Jo Shaw quits Lib Dems in protest at leadership’s pro-secret courts position

by Stephen Tall on March 10, 2013

Lib Dem parliamentary candidate Jo Shaw dramatically announced her resignation from the party as she moved this morning’s emergency motion calling on our MPs to stick by the party’s policy of opposing ‘secret courts’. You can read Jo’s full statement at the foot of this post.

It was Jo’s speech at the party’s autumn conference that captured everyone’s attention, including her line ‘Kafka was a warning not a manual’. Together with another parliamentary candidate, Martin Tod, Jo set up LibDemsAgainstSecretCourts.org.uk and has waged a determined campaign to persuade the parliamentary party to back the party’s line.

And it’s not only Jo who has resigned from the party over the issue. Dinah Rose QC also announced her decision to quit last night in protest at the Lib Dem leadership’s decision to back the extension of secret courts, saying:

“My conclusion, in common with the overwhelming majority of those who have acted as special advocates, is that CMPs [aka secret courts] cannot be fairly operated.”

And here’s Henry Porter in today’s Observer, with an excoriating attack:

To a supporter at the last election like me – someone who spoke alongside Nick Clegg at the curtain-raiser event for the party conference during the height of Labour’s onslaught on civil liberties, and was assured privately by two leaders that the party was onside about civil liberties – this breach of trust and denial of principle is astonishing. …

Without a second thought, they discarded an essential tenet of the liberal creed, which gave the party both a sense of itself and of its purpose in British society. After last week’s Commons vote and the leadership’s dismissal of an overwhelming vote against the bill at the last Lib Dem conference, it is fair to say the Liberal Democrats seem neither particularly liberal nor democratic. … The major motive of the bill is to cover up the truth and, in voting for it, Liberal Democrat MPs betrayed their supporters as well as themselves.

On a personal note, I’m deeply sorry to see Jo leave the party: that’s one less genuine liberal in the party. But perhaps this morning’s tweet from Jo should have given us a clue what was about to happen:

Jo Shaw – resignation statement (10th March 2013)

Today after almost twelve years I have resigned my membership of the Liberal Democrat party.
I have done so because I cannot reconcile the principles which form the backbone of the Liberal Democrats – fairness, freedom and openness – with the measures introduced by the Justice and Security Bill and supported by the party leadership. This Bill passed through the Commons this week with barely more than a handful of objections from Liberal Democrats. In opposition I know the Liberal Democrats would be spearheading the campaign against this illiberal repressive Bill. The fact this party has chosen not to do so when in government is deeply troubling for anyone who cares about a free society. It signals the party leadership turning its back on what had been red line issues for us and which defined us to ourselves and to society more widely.
I have therefore been forced to conclude I should resign. This is extremely sad both politically and personally. In campaigning, serving on committees and attending Conference over the years I have made many friends in the party and have worked with some incredibly inspiring people. I will miss everyone very much.
I am resigning because of a chronic failure of political leadership. If liberal principles are to mean anything, a liberal’s duty is to challenge excesses and concentrations of power, particularly concerning the State.
However, for reasons which are still entirely unclear, the leadership of the Liberal Democrats has chosen to ignore hundreds of party members, ride roughshod over party policy, overlook reasoned argument, and rely instead on shoddy logic and misleading arguments to support this unfair, unnecessary and unbalanced Bill. The leadership has chosen to protect secrecy and abuses of power over openness, accountability and freedom. I cannot support such a leadership.
I wish all my friends and colleagues well. I would particularly like to express my gratitude to Martin Tod and Charlotte Henry for their inspirational work and support in the Liberal Democrats Against Secret Courts campaign. The strength of feeling in the party against this Bill has been evidenced by the hundreds of letters, emails and messages of support we have received over the past seven months. It is a testament to the incredible spirit of party members and I am very proud to have been associated with them in this campaign. They are all truly inspirational.
This party has a fine and proud history, both recently and in its previous incarnations, of campaigning to uphold civil liberties and human rights. I very much hope the party finds its principles and its soul again, and soon, because the United Kingdom urgently needs a liberal and democratic party to build and safeguard our freedoms.

* Stephen Tall is Co-Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice, a Research Associate for the liberal think-tank CentreForum, and also writes at his own site, The Collected Stephen Tall.