I fully support the decision of my friend and colleague Caron Lindsay, Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice, to initiate a debate on the actions of Lord Carlile in connection with the Counter Terrorism Bill and an amendment (which apparently is still hanging over parliament like the sword of Damocles) which would effectively bring in the Communications Data Bill (or “Snoopers’ Charter”) by a back door/shoe-horn.
I strongly disapprove of those actions, taken by Lord Carlile and a few other peers.
One of the proudest moments of my Liberal Democrat membership was when I sat in the York conference hall as we overwhelmingly passed a motion in favour of a digital bill of rights last March.
It is therefore very disappointing that the Communications Data Bill, which was torn apart by parliamentary committee, is being resuscitated via parliamentary high jinks. (Clutching at straws, perhaps?)
I strongly argue that it is fair comment and totally legitimate for members to call for other members of our party to consider their position as members, as Caron did in the case of Alex Carlile. I simply disagree with such a call. Under our constitution I believe there is no valid case for even remotely considering Lord Carlile’s position as a member. (There may have been some contravention of the House of Lords Lib Dem group standing orders, perhaps). But, more importantly, I believe it is wrong. It is not justified to ask someone to leave the party based on their strongly held and eminently informed views on one subject, notwithstanding the fact that it is a key issue. We disagree, but that is no reason to operate the trap door under the feet of Lord Carlile. We’re a liberal party, for goodness sake. We have our mavericks. We get annoyed by other people’s views sometimes. But that is part and parcel of who we are.
It is not right to judge Alex Carlile on just this one issue and ignore a lifetime of passionate and effective support by him of liberal causes, and of the Liberal Democrats and the Liberal Party.
Tolerating dissent in our ranks is a sign of strength, not of weakness. Scurrying around, crying for someone to be bumped to the cross-benches on a simple, though important, policy disagreement tends to partially cede the relevant substantive area of debate to our opponents.
If we are confident in the strength of our arguments on the Snoopers’ Charter, I don’t think we should have a problem with taking a single maverick head-on, without resorting to questioning their membership of our party.
The Liberal Democrat party would feel a very cold, monochrome and unforgiving place without the likes of Alex Carlile.