Thoughts on politics and life from a liberal perspective

Wednesday 13 March 2013

Clegg's Faulty Secret Courts Logic

I sat in the wrong place in the hall on Saturday for Nick Clegg's Q&A. I was about 2/3rds of the way back and despite thrusting my hand up every time he went back to the audience I didn't get picked for a question. Indeed he only really seemed to pick from about the first 6 rows which was all I think he could see.

But if he had have picked me I was going to highlight a particular bit of faulty logic in one of his comments about secret courts. In fact that's being generous. Sophistry would be a better word.

He claimed that there had been no point in Lib Dem MPs voting against Secret Courts as it still would have passed. According to Nick there was simply not a majority in the House of Commons to defeat the legislation. I'll put aside the fact that some commentators actually believe there could have been a majority against Secret Courts if the parliamentary Lib Dems with their liberal credentials had given a clear lead in opposing them.

Notwithstanding that Clegg's argument is ridiculous. If Charles Kennedy and the then Lib Dem leadership had followed that line of thinking in 2003 they would have voted for the invasion of Iraq. After all, there was not a majority in the House to defeat that either so they might as well have done according to the Deputy Prime Minister.

The fact that this argument seemed to form the backbone of his Secret Courts response demonstrates to me just how poor the thinking on this bill has been from our leadership.


Anonymous said...

The other reason the argument is nonsensical is that whether there is a majority in parliament for secret courts or not, they are not in the coalition agreement, so they could not have been adopted as government policy without Lib Dem agreement. The Lib Dems could have vetoed secret courts.

It could just as well be argued that there is (or might be) a parliamentary majority in favour of a mansion tax. But a mansion tax could only be introduced if the government adopted the policy, and the government will not adopt it because the Tories would veto it.

Anonymous said...

I think Mark's argument misses two key issues that I think Clegg also failed to allude to - but that were expressed in the Lords' parliamentary report to conference.

The first that, there is a tactical decision to make - do you vote against, knowing you keep yourself pure but knowing that the legislation will pass whatever, or do you try to get the best version of (albeit) poor legislation, and amend it to insert as many safeguards as possible? Either is rational, imo.

(We actually adopted the compromise position in Iraq, we wanted a UNSC Res calling for use of force).

Secondly, in Government (of any stripe, but especially in Coalition) one often can't see the other hand of a compromise. Who knows what decision this is ensuring or stopping from happening?

Now, of course, it's still perfectly fine to argue that the compromise is too much, or that the amendments secured aren't enough: but the logic isn't as faulty as some would like it to be.