Sunday’s letter in the Observer questioning the Conservatives’ commitment to civil liberties, which was signed by several prominent Labour and Lib Dem participants in the Convention, had an additional paragraph which wasn’t published. Sunder Katwala (a signatory of the letter) has posted the full letter on the Fabian Society blog,including the additional paragraph that reads:
The personal stand of individual MPs like David Davis should not lead anyone to believe that a Tory Party that has attacked David Blunkett, John Reid and Jacqui Smith as being too “soft” on gay rights, asylum rights and prisoners’ rights is any better. Those who savour Britain’s diminishing reputation as a beacon of liberty should be careful what they wish for.
Dr Evan Harris MP, who suggested and co-ordinated the letter, reflects on the challenge for civil liberties advocates:
It is patently obvious that the Conservative Party – based on its recent record, its current policies and the people currently in place – can not be said to any better a prospect on these issues across a range of subjects than the current administration.
There is a real danger therefore of the human rights and civil liberties movement sleep-walking into an even worse situation or at least failing to force the Conservative party into the open on its wider civil liberties policies, if the Convention was anything to go by.
This was demonstrated by the failure of the Conservatives three days later, including David Davis, to vote against control order renewal despite promising to do so a year ago.
It seems to me this is exactly the kind of debate the Convention set out to achieve and it will be interesting to see if it generates a response from the Tories. The remarks by Dr Evan Harris and the concerns raised in his letter should be taken very seriously indeed by anyone in the civil liberties lobby. It’s well known that the Tory record on these issues is seriously flawed and we should be sceptical about any claims on their part to be the “party of civil liberties”. I would disagree with Dr Harris on one point however: it is precisely through initiatives like the Convention that we can “force the Conservative party into the open on its wider civil liberties policies” – indeed the Convention provides the perfect opportunity to subject their views to an open and critical public discussion, to which this letter is the latest contribution.