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Monday, September 18, 2006 

A bonfire of illiberality.

When you start getting excited about politics, it's probably time to go outside, or see your psychiatrist. You know your problems are getting serious when the Liberal Democrats conference suddenly starts looking uplifting, but for once it's a reality, and it's all thanks to the brilliant idea advocated today by Nick Clegg:

The Liberal Democrats pledged a bonfire of government laws today, with a promise to bring in a "great repeal act" scrapping supposedly illiberal legislation brought in by four successive Labour home secretaries.

Nick Clegg, the rising star of the party, got a standing ovation on the first day of the conference in Brighton, when he called for a cull of some of the 3,000 new criminal offences that the party calculates Labour has brought in.

Mr Clegg, a former MEP who won a seat in Sheffield at the last election, said that he would open a website where the public could nominate laws they would like to see repealed, at www.greatrepealact.com.

It looks like he may well have read Jackie Ashley's Grauniad article this morning, which accused the Lib Dems of being too safe. Clegg is going to raise some hackles doing this among the neo-Labour fanatics more obsessed with "feral youths" wandering in packs of one and daring to congregate on street corners than with making Britain fairer, but by God if it what he's said isn't incredibly refreshing.

The website referred to, greatrepealact.com simply refers back to the Lib Dem site, but it's there, along with other campaigns for err, petitioning against rip-off alcohol at cricket grounds. I didn't know that Chatshow Charlie was a fan of the thump of willow against leather, but there you are.

The first thing that instantly comes to mind to repeal is the outrageous banning of protests in parliament square without prior permission, and the Lib Dems haven't forgotten about that either, with it also being first on their proposed list. Second is ID cards, another worthy choice. The US extradition treaty comes next, while conditions on public assemblies, control orders, dna retention and most of the other unneccesary bills that remain on the statute book follow on.

There's two things that the Lib Dems seem to have forgotten - firstly, the restrictions on trial by jury in "complicated" fraud cases. It's been shown quite comprehensively that this is not down to juries failing to understand what's going on in the courtroom, but rather either the judge or the prosecution failing in their duties. The United States showed with the Enron cases that fraud can be tried quickly, easily and efficiently. There is no reason why the same cannot be done here. The right to be tried by your peers should not be removed simply because the judge is incapable of controlling the courtroom, or through the deficiencies and incompetence of the prosecution.

More radically, the Lib Dems should also ditch the banning of smoking in enclosed/private places. The simple answer to those who say that bar staff etc should not have to breathe other people's smoke is simple: they have the choice not to work there. The right to damage your own body should be one of the liberties never to be diluted. I fully agree that smoking is bad for both you and those around you, but if it's to be banned there needs to be a lot more done to both stop people starting smoking and then to help them stop. Banning smoking in private/enclosed places will not do that, it will simply drive away business, make a certain section of the population both pariahs and uncomfortable, and as much as I hate to admit agreeing with John Reid, to some people it is one of the last few pleasures they have left.

Apart from that, there would be smaller things, such as the removal of the obligation to have to wear a seat belt for instance (once you're over 18, obviously) which impinge on personal liberty (after all, the right to be stupid and die is one of the most cherished things we should hold dear) but the Lib Dems certainly have the right idea. This shows politics doesn't have to be dull, defensive, safe and even, dare I say it, "politically correct". If only all the parties would take Clegg's lead.

Update: D-Notice has some more ideas, including some I completely forgot about. The likely legislation forthcoming on "extreme and violent" pornography deserves to incinerated also.

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