CML Doc 4: Draft prospectus for 18 Sept planning meeting

CML Doc 4: Draft prospectus for 18 Sept planning meeting

Draft Prospectus

For A Convention


Modern Liberty

Calling together all concerned with the crisis of our fundamental freedoms and human rights in the era of counter-terrorism and the database state

  • What are the threats?
  • What can be done about them?
  • How can the public be engaged?

Sponsored by:  Rowntrees  the Guardian  openDemocracy

To be held on

Saturday 29 November 2008

At The Logan Hall

Institute for Education



& if possible by webcast:






Exeter (add your meeting)

Partnered by a cross section of civil society organisations and think tanks such as:

No2ID,  Democratic Audit,  Mishcon de Raya,  Policy Exchange*,  Amnesty UK,  CPS*,   PEN,  Institute of Ideas*,  BIHR*,  ORG, the Spectator*,  *Demos*, ippr*, Compass*, Fabians*, Young Foundation*, Runnymede Trust*, Ekklesia*, Total Politics*,  Reprieve*, Oxford Research Group*, Statewatch*, Democratyia*, History and Policy* and more

(*=not yet asked)

General description

This will be a one day gathering of 1,000 people on Saturday 29 November 2008 in the Logan Hall at the Institute for Education in Bloomsbury with spacious facilities for tea and coffee; stalls and rooms for at least eight parallel sessions. It is being sponsored by The Guardian, Rowntrees, openDemocracy and, we hope, Liberty.

The main theatre will see two plenary sessions in the morning with panels of nationally distinguished speakers from across the political spectrum. There will be two sets of eight parallel sessions in the afternoon (16 in all) their panels sponsored and organised by a wide range of interested organisations, followed by a final plenary session on the way ahead with younger speakers.

A third of the tickets will be for students. Ticket prices are not finalised. They will be around £35 for full and £20 for students including sandwich lunch, fruit and 3 coffees.

We are planning to organise at least six events across the UK that will take a webcast of the plenary sessions and have their own discussions. There will be an open invite to others to do the same on the day or use video during the following week.

There will be a conference website to build interest and link to on and off-line media coverage, host feed-back and reports, and support a convention network. There will be a bloggers session within the convention. The Guardian have agreed to make a series of short (4 minute) videos by key figures to go online before the event and also be shown at it.

The Guardian will be the event’s main media sponsor with editorial content through October-November in the run-up to the Convention. It will advertise for participation in the paper and online. All partners running parallel sessions will be expected to market the event to their members, readers or users.

There will be a small executive committee chaired by Henry Porter. Anthony Barnett is the Convention organiser. The Convention is supported by The Open Trust, a registered charity chaired by Sir Geoffrey Bindman.

Why this Convention?

There is a crisis in British public life as legislation cascades from London and Brussels while disenchantment with the political system grows. At its heart is a linked series of challenges to our liberty, freedom and human rights from a state that is increasingly centralised while outsourcing its procedures to international corporations. It is symbolized by the conflict over the Prime Minister’s determination to extend imprisonment without charge to 42 days and byRIPA which began as an anti-terrorist measure and now gives hundreds of agencies access to people’s records. But it goes deeper in three ways: the transformational government programme is ploughing up the relationship between citizens and the state; parliament has proved itself unable to discuss this while the executive’s ‘elective dictatorship’ intensifies despite devolution, the Human Rights Act and freedom of information; the media are in part complicit in what is also both an international and a social process cutting across party allegiances.

We believe that the threats can be overcome and we can emerge strengthened from the crisis but only if the public is woken to the dangers. An understandable cynicism towards all political debate that suggests change is possible reinforces passivity and increases the dangers. Therefore, while we may be impatient for action we think the issues must be put to the public in an open-minded way. The first stage is to have as thorough and accessible public debate of the issues as possible. Hence this Convention on Modern Liberty will ask three broad questions:

  • Are our freedoms and rights threatened by an over-powerful state and if so how do we defend ourselves from this?
  • How large are the dangers to our security from terrorism and other threats, from climate change to pandemics, and how are they best combated?
  • Can sustained public interest be aroused without alarmism or populism?

We are making Modern Liberty a convention not a conference. We want to bring as many people together to see what common ground can be reached. In 1647 Thomas Rainsborough told his fellow debaters gathered by Oliver Cromwell in Putney that ‘the poorest he has a life to live as the greatest he’. He went on to assert that none is bound to a government that ‘he has not had a voice to put himself under’. This moment was arguable the start of modern democracy. We are indeed the inheritors of an inspiring tradition of liberty.

