Today after almost twelve years I have resigned my membership of the Liberal Democrat party.
I have done so because I cannot reconcile the principles which form the backbone of the Liberal Democrats – fairness, freedom and openness – with the measures introduced by the Justice and Security Bill and supported by the party leadership. This Bill passed through the Commons this week with barely more than a handful of objections from Liberal Democrats. In opposition I know the Liberal Democrats would be spearheading the campaign against this illiberal repressive Bill. The fact this party has chosen not to do so when in government is deeply troubling for anyone who cares about a free society. It signals the party leadership turning its back on what had been red line issues for us and which defined us to ourselves and to society more widely.
I have therefore been forced to conclude I should resign. This is extremely sad both politically and personally. In campaigning, serving on committees and attending Conference over the years I have made many friends in the party and have worked with some incredibly inspiring people. I will miss everyone very much.
I am resigning because of a chronic failure of political leadership. If liberal principles are to mean anything, a liberal’s duty is to challenge excesses and concentrations of power, particularly concerning the State.
However, for reasons which are still entirely unclear, the leadership of the Liberal Democrats has chosen to ignore hundreds of party members, ride roughshod over party policy, overlook reasoned argument, and rely instead on shoddy logic and misleading arguments to support this unfair, unnecessary and unbalanced Bill. The leadership has chosen to protect secrecy and abuses of power over openness, accountability and freedom. I cannot support such a leadership.
I wish all my friends and colleagues well. I would particularly like to express my gratitude to Martin Tod and Charlotte Henry for their inspirational work and support in the Liberal Democrats Against Secret Courts campaign. The strength of feeling in the party against this Bill has been evidenced by the hundreds of letters, emails and messages of support we have received over the past seven months. It is a testament to the incredible spirit of party members and I am very proud to have been associated with them in this campaign. They are all truly inspirational.
This party has a fine and proud history, both recently and in its previous incarnations, of campaigning to uphold civil liberties and human rights. I very much hope the party finds its principles and its soul again, and soon, because the United Kingdom urgently needs a liberal and democratic party to build and safeguard our freedoms.
Extracts of Shaw's speech:
I’m a liberal and I’m against this sort of thing.” These are the words of the Liberal Harry Willcock. He said them as he refused to produce an ID card in 1950. His successful appeal against conviction led to the scrapping of the ID card system.
All Liberal Democrats should heed Harry Willcock’s mild but determined statement. It demonstrates his instinctive understanding that the excesses of the state need to be curtailed, and that it is a liberal’s duty to curtail them. It was no doubt for this reason that the then candidate for leader, Nick Clegg, named Harry Willcock as his liberal hero in an interview in 2007 with the Liberal Democrat History Group. Nick said at the time: “The arguments of Willcock and the liberals of his day remain relevant. The Liberal Democrats continue to stand against an over-bearing state and are willing to take a stand for what we believe.”
In 2007 Nick was right and I voted for him then. The principled arguments he set out then can and are being made now by many people in this party about the Justice and Security Bill. This Bill provides neither justice nor security and attacks fundamental principles which underpin our justice system – openness and fairness to both parties ...
The bill fails to deliver the promises we were offered by the leadership in their amendment to the September motion calling for secret courts to be used “only as a last resort”. This bill did not form part of the coalition agreement, it was not in any party’s manifesto, and there is no credible economic argument to justify it. So given this litany of political failure, why does our leadership continue to support this bad, undemocratic and illiberal Bill? I don’t know. I do know that the way of avoiding this car crash would have been for the party leadership to put a stop to it. They could have done so at the outset, or since. They have failed ...
For me, therefore, today is a sad day at the end of a very sad week. Because I have come to the conclusion that I cannot continue to campaign to uphold values of fairness, freedom and openness from within the Liberal Democrats under its current leadership. A leadership for whom the privilege of power has meant the betrayal of liberal values. The party which stood up against 42 day detention, ID cards and the excesses of the War on Terror is now led by those who on this crucial issue employ the same shoddy logic and who have fallen into the same anti-democratic realpolitik as the Blair government.
So I have to say: “It’s not me, Nick, it’s you.” Therefore I am today resigning from the Liberal Democrat party.