November 7, 2016

What’s in store for civil liberties, Prime Minister?

What’s in store for civil liberties, Prime Minister?

With Theresa May now firmly installed in Number 10, David Spencer discusses the likely implications her Premiership will have for civil liberties in the UK.

I’ve never really been one for Halloween. To me, it has always seemed like an artificial and Americanised holiday where fake fear and fake blood gloss over a rather meaningless holiday.

But I must confess to finding events of this Halloween truly frightening. For it was on 31st October that the House of Lords finally signed off on the scary Investigatory Powers Bill.

Better known as the Snoopers Charter by those who truly understand the consequences of its provisions, this piece of legislation hands unprecedented powers to MI5 and MI6 to undertake intrusive surveillance on British citizens.

They can now hack into your devices and install malware to monitor your activity, they are also permitted to collect bulk data files on innocent British citizens (a practice that has been going on illegally for years, it recently emerged). It also requires ISPs and Communications providers to keep records of all online activity for a year.

Public scrutiny of the proposals contained in the Bill have been limited, thanks mostly to it progressing through Parliament at the same time as the EU Referendum was dominating the headlines. The Labour Party also supported it, meaning there was no meaningful Parliamentary opposition or scrutiny either.

The Bill is part of Theresa May’s legacy as Home Secretary. In that role, which she held for 6 years, she developed something of a reputation as an authoritarian.

And it was this Bill, which she first tried to introduce back in 2012 under the title ‘Communications Data Bill’, which played a big part in that. Civil Liberties, privacy, and individual freedom just never seemed to be a priority to her, especially after she was let off the coalition leash.

But is this a fair reputation? And is it necessarily going to lay down a blueprint for how she will approach these issues as Prime Minister?

It is worth noting that it hasn’t always been this way. In her early days as Home Secretary she was very much the darling of civil liberties campaigners. She swiftly repealed Labour’s wildly unpopular ID Cards scheme and also introduced a Protection of Freedoms Bill. Both moves were well received, although her half-baked roll-back of Control Orders received more criticism.

When scrapping ID Cards, she proudly declared that “this bill is a first step of many that this government is taking to reduce the control of the state over decent, law-abiding people, and to hand power back to them.” The reality has proved rather different.

Cynics would say that as she got her feet under the desk at the Home Office, she quickly fell under the thrall of the Security Services and their influence undermined this promise. If that is true, she wouldn’t be the first Home Secretary to do this, and she won’t be the last.

My view is somewhat different however. Profiles of Theresa May after she became Prime Minister made it clear that she has always aspired to the top job. She is a deeply ambitious individual and this has been the main driving force throughout her political career.

Even on being appointed to one of the great Offices of State, this ultimate goal doesn’t seem to have changed. And I think it is this, rather than any particular principle, which has shaped her approach to the issue of civil liberties.

In 2010, Labour’s intrusive, big state policies were not popular. Scrapping them was in the Tory Manifesto. It was a pledge she had to honour and being a popular one, she was happy to do so.

But these policies was not down to her. They had been shaped by earlier Tory shadow Home Secretaries before the Election, most notably David Davis who had shifted the whole party to a pro-civil liberties footing.

But as terror attacks in Europe and the growth of ISIS took over the headlines, and public opinion on such intrusive policies waved under the security arguments being made, the environment was safe for surveillance policies to be brought forward again.  Egged on perhaps by the Security Services and Home Office Mandarins, May didn’t waver.

There is more evidence for this ‘careerist’ argument in the way she has dealt with setbacks. Throughout her time in the Home Office, she seemed to have an uncanny knack for delegation and evasion when it suited her.

Immigration statistics are a case in point. These quarterly figures repeatedly humiliated the Government has they rose while the Government pledged to cut them. But it was always James Brokenshire, then Immigration Minister, who was rolled out to defend them and never his boss, Theresa May.

This knack has perhaps manifested itself most obviously during the EU Referendum campaign. Whilst officially declared as a remainer, Theresa May made a minimal contribution to the campaign. What little she did say was mostly focused on withdrawing from the European Convention on Human Rights; a longstanding policy commitment.

It is hard to imagine a more blatant example of fence-sitting. But it has paid dividends for her as she was able to present herself as a unifying leadership candidate who could draw support both the Leave and Remain camps. It helped her achieve her biggest aim.

What that argument means for the future of civil liberties is harder to pin down. Certainly, she is not the civil libertarian she appeared in her early days as Home Secretary. But it can also be argued that she is also not the authoritarian figure she has seemed in more recent times either.

The question is, now the ambition which has shaped her career has been achieved, what will become her new driving force. Perhaps legacy will be a new focus, in which case a similarly opportunist policy pattern is likely to be seen.

But it is just possible that some principals might rise to the surface too. After all, she has nothing to lose now she has reached the summit.

Her Investigatory Powers Bill is a frightening prospect indeed. But there is maybe, just maybe a glimmer of hope for us civil libertarians too.

