There's a lot of talk on the blogosphere about Labour being authoritarian this, and authoritarian that, so much so that Talk Politics is organising a cross party 'coalition of the willing' to fight for what they think are civil liberties.
Because that is the crux of my criticism, it is only what they 'think' are civil liberties that are being eroded, not actual civil liberties.
The anti-Labour press have been pushing this line for some time now. Papers like the Sun and Daily Mail have even used criticism of the Iraq War (something they actually supported) to hit Labour with.
There is no doubt that the Iraq War has done immense damage to the Labour Party both in terms of credibility and in fostering this hardline authoritarian uncaring image.
The Daily Mail and other Tory press have pretty much realised that their criticisms of the economy, crime and immigration was only having a limited effect (probably because their criticisms were untrue and people realised this) and in their desperation to hit Labour have widened the field of criticism to spurious leftfield opposition to Labour authoritarianism.
So how has Labour come in for this criticism? Like I've already mentioned the Iraq War has been the most damaging and the terrorism legislation that has followed, some of which I would agree is foolhardy (28 day detention, glorification bill, religious hatred bill) though I would also suggest that the latter two are mostly harmless and won't last long. But also the cry of the press is the 'nanny state'. By this they cite things like ID cards, automatic number plate recognition (ANPR), CCTV, road pricing, even the smoking ban and other health and safety legislation. They even use it to generally criticise higher spending on public services and the mimimum wage. Laughably even the Human Rights Act has become 'anti-civil libertarian' to some, which demonstrates the sheer perversity of the whole campaign.
I am old enough to remember fully the whole authoritarianism of the Thatcher/Major era and I can tell you now, that our civil liberties have been improved since then. I am talking about our real civil liberties not the imaginary ones some try to defend.
I will give examples of Tory authoritarian acts;
Sinn Fein laughably were banned from being broadcast. Apart from turning the Government into a laughing stock, it actually improved the image of Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness because softly spoken Irish Actors were used to dub their voices.
There was internment in Northern Ireland and a 'Shoot to Kill' policy.
Section 28: You could be prosecuted for even mentioning homosexuality if you worked in the professions. How different the atmosphere today when Labour has equalled the age of consent, brought in civil partnerships, stopped discrimination in the armed forces and for adoption purposes. Labour has changed the whole culture of attitudes to gay people. I'm sure homosexuals don't feel they have less civil liberties.
There was a whole persecution of people the Tories didn't like; single mothers, the disabled, gays, the poor in general. Public sector staff like teachers, social workers, lecturers, any intellectual, were ridiculed and their wages and job status eroded and derided.
Local Government was abolished. Yes you heard me right. The Tories didn't like who was being elected, so they abolished the Metropolitan Councils, principly the GLC. They also introduced rate capping and QUANGOS to replace democratic decision making at the local level. QUANGOS were also introduced to regulate all the new privatised companies with ex-Tories ending up both on the boards of the new companies and on the regulating boards. It reeked of corruption and insider dealing was rife.
More bills were guillotened under the Tories and of course the House of Lords with its massive inbuilt Tory majority would nod through all the bills, not even raising a heckle to things like the Poll Tax. How different it is today. The House of Lords only find their voice when it's a Labour government.
'Victorian Values' and 'Back to Basics'. Both Thatcher and Major ran their moral crusades, yet hypocritically defending their ministers caught with their hands in the till or up some girl's skirt.
So after reading all this, does anyone suppose (with the changed climate of 9/11) that the Tories would have acted differently over the terrorist bills (we know for certain they were more enthusiastic backers of the Iraq War and George Bush, because they voted for it and their leader has stated as much).
Most of the rest of the criticism is just criticism of technological advance. Remember it was the Tories who introduced CCTV and Michael Howard who first proposed ID cards. So would they not embrace ANPR? Local residents groups campaign around here for the introduction of CCTV.
As for the smoking ban, yes the party that receives the most from BAT, and includes it's top consultant Ken Clarke, would vote against. But this ban is not anti-civil libertarian. To suggest it is, is to deride the liberties of the majority who wish not to have their health and comfort damaged by cigarette smoke.
Labour have done plenty to increase our civil liberties and we must remember these things; transparency in party funding, freedom of information acts, human rights act, multitudes of bills enhancing the civil liberties of minorities. These are not to be ignored as small steps, some have been highly controversial at first, but now accepted.
Under this electoral system the only alternative government is a Tory government and they are much much worse. The only reason anybody ever voted for them, other than for personal gain, was a belief they managed the economy better. That fell apart with two recessions, high unemployment and Black Wednesday, and with Labour achieving the most successful economic growth on record. Lets not make the mistake of thinking the Tories would be any better on civil liberties, when infact they would be much much worse!