Partial transcript: Can Liberty Survive the Slump?

Vince Cable: I would like to start by echoing Kate’s welcome for this event. I think the challenge to us is, in a slump, which we are entering, it will increasingly be asked – implicitly or not – “Isn’t civil liberties a bit like the environment? Isn’t it one of those luxuries we can quietly park until the crisis is over?” And we wouldn’t be on the platform if we didn’t disagree with that but I think we have to go over the arguments. I’d like to say a little bit first about the civil liberties context in which I think we are operating and then about how I would envisage the economic crisis affecting it. 

I think the word I reach for when I try to capture the spirit of a lot of crime and civil liberties issues that I encounter as an MP, the word is “paranoia”. Both in respect of crime and terrorism. Just a couple of anecdotes to illustrate that. On Friday – yesterday, actually – I went down to have my regular monthly meeting with the local police chief superintendent. Very good copper doing a very good job. He bought out all the tables and it’s a wonderful story – crime in Twickenham has always been very low and it’s now much lower and it goes down every month, burglary has virtually disappeared, street robbery has virtually disappeared, hardly any car burglary going on, very few assaults. It is a wonderful story. Of course, there are occasionally bad things that happen, but in any objective measure, crime is very low. But he also showed me the chart of public attitudes, which showed that the fear of crime is rising in exactly the opposite direction from what is actually going on on the ground. All the surveys they’ve done, and all the surveys I do as a local politician, suggest that crime is top of most people’s concerns. I have never quite understood – I have a pretty educated constituency – why this should be the case. I think essentially what happens is that people read about gun crime in Hackney and a paedophile in Blackburn, and they think that in some sense this is an immediate threat. Whatever the reason for it, there is this enormous disjuncture between what is actually happening on the ground, which is improvement, and people’s perceptions, which are increasingly of fear and alarm about crime. But anyway, in terms of the actual facts, there is certainly no evidence that the people I have in my constituency who are redundant hedge fund managers or estate agents are yet turning to car-jacking to supplement their income. 

This also applies in respect to terrorism. We have never had any terrorists offences that I am aware of in my part of London, but the kind of thing I and some of my supporters do is turning up to protests against airport expansion, against Heathrow. At the last one I attended, there were about 100 people, middle-aged mostly, half of them I guess Guardian readers and the other half read the Daily Telegraph. Completely innocuous, no idea of stone throwing or anything worse than that. They’d hit on a wonderful idea which was actually throwing paper darts outside the Department of Transport as a way of expressing their strong feelings. After a few minutes of this, a senior policeman who was observing proceedings read out a document that he had come along pre-prepared with, saying unless we dispersed within five minutes he would invoke the terrorism legislation. Anybody who now goes to a demonstration on aircraft noise or something comparable, or a power station – probably some of you were at those protests too – will know these are the powers that are being invoked. Another anecdote which some of you in this room will have experienced, I was approached by one of my party activists who is well in his 60s. Like a lot of Lib Dem activists, he always goes round in a tie, very polite and very middle-class, and he had been driving round Twickenham Rugby Union stadium. And he’d got a bit lost, and had been round the stadium I think two or three times. He was pulled into the side by a PCSO, one of these auxiliary police officers, and stopped and searched under terrorist powers. And held for several hours, and asked to explain why he was behaving in such a strange way in front of an important national institution. And terrorism was the fear. 

And, I mean, in both these cases we have this extraordinary paranoia, completely unrelated to any objective risk or objective threat. Now so far, I have taken incidents of this kind in a… I take them very seriously and I worry about them, but relaxed on one level for two reasons. First of all because our police culture is not particularly oppressive. A whole generation of police officers have been trained to be light, to police by consent rather than fear. I think many police officers are deeply uncomfortable with the role they are often placed in and I take some comfort in that. And I the second reason I have been reasonably relaxed so far, is the sheer incompetence of the British state. If you have to deal as MPs do with the Immigration and Nationality Department or HMRC over tax credits, you see unbelievable incompetence on a daily basis. Papers getting lost, files getting mixed up. I know a lot of people get very upset about these lost CD discs and so on. I take certain reassurance that the system simply cannot manage the data it has got on us. Up to a point, anyway, the sheer lack of coherent management does provide us with some degree of protection. 

But I mean, I am being slightly flippant. The point is, that in this economic crisis, I think there are respects in which the overall environment is going to deteriorate and in which the kind of powers that people do worry about could come to be invoked. I think the way I would approach this is to try to look at who is going to be affected by this crisis, and how will they react to it? I think initially, what we are seeing is large numbers of individuals who almost at random are being affected by unemployment, or part-time working. I meet many of them. Even in a fairly prosperous area like mine there are growing numbers of people who are losing their jobs, who are desperately worried about keeping their mortgage payments going. But so far they see this in very much individual terms – this is not a community being hit, it is scattered individuals in pain and confused and angry about their personal circumstances, trying to hold their marriages together, trying to keep their home. They are probably more likely to be on antidepressants than part of a militant movement. Initially, this is how the crisis is manifesting itself. 

