This week’s arguments over the Justice and Security Bill may prove a watershed for Liberal Democrats. 

In the Cambridge News this week, Lib Dem MP Julian Huppert said that “all of the Liberal Democrat conditions have been agreed: “I am delighted with this outcome, it is a victory for the Lib Dems” (Cambridge News, 30/5/12). Contrast that with the view from Shami Chakrabarti in the Guardian:  “Some in government have been furiously briefing of the grand concession of requiring a minister to consider making targeted PII applications, rather than applying for a case to go into closed proceedings. But the decision to ‘consider and reject’ PII is unenforceable and once the government applies for closed proceedings, the bill orders the judge to ‘ignore’ the more proportionate remedy for national security. The plans for secret justice are even worse than first imagined.”  (Guardian 30/5/12)

Julian has long professed his admiration for Shami and made much of his previous work with Liberty. But they can’t both be right. In fact, of course, the Lib Dems are now doing exactly what they criticised Labour for -; struggling with near intractable dilemmas., and then over-hyping a repackaged compromise. Welcome to the real world -; that is what being in Government is like. But in so doing, it begs the question: what are the Liberal Democrats for? Until this week it was just about possible to mount a case for their record on civil liberties -; now they have surrendered that card as well.

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