Brief Report to Funders on the Convention on Modern Liberty

The original aim of the Convention on Modern Liberty was a wake up call to meet what the organisers felt was a crisis in Britain with respect to our tradition of liberty. This was described on the CML’s website and in its adverts as: “A call to all concerned with attacks on our fundamental rights and freedoms under pressure from counter-terrorism, financial breakdown and the database state”

More specifically, when it was first proposed the aims were:

  • to change public understanding of the issues posed by the database state
  • to challenge the view that the public support a controlling state
  • to help recruit the younger generation to a democratic approach to politics
  • to bring as many people and organisations together to see what common ground can be reached in defence of our rights and freedoms

In January 2009, we wrote:

Should it succeed people will feel less isolated and fearful, organisations will feel strengthened, public awareness will be heightened and become more intelligent and articulate, media coverage will greatly improve, and the United Kingdom will – eventually – become a home for modern liberty… we want to see changes in government policy and an end to the building of a database state. But we are not seeking to create a new organisation with a programme of demands for reform in Whitehall. These exist already. If we can, our aim is to help them by widening the context of their appeal. We are not looking towards Westminster but outwards. Our aspiration is to influence the country’s political life and its public spirit in the belief that only the people themselves will be able to ensure the change of course Britain needs in order to secure our freedom and fundamental rights.

In order to achieve this we created a small ad-hoc organisation in September 2008. It was wound up in May 2009. At no point did we employ more than three people full-time. We used the office and facilities of openDemocracy and its OurKingdom team. We had vital support from our media partner,The Guardian, and our main organisational partner, NO2ID. The latter coordinated the out-of-London meetings and created the stewards network that ran the day. Thanks to Robin Lough who volunteered his time and expertise, we live webcast the main sessions throughout the day. Later we upcast both them and videos of the 22 parallel sessions made by volunteers, onto the website.

Some statistics provided by Clare Coatman, the CML’s Participation Manager, provide a measure of its achievement:

27 articles about or referencing CML appeared in 9 national and one London newspaper

393 online articles or blogs about or referencing CML were published

Over 50 blogs displayed a CML button or banner

Our Facebook group had 2,115 members

Our research team produced 7 briefing papers

Our video team produced 22 videos with an average length of 2 min 38 secs. They have collectively received 33,369 views.

Each of the 29 sessions and keynotes were filmed and are all available on the website across 28 hours, 8 minutes and 40 seconds of footage

Over 1,300 people attended in London

There were more than 200 names on the returns list

142 speakers gave their time

40 stewards volunteered to help on the day

760 people attended Conventions across 7 locations around the UK

We were partnered with 50 organisations

On the aim of a generational handover, Clare herself is under 21, the CML’s Deputy Director Guy Aitchison is 25, all the videos and briefing papers were generated by people in their twenties. A new generation has come to social consciousness entirely under New Labour, one that will reshape the nature of the political agenda. Without its young men and women the Convention could not have succeeded and we hope they will carry on its spirit.

The total costs of the Convention came to just under £156,000 of which £122,500 came from 24 grants made by 16 trusts, foundations and individuals and £31,000 from ticket revenues.

It is too early to say how influential the Convention will prove to be. Currently, it continues to be a reference point in blogs and public debates. A full archive of the day along with a history and background documents can be found on It certainly had some immediate effects. Clause 152 of the Coroners and Justice Bill that permitted government departments to exchange information on people without their knowledge, let alone consent, was denounced at the Convention and withdrawn soon afterwards, to take one small but important example. (An official at No 10 asked one of us to note the concession.) The Conservative leadership woke up to the fact that these issues could have popular traction with significant sections of the public. At his party conference Gordon Brown announced that ID cards would not be compulsory for five years, to loud applause. We can say with confidence that the breakthrough in public awareness of the core issues of modern liberty that David Davis MP achieved in the summer of 2008 and which threatened to be momentary was instead deepened and widened by the work of all those who, in many different ways, assisted the Convention.

Anthony Barnett, Henry Porter