This is the final transcript from the London Convention, covering the second plenary session (entitled ‘How do we secure modern liberty?’)
The draft transcript which follows is unedited or requires further editing. It is provided strictly on the understanding that it may contain errors. In particular, it should NOT be considered a complete or correct record of proceedings.
THE CHAIR (ANTHONY BARNETT): Thank you very, very much Philip. That was ‘we have a fight on our hands’, Ladies and Gentlemen. I am Anthony Barnett, the co-director of this convention. It has been for me a wonderful, very enjoyable experience. I hope you have enjoyed the day so far.
Before we start introducing the panel, I just want to say a few little items of business. This convention in many ways is about ‘what next’. Henry Porter my co-director and I have both written a little in the programme about this but there has been a release of energy: there is a movement and people want to do something and we are helping to start that fight.
And there is, in your pack, a pledge card. It is not up to us to decide what to do next: it is up to you. You will find the pledge up there: there is a lightning connection desk just outside the crush bar and you can give them your pledge card – you can put it on the notice board and they will assist you in doing this. It can then go on to crowdvine, which is a convention social network where you can find other people who want to do similar things, however modest or ambitious they may be, to start that fight. And to continue that fight.
Secondly, I might say that the way past the desks leads to the stall where you can buy your t-shirt for ten pounds and help to finance the convention.
A huge amount has been going on through the course of the day and in the other cities across the United Kingdom and also in terms of blogs and responses and so on and we will be reporting on all that as fast as we can, including, I hope, the Podcast of the parallel sessions you may have missed, which will also be on the website.
Finally, if you are trying to think about what to do afterwards, I have been asked a couple of questions about the informal drinks session at the end. Henry will be hosting an informal panel discussion of the speakers that you can see on your programme in the Geoffrey room, it only has room for about 300. We are not expecting everybody to stay but you can’t drink in here. You can buy a drink at the crush bar or have a juice – it will be mainly standing. It has been much more crowded than we expected. Thank you very much for that.
Well, I thought that the day had gone almost faultlessly, when I suddenly thought I had lost Brian Eno… and then he appeared!
So I am very happy to introduce our panel. Brian, I think, is one of this country’s – and the world’s – finest musicians. I will do this very quickly. Afua Hirsch here on my left is The Guardian’s new legal correspondent – a trained lawyer – and she is going to open the discussion.
She will be followed by Chuka Ummuna, a Labour candidate for Streatham. And I am slight nervous about this because the original idea of this panel was that everybody would be under 30, and then that they would be under 40, so we are starting with the younger panel members. And then we’ll go to Chris Huhne who is — who has just launched The Freedom Bill, also in your pack, which is the Lib Dems’ answer to how we shall fight back.
Then I go to Will and then I will end with Brian Eno.
AFUA HIRSCH: I am going to start with 2 confessions. My first confession (and I am slight embarrassed about this): when I was asked to do this session about how we can move forth question of rights and freedom my heart sank. As a lawyer, I am trained to challenge any violations of rights where I find them. And as a journalist, I spend a lot of energy making sure that those violations are brought to the attention of as many people as possible but when it comes to actually moving the debate forward and asking what we can do to change things and generate a new culture of rights, it is a lot harder to deal with that than it is to complain about the situation as it currently is. But that is what I have been asked to do and I think it is the most important thing.
My second confession is that I got here slightly late this morning because I went to the hairdresser. And this may seem like a diversion, but my hairdresser is run by a Jamaican family and they call themselves United Nations – almost every continent is represented by the overwhelming desire to have good hair. And I mentioned I would be speaking here today and I told them what I was going to talking about: I was absolutely bombarded with protest and by other people at the hairdressers. I am very happy I did tell them. What they told me was that some of them were very familiar with the concepts of rights and some were not. But what they all said was this; it is all very well if we have a sense of being empowered by our rights, but as long as we feel completely detached from the political process we feel that the decisions that have most impact on our lives are completely outside our control.
I think that this is something we need to bear in mind. That is why I am very happy to be sharing this Panel with Chuka: to me and a lot of other people he represents a new generation of young people who are engaging in politics in a new way – who can inspire young people to feel less disempowered and combine a sense of rights and values with being able to inform the political process in their daily lives. I think that is really important.
But, coming back to rights, in my experience, people tend to fall into one of two groups. There are people who study and work with human rights and the overwhelming majority completely embrace them. I teach law and I am always astounded by the enthusiasm of my students, not for everything I teach but for the human rights part of the course. The level of enthusiasm rockets. I think that is because young people in particular understand intuitively and are naturally attracted to the idea of values – equality, respect and dignity – that are absolutely essential to rights. That is something that speaks very clearly to young people more than anyone.
The other group are people who tend not really to know what rights are, what human rights are and how they relate to their lives at all. It is often neglected that the right to be educated about human rights is in itself human right. I am just going to read a bit from the universal declaration of human rights in the preamble which says ‘every individual and person of society shall strive by teaching and honest promotion of projects for rights and freedoms’ and article 26 says, ‘Education shall be directed to the full development of the human personality and the strengthening of respects for human rights and fundamental freedoms.” To me, that encapsulates a very large part of what is wrong at the moment. The question that has to be asked – and it has to be a large part of the answer – is why rights are not part of mainstream education in this country: why are young people growing up without understanding that they have the right to be treated certain way and that they also have responsibility to behave certain way for other people?
There has been some work done on this. There have been pilot schemes where rights have been introduced into the curriculum. Studies on these schemes have found overwhelmingly that teaching young people about rights changes their behaviour. It even has an impact on school attendance; it empowers teachers and it can completely change the atmosphere in a school. I think that is something we all need to be talking about. How are we going to introduce the concept of rights as a mainstream part of educating our young people?
I also think that we need to think about the broader picture and outside the school environment. Again, for me, human rights are not just about legal instruments – although that is important – and it is not just about politicians and judges. It is really a quality of life issue: the whole concept of rights is about empowering people and ensuring that they have guaranteed minimum standards that they are entitled to, both in the way they access services and in the way they are treated, not just by the state – although primarily it is about the relationship between them and the state but also other people. I think that working on those standards and that reciprocity becoming a mainstream part of our society is really where we need to focus now. To come back to what I said at the beginning, I think we need to think about this in the broader context of the political system and a bigger problem than the erosion of civil liberties: the fact that people are disenchanted by the political process. Rights are one aspect of bringing people back into engaging and actually feeling they are able to have an impact on the decisions and issues that affect their daily lives.
CHAIR: Thank you.
CHUKA UMMUNA: Thank you very much for asking me to speak today, actually. Somebody did bring it to my attention there are not many people from my political party speaking at this event today. There may be a reason for that.
