Martin Bright

The fault-line at the heart of Liberal Conservativism

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Andrew Rawnsley has done well to identify the problems the coalition is having deciding its line on national security. His column today is a colourful evocation of the deadlock David Cameron and Nick Clegg face over  control orders and 28-day detention without charge. He calls it "alarmed semi-paralysis", which is about right. Now they have seen the secret evidence and had the briefings from the intelligence services they somehow don't feel so liberal any more.

It is the sign of a mature democracy that it favours the liberty of its citizens over the control of them. But it also a lot easier to say you would be prepared to take risks with the lives of those citizens when you are in opposition. The Liberal Democrats and the liberal wing of the Conservative party (and some libertarians such as David Davis) have always found New Labour's authoritarian interventions distasteful. So this will be a real test of their nerve.

Will they realistically ease the anti-terrorism laws will bombs from Yemen are flying into our airports. I wonder.

There is one thing they should do, however, and that is to share the secret evidence with senior figures in the opposition. This is an idea floated by Lord Carlile, the Lib Dem peer who has acted as the indepdendent reviewer of government anti-terror legislation. In an interview with the Jewish Chronicle in September he said:  "On what should be apolitical subjects like counter-terrorism, no government gives Opposition frontbenchers the opportunity to read the evidence, such as some of the secret material relating to people subject to control orders.

"This means that when a new government appears with bland and confident statements about abolishing this and that in their manifesto, they can be brought up very short by the evidence that is put in front of them. I believe that this has happened."

It has to be right that we should be moving towards a cross-party consensus on these issues. The trouble is that there is no consensus within the three parties, let alone across the Commons benches.