Bill Melotti: The essential need for a Conservative approach to Civil Liberties
The Conservative Liberty Forum was formed on April 19th by Bob Seely, John Tate and Bill Melotti to foster debate of Civil Liberties and Human Rights within the Conservative Party. Here secretary Bill Melotti explains why the Conservative Party needs to be involved in the debate on Civil Liberties and Human Rights.
The planned work of the CLF this year starts with two events at this year’s party conference and includes publishing of ideas and essays related to issues of civil liberties. This we hope will allow the group to become the focus of debate within the Conservative Party for these essential issues. But why is it so important that Conservatives must get involved in this work ?
When you listen as I have done on a few occasions to Tories talking to the media or others willing to listen about the changes taking place under the leadership of David Cameron, they often say that what he is talking about is not much different to what we’re doing on the ground, it's just we’ve not been very good at talking about it before now.
Compassion, good economic management, care of the environment are all things going on within Conservative councils that we don’t make enough noise about, yet this is apparently the ‘left-of-centre’ ground Cameron is moving into. We tend not to espouse all that we do as policy, because Conservatism is not based on ideology; it is evolutionary and instinctive, rather than theoretical as is the basis of socialism with its social-engineering or political science methods.
Whilst we embrace liberty and authority, by promoting freedom for the individual and a healthy mistrust of an overbearing state but with responsibility for your actions, we don’t extend that concept into the vital area of civil liberties and the individual’s relationship with the state. But it is this fundamental difference in the approach of Left and Right to the question of civil liberties that now requires Conservative thinking to be applied.
New Labour believes in little and whilst that is better than belief in the disastrous socialist dogma of yesteryear, it has left us with a Human Rights and Civil Liberties legacy that is a mess. When Labour came to power in 1997 they expressed a desire to move these issues onto the agenda, with a Human Rights Act, a PM opposed to ID cards, and such things as an ‘Ethical foreign policy’ to express a belief that the rights of others could be placed above our national interest. At that time human or civil rights looked to be ‘safe in Labour hands’.
Since then those ideals have moved into reverse gear. We still have the Human Rights Act and whilst generally working, it does have specific failings that bring it a great deal of disrepute and applies no balance between rights and responsibilities. It is in desperate need of reform or replacement, yet the Government maintains it merely needs explaining.
Elsewhere our Civil Liberties are under greater threat now than ever before. The left traditionally has never had any compunction about the state bearing down and taking control, subsuming individual freedoms for collective good; the scheme for ID cards supported by a huge government database layering bureaucracy and cost onto UK citizens lives encapsulates that more than any other proposal.
If we are to recover that situation, we cannot leave the debate to those on the left, which is where it has traditionally been driven. In this arena more than any, we as Conservatives have to take our ideas forward and present ourselves at the front of what is now a mainstream agenda.
We will and can bring sense to the debate. ‘Natural justice’ in the Civil Liberties and Human Rights debate is something many people in this country can identify with now, where the debate at the moment is polarised between New Labour tough talk and the absolute freedom ideals of their opponents. Shall we for instance find the right way to manage DNA databases in the fight against crime, whilst protecting against indiscriminate data matches followed by rounds of arrests?
For that reason there is a very real and practical reason to tackle this, which is that many LibDem and UKIP voters will hold these issues dear to their hearts, but have perhaps not felt able to trust the Tories with them. With these concerns on the Tory agenda and a pragmatic approach to them, we should be able to gain votes from a range of people, on an issue that is and should be natural territory for us; it comes from the desire of every British person for fair play and justice.