We are asked in this session to look at how we secure Modern Liberty and on the way here I was actually reflecting on how there is this perception that those who are interested in those issues, like other issues relating to the constitution reform and the rest, tend to be middle class, metropolitan chattering class people you hear talked about in the media and no doubt there are people in this room who deny they fall into that category. Nevertheless, that is the perception. The key to securing Modern Liberty to me is by main streaming it as an issue so it becomes as important as putting food on your plate, ensuring you have a National Health Service that can look after you when you fall ill: making it matter.
I don’t really buy the notion that I think some – particularly, I suppose, around the New Labour project – have bought into: that the British public are this authoritarian, amorphous mass of conservative people with a small /c/. I don’t buy that. In politics I want to mainstream a lot of these things and work out how we win public support for securing personal liberties. I suppose, in a nutshell, you can intellectualise – and we have been doing a lot of that today – but how do we popularise it .
I want to say something about how people’s personal experience shapes their attitude to this concept and also my experience about people’s attitude to civil liberties in the constituency I hope to represent in Streatham and solutions about how we mainstream the issues.
Just to start with personal experience, if you like. I don’t know if anybody watched Shami Chakrabati’s video on the website before they came here. One thing she stated in the video; people wake up to these issues when it makes incursions into their personal freedom: that’s when they really come awake to these issues. I think that made me reflect on why I care about things. On the English Irish side of my family I am a lawyer and I come from a family of lawyers. Needless to say, when the Government is trying to do ludicrous things like lock up people for 42 days or 90 days I have had a severe ear-bashing about it, despite the fact I have also disagreed with them. My father is Nigerian. I had early experience of infringement of civil liberties by the police in my family. My father was followed from Brixton for allegedly speeding the car he was driving and wasn’t stopped in Brixton when the police came into contact with him, but was followed all the way to our house in Streatham where he had the living daylights beaten out of him in the front porch and was remanded in custody, subject to a physical examination and released. No policeman was disciplined as a result of that.
I suppose the question is, for me it is quite a personal thing but how do you win public support for this amongst people who may not have been subject to that kind of thing and direct incursions through their personal freedom?
I think, when thinking about that, you have to realise the context in which you are operating, which brings me to my experience in Streatham: because another thing Shami said in the video I was talking about was, when it comes to infringement of personal liberty, it tends to be the poorest, most vulnerable in society, who suffer. I am sure you read what the House of Lords constitutional committee was saying about some of the issues and brought to light the figure of there being 4m CCTV cameras in the country and how we are one of the most watched communities in the western world, if you like. In one of the wards in the Streatham constituency, Tulse Hill, there is an estate called Saint Matthews estate. Tulse Hill is one of the poorest wards in the country; it has all the social problems associated with a place of deprivation. On Saint Matthew’s estate they have had numerous crack houses in the past, prostitution: there have been shootings on a neighbouring estate. They have experienced a massive fall in the crack houses and other criminal activities in that estate as a result of having CCTV. So, despite the fact that having CCTV and all these cameras in your estate necessarily involves an incursion into your privacy, there is a lot of support for it there. The other statistic relevant to the Tulse Hill ward and its neighbouring Brixton Hill ward is the ethnic issue with some of these things. I am sure you also saw the figures about the retention of DNA data by the Government on the DNA database and how, where as you know, 40% of black males find that the Government has their DNA data on the database, only 9% of white men have their DNA on the Government database. In Tulse Hill and the neighbouring ward Brixton Hill, one in four people have a black background, a black family. I have to say, these issues, DNA for example, have not been raised with me on one occasion since I was selected as Labour’s candidate in the area in March of last year and, actually, I am not aware of it being raised with our MP, Keith Hill either, which may be surprising. So we have a job of work to do .
To round off, how do we get these registered as issues? This is not an exhaustive list but perhaps some ideas. The first thing I would say we need, is to frame this debate not only in terms of incursions by the state to freedom but to marry it with huge incursions made by corporate interests. We have to marry the two issues together to make it resonate: it helps make the issue very practicable. I don’t think a lot of people are aware of the incursion of the state into your personal freedoms but I think in some respects they are quite aware of how big business interferes with you: for instance, how many people have had, you know, numerous pieces of junk mail coming through their door everyday? It is something tangible you come across. How many people have these direct marketers calling and disturbing you while you are trying to relax in your house? I think that needs to be thrown in together. In a way, we shouldn’t only be calling for an end to the database state, but we should be calling for an end to Big Brother business too.
We also need to define the way we talk about liberty: particularly in the tabloid media civil liberties are portrayed as protecting the rights of people suspected of blowing up buses down the road from here. I think we need to frame it in a much more positive way, where we are talking about it making us all safer. And people like me in the political parties need to make this an election issue. Civil liberties issues strangely, actually, are quite unique in the sense there are bodies of people in each of the main political parties who care passionately about personal freedom and we should all be demanding of the people drawing up election manifestos of the election 15 months away, that some concrete pledges are made in this regard and we also need to show there is a political election imperative to make some pledges on this.
I am sure that we can do something within the Labour Party, making a pledge to prevent people from disturbing you with annoying calls and junk marketing calls and making that a polar issue and we need to do that. I finish on this: it is very difficult to put civil liberty issues on the top table of other issues, particularly with what is happening with the economy at the moment, but we absolute must do so because my family learnt the hard way what happens if we don’t. (applause).
THE CHAIR: Chris, can you take this up: this very important point that one of the impulses behind the convention is a very profound feeling that party politics has failed us and is not addressing this issue. So if you could pick up in particular from what Chuka said about that.
CHRIS HUHNE: Sure Anthony, thank you. In fact one of the things that Chuka said reminded me of a very old quote which dates back to the 19th century: ‘a liberal is a conservative who has been arrested by the police.’ (laughter) There is no substitute for personal experience of the abuse of power to turn anybody into a great believer in entrenched rights and in the built-in ability to complain and make sure those complaints are taken seriously with activities. I very much agree that there are people motivated by these issues in all political parties and I sometimes think of this as a Parliamentary liberal party with a small ‘L’. I would say of all the colleagues are signed up to the Parliamentary liberal party there are 50 very clear labour MPs because those are the 50 who voted against 90 days with great courage, and we should show them due respect. Frankly there are some here today. And that is a part of the parliamentary liberal party. I would say probably about half of the conservative parliamentary party are also part of the parliamentary liberal party. But there is a real battle on both issues because nothing would give me greater pleasure than to see these issues no longer being a matter of political debate but once again accepted as part of the consensus that we all accept in whichever of the mainstream political parties.
