There can be no doubt where Southport MP John Pugh stands on Theresa May's attempt to widen the Internet snooping powers of government. He was one of the signatures of the letter published in the Guardian and Independent last week which began:
Letters Liberal Democrat MPs stand up for data privacy
Liberal Democrats have a proud history of defending civil liberties, both in opposition and more recently in a coalition government. We successfully opposed the Labour government's undermining of data privacy in 2009, and since taking office in 2010 we have turned back the tide of Labour's erosion of these liberties. So far we have destroyed the ID cards database, halted the indefinite retention of innocent people's DNA, turned off the ContactPoint database, stopped the mass fingerprinting of children without permission from their parents, and ended child detention for immigration purposes.
Just a few months ago at our spring conference in Gateshead, we reaffirmed our commitment to "undo the damage done [by] Labour's assault on basic freedoms". We called for stronger safeguards on existing surveillance measures to guarantee that the balance of power is firmly in favour of ordinary citizens. We asserted the Liberal Democrats' long-standing tradition of protecting human rights, and agreed that it is our "duty … to safeguard basic freedoms against the encroachment of state power". Liberal Democrats all over the country have sought to reverse the substantial erosion of individual freedoms, as the government committed to do in the coalition agreement in 2010.
This follows an angry briefing from Special Advisers to Lib Dem Bloggers and Cleggs intial appearance on BBC radio all trying to suggest that this was an issue of 'messaging etc.-see two examples here and here.
Given the strength of feeling in the party it is not surprising that there has been some rowing back. Tim Farron either on his own initiative or as part of a rescue package has been doing a tour of the television studios pledging to 'kill the proposals'.
Cameron on his flight to S.E. Asia has let it be known:
..... that senior Lib Dems were "round the table" when plans for powers to monitor internet communication were drawn
We have been here before. The list is getting too long where the Quad have agreed policies which so offend Lib Dems (and are not part of the agreement) that the party has to distance itself from them.This issue is discussed in Jonathan Calder posting and he comes to the rather charitable conclusion that those advising Clegg are out of touch with the party. Others may think that there are many excellently well qualified folk who are in touch with the party who were not chosen to advice! It is a bit like a GP who employs a 'dragon' as a receptionist to protect him/her from patients. The one who does the choosing is responsible.
It is not necessary to accept all of Professor Grayson's analysis of the coalition to recognise that what we have here is a political problem where the Quad may be more united as a group than the Leadership is with the party.
the swift action of the Lib Dems MP's in writing to the press and gathering at short notice 17 signatures at least headed off the disaster that would have befallen the party if we'd started to argue in public about something so central to our purpose. Nevertheless the serial lack of political judgement of our leaders and the power of patronage could, I fear, have produced an ambitious MP desperate to be a Minister who would have been willing to go and defend the proposals. Thank goodness we were spared that!
Jullian Huppert, Lib Dem MP for Cambridge, has started a petition to gather support for the Liberal view on this issue. There is now a Southport version which can be signed here: http://signme.org.uk/726