Speaking just as he had been elected leader, Ed Miliband had this to say:
“We must always remember that British liberties were hard fought and hard won over hundreds of years. We should always take the greatest care in protecting them. And too often we seemed casual about them.”
Today, at Prime Minister’s Question, Ed demanded of David Cameron that innocent people’s DNA be kept on the DNA database in the mistaken belief this would lead to an increase in convictions for rape. I say innocent, because these people have been tested but not been charged – now, under our legal system since they have not even been charged (let alone convicted) they are without a shadow of a doubt considered innocent. In actual fact, even those charged are innocent, until proven guilty.This is as it should be, a legal system should presume innocence, not guilt. I can’t think of any way a legal system that presumes guilt would not be a totalitarian, dictatorial one which would be a cruel mockery of justice. So, Ed is fundamentally wrong and setting himself up against a fundamental principle that governs our legal system. In arguing for these people’s DNA to be stored, he is by logical implication arguing that guilt, not innocence should be presumed.
Of course, he is quite right that it is a scandal that any rape goes unpunished but he is simply not thinking about other possible causes of this problem such as social stigma, lack of proper support from the authorities and others in society for victims. Unsurprisingly then that in a completely knee-jerk fashion he reaches for a solution which would make the problem worse – which would see the innocent stigmatised and those who are victims pressured even further to actually keep quiet lest they damage innocent people.
Civil liberties is one of those issues that helped make the Labour brand toxic, especially amongst those who de-camped to the Liberal Democrats. It said to people that rather than a balanced view of how we use the state, we thought the state should have unlimited power in every area. It showed that we couldn’t think innovatively about problems and that the solution was always mindless state activism and unlimited state imposition on peoples lives.
Therefore, it follows that part of the detoxification process when it comes to Labour’s brand identity is a overhaul of our attitude to civil liberty issues. This is something that was promised by the current leadership but, if today is anything to go by, is unlikely to materialise.
Maybe Ed should go through some of his old speeches because on this, like other issues, it seems he has caught the u-turning bug off of David Cameron.
If we are serious about detoxifying the Labour brand, this is as good an issue as any to start with.