And one of the reasons why we have put forward the freedom bill which is in your packs today is precisely because it is important now, first of all, to make the point that we have suffered a major cumulative loss of liberties since 1997. But two of those changes actually date back to the conservative government before 1997 and we need to be pretty specific about what we want to repeal, what we want to turn back. It is there as a draft consultation document: go on the website, argue about it, put other things in, it is not an exhaustive list: it’s designed to try and create a debate. This is so that, when we go up to the general election – when we are actually arguing what should be in each of the main parties manifestos – we can see very clearly who is committed to what. Ideally, we can make commitments in all of the parties to repeal some of – if not all of – the most intrusive changes, which we’ve seen since 1997.
I just remind you that there are still debates: I mean we have proposed reducing the period of detention without charge from initially 28 days town to 14 and we would make it very clear that that is an absolute commitment that we would vote for. No ifs, no buts, no timing, no Augustinian attitudes like ‘Lord, make me virtuous but not yet’. That is something that we think needs to be changed and it is important to hold the other parties to task on that as well. And make sure that the commitment is as clear because remember what happened on the Belmarsh precedent. We were the only party to vote against those and when they were finally overturned by the judges and the control orders were introduced we were also the only party to vote against control orders and control orders are an absolutely fundamental breach of people’s civil liberties we need to hold all the parties to account on the detail and actually make sure that we have a clear understanding across the parliamentary liberal party, if not more widely, of exactly what it is that we have lost, and what we intend to change.
And I think that is absolutely crucial. It is also essential in my view that we don’t abolish the Human Rights Act. Both Labour and Conservative politicians are now talking about how we need a British bill of rights and responsibilities and the Conservatives actually said they want to repeal the Human Rights Act. Now we must remember why the Human Rights Act is so important, as opposed to British rights. Eleanor Roosevelt was not foolish when she challenged human rights in the 1948 universal declaration and the British lawyers involved in the drafting of that process were making a fundamental point. Any society at some point in the future can decide who its citizens are and who they are not. That is what happened in Nazi Germany: in Nazi Germany they defined the Jews as non-citizens – outside the pale, no longer at the serving of human rights no longer deserving of German citizens’ rights. If we define rights as British that is the risk that we run again and we must not allow that to happen.
And let me make one final point, which is that if we want to achieve that consensus that I very much want to see, we have certainly to build a popular campaign. That is absolutely crucial but the end of that popular campaign, to my mind, should be an entrenchment of our civil liberties in a way that cannot be challenged in the future in the way that it has been challenged in the last ten years in particular. I am thinking here of a written constitution.
What has happened in this country could not have happened in the United States. It could not have happened in Germany. Why are we so keen to entrench civil liberties in the German constitution after the second world war? My liberal colleague Gerhardt Baugham has taken cases – he is now on his 5th – getting the federal government to strike out the database state for example, data sharing powers from one part of the federal government to the others. That is the sort of entrenchment of civil liberties which we’ll never have in this country unless we too have a written constitution to guarantee that judges can oversee laws and can make sure that they do not contravene fundamental civil liberties.
And I don’t mind whether we decide that we are going to try and separate the powers exercised by the executive and the power exercised as the legislature in the American way through a very clear division of powers and separation of powers between congress and the executive, or in the less formal way that every other European democracy has done effectively through electoral reform. One thing – having been in the European Parliament and now being in the Westminster Parliament – that I am totally convinced of is that if we want to ensure that our freedoms are secure, we must have a Parliament which is independent of the executive and able to hold it to account properly and surely in the way that other mature democracies do. Whatever your particular preference for ensuring that that happens, it will not happen until we have a very clear division of responsibility between the government on the one part and the elected legislators on the other. We are very mixed up in the way in which we confuse these roles in this country and we need to disentangle them and make sure there is a tension there because it is that tension which will guarantee us our civil liberties in future.
WILL HUTTON: Well, thank you Anthony and Henry Porter and the organisers of today. I was thinking I haven’t had the opportunity to speak to so many people live since the last time I was engaged in this exercise when Charter 88 met here 8 years ago. Congratulations for turning out in such numbers and to all those watching this by video relays. The question is: ‘How do we do better in making the case for liberty?’. And I think we have to argue our heads off.
I think we have to show that it’s relevant, as Chuka argued. I think we have to fight for entrenchment of the liberties that we possess, and extend them and make the process better, as Chris Huhne has argued. And I think we have to resist every encroachment as fully as we can. That is it. I think we can stop talking really.
ANTHONY BARNETT: Never!
WILL HUTTON: I think one of the ways that this case what I tried to do when I wrote this — I am trying it again now, is to link the argument that the British have a profound commitment to fair play, and that fair play and the capacity for fair play in both private corporations – as Chuka said – and the public sphere, is profoundly linked to the entrenchment of liberties and the process by which we govern ourselves. It is our capacity to do fair play that allows us to engage with any other inequities in our society, whether they be lack of proportionality in the way we pay ourselves or have been paid and the, there is gross inequities between rich and poor and grotesque or actually the nature of the actual social deal.
And one of the reasons why our private corporations and other companies have gone wrong in the economy over the last ten years is because in Britain the structures by which the private sector governs itself and the process by which it holds itself to account are copied from the public realm. They are very weak in the public realm and thus they are very weak in the private realm. You should not be surprised at the read across.
It is that cluster of things that exists in the world of doing fair play alive public realm, people buy citizens with entitlements, institutions that protect them and advance the cause of include realism and those institutions could be the great institutions of land, courts, our press our unions, our stattionses accountants, they are also sti sions as vice (inaudible) the integritive of the actual High Street interventions in housing, equip themselves to fight back is as much power as anything else. Then of course the way in which we deliberate. We talk to each other. The way in which we justify positions in public. Democracies are about healthy process, deliberation, trying to arrive at wise decisions, implementing them, checked balances that they don’t encroach on fundamental liberties and here is the point: every control order, every constrained protest, every piece of data that is gathered on you by the state or by the corporations, every compromise on torture, any kind of intrusion, unwarranted extensions of police capacities to detain us, extraordinary rendition all the things that have happened over the last 7 to 10 years, qualify and compromise our capacity to have a constitutional liberty and to organise fair play and thus to govern, regulate and deliberate and justify our economy and our society.
Now there are people who will object. There was a wood I used to walk through from the tube station Queen’s Wood – a couple of hundred yards – it was quite dark, I thought I wouldn’t mind a CCTV camera here. I wondered what Henry would have made of my thought. A CCTV camera to protect a citizen is a rather different proposition from a CCTV camera to intrudes upon a citizen’s capacity to move and to survey. Of course, that is where you draw the line: how you hold and the process is fundamental.
