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The Economist wants to know.  The Bagehot column questions the depth of the party’s commitment to civil liberties:

"The Tories… are recent and wavering converts to the eccentrics’ cause. Chris Grayling, the new shadow home secretary, has made manly noises about wanting “fewer rights, more wrongs”. Other leading Tories are privately more authoritarian than their party’s officially liberal line. But they have made some commitments—to scrap ID cards, for example—that will be difficult to disavow, if and when they take office."

It reviews the trends that might impinge on civil liberties and those that will help them to flourish:

To impinge: "Precedents in Britain and elsewhere do indeed suggest that freedom often contracts in line with GDP. People get angry. They misbehave: crime may rise, as a leaked Home Office memo predicted last year. They march, demonstrate and occasionally riot: newspapers this week reported lurid police warnings about a forthcoming “summer of rage”. They become more susceptible to extreme, xenophobic voices: there is widespread anxiety in British politics about a breakthrough by the loathsome British National Party at the European elections in June. Capturing a Euro-seat would represent a triumph for the far right greater than any achieved by Oswald Mosley and his blackshirts in the 1930s. The big risk to civil rights could come in the way the government responds: in the methods it uses to contain the wrath, to cater to it and to distract the wrathful. It would, sadly, be unsurprising if ministers were to echo far-right rhetoric about immigrants instead of wholeheartedly repudiating it; they might tout even more inhumane policies towards asylum-seekers and terrorist suspects. Demos may be met with harsh counter-measures (Liberty was formed to protest against police treatment of the “hunger marchers” who came to London during the Depression)."

To flourish: "Even if penury encourages ministers to take shortcuts, a lack of cash for security projects will help. The technology of unfreedom is costly: number-plate recognition systems, identity cards and the government’s assorted, panopticonic databases of DNA and other information are hugely expensive (always much more so than is at first estimated). They will be a much harder political sell when spending in other areas is being cut. Faith in such databases has anyway been undermined by civil servants’ unfortunate habit of leaving discs and computers on trains, by the pool, etc. That incompetence has contributed to a general loss of confidence in government. The campaigners’ hope is that, as public disenchantment sharpens, it will take in a scepticism about over-mighty criminal-justice policy as well as about economic oversight."

Iain Dale has blogged about tomorrow’s session at the Convention on Modern Liberty on The Right and Civil Liberties.

53 comments for: Will recession impact the debate on civil liberties?

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