What Lib Dem members say about ‘secret courts’: 66% back repeal, 64% say Clegg has handled issue “very badly”

by Stephen Tall on March 18, 2013

Lib Dem Voice polled our members-only forum recently to discover what Lib Dem members think of various political issues, the Coalition, and the performance of key party figures. Some 650 party members have responded, and we’re publishing the full results.

66% say party should commit to repealing ‘secret courts’ legislation

The House of Commons has approved legislation extending the use of Closed Material Procedures – also known as ‘secret courts’ – in any civil proceedings (except, at present, for inquests) in cases where national security is said to be at risk. Do you support or oppose the repeal of this legislation featuring in the next Lib Dem general election manifesto?

    Support – 66%
    Oppose – 23%
    Don’t know – 11%

Two-thirds of Lib Dem members want the party to commit (as it did at last week’s Spring conference) to repealing the ‘secret courts’ legislation currently being approved by Parliament. Just under one-quarter oppose such a commitment. I’ve printed a selection of comments below.

Given the vehemence of opposition to ‘secret courts’, and the overwhelming vote against secret courts at conference, the figures are closer than might be expected. Three possible explanations (not mutually exclusive). First, this may an issue which exercises activists more than members — up to 35% were persuadable of the case for ‘secret courts’ when we last surveyed members in November. Secondly, some said the question was confusing, as it asked if you supported repeal. To any it confused, apologies: not my intention. The question was phrased to mirror the motion that was put to the party conference. Thirdly, there are members who oppose secret courts who nevertheless think the party cannot vote for something in parliament and propose something different in the manifesto (similar to those who were anti-tuition fees, but think the anti-fees position now needs to be dropped for the sake of party credibility).

It’s illiberal. End of. We should not have supported it.

Repealing it is a good idea, but with Tory and Labour support for CMPs, we’ll never be able to make it happen

Scandalous that our party has supported these moves and not listened to people such as David Howarth and Julian Huppert. Jo Shaw’s treatment by Nick Clegg was terrible.

This is a highly illiberal measure which breaks fundamentally our party constitution.

This legislation is pernicious, illiberal and inconsistent with justice and democratic government. It is being introduced at the behest of the same people and organisations who told us that Saddam Hussein was a direct threat to this country.

Because a majority of the Lib Dem MPs voted in favour of this I am considering leaving the Party after thirty years as a Liberal/Lib Dem member. No Lib MP should have voted in favour of this legislation which is wrongly argued to be for national security reasons; CMP are justifiable if you are of the far right, but they are not, in point of fact, justifiable.

I have contemplated resignation prior to Jo Shaw, Dinah Rose and Philipe Sands. Their resignations are pretty high profile, and to lose such well informed Human Rights activists is very damaging

Because unclear how widely it could be used – national security is often applied to civil protesters.

Strongly support repeal – the powers being introduced by this bill are very illiberal and should never have been supported by our MPs – all who voted for this should all be ashamed.

This measure goes against the principles set out in the preamble to the constitution. If our MP’s back it then the party needs to re-write the preamble to reflect this betrayal.

For Party members, passing this bill was as toxic as the increase in tuition fees. I for one will not campaign for the MPs who voted for it.

I think that it should be modified or made more accountable but most of the public are not really interested. The alternative is not to allow such law suits.

I OPPOSE IT FEATURING IN THE MANIFESTO. This is the sort of wonky policy detail that has got out of all proportion and about which most of the voters don’t give a damn. We already have lots of secret court proceedings in the family courts etc. There has to be a reasonable way through this but let’s make a drama of it.

If “oppose the repeal” means support the secret courts then I support the secret courts with the safeguards.

Not that simple. We need the balance of rights to sue and rights to protection from vexacious litigation and that is better handled by a judge than a Minister.

The use of Closed Material Procedures is necessary if secret data is to be used in court, without using this data justice is not possible.

Nobody cares about it so it should not waste space on our manifesto pages. Repeal it if we wish but don’t include it in our manifesto. We can’t oppose something we introduced ourselves a few years earlier.

I disagree with the legislation, and don’t think we should hve voted for it, but including it in our manifesto just makes us look indecisive as well as authoritarian

64% of party members say the issue has been handled “very badly”

What is your opinion of how the Lib Dem leadership has handled the debate over ‘secret courts’?

    It has been handled very badly – 64%
    I’m unhappy with how it’s been handled but accept the leadership did its best – 19%
    I have no strong views on this – 9%
    I support the way the leadership has handled it – 4%
    Don’t know – 3%

Almost two-thirds (64%) of party members are highly critical of the stance the Lib Dem leadership has taken. Almost one-fifth (19%) take a more benign view: unhappy at how the party handled the debate, but accepting it did its best. Almost one-in-10 have no strong views on the issue, while 4% actively support the party leadership’s approach.

Here’s a selection of your comments:

There has been no attempt to engage with the activists and members who are concerned about this. Legislation should never have seen the light of day with our name on it.

badly doesn’t even begin to cover it. “With high handed arrogance” would be a charitable way of putting it.

Leadership didn’t even *try*, that’s what is so frustrating.

What is the point of paying membership to a party whose leadership totally ignores party policy, principle and the advice of leading legal practitioners in the field.

Secret Courts was not in the Coalition Agreement. Liberal Democrat MPs and ministers should have had a free vote.

At a time when activists should be feeling movitated after the Eastleigh by-election, the impact of the leadership’s mishandling of the ‘secret courts’ issue was hugely damaging

The leadership managed to turn what should have been an uplifting conference into a demotivating experience for many members.

I searched for comments that supported the leadership’s handling of the debate (though, some criticisms of those party members who’ve quit the party over the issue) and found this one:

They were being realistic.

  • 1,500 Lib Dem paid-up party members are registered with LibDemVoice.org. 647 responded to the latest survey, which was conducted between 14th and 17th March.
  • Please note: we make no claims that the survey is fully representative of the Lib Dem membership as a whole. However, LibDemVoice.org’s surveys are the largest independent samples of the views of Lib Dem members across the country, and have in the past offered accurate guides to what party members think.
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  • * 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.