Social disorders in our society to which the reactors say we’ll limit liberty are correct. We have to strengthen the processes by which we think about how social disorders have arrived at and act to improve the positions of the people that create the social disorders. We do not repress, we do not inhibit liberty, we try to improve the main springs of our society other ways.
Islam, the other threat that is justified so much of the terrorist legislation, the war against terrorism, everybody in the room knows the story. There is a problem about Islam, it doesn’t have conceptions of a public realm. It doesn’t have justification – it is not a natural ally to liberty it is problematic. When we make the argument for liberty we have to acknowledge that. Then we have to go on and say we don’t think the response to this is to remove or qualify our own liberties: it is to argue, argue argue with those people who want to do that in our own society and argue, argue argue with the Islamic tradition in the hope that they too will have an enlightenment and they too will join us in the embrace….
(Interruption from audience) Generalisations about Islam are not helpful!
- I think when you asked us to justify this, everybody in this room has signed up. When you go outside here there are a lot of people we have to persuade. We have to persuade, get them on side. We need sensibility about this in our country that makes it impossible for the kind of things that have happened to happen. We have to argue and be bold enough to say things sometimes in a place like that which we don’t quite want to hear.
So for me, I would love a written constitution and I will continue arguing for it and supporting those who want entrenchment of a process by which we are governed protected from the state and hold the state better to account.
I too gave a round of applause when Chris said about the Human Rights Act. I don’t understand why you want to abolish it. What rights are problematic? Back to Britain, will it be safe from the executivism of our state.
To wind up, I come back to the point: to make this case we have to argue it, and have a sense of how important and fundamental it is: the DNA of everybody in this room, the DNA of our fellow countrymen and women. The importance of this convention is that it has pushed the argument forward. Congratulations to the organisers and congratulations to those of you who came.
BRIAN ENO: Hello. I am sorry that I gave you a few bad moments Anthony, but I was trying to get through, I couldn’t get through the back because the security was so tight. It is actually true, I was there for 10 minutes or so arguing with people
“I really am Brian Eno”.
- “No you’re not!”
Most of the things I had intended to say have been extremely well said by other people so I won’t repeat them. Instead, I will pull back the lens a bit and talk about something that does interest me and I think frames this discussion, which is about imagination.
What distinguishes human beings from all other creatures in the universe so far as we know is that we can imagine things. We can imagine things that don’t yet exist. We can invent a course of action and then we can play it out in our heads. We can entertain the future; several alternative futures. Equally we can imagine alternative pasts so we can think of actions we committed and we can think of other things we could have done and how they would have played out. That is the basis of regret, which of course is a great feat of imagination and one of the things that make humans develop in the ways that they do: it makes them pull themselves up by their own boot straps.
We are able to imagine because we practice it all the time. We practice it by engaging in art forms, like novels and films, where we imagine ourselves to be in another world. We have professionals who help us do that: they are called artists of futurists or cosmic physicist or astronomers (not astrologers, who don’t help very much actually…). Essentially, we conceive of our great creations with our imagination. We don’t do it empirically: a lot of time we do it in imagination.
We also have the great human talent of empathy. Mary Coldhurst, talking in a session this morning, said it was interesting that since the end of the last war we have really stopped seeing other people as the enemy in the way we used to. It is very difficult for us now to regard another bunch of humans as the enemy when what we see on our television screen are women and children who look like they are made of the pretty much same stuff as us, suffering in pretty much the same way we suffered. In a sense, our circle of empathy, which one imagines in the past extended to family, clan or tribe – or at best our nation – now sort of extends over the whole globe.
It expresses itself in other ways as well. We are concerned about the fate of people that we really have nothing whatsoever to do with. When there was a Tsunami, a lot of us sent money to people that we would never meet in places we would never go, suffering in ways that we were not even concerned to particularly find out about, but we did in some way extend our circle of empathy, perhaps because it was Christmas when it happened. Nonetheless, if you track the contributions to charities over the last 50 years or so, they go up year on year. Except if they are given by governments of course, when they go down year on year.
So whilst we have extended our circle of empathy, we have shortened our vision of the future, I think. What has happened is, because the rate of change is so fast, we do very few things with a very long view. Businesses for example are revving themselves up into shorter and shorter cycles: they are terrified of the next shareholder meeting; they are terrified of what the Financial Times is going to say. The share-price oscillates wildly every day. Unfortunately, governments have copied that model rather. Governments are terrified of the next election – I don’t blame them – but they are equally terrified of the next by-election and the next edition of the Sunday papers and the next opinion poll. This means it puts governments in the position of being extremely reactive and carrying out decisions that are dramatic and incendiary: they look good in the papers, and really plant the seeds of very very bad legislation.
In the longer view – which isn’t really encouraged by anybody, particularly the media – in the longer view, one would be thinking about what a systemic change causes in the long term, actually in the way Chris was saying. We have to think about legislation, not in terms of how it plays on the front page of the Daily Mail but in terms of what it means in 20, or 30 or 40 years time. What we have succeeded in doing is an act of anti imagination actually: it is carefully taking apart what was a very, very beautiful structure, actually. The British law for all its bolted-on, ramshackle quality, was nonetheless a very effective structure. In ten or fifteen years we have managed to take a lot of that apart.
Now it has not affected most of us directly, unlike the gentleman at the end of the line, I have not personally been arrested or harassed by the police. I have recently been told that at the demonstrations I have attended, I am no longer allowed to take photographs of policemen, which starts to get a bit disturbing. I have noticed since I have worked with Stop the War Coalition, every time we are organising a big demonstration, the computers go out before the demonstration. It is not a piece of paranoia, it actually happens. It happened in the Gaza demonstration. I am starting to become aware that there are intrusions being made. You know about all of those, you have been listening to all of that all day.
What I want to argue for – one frame we should put this whole discussion in – is how we operate in a socially creative way? What is it that keeps the conversation of democracy going? What is it that keeps us renewing ourselves, rethinking things, looking at new situations, finding new ways of adapting to them, watching the changing flux of populations and technologies and so on; and being able to operate without becoming totally paralysed? The problem with the kind of legislation that we have been seeing, is that is so security oriented that, in fact, it is a form of paralysis. Governments actually like paralysis because it is easy to deal with. They don’t really like a vigorous democratic conversation because it is messy; it is very unpredictable. You get a lot of nutters in those conversations. Unpredictable, wild things happen. As Dominic Grieve said this morning, quality of life and security are not necessarily the same thing. If we want total security, we can have it and we will be hide bound. We will be in a straight jacket. Total security was what was achieved in the Soviet Union in the thirties. I am sure it was achieved in Maioist China. The Kymer Rouge probably did well. It is very clear that it is the stifling of the imagination: the place where people stop talking to each other – they stop trading wild ideas, stop tolerating the nutcases and become insular.
