It seems David Cameron’s found a neat way of needling his coalition
partners over their resistance to the so-called ‘snooper’s charter’. Last week, Nick Clegg insisted on proper pre-legislative scrutiny before any expansion of surveillance powers goes ahead, while a group of Lib Dem MPs wrote a letter in the Guardian declaring that:
‘It continues to be essential that our civil liberties are safeguarded, and that the state is not given the powers to snoop on its citizens at will.’
And Lib Dem president Tim Farron told the BBC that his party is ‘prepared to kill’ the proposals ‘if it comes down to it’.
‘If we think this is a threat to a free and liberal society,’ he said, ‘then there would be no question of unpicking them or compromising’.
So now Cameron’s pushing back. His explicit argument is that liberals have nothing to worry about, but he’s also managed to work in the implicit attack that Clegg was all for it before the pile-on
from the press, the campaign groups and his backbenchers. The PM told reporters this morning:
‘You’ve got to remember that this was a National Security Council where, sitting round the table, was Chris Huhne, Nick Clegg, Ken Clarke — people from impeccable civil libertarian
While this might cause Clegg some discomfort — as with the NHS reforms, he’ll face questions as to why he was for it before he was against it — it’s unlikely to do much to
alleviate the opposition to the plans. After all, ‘Nick agrees with me’ isn’t likely to make the David Davises or Shami Chakrabartis of the world any more sympathetic to Cameron’s position. And this
needling will only make Clegg and his fellow Lib Dem MPs all the more determined to demonstrate their commitment to one of their party’s core principles. Indeed, even if Clegg could’ve done more to
block or water down the proposals at an earlier stage, he has certainly scored a big victory by ensuring that only draft clauses — rather than a full bill — will be published next month.
UPDATE: And Clegg has pushed back in return, as PoliticsHome reports:
‘A spokesman for the Deputy Prime Minister said today that at the time Mr Clegg agreed to look at the proposals, he “made clear that they could only proceed if they took into
account and protected civil liberties… The Liberal Democrats will continue to put the protection of civil liberties at the top of the political agenda as the Coalition Agreement makes