Springtime For British Liberty


The British coalition government published its joint plans today. What strikes me is the rebound of British liberty in this fusion of Whiggery and Toryism. Check out the devolution of power and the firming up of civil liberties proposed. They're even going to take down some of the CCTV cameras:

Vowing that the coalition would end “the culture of spying on its citizens,” Mr. Clegg said it would “tear through the statute book,” scrapping a nationwide system of identity cards on which the Labour government spent huge sums, and abandoning a new generation of “biometric” passports that would hold a vastly expanded archive of personal data. In addition, he said, there would be new restrictions on the government’s right to intercept and hold personal Internet and e-mail traffic and to store DNA data from people not convicted of any crime.

Constitutionally, the coalition government is offering a new Great Reform Act:

The plan would also create a fully elected House of Lords, scrapping heredity and political favor as a passport to power, and commit to a referendum on changing the voting system for the House of Commons. Under the proposed “alternative vote” system, candidates would have to gain 50 percent or more of the vote in their constituencies to secure election, effectively shaking up the politics of “safe” parliamentary seats that has given many M.P.’s what amounts to lifetime employment.

In addition, the plan would adopt an American-style power of recall, opening the way for restive voters to unseat errant lawmakers by gathering 10,000 signatures on a petition, and introduce new laws to regulate Britain’s $3.5-billion-a-year political lobbying industry.

Bagehot parses:

I think that the underlying principle of the document and the coalitionthat the areas where the two parties can agree offers them ample scope for reform, and that they should concentrate on thoseis sound. No government can do everything at the same time. And, in any case, in these pinched times there isn't the cash to do everything either party would like to anyway.

The big worry for the coalition, it seems to me (and others), is not what's in the document but what isn't and couldn't bein other words, events, such as, most obviously, foreign-policy crises or indeed a terrorist incident at home. How will the coalition cope with the resulting strains? Asked about that today, Mr Cameron talked about the need for proper, formal decision-making and dialogue, etc. Hmmmn.

(Photo: Nick Clegg, the Deputy Prime Minister, delivers a speech setting out the Government's plans for political reform at the City and Islington College on May 19, 2010 in London, England. By Oli Scarff-WPA Pool/Getty Images)