We need to do the job. We are facing humanity’s biggest challenge. We have a few years to respond to it. What we need to be doing is creating a climate of completely unrestrained public discussion, social experimentation of a kind never seen before because we are going to need every hand on deck to deal with climate change. It is the biggest issue. We are going into it with exactly the wrong set of social tools. That is to say, Governments are trying to do that, or our Government. What we ought to be doing is looking at what is happening now with younger people. Younger people are starting to have conversations with each other through the social networking sites, which are really unparalleled. They are starting to do things with exactly the same technology the police are suing to paralyse the situation. We should be helping them. Governments, as I say, like the tools of control. Technology: boys trust technology and like dealing with it more than humans. What we have now is a vast technology which is so much more complex and detailed than you can imagine and has two possible futures.
One is the future of the kind of total control that some people would like. The other is the future of possible total chaos, because the software won’t work. If we can’t even get a national health service piece of software working even at double the original budget, we won’t be able to get this kind of software working. Vince Cable was saying he was very reassured by the fact that nobody will ever get it all to work. (laughter) I am sort of reassured by that as well, but what I am also very aware of is that they will still carry on using it even though it does not work (applause).
I will finish very shortly. Education ought to be the place where children are taught to swim in liberty, to be able, for once in their lives, to try any experiment so long as it does not directly hurt somebody else. Unfortunately education has also adopted the business model and gone in exactly opposite direction (applause). I endorse what you said, that this is something we should be talking about at schools: we should be preparing a generation to be able to use liberty to understand what it means and to be able to use their creativity, freely and without the kind of constraints we are seeing now.
Sorry did I go on a long time?
ANTHONY: It is a wonderful listening to you – my only concern is that we are running very short of time for questions. I think that we do have a question from out of London. Can we get one down to the gentleman on the front row.
NEW SPEAKER: I have got questions from the conventions in Belfast and Glasgow and Cardiff. They did come through on the computer, which has run out of battery. The first question is: ‘Does the Panel need to look in to the way political power is distributed in today’s Britain. That is from Belfast. The next question from Glasgow is ‘Who would we trust to write such a constitution?’ Other than Mr Huhne.
THE CHAIR: That is from Glasgow?
NEW SPEAKER: And next is Cardiff. Is the main threat to liberty the fact that laws can be applied by the government to anyone that opposes them and suspended by them at any time. And one final question, which is: Can we all agree in this room in this convention right now to show our support for a second convention in February 2010 where we can meet again and where we can continue to fight for our rights to take account to actually see what happens in the coming year – to actually see what the Conservatives, the Lib Dems and Labour do to stick to their promises, to let them know we are watching and we care about our liberties and we are going to continue to fight for them (applause).
THE CHAIR: I think there are quite a lot of questions there. If we could combine just the ‘Who would we trust to write such a constitution and is there any role that the convention could play in pushing forward that process?’ Right down the table.
CHUKA: Who do we trust to do it? Well, if ever there was a time when we could do it it is now. I think Brian was talking about the social networking and technological capabilities we have open to us. I am part of an organisation called compass a centre-left pressure group and we are doing whole consultation on a set of policies looking at how do we live in the 21st century in a fairer, equal, more sustainable way and we are absolutely using the new technology available to us to do that.
So I think we should be doing the same around these types of issues.
And would I support having a meeting like this again in February 2010, I think that was the question? Absolutely. If we have not had a general election by that time, it would be a very apposite moment to do it.
THE CHAIR: From the Guardian on that.
AFUA HIRSCH: I am not sure if I represent the views of the paper but I can certainly express my own views on the issue of a constitution. The question assumes that we want a written constitution which is an argument that has been made.
I think that my own view is that although there is much to be admired in constitutions in other countries and we are all feeling a lot of love for the States at the moment, I am not sure we can really hold it up as a model whereby having a written constitution ensures that rights are always respected and that liberties guaranteed and a lot of what we have been talking about today – some of the most serious violations – were led by the states and collaborated in by us. We need to question whether a written constitution is the answer. In other countries like South Africa where there really has been an incredible amount of creativity and creating a constitution that unites people – that is born out of a shared experience which we have not necessarily had here and in some ways that is something to be thankful for: that we haven’t had the same experience.
On the other hand it means that we are not necessarily at the stage of being about to come to together and have a constitution that unites us. That comes back to engaging us. There needs to be a mechanism where people need to be able to contribute to real discussion, about what our values are and how we can enshrine them.
ANTHONY: Very clear, thank you. Will?
WILL HUTTON: Just to say, I think that I will pick on Chris Huhne’s part: written constitution questions the way we would do it as a people – come together using the kind of the software that is available, and elected representatives to come up with drafts on our behalf and we would have a constitutional convention. It is not impossible to do such a thing, is it?
THE CHAIR: No.
NEW SPEAKER: And you know you just need the will. Should we shrink from a prospect like that. I think not. I think there are fixes in the interim that we can do to the current constitution. We really do have to have more effective ways of holding the executive to account. We need a stronger second chamber and a parliamentary committees that really have much more power than they currently have.
And you know, what it requires is us to do is to elect representatives who go for some fixes that at least make the system that we have operate better.
THE CHAIR: I think, Will, can I just say that we should continue this process to argue argue argue as you say.
NEW SPEAKER: Absolutely. I think I would pick up on Brian’s point you know: it is a sensibility, it is once we, you know already the very fact of this convention the very fact that actually the people who got it together have been saying what they have been saying in public actually began to make the government think twice. David Davis and his resignation from his seat you know – the chattering classes and many people in the House of Commons thought ‘the man is mad’, but in fact he alerted the government and the executive to the fact that actually because he was so passionate about that they would do what he did and he raised the issue and he contributed to a culture in which it will be much tougher to make such manoeuvres in future. It is a sensibility of liberty that one needs as well as the constitution that entrench it.
THE CHAIR: We are very tight on time. The gentleman there – and the the lady there. If you could stand and give your name.
QUESTION FROM AUDIENCE: A lot of angry sounds from people who are actually part of the establishment, which I find quite an interesting proposition there.
THE CHAIR: Be brief.
QUESTION FROM AUDIENCE: One part of the Westminster village up there are doing a lot of hand wringing, telling us to do this. I raised it earlier. A lot of us are going to have to risk our jobs etc. A lot of the part-timers and, David Davis, you are a part timer, a lot of us will risk losing our jobs if we refuse to carry I D cards. I am going to ask you, some of you in the Westminster village, to start risking your jobs as well.
