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Friday, May 08, 2015

A Tory majority government starts to throw off Liberal Democrats restraint

The voters have spoken and their verdict must be respected, but now that the Conservatives are no longer being restrained and moderated by the Liberal Democrats, how will they behave?

The first clues come in two pieces in today's Independent. In the first, the paper reports that the long-delayed "Snooper's Charter" allowing increased interception of communications by the security services and the police is set to be introduced at last. Theresa May, the reappointed Home Secretary wants to give the security services more freedom to intercept Britons' communications data.

In fact the Communications Data Bill has been awaiting introduction in various forms ever since 2008, when it was announced by Gordon Brown, who as Labour Prime Minister enjoyed a much stronger majority (66 seats) than Mr Cameron has won. Nonetheless the Snoopers' Charter didn't make it onto the statute books then.

It didn't make it onto the statue books under the last government either due to the Liberal Democrats concern for civil liberties. The fact that it has been promoted by both Labour and Conservative shows once more that the real political division in Britain today is between liberals and authoritarians. Yesterday, voters gave those who want to trammel on our individual freedoms and privacy their best chance yet to put their scheme into effect.

In the second article the paper reports that the Department of Work and Pensions is looking at cutting a scheme that helps disabled people into work. Despite Labour's demonisation of the Liberal Democrats as allowing ruthless cuts in support for the vulnerable and disabled, in fact we have acted as a restraint on Tory excesses.

Now that this check is not in place, it emerges that officials are looking at capping the £108m Access to Work fund. The fund helps people and employers cover costs of disabilities that might be a barrier to work. The biggest single users of the fund are people who have difficulty seeing and people who have difficulty hearing.

This is the first real test of whether Conservative Ministers understand whether or not they should temper spending restraints by concern and compassion for those worse off than themselves.

The UK Coalition Government was by no means perfect. Mistakes were made and some policies were implemented that should not have been. But throughout it the Liberal Democrats acted as the conscience of the government and ensured that the demands of right wing Tories were not met. Now that the Tories have a majority, that does not apply. That will become much clearer as the new government settles into its role.
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