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Friday, May 22, 2015

The unchecked illiberal instincts of top Tories continue to surface

David Cameron may well be seeking to pin the blame on the Liberal Democrats for spiralling immigration figures but it is hardly credible that a net influx of 318,000 people into our country can be laid entirely at the door of a Business Secretary determined to ensure that Universities are able to continue to recruit foreign students, that hospitals can get the skilled professionals they require and that business is able to fill the specialist roles it needs to generate wealth.

As the Liberal Democrat spokesperson says: “The Tories promised to cut net migration to tens of thousands and failed spectacularly.

"We told them their target was a stupid idea but they were more concerned about sounding tough than actually tackling illegal immigration.

"Their ideological zeal meant they actually tried to kick out foreign students and force landlords to act as border guards to meet their target, both of which we blocked.

"Instead of playing the blame game, Theresa May should admit she got it wrong and recognise the vast majority of immigrants actually contribute to our economy."

The latest incarnation of an unchecked Home Secretary however, has even her own colleagues recoiling at the way her proposals are infringing on hard-won freedoms.

As the Guardian reports, Theresa May's plan to introduce counter-extremism powers so as to vet British broadcasters’ programmes before they are transmitted has been attacked in the bluntest terms as a threat to freedom of speech by one of her own Conservative cabinet colleagues.

They say that Sajid Javid wrote to David Cameron, in a letter sent just before the start of the general election campaign to tell him that, as culture secretary, he was unable to support Theresa May’s proposal to give Ofcom the new powers to take pre-emptive action against programmes that included “extremist content":

Javid, who moved from the Department of Culture, Media and Sport to become business secretary after the election, said the plan would move Ofcom from a regulator “into the role of a censor”. It would involve “a fundamental shift in the way UK broadcasting is regulated”, moving away from the current framework of post-transmission regulation which takes account of freedom of expression, he said.

The leaked memo from the then culture secretary came in response to a request made by May on 6 March to ministers on the cabinet’s home affairs committee and the national security committee. She was seeking clearance for publication of her extremism strategy, which included the broadcasters’ censorship proposal.

It is not clear exactly what the outcome was following Javid’s objection. Next week’s Queen’s speech is expected include loosely specified powers to “strengthen the role of Ofcom to take action against channels which broadcast extremist content” according to a statement released by Downing Street last week.

The last time anybody tried something like this it was Margaret Thatcher's ill-thought through idea of telling broadcasters to deny terrorists the “oxygen of publicity”. The ban on broadcasting interviews with proscribed organisations in Northern Ireland led to a full-scale row over a BBC decision to broadcast an extended interview with Martin McGuinness. That led to a journalists’ strike and, two years later, the resignation of the director general. And of course the broadcasters got around the ban by using actors to read out the lines.

Now that Sajid Javed no longer has the Culture brief it will be interesting to see who will stand in the way of May's proposals to censor our television broadcasts. Who would have thought that the Tories, unchecked by the Liberal Democrats for the first time in 5 years, would revert to type so quickly and start to undermine our democracy and our freedom of thought so drastically?
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