In today’s Guardian Henry Porter has explained why he thinks the Convention event was such success on the day, and what it means for the future:
“I can tell you what was impressive about the Convention on Modern Liberty in a second. It was the complete lack of cynicism; it was people giving of their best, listening without interrupting, rising to the occasion, finding others as worried or as inspired as they were, making connections across the political spectrum, speaking with extraordinary eloquence and clarity, reaching out to the other point of view.
This is something you see very rarely in our institutions and media. Half way through the morning sessions I realised that those attending the convention had designated the Institute of Education in Bloomsbury a neutral space where the only currencies accepted were common ground, reason and humanity. That applied to the politicians too – exchanges took place that I did not believe were possible. Billy Bragg complimented David Davis on what was by common consent a very good speech. I watched Labour, Liberal Democrat and Conservatives nod with agreement and passion as they listened to Lord Bingham’s speech and the oration by Philip Pullman, which together with his article in the Times will become important texts for the understanding history and our freedoms. It was extraordinary.
This was the British – the modern British – at their very best. No broken society here; indeed it seemed like the virtues of old and new Britain mingled in a way that I have not seen before. There was so little rancour: the air shone with good nature. This was not simply an event about the attack on liberty but something far more moving – an assertion of a culture. After years of watching the slow extinction of parliamentary debate and the triumph of irony and cynicism in the media, it was sheer delight to hear people talk so earnestly. Talk, discourse, parleying is ever more important in an age that has found so many ways to insult remotely.
Writing in the Times, Michael Gove MP said he had been put off attending the convention because of his “prickly antipathy to barristerial cant”. He continue: “There’s a certain sort of silky smuggery about some of freedom’s defenders that I can do without.” This seemed a bit daft to me. Surely he cares more about the attack on freedom than the supposed manner of its defenders. He should have been there because the speeches by Lord Goldsmith and Lord Bingham, Helena Kennedy, Sir Ken Macdonald and Edward Fitzgerald were direct and compelling. No cant, little flourish: just talk.
It was a great day and wonderfully organised by my co-director Anthony Barnett. There was an important message in this: we want the main parties to understand that an opposition is forming which is light on its feet and self-organising. We had one or two disappointments. The BBC took little notice on the day, which, given the quality of the speakers, was bizarre. No matter. Someone suggested that for a little extra money we could broadcast live to 150,000 people on the web.
Things are moving fast. Being ignored by a big broadcaster suddenly seemed to matter less than it once did.”