In politics, timing and getting your message right are both important.
In opposition, even more so.
When the draft investigatory powers bill was published by Theresa May last week it was clear that this was something that Lib Dems should instinctively oppose.
It is not our job to defend what is contained in Conservative Bills.
What was published may have be an a considerable improvement than what was originally proposed in the ‘Snoopers Charter’ thanks to Lib Dem ministers in coalition – but that was then and this is now.
After all, we have liberal in our name and are naturally suspicious of any legislation which seeks to tip the scales further towards the state and away from the individual citizen.
People expect us to stand up for civil liberties because as on so many issues, if we don’t who will?
Like most people who are not Westminster insiders I rely on Twitter and other channels for my news.
On the day of the publication of the Bill I searched online to find out our line.Hours passed and still the Lib Dems had no official position.
I pressed our press office for a response:
— Lib Dem Press Office (@LibDemPress) November 4, 2015
It was clear from everything Andy Burnham was saying leading up to and after the Bill was published that Labour (led by authoritarian ex New Labour ministers like him) would be offering full-throated support to their authoritarian Tory counterparts in government.
There was a clear gap, again, for an effective, liberal opposition to the Conservative government’s field.
Things became clearer when I saw that it had been Nick Clegg (our Home Affairs spokesman) who had put forward the Lib Dem case on the Bill and clearer still when I read his muddled article in the Guardian, a day later.
The article was a fudge. It effectively said the Bill was good in parts and the good bits were down to the Lib Dems.It read as though we Lib Dems were still in government trying to curb the Tories worst excesses and pushing a liberal agenda.
But we’re not, we are in opposition.
I wonder if Tim and others found it difficult to talk Nick out of supporting the better parts of the Bill given his status and former role as Deputy PM.
As time passed and the detail of May’s Bill came under closer scrutiny more and more problems with this Conservative legislation came to light.
I do not want to see enlightened Conservatives e.g. David Davis posing as liberals when it is our party that should be leading the way.
I’ve been in power at council level and have seen how easy it is to ‘go native’ but to campaign on a line ‘the Bill could be so much worse’ is no position at all.
We are liberals we are against this sort of thing. We opposed I-D cards in opposition. We stopped the original Snooper’s Charter in government.
As I tweeted at the time:
Clegg position on Surveillance Bill shows the difficulty of dealing with legislation in opposition that started life when @LibDems in gov
— Daisy Benson (@_DaisyBenson) November 5, 2015
Six days after the Bill was published Tim Farron wrote an article confirming Lib Dem opposition to this Bill.
This should have been our position from the off.
Relying on our Peers – notably Paul Strasburger and ex Sheffield Council Leader Paul Scriven, is not sufficient.
Tim said last week on Radio 5 that Lib Dems face two challenges: to be trusted and to be heard.
Taking consistent liberal positions on touchstone issues like civil liberties is the way we respond to these challenges as a party.
It is our response to these kind of events in Parliament that will define us, where it matters, in the eye of the public.Advertisements