Much excitement among the liberal-left at the new government’s proposals to roll back some of the authoritarian legislation from the last decade (which I was bemoaning in a previous post). I agree with Charon QC that it’s a pity – no, make that shameful – that it takes a Conservative/Lib Dem government to reverse Labour’s record in this area, and share his hope that Labour will learn a lesson from this in opposition.
There are a number of other provisions in the ConDem coalition agreement which are also positive, or at least less bad than they might have been. And it’s encouraging to see the Human Rights Act’s prospects for survival improve with the appointment of Ken Clarke as justice secretary. (Clarke has described plans for a “British Bill of Rights” as “xenophobic and legal nonsense”.)
But the political reality of what we are in for with this government is found in the reference to “modest cuts of £6 billion to non-front line services” in the current financial year. This is a reminder that whatever else may be done by this government – and no doubt it will do some good things, as even the worst government usually manage – this is a coalition for cuts, and the politics of the next few years is going to be dominated by the Conservative and Lib Dem agreement for:
a significantly accelerated reduction in the structural deficit over the course of a Parliament, with the main burden of deficit reduction borne by reduced spending rather than increased taxes.
The question for liberals is: are cuts and unemployment (because let’s not forget that even the harsh word “cuts” is itself a euphemism for “making people unemployed”) a price worth paying for a “Great Repeal Bill”?
I’m not saying that the civil liberties proposals are a bad thing, and I look forward to their being enacted (though I would remind people that governments are usually at their most liberal in their early months/years). What I am saying is: don’t get distracted from the real issues which face us under this government. Civil liberties are a genuine silver lining, one not to be dismissed, but that doesn’t make the cloud any less dark.