But this does not resolve the issues we now face. Today, divine right has transformed itself into ‘globalisation’. The emancipation Rainsborough argued for has been built into huge advances of international law, human rights and democratic norms. But at the same time technical advances from information technology to explosives and the threats of catastrophic climatic change have altered the framework of power and fear.

This calls for a renewal of the democratic self-confidence, now often strikingly lacking in the UK, that was pioneered by Rainsborough’s generation. This is the purpose of the Convention on Modern Liberty. Whether you agree or not we hope you will join us to debate these issues.

Anthony Barnett, Henry Porter, Stuart Weir, September 2008

The following is a draft that sketches an idea of the day. The key to a successful event is a good mix of speakers. Provisional invitations are starting to be made. NB: This is a DRAFT of IDEAS for an event that is not yet funded!

Plenary Sessions – preceded by 10 min Keynote spots

1.  The crisis of liberty

2.  Does the public care?

3. The next ten years

Some possible parallel sessions:

What is the ‘database state’ & transformational Government?

The UK government is embarking on a massive electronic unification of all the departments of state in a programme that will ‘transform,’ in it’s own words, the relationship between the state, the citizen and private enterprise. This programme has never been debated in the House of Commons or in a select committee. It goes much further than the national information register, which lies at the heart of the ID card programme, and includes local government surveillance . What are the implications if it works – and if it doesn’t? “You have zero privacy anyway, get over it.” Said Scott McNealy CEO of Sun Microsystems as Business gets Personal

Is ‘Human Security’ better than ‘War on Terror’?

Rights and freedoms are under pressure from the threat of terrorism and counter-terrorism. How big and how dangerous are the terrorist networks that are driven by fundamentalism in Britain? How dangerous are they relative to other issues of human security, such as, climate change; pandemics; global mafia?

Is the media part of the problem?

The media now play an unquestionably important role in politics, arguably undermining the role of political parties. Is the media part of an ‘overarching political class’? What is the future of freedom of expression if a ‘media-political class’ stifle pluralism? What role do the media have in creating a climate of fear that undermines freedom? Can the principles of human rights be secured without media support?

Human Rights and the ‘War on Terror’; the International Picture

From the beginning, concern over Human Rights, as expressed by NGO’s like Amnesty have been expressed in international terms. Part of the opposition to 42 days was that the UK could set an example that dictatorships might emulate. The UN has just reported that UK anti-terror legislation and libel laws threatens free speech. What is the international picture? And how does the UK fit in?

Now that the freeborn Englishman is female and black, how does the Magna Carta relate to Human Rights?

What is the real history of liberty in the United Kingdom? Is it freedom from the state or is it based on a political equality that calls for collective action?

What is public opinion on these issues?

Opinion polls both suggested strong public backing for the extension of pre-charge detention to 42 days and then only minority support. Polls on the place of Muslims in British society and their commitment to this country are contradictory and often confused.  How reliable are the polls as indicators of public opinion?

Politicians or Judges: who best to decide the national interest?

A series of landmark cases have seen the Judiciary clash with the executive over the powers of detention posing fundamental but little discussed questions. Mishcon de Raya are interested in sponsoring this session.

Can Trade Unions support liberty?

The British tradition of Trade Union immunity and the Unions’ collective culture have led to the labour movement being corporatist, opposing constitutional reform, individual liberty and universal rights. But is this in the interests of working men and women? The TUC has just condemned the ’surveillance’ society. Can the rise of the database state bring trade union engagement with an earlier tradition of liberty?

Is Parliament a Busted Flush?

Lord Scarman used to argue that the checks and balances of Britain’s 1688 constitution had been “melted” by democratization and that the elected executive now governed without effective restraint by Commons or Lords In the 42 Days debate Diane Abbott said the Commons had been reduced to a Bazaar and David Davis said it had been suborned. Is this true and if so can it be renewed?

Is liberty in the UK also a national question?

It is arguably the case that that while the Commons supported 42 Days none of the country’s nations would do so. In the Commons itself English MPs voted against by a majority of 19. The move towards ID cards, can be seen as an attempt to bind the devolved nations into a ‘Union database’. This is the kind of issue which many would prefer was not raised but which also arouses intense interest.

The rights of the repressed

From ASBOs to asylum seekers imprisoned for months, the last decade has been blemished by continuous cases of individual injustices. Why?

Freedom of expression and open rights – who owns creation?

This session may be co-sponsored by PEN and ORG, the Open Rights Group.

Blog Nation

Joint session of CiF and Liberal Conspiracy.


This is a DRAFT of IDEAS for an event that is not yet funded! All suggestions gratefully received!