THE CHAIR: The lady over there? Ok yes?
QUESTION: Hello. Hi. My name is Siobhan Jordan. I was just going to ask you what do you think the best action is for children that are falsely and forcibly removed from their parents?
CHAIR:Do you have an example you want to draw on.
QUESTION: I do not have an example but there are a lot of families and I think your name is Chris? Yes and you write for the liberal democrat party and obviously John Hemming is a party of yours and he supports it as well that children are being forcibly removed from their parents and sometimes children are being left in abusive situations and not being taken out of them but then on the other side they are being taken from parents that are innocent and have never harmed their children.
THE CHAIR: Chris do you want to answer that straight away.
CHRIS HUHNE: I’ll very happily answer both of those. I mean, clearly we have John Hemming you mentioned who is our MP for Birmingham MP and he has been very effective in raising the issue where there haven’t been adequate checks and balances frankly on social services departments removing children from their parents. And this is another example which people feel passionately about because, obviously, if there is an injustice committed then you can’t imagine a worse injustice than having your child removed from you. I think that it is absolutely crucial. We all understand that there are circumstances where it is important and inevitable for the protection of the child that they should be removed to a place of safety from parents who are genuinely abusive but I don’t think we’ve got the system right, I don’t think we’ve got the checks and balances right and that’s the point that the lady was making. On the Westminister Village point, let’s see where we get to with the campaign. I have a majority of 568 votes and therefore the idea that I have a safe job seems to me to be slightly curious one.
I am also very much in favour of everybody in Parliament having a job just as marginal as mine and one of the real problems that we have is that two thirds of the seats elected to the House of Commons actually we know who is going to get elected before the election (applause).
I think our Parliamentarians would be much better if they were all sitting on knife- edge majorities.
THE CHAIR: We are past 5 o’clock. I want to take one more question then make some thank yous. The gentleman there.
NEW SPEAKER: Doctor Evan Harris. I am an MP of the joint committee on human rights. A lot of talk in this convention about defending our liberties and things about surveillance of us, our DNA, our free speec. What about the rights of others – the more difficult cases: isn’t that the Litmus test – the villains, the drug addicts, the holocaust deniers, the people we agree with, the asylum seekers, even worse the failed asylum seekers. People who again want to adopt, now the point is that the real test for people like David Davis who has done brilliantly over 90 days I have to say is whether we will have policy makers who stand up against the Daily Mail in those difficult cases not about our rights but the rights of the difficult cases, even the terror suspects as I have said. Thank you (applause).
NEW SPEAKER: I absolutely agree that that is the Litmus test. The concept of it is that they are fundamentally inalienable and they apply equally to everybody. Why young people are so quick to grasp them is that they so quickly understand the concepts that everybody shares something in common. Any process of socialisation tends to make people more distant and more aware of that concept.
I really think it comes back down to the fact that if people understood this and they understood that rights are meant to apply to everyone then they’d see thathey encompass inevitably responsibilities as well as rights. Daily Mail campaigns against villains wouldn’t have so much grasp anyway so for me that is really the issue. It is something people can understand and we shouldn’t under estimate people’s capacity to look beyond themselves and beyond the people it is easy to feel sympathy for and realise we all have a stake in people: in how their rights are fundamentally respected. You don’t even have to go back in history if people, even those it’s hard to sympathize with, if the don’t have those protections. You can travel to countries in the world. I have lived in a few of them, where there are no basic guarantees. It is something that effects everyone, and everybody lives in fear.
NEW SPEAKER: I want to respond to an earlier question I didn’t get chance to respond to, about how we would decide who designs the constitution. Wouldn’t it be a good idea to replace the honours system which quite randomly rewards people, so far as I can see, with a new award which entitles you to become one of the people who works on our new constitution? These people would be submitted by people like us or anyone who wants to submit a name, it is no more exotic than making a CBEs and OBEs and so on. One would be honoured to serve on such committee, you would get the best people in doing that, I think.
NEW SPEAKER: Can I say one point on that, in fact there are two places where Brian’s idea has been tried, both in Canada. British Columbia and on Ontario have had randomly selected groups of citizens coming up with ideas for constitutional reform. On the view that that is an interesting one, that politician have too much persoanlly at stake, they shouldn’t be involved it should be our constitution. and if you want to remove vested interests, what better way of doing it than selecting people randomly to come up with ideas..
NEW SPEAKER: Building on the point about Canada, Canada’s banks are the constitutionally based, the ones least susceptible to this financial crisis. May be Canadian bankers learned from the way civil society was governed in Canada and governed themselves that much better. It does matter. There is read across from the world of the citizens to the world of the private.
NEW SPEAKER: Thank you. I have to admit I did publish a book with the co-author, said the House of Lords should be replaced by a citizens jury. Funnily we didn’t get it reviewed.
I want to make some thank yous now. Can we bring our wonderful volunteer stewards across?
I was going to read out some names but I won’t. There is a little army of acknowledgements in the programme and I would like to you to take look at that and see Claire Preston who did finances, wonderful volunteers, Rosemary Vegler and.. Stephen Taylor and the most extraordinary volunteer of them all, Henry Porter
You can go. I am now going to hand over to Henry. Don’t forget there is an pledge card outside and the drinks in formal discussion will be in the Jeffrey room after coffee. Thank you. And thank you to our Panel. Thank you very much..
HENRY PORTER: I have never learned so much in one day, quite moving. What I found so moving is the seriousness of it. It is rare you can spend an entire day listening to these important arguments debated with such compelling seriousness and intent. What I like is the different sensibilities that have been on show. Philip’s, Brian’s sensibility, a journalistic one, a legal one, a political one. It has been quite extraordinary.
It has been very good purpose. I went for a – I am about to give up smoking – I went for a last smoke outside. I have given up smoking for about the 15th time. I went outside for a smoke and found the police questioning 2 men holding a banner. They came from the architects/ engineers of the 9/11 truth campaign. I want to give them publicity now. I can’t imagine why the police were questioning them within a couple of feet of a conference of liberty. They were simply filling out section 44 terror forms. Quite stupid of the police a waste of time and insulting to the people carrying that banner. The thing is, it is happening here. We must do something to stop it. I think we will after today. But we must do something to stop it. I wanted to say why I am up here. I am up here because we would not be here without two men. The first is Anthony Barnett who will be very cross that I am going to even mention him. Anthony – you can give him a clap in a mo. Anthony is one of the few people in the country who know how to do this. It is an elaborate piece of engineering and organisation and takes an extraordinary range offer skills.
