsoever. Firstly, the solicitor’s were simply defending their own interpretation of the Will. When asked to produce notes (by a DM journalist) confirming Miss Edwards’ wishes, they refused. There is no way that we can confirm that the solicitor’s statement is true as Miss Edwards is dead. Furthermore, why would the solicitors have drafted the Will to read that the money was to be left to the government and then write something different in their notes (there was a 12 year gap between the Will being drafted and her death so it is hardly likely that the solicitors could remember what she said)??!
    All of this misses the point anyway – it’s a smokescreen. The fact remains that the Lib Dems received a bequest along with the wording of the Will and were happy to accept the money despite the obvious contentious nature of the Will, without making a public statement about the bequest stating that the matter was being referred for independent legal assessment. From a legal point of view that step is not necessary as the executor’s interpretation can be taken as read, but from a point of view of transparency such a step was absolutely necessary. As Alistair Carmichael (Lib Dem MP, whip and former solicitor) pointed out, the wording of the Will meant that the party would almost certainly be ordered to pay the money to the government – he made this comment after the wording of the Will became public. It is obvious that the money was meant for the government, not the parties – obvious because nobody leaves money to the ruling party that happens to be in power and it makes no sense, and the wording of the Will explicitly mentions ‘government’. The fundamental charge against the Conservatives and Lib Dems remains in this case – that the parties were happy to pocket money that was almost certainly meant for the government because of the bizarre interpretation by the executors of the badly worded Will drafted by the same executors. The statement by the executors (‘that one little fact from her lawyers’ as you so believingly put it) certainly did not clear up the matter in favour of the two parties.
    To me, you appear to have taken your pre-formed view and then resolved that it was right on the basis of the executors’ statement.

  2. Is the second bit of bold text supposed to also be a link?

    If it’s not, can I recommend my blog post (with links to primary sources) on this? http://leadinglines.blogspot.co.uk/2013/08/schedule-7-of-terrorism-act-2000-is.html

  3. Regarding cash from the will – it’s interesting the story was first splashed by the Mail – presumably their Tory friends thought it worthwhile to slag off the LibDems by association even if it cost their Party 0ver £400.000 in the process!
    As for the David Miranda case, the US and its agencies may not have requested his detention and data ‘stripsearch’, but I’m sure they’ll be very happy to receive a cloned image of the hard drive, data sticks and DVDs as soon as the Quislings at GCHQ send it to them.
    As for Nick and Jeremy Browne, their limp-wristed response when parts of the Home Office overstep acceptable boundaries as in the recent roundups of brown skinned worker at Tube stations, is making us as a Party in Coalition look totally useless.

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