CML Doc 9: 1 Dec 2008 Publicity Brief for Convention on Modern Liberty

CML Doc 9: 1 Dec 2008

Publicity Brief for Convention on Modern Liberty

The event will be held on February 28th 2009 in the Logan Hall in Bloomsbury. It will consist of two plenary sessions for 950 about 20 break out sessions and six or seven parallel meetings across Britain. This ticketed event will be a unique day with many well-known speakers from politics, the media, activist organisations, business and the law among the 80  who have agreed to appear. All the main political parties will be represented by senior figures.

This is not another conference; it is a summons to all who are concerned about the state of liberty, rights and privacy in Britain. The convention is backed by The Joseph Rowntree Trust, OpenDemocracy, Liberty and the Guardian (media partner): other partners include The Centre For Policy Studies, Mischon de Reya, NO2ID, Liberal Conspiracy, Amnesty International, London Civic Forum, IPPR and Unlock Democracy.

Directors Anthony Barnett – Henry Porter.



To raise awareness about the state of British democracy and place concern in the mainstream of political debate; to provide an account of what has happened and an analysis of why so many liberties and rights have disappeared in the last decade; and to warn about the threat posed by the formation of the database state. The organisers of the Convention hope to spark a movement but do not wish to found an organisation.


Media coverage will be crucial to the success of the convention, and any strategy should consider how interest and expectation can be built from the first weeks of January to the weekend of the February 28th. The big push should probably begin on January 15, the date of the party held to announce and explain the convention to a group of influential people at the Foreign Press Association in central London. (Hosts: Henry Porter and Baroness Helena Kennedy QC)

With the quality of speakers tat have accepted we have a very valuable asset. The first aim is to fix TV coverage: Channel Four and BBC TV should be contacted at the earliest possible opportunity to see if they are prepared to cover the event on the day and/ or produce an hour long documentary for broadcast after the event.  This should happen before Christmas.  If we have a broadcaster or documentary maker in place before January 15, much else will follow. The publicity surrounding the arrest of Damian Green – a former TV journalist – by terror police has pushed the issue of civil liberties and constitutional decay up the agenda and we can expect that broadcasters will be more receptive than they might have been in a few weeks ago. But we are unknown quantity and we can still expect reservations.

An important part of this push should come on the web. We have all seen what happened over a much longer period in the US election. That is now every political party’s model but we have an advantage in that we are challenging the political system and exposing it – we are respectably anti-establishment. But viral success doesn’t just happen. We will have to prime this activity. Those connected with the convention – NO2ID, OpenDemocracy, Amnesty will help with their own websites and blogs. Liberty Central – the Guardian website set up to campaign on civil liberties will be up and running by January 15.

Discussion about the convention and the issues needs to move beyond the usual websites. Social networking sites are useful but we should plan successive posts on newspaper sites and the most read political blogs. We may need to form a team of guerrilla bloggers who regularly visit sites and move the argument in our direction.  We need to use our elbows, remorselessly challenge those who support the status quo and actively cause controversy on the web.

If we generate enough interest on the web we can be assured of media coverage but that won’t come without very careful planning. We should consider original publicity stunts such as

-          A march of fifty people each carrying a placard representing a freedom lost from Runnymede to central London in the week of the convention

-          The participation of artists and writers in events during that week. Perhaps the Forward Poetry prize could sponsor an event.

-          A prestigious lecture to be held at King’s Place (the Guardian’s new head quarters) on the Wednesday before the convention.

-          Booklets given out free with the Guardian on liberty, the constitution, the greatest speeches on liberty, the database state and an inventory of the liberties lost in Britain.

-          A prize for the best children’s story sent into convention organisers by Feb 14

These ideas need a session of brainstorming but we should aim to work up ten to a dozen eye-catching stunts for the fourteen days before the convention. Original research is always a good way of gaining attention. For example -

-          The number of d-making-the-convention-on-modernl appear on by the year 2012, plus the number of people who will have access to that personal data (Ross Anderson or Simon Davis) without the individual knowing.