We really would not be here without him so I would like you to give Anthony—- -
Shami forgot him, that’s why I need to do that now.
The other person of course is David Davis. I have to admit I got a good text message from the BBC on my mobile at about 20.30 in June. I was about to have lunch with Chris in Westminster. A Westminster village activity. The text said simply David Davis resigns from Parliament. I am afraid to say my journalistic mind ran through gamut of shameful reasons. I do apologise. Sex, drugs, espionage, property deals – you name it. I am very ashamed to say the last two words that occurred to me were rights and liberty. David’s resignation were very important for this day. He couldn’t have foreseen it but the next day the Roundtree Trust contacted Anthony and suggested this was a moment for discussion. Anthony and I talked and we evolved this idea. It went through several evolutions and eventually we arrived at today. That is why we are here. It is really David’s extraordinary action last June that has actually enabled this long gestation to produce this extraordinary level of debate and variety of debate. We have had about 140 speakers here. That was all caused, he couldn’t have foreseen it but that was what resulted in David’s extraordinary action last June. If David would like to come up here I would very much like to welcome him to the platform for his ten minute speech.
DAVID DAVIS: Henry of course as always is too kind. The paradox of individual liberty is that it never depends on one individual as the number of people in this hall demonstrates. Behind me there are 60 million others.
When I was shadow Home Secretary I used to address all sorts of interesting groups. Some of them were prisoners in prison. They gave me a paradoxical problem to solve. How would I start the speech? In prison, ‘it is a privilege to be here’ did not seem right. And with this band of villains, murderers, fraudsters, thieves, ‘It is an honour to meet you’, didn’t seem right either. I lit upon a formula, which was; ‘I am so glad to see so many of you here’.
Well, its in a slightly different context that I say it again today: I am so glad to see so many of you here. It has been a fantastic day and since I am the last speaker I have the licence to thank people a bit. It has been a fantastic day with absolutely fantastic speakers. So much so, that an hour ago, in some alarm, I said to somebody, we have got to the point where just about everything has been said and the lady turned to me very calmly and said, ‘Everything may have been said but it has not yet been said by everybody’ so you are right.
It is astonishing we have so many people here at a freedom conference at whatever outrageous price Anthony chose to charge for it: we still end up turning people away. It says something about the age and it says something about the battle we are undertaking.
I think it is a fateful battle, for my own beliefs are that freedom isn’t just an abstract virtue. I think it defines our society, it defines our society. It defines frankly the spirit and soul of our nation and it defines our civilisation. Shami was right: it is not just about the right of the free born Englishman; they are fundamental rights for everyone. That’s why I stood up and argued about Binyam Mohammed a few weeks ago, because the rights are fundamental, not limited to citizens of the United Kingdom .
That being said, we have in this country the longest tradition of freedom in the world. Frankly, one of the most magnificent speeches I have heard was the speech by Lord Bingham today. I particularly liked actually how he pretty much finished with my favourite quotation. I will show off and try to remember the full quotation: it was about a light that will never be put out. If I remember correctly it was Bishop Latimer who said, “Stand up, Master Ridley and play the man, for today, by God’s grace, we shall light a flame which will never be put out in England’. I have to tell you, they were both burned at the stake five minutes later. So, our freedoms have not been won easily and should not be lost easily either.
But they are not abstract. Freedom of speech is the midwife to the freedom of thought, which is the parent of creativity. That’s why we had Newton, Shakespeare, Farraday and all the other great geniuses in our history; probably more than we deserve to have had, given our size. It is what creates character, energy, and vigour and integrity, which is why we had the industrial revolution before anybody else and it is why everybody else got it when they got the freedoms. Freedom from oppression: that gives you dignity, individualism and character. It is one of the reasons that many of our country’s institutions of democracy and justice has been copied around the world, mostly successful. So freedom isn’t abstract. It is very real. It makes us what we are. Most important, in the context of the Government and the Government’s actions, we should recognise that freedom is not a weakness. Freedom is a strength. And that is why as a British Member of Parliament I say to myself, ‘What is the point of Britain if it does not adhere to the freedoms that made it’. What is the point of Parliament if it does not uphold its most sacred trust as a guardian of our liberty: what is the point of government if its principles aim to maximise fear and minimise our freedoms?
Now, Jack Straw, earlier this week, said this is not a police state. Britain is not a police state and actually I agree with him, despite Henry’s example outside. It is not a police state. If it were, we wouldn’t have this meeting. Many of us would be locked up. We wouldn’t have the right to debate. But that does not actually let the government off. It does not let them off the casual, careless corrosion of our freedoms that has been going on for the last decade and more.
In fact I would like to respond to Jack Straw, not with an answer but with a question. Tell me, Jack, when does it become a police state? When the Government knows everything? When the Government knows – this is a long list I am afraid – everything about every citizen anywhere in the country? Where they know every text, our every e mail, our every web access, our every phone call? When they can track every citizen through their car, to wherever they are in the country? When the police are able to enter your computer and search it without you even knowing about it? When virtually any state organisation can put you under surveillance without supervision or control, even including Local Government. When the police can arrest you for heckling the foreign secretary? You should deserve a medal quite frankly! Or for wearing a bollocks to Blair T shirt or reading out the names at the cenotaph. The police can now arrest you for photographing a London Bobby, which will lead to a lot of very surprised Japanese tourists, at some point.
So is that a police state, Jack? Or does it become a police state when MPs are arrested simply for doing their job of holding the government to account and, yes, occasionally embarrassing them. Or, very much more seriously, is it a police state when the governments collude or condone in torture as an act of policy? Is that a police state, Jack? Are we there yet? And if the answer is no, now let’s turn it round and say to him, okay how many photographers do we arrest before it becomes a police state? How many innocent people on a DNA database before it becomes a police state: a million, as now, or 2 million? How many days do you lock people up without charge before it becomes a police state? 42? 90? And before you answer, Jack, remember that 90 days detention without charge was the first number picked by South Africa under apartheid and it becomes 180 and then indefinite. I am glad to say that state fell and was replaced by a better one.
I don’t know the answer to those questions. But I do know this: every erosion of our freedom diminishes us as a people, as a nation, as a civilisation. I also know this – this is clear: that when we do know it is a police state it will be too late.
