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Hain: Labour must not be Big Brother

Rachel Sylvester, Alice Thomson and George Jones / London Telegraph | September 23 2006

Labour is in danger of getting a reputation as a "big brother" Government with a tendency to ban everything and curb individual freedom, Peter Hain says today.

In an interview with The Daily Telegraph, the Northern Ireland Secretary puts restoring the party's traditional defence of civil liberties at the heart of his campaign to become deputy leader.

He calls for a "re-balancing" of its attitude to both social policy and law and order to give greater emphasis to the importance of freedom.

"We have been very tough on security and people want us to be," he says. "But we have to stress that we are a Government that is not about a big brother state; it is about individual liberties as well. We have to get the balance right.

"I don't think we have worked hard enough to say that if Labour is about anything it is about the fight for individual liberty."

The jockeying for position among leadership hopefuls intensified before the party's annual conference — which opens in Manchester tomorrow — despite an appeal for unity from Hazel Blears, the party chairman.

Harriet Harman, the constitutional affairs minister, said that Gordon Brown, Tony Blair's most likely successor, needed a woman deputy to provide "balance". In another interview, to be shown on GMTV tomorrow, she says that a new leadership should be more open about differences with the United States.

Mr Hain says the "progressive coalition" of core Labour and middle-Britain voters, which swept Mr Blair to power, is in danger of collapsing because of a view that the Government is intent on damaging civil liberties.

"If the voters think we are about some kind of big-state perspective, then they will turn away from us. If there is a perception that Labour likes to ban everything, we maybe need to re-balance that."

Civil liberties groups have criticised the Government for introducing a series of draconian anti-terrorism measures, including orders under which suspects may be held in their homes without trial.

Ministers have also been accused of trying to create a nanny state with a series of policies such as the introduction of bans on smoking in public places and hunting with hounds. Mr Hain says the Government has tended to place too much emphasis on being tough rather than liberal in the way it presents policies.

He says that Labour needs to "capture people's imagination again" if it is to win a fourth term, adding: "A central pitch of my campaign will be that we have to persuade progressive and middle-Britain voters — to recapture their trust, regain middle Britain, tell them to come home to Labour by putting forward very clear policy on individual liberty, on the green agenda, economic stability, tackling crime and anti-social behaviour.

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