Looking back to the days before 1997, if you had asked me then whether I would consider myself a natural supporter of the campaign group Liberty and its director Shami Chakrabarti, I would likely have answered in the negative. But those days are long gone. In the space of 12 years the Labour government has carried out an assault on liberty so vicious that the values that form the bedrock of this great society are not simply under threat, they actually face the possibility of extinction. The argument put forward by Labour was a simple one, and rendered all the more appealing by the spectre of global terrorism. If we wanted to protect ourselves from threats, both foreign and domestic, we had to be prepared to sacrifice a little liberty at the altar of security. The two concepts were put forward as mutually exclusive alternatives, with the implicit contention that when it came to a choice we should naturally favour the latter over the former.
On the back of this argument, Labour has passed more criminal justice laws than were passed in the previous 100 years. More than 3,000 new criminal offences have been created, the use of stop and search has exploded and at every opportunity the government has attempted to increase the amount of time a terrorist suspect can be detained for questioning without trial. Not content with this alone, it empowered everybody from the police to local councils to spy on private citizens with greater ease, little oversight and for almost any reason. It has constructed enormous databases containing every aspect of our lives while failing resolutely to consider the risks associated with the accumulation of such data in a format for which security is anything but guaranteed. As if all of that were not enough, it continues its efforts to introduce ID cards despite the lack of public support. And in the week when MPs' expenses claims were laid bare, legislation was quietly laid before parliament that would enable the Inland Revenue to use ID cards to access details access details of anyone's major financial transactions.
Never before has our liberty been under such threat. Even during our darkest hour, when we faced a very real, defined and specific threat from the Nazis, the restrictions placed on our liberty were imposed with reluctance, and removed as soon as practically possible. Indeed it was Churchill who, in a letter to the home secretary upon the release of Oswald Mosley, indicated that the willingness of the executive to yield extraordinary powers granted by parliament at times of emergency, was "really the test of civilisation". And yet now, in the face of an infinitesimally smaller threat, we have a government resolutely failing the test of civilisation by creating powers for the state that fundamentally infringe liberty and are designed to have permanent effect. And having sacrificed our liberty in return for the hope of security, what do we find? A society with some of the highest crime rates in Europe, violent crime skyrocketing, personal information held on databases being mislaid and, by MI5's own admission, a frightening growth in radicalisation of young Muslims across the UK.
The zero-sum game Labour has played with liberty and security actively ignored one fundamental truth in the relationship between the two. Security exists not simply to protect us from injury or death at the hands of those who would seek to do us harm, but rather to protect our way of life and the values enshrined therein. As Benjamin Franklin put it: "Those who would give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety." If we allow ourselves to place life above liberty, then that is precisely what we shall receive; a life without liberty.
So it will fall to the Conservatives to implement a radical civil liberties agenda when they get into power. There will be enormous pressure on them to restore freedoms to the individual. They are already committed to axing identity cards and a whole host of intrusive government databases, but they need to go further and ensure than innocence before the law is considered a right, not a platitude.
If you want to read the Guardian readers' reactions click HERE. I'll be speaking at Liberty's 75th anniversary conference on Saturday 6 June.