Because of course then it will be too late to do anything about it: the death of liberty will lead to the death of dissent. Because justice demands two views, when we have the end of dissent it will mean the end of justice. And our country will not be the same again: that is the reason why we fight now. That is the reason why we seek today to ask ‘why?’. We seek today to stop, check and reverse and put back the erosions of our freedoms that we’ve seen in the last decade. Now we have had some spectacular victories in the last year and it really would be remiss if I didn’t congratulate Liberty, Human Rights Watch, No2ID. I will not turn it into an Oscar speech: all the people in this hall involved, all the organisations and none that have been part of the battles that we have won this year. They all have reason to be proud. The political defeat of 42 days and with it the collapse of the authoritarian agenda. The psychological defeat of ID cards. No2ID has a particular special place in that particular battle – the legal defeat of the DNA database of innocent people the massive retreat on the communications database that the government has had to undertake, not putting the bill in the Queen’s speech (it was going to this year) and the pending retreat on database sharing that Jack Straw has trailed this week. Even, (and this is particularly delicious for me), even, this week David Blunkett is giving a lecture on the dangers of the database state. Not since Frankenstein met his monster. But Blunkett’s very partial change of heart tells you something. It tells you something important, because although David, and I love him dearly, is an authoritarian in his DNA – you know we are back to Frankenstein again – although he is an authoritarian to his finger tips he is also an acutely clever politician. He can sense a change of wind almost before anybody else. So when he makes that speech, something is happening.
And the British people, as we all know, are terribly casual about liberty. They treat it carelessly, like a very old suit of cloths, very comfortable, that they have had for a very long time. Because, that is precisely what it is. Only when it is under very visible threat do they then come out and they are then willing to die in their hundreds of thousands to defend it: but mostly they just treat it casually. But that is changing.
Cast your mind back. When we first fought the battle over ID cards it was very hard for the politicians who did it because 80% of the public supported it. 80% of the public then supported it. Now, about 70% oppose it. And my thanks to the government who made it all possible. When we were fighting 42 days a year ago, 71 % thought they supported it. Today, 70% oppose it. Something is happening in the hearts and minds of our countrymen. And the next test of this will be when – if and when – they choose to introduce the communications database. Because then, unless I judge my people very wrongly, there will be uproar. There will be uproar and I do hope you are all leading it.
That is important because why do governments do this? Why do they set about taking away our liberties and our privacy? Why do they appropriate our identities? Why do they do this? It is not just Labour governments I will grant you that, though it has been worse recently. Is it misplaced machismo? Are David Blunkett and John Reid and Jacqui Smith and the Right going on an exercise to look tough on terror and make the opposition parties look weak? Of course it is partly that, but it is also based on something else. It is based on fear. It is based on fear of failure. Fear of the Daily Mail headline when they can’t quite do what they said they were going to do about crime or immigration, or most particularly, preventing terrorism, preventing terrorist attacks. These so-called tough policies – never be put off by that – these so-called tough policies, are actually driven by the fear of difficult headlines. They are not tough, they are not courageous: they are actually cowardly; don’t ever forget that.
And what ministers do is they, in desperation, reach out for the nearest glittering toy – the nearest piece of magic that will solve their problem. Databases, face recognition programmes. Number-plate recognition programmes, biometrics, cameras, DNA databases, electronic surveillance of all sorts. And this glittering bag of tricks – Robert Highline once said, to a primitive people: any sufficiently advanced technology appears asthmatic. There is no more primitive group of people than ministers in a funk and they see it naively as magic. It will magically solve their problem. And so piece by piece they have eroded our liberty, our privacy, our control of our own identity. One tiny step at a time. Every action was apparently reasonable. So slowly, without realising it, almost by accident, we lose our liberty. We acquired it by accident: if we are not careful we’ll lose it the same way.
So everybody in this hall faces a momentous battle: but it won’t be a battle of Arthurian legends, it won’t be a great battle between good and evil which is won and which is over for once and for all: it will be a battle or skirmishes – tough, difficult, frightening skirmishes year in and year out probably for a decade or more. Each individual incremental decision, attacks on our shrinking liberty and shrinking privacy, will have to be fought time and again.
We’ll have to fight the principle over expedience every time. It sounds easy does it not? Actually sometimes you will find you are on the unpopular side. I repeat ID cards, 42 days, control orders, DNA databases, all popular when they started. But we won the arguments. You won the arguments and we have to win those arguments time and again over and over.
And I ask the non-conservatives in the hall of which I suspect there are a few, to forgive me for a second while I give a message to my own party said this to my own party, please keep my promises. Please abolish the ID cards the first day you get into government. Please reduce 28 days to a more civilised level as soon as you possibly can and please look at every law you pass, every law you pass, and study it so that it gives freedom, privacy, and dignity back to the people even if it is at the price of taking power away from the government from time to time.
Now that is my message to the party. Now my message for you. Lincoln once said ‘to sin my silence when they should protest makes cowards of men’. This is not going to be easy: it is not going to be straightforward . We are all here with people who agree with us: they don’t all agree with us out there. It is not matter if the case is difficult. If the argument is unpopular and if your opponent is intimidating we have to fight it time and again. It was interesting listening to Vince Cable earlier about the effect of the economic downturn. You know I had a conversation just before Christmas with a journalist – one of our rather swaggering Westminster members – and he came up to me and he said ‘well, now people are afraid of losing their job and savings, losing their mortgage, houses pensions, isn’t this liberty thing just a luxury’. So I said to him well you tell me; ‘When was the last time that liberty collapsed in Europe?’ He looked at me and I could almost see the penny drop. Oh he said, the 1930s. I see what you mean. And people are beginning to see what we mean on this. This reinforces that we have a lot to do. And since I have been rather sombre, I will finish with a story which seeing you here reminds me of. When he was getting on, one of the great defenders in the last century, Winston Churchill, in his 70s was attending a meeting in the Guildhall and he was a addressing the women’s temperance union. He looked just the same really, and they approved of his statesmanship of course but didn’t always approve of his other habits. The Lady Chairman got up and said Sir Winston – she said something thankful about the war- then she said, I have to tell you, my members don’t approve of your bibulous loose habits, when you add up all the port, wine, gin, brandy, whisky and other alcohol beverages you have taken in in your lifetime we have calculated it will fill the Guildhall up to your chin. Churchhill got to his feet, looked up at the ceiling, the vaulted ceiling of the guild hall, madam he said, ‘when I think of my advanced years, 76 years, I look at this building, I think to myself, ‘So little time, so much to do’.
So I say to you all; get out there, fight the good fight, you have only the future to win. Thank you.
CHAIR (ANTHONY BARNETT): Thank you very much. Thank you all very much. A special last thank you to our sponsors here. I want to thank openDemocracy, I want to thank the Roundtrees, I want to thank Liberty, NO2ID and I want to thank the wonderful support by The Guardian and the Liberty Group. thank you all.