An open letter to Lynne Featherstone MP
Oct 13, 2009
Bishop Hill in Civil liberties, Home education

Dear Ms Featherstone

Your blog post today is about your being lobbied by home educators.  You observe their fear that their way of life is being destroyed, that they will be subject to inspection and that a state-mandated curriculum will be imposed upon them. It is, you say, a conundrum to choose between the parent's freedom to educate their children as they see fit and the demands of the state to "ensure safety".

It is not a conundrum at all.

You see, this kind of issue is easy for a liberal. This is first principles stuff: the state needs to prove reasonable grounds before it can enter someone's home; it has to get a warrant first; you are innocent until proven guilty. That kind of thing.

These are simple concepts that have been the bedrock of British freedoms for centuries. These are fundamentals. I'm therefore struggling with the idea of a Liberal Democrat MP - a Liberal Democrat MP - in a quandry over whether warrantless searches should be permitted or not. Imagine that - an MP who declares themselves a liberal can't work out whether a fundamental civil liberty, fought and died for over the centuries, is a good thing or not!

Here's a clue - on release from prison, criminals may not have their homes searched without a warrant. Important that - you've served your time, now you go back to where you started from: innocent until proven guilty. 

Yet you seem unsure if people who have been found guilty of nothing should be subject to search by government officers. Why, oh why, do you feel that innocent home educators are so much more worthy of state inspection than ex-cons? What prompts you to even consider treating them this way? Have the Liberal Democrats forgotten everything that mankind has ever learned about liberalism?

Consider the impact of what you are saying. Why should families of preschoolers not be subject to inspection but home educators should? Where is the difference? There is none. Tell us that you would have supported the idea of your children being interviewed by education welfare officers at age 4, in your absence, on the off-chance that you were abusing them. Would you have supported this? I think not. How then can you justify treating home educators in this way?

If you come down on the government side on the question of the Badman review, could you really call yourself a liberal again? Wouldn't your party just stand for the same authoritarian consensus that grips Labour and Conservative parties alike?

What is the point of the Liberal Democrats if not to speak up for liberalism?

Liberal societies have created constitutions and bills of rights to protect fundamental civil liberties from the depredations of politicians in the grip of whatever madness is gripping their thoughts at the time, whether it is safety or drugs or reds under the beds. Child abuse is just another of this long line of horrors. You have a choice: a free society or 1984. You will get child abuse in both.

Now you work out which way to vote.


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