-          An inventory of the freedoms lost.

-          A tally of the security breaches and data loss by government and its agencies since the loss of 25 million HMRC records a year ago

-          The total cost to the taxpayer of unnecessary or prying government databases. What does it cost each one of us to have our privacy invaded by the government?

-          Facts and figures to show that Britain leads the world in prying databases.

We should enlist the help of academics in this. We also need to call on the services of the many MPs who are worried by the recent turn of events.  Contacts need to be made now. This might be one question to Gordon Brown at PMQs. “Does the Prime Minister agree that the Convention on Modern Liberty, being held in London and all over the country at the weekend, demonstrates the grave public concern for this government’s record on civil liberties and shames this House for its failure to protect Britain’s ancient rights?”

I repeat that our greatest asset is our list of speakers and in the week before the event we will deploy them as often and in as many different contexts as is possible- newspaper interviews, phone in shows and news programmes. Added to this group of people there are “friends of the convention”, people who cannot appear on the day but may allow themselves to be used in the run up – John le Carré, Philippe Sands, David Hare, John Major, John Mortimer and Max Hastings come to mind. This will require astute planning and sensitive handling.

We would aim to have a presence on Newsnight, the Politics Show, The Week, Channel Four News, Question Time, Any Questions, The Jeremy Vine Show, Andrew Marr, The Today Programme, World at One, PM, TalkSport, LBC, Victoria Darbyshire on Radio Five and daytime TV. We will need to settle on who’s going to speak for the convention, develop different lines to take and an overall message about the convention. This may seem obvious to the organisers but it needs to be reduced to a formula that is easily understood and is memorable.

(The underlying suggestion is that the Convention has been called in London because of the threat of the database state and the extreme seriousness of the crisis that faces Parliamentary Democracy.) We need to identify broadcasters and journalists who are on our side.

Commentators are also important but many have already covered the story of the attack on liberty so we will be in the business of feeding them new arguments and lines of attack.


It is our belief that the national press may show an initial reluctance to cover the Convention for three reasons.

1)      The Guardian is our media partner

2)      The political corps has rarely sought to cover the story of the attack on liberty or show the trends in Labour legislation.

3)      The event happens on Saturday and there is much less room in Sunday newspapers for news reporting.

It will be necessary to neutralise the suggestion that this is a meeting of the usual suspects. Our case to be taken seriously is made easier by recent events like the introduction of the ID cards for foreigners, the announcement of government silo to collect and store data from all phone calls, emails and Internet usage and the arrest of Damian Green MP by terror police. Newspapers as disparate as the News of The World, Daily Telegraph, Observer and Daly Mail are sounding the alarm about the authoritarian trends of this government.  Gathering together what these titles have said in response to civil liberties issues will be an important of tailoring stories to particular publications.

Still, it’s important that from the start we are not pigeon holed as a meeting of woolly-minded liberals who are out of touch with the hard realities of the modern world both in terms of the threat of terror and the collapse of the economy. The quality of speakers already lined up means that we can claim serious mainstream concern about what is going on.

It may help to approach foreign press before the British press. Representatives from Le Monde, The NY Times, Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, The Washington Post, El Pais and Corriere della Sera as well as CNN, NBC, CBC, ABC will all be asked to the January 15 party. The representation from the British press will be kept to a minimum on that evening.

On the Day

The media operation is going to have to be very light on its feet to maximize the PR opportunities on February 28th . The trouble with an event like this is that a lot will be going on at the same time and stories may be lost. The obvious news events will feature well-known speakers such as Lord Bingham and Lord Goldsmith, but it will take exceptional skill to winkle out every broadcasting and press opportunity. Again, planning will be the key and it is important that we know in advance what some of the contributors are going to say. For example, Phillip Pullman’s speech should be released to the Saturday papers and the Today Programme.