Sunday, March 01, 2009

Cry freedom (and buy the T-shirt)

If you are an avid reader of the Guardian or the Observer, you might have read about the Convention on Modern Liberty that took place yesterday in London. Well, I think the convention bit refers to the event, but there is also a sort of organisation; at least it has a website.

As soon as I heard about this event, I signed up, although it cost £35. I did this for a number of reasons. Firstly, the issues on which they are campaigning are those that have always been dear to my heart: civil liberties, human rights and the gradual, quiet erosions of our freedoms and privacies over recent decades which has escalated in the last few years to a quite frightening degree - the same reasons that cause me to be a member of Liberty and to support NO2ID.

Secondly, I'm about to start work on a book about freedom; more specifically about how the idea of freedom has been shaped and used by politicians through the ages. So this also seemed a good reason for going. Thirdly, there was quite a star-studded cast. I went to sessions on press freedom, with Alan Rusbridger, Nick Cohen and Andrew Gilligan, and on liberty and republicanism - where there was a really interesting discussion, and I finally got the chance to see Quentin Skinner, an academic whose work I've long enjoyed, speak live. Whilst watching David Davies give his plenary oration on the big screen in the foyer, a strange man caught my eye and half smiled as if he thought he knew me... but he didn't, because he was Billy Bragg.

And finally, I met someone who I have long admired for not just talking about it but really doing it - Peter Tatchell. Whatever you think of the causes he stands up for you would be hard pushed not to be awestruck by his dedication and the sacrifices he has made, over decades now, to defend human rights. Although in the media he can come across as a bit 'worthy', in person he was absolutely charming - and a brilliant soap box orator to boot.

Will the Convention on Modern Liberty make any difference? Will the fact that the Shadow Home Secretary clearly and unequivocally promised to scrap the ID cards scheme, and to repeal a good deal more of the 50 or so recent peices of legislation that chip away at our freedoms really be remembered after the next election? Will the government take a blind bit of notice of a gathering of the Guardianistas they already so despise? Or were we just talking to each other, articulating our unease and our fears, and making ourselves feel good by buying T-shirts? Well, even if we were, that's no bad thing. Yesterday's convention may have been preaching to the converted, but the converted will have had their confidence and their arguments bolstered, and the coverage of the event will hopefully bring these issues to a wider audience.



BigJohn said...

Hopefully, indeed!

Thanks for the post. I presume you might have joined Facebooks Stop Clause 152 group?

S said...

Ah, that was what it was called. Phil Booth made an impassioned speech about it, with the form of words we have to send to our MP, and I promptly forgot what the clause was called - and couldn't find any reference to it on the convention website (which is not a particularly good website, if you ask me). Phil Booth of NO2ID is pretty impressive though, and a local hero - he's from Lewes.