From Anthony Barnett, Phil Booth, Shami Chakrabarti, Henry Porter, Stuart Weir

We are entering a dangerous period in our country. Economic turmoil threatens profound hardship and disharmony. Disenchantment with politics is growing and even legitimate protest is threatened by an unprecedented programme of challenges to our rights, freedoms and democracy. Sixty years ago Britain was a proud co-author of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms. Now it is increasingly centralized, abandoning its historic principles some of which date back to the Magna Carta.

The Government’s continued stated determination to extend detention without charge in terrorism cases to 42 days is one symbol of the damage done to our hard-won rights and freedoms. The Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000 (RIPA), which gives hundreds of agencies access to people’s records without their knowing, is another. The collection of all available records on a huge central database for the use of the authorities is a third.

We believe that such threats can be overcome but only if the public is woken to the dangers. While we may be impatient for action, the issues must be addressed in an open-minded way with as thorough and accessible public debate as possible.

Therefore we invite you to join a Convention on Modern Liberty. It 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?
  • Are dangers to our security from terrorism and other threats, from climate change to pandemics being used to attack our rights, and how can we best defend ourselves?
  • How can we arouse sustained public interest?

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 defence of our freedoms. The Guardian is the main media partner. The Rowntree Reform and Charitable Trusts and the Rowntree Foundation are initial supporters. A wide range of organisations are joining the event from across the political spectrum.

Fundamental rights and freedoms are common to us all. The Universal Declaration recognises ‘the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family as the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world’.  In Britain such values have an even longer history. We are indeed the inheritors of an inspiring tradition of liberty.

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 our democratic self-confidence. 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 (openDemocracy)

Phil Booth (NO2ID)

Shami Chakrabarti (Liberty)

Henry Porter (the Observer)

Stuart Weir (Democratic Audit)

September 2008