Tim Farron

Why can’t Labour decide if it opposes the Investigatory Powers Bill?

Why can't Labour decide if it opposes the Investigatory Powers Bill?
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Disobedient Objects

V&A, until 1 February 2015

Maps to Memorials: Discovering the Work of MacDonald Gill

The Lettering Arts Centre, Snape Maltings, until 12 November

Last week brought into focus how Labour is in complete and utter disarray. After the Home Secretary’s statement on the draft Investigatory Powers Bill, Andy Burnham wholeheartedly agreed with the government on the need for extra powers for spy chiefs. Then, about five days later, a letter was released by Burnham's office saying that after closer inspection, he had a couple of 'concerns'.

Whatever you think of the Conservatives, they at least have a principled position on this: anything the spy agencies want, they get — regardless of the privacy implications. The Liberal Democrats on the other hand strongly believe that our agencies must make the case for new powers and it is for Parliament to decide what is necessary and proportionate.

We have to ask ourselves as a nation whether it actually makes us safer to have the government constantly looking over our shoulder and seeing everything we read, write or think. You might disagree with our stance, but at least you know what it is. The same goes for tax credits and the EU referendum.

But at present, Labour isn't taking a position on anything. Whether it is abstaining on cutting tax credits, refusing to wholeheartedly back our EU membership, or backing — then backtracking — on more powers for spy chiefs, it is all over the shop. Sir Keir Starmer said he 'squared Jeremy off' in relation to this bill but it seems, when the party's leadership finally bothered to read it, there were still some 'concerns'.

If the draft Investigatory Powers Bill goes through without significant changes, Britain will have the most intrusive and least accountable surveillance system in the world. We will always work with others in Parliament to make sure that we can safeguard our hard-won freedoms, but if Labour are going to revert to internal squabbles and naval gazing, I am clear we will fight alone if necessary.

Simply put, under Jeremy Corbyn, Labour is failing to scrutinise the government’s plans. It is becoming the worst opposition in modern history. Labour must stop fighting these internal battles and instead work with others across the political spectrum to hold the government to account.

Labour does not seem to know who it wants to represent. Is it the socialist utopia of the Corbynistas or the Blairite soft right of the 1990's? While it makes up its mind, the Liberal Democrats will step up to the plate as the real opposition Britain needs.

Tim Farron is leader of the Liberal Democrats