3.71 avg. rating (75% score) - 7 votes
David Spencer
David is a freelance PR and public affairs consultant and writer working with clients in the UK, Europe, and Asia. He is a former aide to the Rt. Hon David Davis MP and also worked in the office of the Shadow Home Secretary. He can be found tweeting at @dspencer47.
  • Shadow Warrior

    Hammond is continuity Brown. He is a hand-wringing lefty looking for clever wheezes to raise more tax in ways that people don’t immediately notice.

  • captainslugwash

    I predict the Budget will attempt to show the Left how caring the Tories are, and it will be funded by screwing over the working man.
    If Corp Tax comes down, I bet Divi tax will be going up.
    I would love to be wrong.

  • skynine

    We really need to look at tax credits, in particular in work tax credits that encourage people to work part time to preserve the benefits. 45% of women work part time and I would hazard a guess that tax credits are the main cause. This leads to low pay, low skill work in supermarkets and the retail sector including coffee shops. The government needs to get back to the employer paying people to do a job for economic reasons rather than to get onto the tax credit ladder. Like all government benefits it distorts the market and diverts government expenditure into non productive areas.
    The refrain that the government has cut expenditure is not true, it increases every year as more and more goes into welfare.

  • MrVeryAngry

    fat chance

  • MrSauce

    So, when wouldn’t we want a ‘budget for growth’?

  • Rob

    I note that the UK Government has just slapped on a 25% tax charge for anyone moving abroad and wishing to move out their private pension from the UK.

  • SonofBoudica

    The Remoaners will do their utmost to sabotage the Government’s negotiating position. They do not want a successful outcome; they want a failure. They want to be able to scream “Told you so!” from the rooftops.

  • EnglandLaments

    Thank goodness for Andrew Neil, the one media hack who scares the pants off the established politicians. He was spot on with Heidi Allen!

  • joshuafalken

    I had a very long, hard, studied and considered look at the hope, care and aspirations of all Europeans, before I voted to get the UK out of the toxic grasp of Brussels.

    The European Union and it’s charge of “ever closer union” has borrowed and spent its way to oblivion, whilst enslaving the working and middle classes in debt.

    The central control mantra of the unaccountable Brussels ruling elite, delivered through a mixture of socialism, globalism and corporatism is entirely responsible for the populist revolt by the millions of “Just About Managings” across Europe.

    We must remember the ultimate goal of socialists, globalists and corporatists is control, not prosperity. see—-not-prosperity.

    Social equality and economic growth always fail under central control and fighting against the Brussels doctrine on behalf of all Europeans is why I voted for Brexit.

    Britain has a long history of helping Europeans depose tyrants and Brussels is just the latest incarnation.

    Britain is the most racially advanced and accepting society on the planet. We welcome those in need and those that can help us with open arms and a smile; that will not change.

    We are also one of the most innovative, talented and open societies in the world, which why everyone wants to live here. However, we cannot fit everyone in, so we have to have clear, balanced and fair immigration policy which is where the arguments start between the monetarists and humanists will never be reconciled.

    I thought long and hard before coming to the conclusion that leaving the EU was in the best interest of all Europeans, as Brussels is toxic and cannot be reformed from within.

    Also, I find it insulting that people who voted Remain have insufficient faith in British ingenuity, compassion and skill to get a good deal for us and see the Europe that we love get a better deal from Brussels and the reform that European people deserve. and

    The politics of left verses right are dead because neither have delivered the promised economic growth and social mobility for anyone, but themselves. The populists are not selfish per-se, they just want to take back control of their own destiny that left/right politicians have freely given away and/or exploited for their own ends. In my constituency, the local residents group are taking over the councils as politicians ignore voters, so Westminster should beware of the well-organised, local resident independents at the next election. This is a peoples revolution which should be shouted from the rooftops, but liberals remained deafened by the socialist, globalist and corporatist “vested interests” that have spectacularly failed us and are obediently crying foul and fake.

    There will be an initial unpalatable inflationary cost to fighting globalism and rolling back central control that few appear to have factored in, but dismantling failed left/right vested interests should eventually free libertarian socially-conservative capitalism from the shackles of TBTF corporatism to feed economic growth and social mobility.

  • agdpa

    The EU usually makes the wrong decision – on immigration, on freedom of movement, on the euro, on the Ukraine, etc. etc. Little hope it will get Brexit right.

  • brownowl

    Eh? Reference please!

  • Neil2

    Sod caring. Screw the spongers and breeders. Kill HS2. Stop all “green” subsidies. Slash “foreign aid” and walk away from the EUSSR with immediate effect.

  • Rob
  • John C

    What a confused article. It conflates surveillance by the security services with poor defences against fraud.

  • John C

    Err, it’s the UK that’s leaving the EU, not vice versa.

  • John C

    Me, now. ‘Growth’ is a manic obsession.

  • La Face Nord

    Mr Redwood – are you aware of the Biased BBC website? It’s been exposing their agenda for a long time, but I imagine you’ve been well aware of the BBC’s agenda for quite some time…

  • Contact Rvtech

    The post is great

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