In about eight weeks’ time we will be voting not just for a new government, but a new parliament of representatives, in whose hands will lie the future of our free society.
We want your help to draft a list of questions that can be put to all the candidates of the major parties to establish their credentials, not as party creatures, but as individuals of conscience who will stand for the values of a liberal and democratic society before any other political interest.
The dying parliament is among the worst in the past 100 years – corrupt, lazy, arrogant and dismissive of the public – but it also contained some good MPs who fought the tide of illiberal legislation and who are aware of the direction Britain has taken under Labour’s authoritarian government. We need many more like them to reassert parliament’s power and to hold the executive to account.
Ten key questions on liberty, rights and democracy is what we want you to be able to ask candidates with a view to getting their pledge of support on the record for all voters to see. Where support is not forthcoming, that should be made public.
Where do we start?
At an event last night to celebrate the launch of Keith Ewing’s book, The Bonfire of the Liberties – now the definitive text on Labour government’s attack on liberty and rights – we listened to a young man named Cerie Bullivant talking about his experience of being subject to the restrictions of a control order for two years without having been found guilty of a crime, or being allowed to know the evidence against him. The system of control orders seems to me one of the worst examples of arbitrary state power in modern Britain. I would ask – will you condemn house arrest of a person who has not been found guilty of a crime in a normal court of law?
Are you worried about trade union rights – the right of workers not to be catalogued on secret databases and blacklists, which affect their ability to gain work? What about the rights to assembly and free protest without being harassed and photographed by our militarised police? Last night we heard from Pennie Quinton and Marc Vallée, who have been prevented by police from carrying out their duties as working photographers. Their stories are part of an important battle over the control and regulation of public space. Should we ask all candidates to declare the commitment to the principle that anyone should be allowed to make an image in a public place without being questioned by the police, PCSOs or the numerous varieties of accredited busybodies?
Each year a very large number of innocent people are stopped and searched by the police who, according to the Equalities and Human Rights Commission report, exhibit obvious racism by picking on black and Asian people. One question might be, “Do you support a repeal of current legislation which allows police to stop and search hundreds of thousands of innocent people without having reasonable cause? And do you condemn the racist bias in stop and search policies, as well as the police national DNA database?
We should attempt to get the assurance of candidates that they will do everything they can to roll back the database state. ID cards and government policies to capture all our communications data and all personal details when we travel abroad are being rolled out. The government is putting pressure on NHS patients to allow their medical records to be uploaded to a database, which many experts believe is innately insecure. Records of all children in England and Wales are being compulsorily uploaded to the Contact database. You may feel strongly about these databases or about the Vetting and Barring Scheme, which some see as one of the symbols of a country that is fast losing the reflexive presumption of innocence. What question would encourage a candidate to explicitly reject the culture of suspicion and mistrust that has grown up in the last 12 years?
One worry is the way demonstrations are being oppressed by hostile police who have little regard for the right of people to engage in legitimate political protest and do everything in their power to photograph individuals for their secret databases. Another concern is the use of the Ripa laws and the growth of invasive databases, some of which have no basis in law – the police ANPR surveillance system, for instance, which captures and retains most vehicle journeys in the UK.
Or you may feel that you want to hear more general declarations about candidates’ fundamental political beliefs, principles they are prepared to sign up to and against which their voting record may be measured. My co-director of the Convention on Modern Liberty, Anthony Barnett, suggests that every candidate is asked to explicitly recognise that the threat to our liberty currently posed by government is greater than that presented by terrorism.
Over to you.
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