"Liberalism is trust of the people tempered by prudence. Conservatism is distrust of the people tempered by fear" William Ewart Gladstone
The Liberal Democrats on principle oppose secret courts. Our party conference has repeatedly pointed out that no government can be above the law. It is an article of faith that we must oppose any executive authority that seeks to place itself outside the normal rule of law. Nor is this a purely theoretical issue: the information coming out of Libya after the fall of Gadaffi suggests prima facie evidence that agents of the British government sanctioned criminal activity- including torture and even murder- of those the government deemed arbitrarily and often without evidence to be guilty of enmity against the British state.
The executive can not even give a number for how many such secret trials might take place under the proposed legislation, still less give any assurance as to the integrity of the judicial process without public scrutiny. Even senior members of the security services have expressed scepticism as to the need for secret trials.
It is not merely Liberal Democrat policy - duly voted for at the last conference- to oppose the establishment of secret courts, it is a basic foundation of Liberal principles, Liberal ideology and Liberal faith.
So why in God's name did only seven Liberal Democrat MPs vote against the establishment of such secret courts last night?
Our Federal Spring conference begins shortly. Some, notably Liberal Democrats against Secret courts, will presumably be asking serious questions of our Parliamentary party. I am not able to attend this year. I will, however, be watching closely. I will not be alone, as the Guardian pointed out in December, this really is a litmus test of Liberal principles.
What is the point of working so hard to get Mike Thornton elected as MP for Eastleigh, if- the very next week- the Liberal Democrats are prepared to abandon a core principle of Liberalism?
I believe in the fundamental value of Liberalism as a political ideology. It is a pretty poor look out when David Davis turns out to be a more genuine liberal, not just than Ken Clarke, but than Nick Clegg, and the bulk of the Liberal Democrat Parliamentary party.
It is a very bleak day for liberals of all stripes when those we trust to represent liberal values renege on that trust in the name of political expediency. The Parliamentary party owes the long suffering Liberal Democrat membership at least an explanation and probably an apology.
A Democracy can not compromise its fundamental principles without weakening the very fabric of democracy itself and essentially giving in to its enemies- whether the criminal terrorists we most fear, or the criminal state tyrannies like Putin's Russia. We are better than our enemies only for so long as we maintain our better nature and adhere undaunted to the political, indeed the moral, principles of a liberal democratic state.
Last night was a vote to weaken those principles and it is a vote that must not go unchallenged.