Missing in action: Lib Dem campaigning on civil liberties

One of the oddities of the argument made yesterday that new legislation has to be urgently rushed through in order to allow the state to keep on snooping on us after the European Court of Justice’s ruling is that the ruling was made back in April.

Of course, it’s quite reasonable to say that working out the legal details of how to react to the ruling – and indeed the intensive battle within the coalition as the Tories tried to use it as an excuse to expand snooping whilst the Lib Dems used it as a lever to restrict snooping (securing some potentially important victories, though the jury is out on many of them at the moment) – also took time.

Yet during that interim in public the party was almost completely silent. It once again missed a trick about being a campaigning party. A campaigning party both secures better policy outcomes and it also then is in a more credible position to explain and defend the victories it has secured.

Working in silence and then coming out into the daylight to say, ‘it’s all ok, we got some changes and trust us that we did the best’ is the classic insider, Whitehall establishment way of doing things. A campaigning, anti-establishment party campaigns in public to strengthen its hand when it has to meet in private with the representatives of the establishment.

Back in 2011 I commented, to John Prescott’s amusement/bafflement, that the Liberal Democrats could learn a thing or two from him. As the BBC reported:

In his heyday, John Prescott liked nothing better than sinking his teeth into the Liberal Democrats, never missing a chance to pour scorn on the party from the government benches.

Now that the veteran Labour bruiser has retired from frontline politics (and found a new lease of life on Twitter), could he become their role model?

It sounds unlikely. But influential Lib Dem blogger Mark Pack believes the way Prescott is both “establishment” and “anti-establishment” at the same time contains lessons for his party, still learning how to handle power after decades of being a party of protest.

Many Lib Dems joined politics to be community champions against the establishment but that is rather more difficult when your party is in government, argued the former Lib Dem staffer…

“There’s something I think we can learn from him, if you look at what he did at the tail-end years of the Labour government – a senior representative of the party in power but also a very successful popular agitator against things like the state of the financial system.

“If John Prescott can manage it, surely we should be able to manage it as well.”

He said Lib Dems outside of government, rather than remaining bystanders, should be getting “stuck in” to campaigns to help Lib Dem ideals find their way into policies.


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