Lib Dem Autumn Conference, Day 4 – secret courts and civil liberties

Day 4 was possibly the most interesting day yet.

Secret Courts
I’m sure, if you’re reading this, that you’ll have also read that the Lib Dem members battled the leadership by supporting a motion calling for proposals for secret courts in the Justice & Security Bill to be dropped. I fully agreed with this motion and voted with it on the hall, and against the amendment put by Parliamentarians.

But the portrayal of the debate as members versus MPs is not wholly accurate. In fact, supporting the motion were Lord Paul Strasburger, who voted against the Bill in the House of Lords, and Baroness Sarah Ludford MEP, both spoke in favour of the motion, reaffirming the liberal value of fair justice and wider civil liberties which for many is a key reason for their membership of the party. Sarah Ludford, in particular, called this an issue we should die in the ditch for.

Shami Chakrabarti
Shami Chakrabarti, the Director of Liberty, who have been spearheading the campaign against secret courts, had apparently asked the Conference organisers if she could address the Conference before the vote, which was refused. This has been reported as ‘Lib Dems block Chakrabarti’, in a way which suggests leadership suppressing opposition. This isn’t the case.

I am a proud member of Liberty and a big fan of Chakrabarti, as are many people within the party. But she is not a Liberal Democrat party member, and our policy is created, debated and voted on by members of the party. She had not been denied a right to address members at all – I had seen her four hours before in a well-attended fringe event, her second of the Conference. All members have had a chance to listen to her. Liberty were also handing out leaflets throughout the Conference highlighting their viewpoint and advising delegates how to vote in the debate.

Shami was absolutely within her right to ask, but I think it was correct that she was able to speak in the motion.

I will write another time about civil liberties issues and their effect on future coalitions. Right now, I am about to go into a motion and vote on a new Liberal Democrat housing policy (PDF). The motion itself is on page 55 of the Agenda, with an amendment in the daily update here.

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