Martin Bright

Convention on Modern Liberty

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I was really sorry not to get along to the Convention on Modern Liberty at the weekend. I think this is an important development on the political landscape and I salute the organisers. I have been impressed by the energy of Henry Porter in getting this onto the agenda and the coalition is an interesting one. Henry's article in the Observer was correct to point out the role played by Jack Straw in the erosion of our liberties. Straw, argues Porter is "now carving out a historic role for himself as one of the enemies of democracy and civil liberties in the United Kingdom". I also enjoyed Suzanne Moore's take on the event: "The enemies of freedom have shown themselves to be not simply murderous bombers but smiling legislators who know what is best for us."

But I am equally interested in the sceptical voices. An early note of caution was sounded by Paul Evans on the Liberal Conspiracy website. Paul argued that " we need to collectively hold our noses and get involved in local political parties again instead of lifestyle politics and single-issue pressure groups that sit on soft end of the direct-democracy continuum." Slugger O'Toole worried that the concerns of the convention were too metropolitan despite meeting in various parts of the UK. David Aaronovitch also worried in the print edition of Times on Saturday that we were getting too hung up on minor infringements of civil liberties. Melanie Phillips is also worth reading on the subject.

But of everything I've seen about this (and there is a lot), the response on James Graham's Quaequam Blog is the most interesting. The real question is, where does this take us? What action should be taken if our liberties really are being eroded?


James, who was trying to collect pledges of action at the event wrote: "I have lost count of the number of young people I’ve spoken to in recent years who have told me that the reason they haven’t joined a political party was that they didn’t agree 100% with any one party and that joining, they felt, would mean having to sign up to their whole policy agenda. Those of us on the inside of course know that is utter nonsense. But we do seem to have created a society whereby people are so precious about their identities that they would rather hold back and continue to be pushed around than join in, enjoying strength of numbers but risking some dillution of self. It is why libertarians, in the main, are such paper tigers."

The worry is that this could turn out to be a massive act of masochism. One almighty, self-satisfied, complacent and ultimately fruitless national moan.