But I think one or two things will happen that will change that and make opposition more concrete. One of them is that the next wave of victims will be students. If you reflect on what is currently happening in universities, we have just been through the annual milk round and I meet quite a few lecturers, professors who tell me that their estimate is that of the current cohort who graduate in the summer, half of them will not have jobs. Some of them will find work on a part-time basis, some of them will go home to Mum and Dad, some of them will become permanent students. But there will be growing numbers, we are talking hundreds of thousands of people here, who don’t have the worries about their families and their homes, who will just have been bitterly disillusioned, and will have paid for their education in part and suddenly find that society doesn’t want them. And if this goes on for a couple of years you will have a very large army of very angry, educated, highly disillusioned young people, many of whom inhabit the inner cities of Manchester and Leeds and Sheffield and Bristol and London, and who have enormous political potential. How they’ll express it, I don’t know, but we can see that coming. 

The next wave of anger will come from the public sector. Because at present the public sector is a safe haven. You probably read this morning about enormous numbers of people now applying for job as teachers – it is a safe job in a slump, and the public sector at the moment is keeping the economy going. But public sector finance numbers are unbelievably awful and all that money that’s going into saving the banks and all the rest of it, that is not sustainable. And in two or three years’ time there is going to be the most ferocious crackdown on public spending and investment, and if there’s a change of government, I think probably even more ferocious than otherwise. But I don’t want to make a party political point, but certainly in a few years’ time, the public sector will be really under the cosh. And we know from experience in this country and also in continental Europe that those are people who are better organised, more conscious of their rights and more able to protest than others. These are the groups that will start to feel the pain and will express it. 

I’ll just mention one other group. It’s probably not a group in any sociological sense, but I’m very conscious of it. Large numbers of people have serious problems of debt. Much of the current crisis originates from large amounts of personal debt. I don’t know how many of you have experienced this, but I am encountering growing numbers of people who are at the receiving end of bailiffs. Just ordinary people who have, you know, they’ve got a parking fine, and they’ve moved house so they didn’t get the court notice. And then before they know where they are, there is a team of people at the front door with a sledge hammer. Under legislation this government passed in 2004, the bailiffs are allowed to use forced entry. Under legislation that went through last year, and not many people spotted it, they are allowed to use force on individuals. What is called “reasonable force”. And we are going to get growing numbers of people whose homes are going to be invaded by their creditors. And when large numbers of people realise this, and it may be in respect of a small amount of credit card debt or unpaid fines or other things of that category, which I don’t want to trivialise, we are going get some real, real middle-class anger going and this is going to add fuel to the fire. 

So I don’t really have a great deal to add. All I can see at the moment are these different groups who I think will be mobilised by this crisis. One doesn’t yet know what political form it will take. It is said, and I probably would argue this myself, we are likely to see more of the politics of identity and race and nationalism and things of that kind, but certainly in the kind of area I represent the BNP are not a force. It is, I think, a more subtle thing, but we are nonetheless heading into political territory for the first time certainly in my lifetime with great numbers of people whose expectations of society are going to be severely dashed and will find an outlet for it. 

I think there are two questions about the political class. One is the issue about is it corrupt, and the other is whether it is impotent. And the latter is more important, but the first is what gets people going. 

I mean, the issue about political corruption and expenses and all that kind of thing, it is extraordinarily…petty on one level. But you can understand why people get worked up about it, because if some MP seems to be fiddling their expenses to the extent of £10,000, that is something that people can relate to in the way they can’t relate to the zillions of pounds we are putting into the banking system. Those are just meaningless, extra-planetary numbers. That’s why we have as a group been totally careless about public concerns, and the lack of transparency and the unwillingness to deal with things like MP pensions has added to the cynicism. Not a great deal of money is involved, and the truth is that the vast majority of MPs are totally honest and straightforward. But there is a carelessness and lack of sensitivity that is doing us as a group no good, and it does need to be sorted. 

The issue about impotence is much more important. It isn’t like, I think one of the questions related it to Germany. Unlike Brüning’s administration in Germany that preceded the Nazis, they did nothing, they just looked at the crisis. They had no idea what to do. Whereas our government, like the Americans, is throwing everything at it. Monetary policy, fiscal policy intervention in banks – they are doing lots, but it doesn’t seem to be achieving much. But I think the issue of impotence crystallises around Sir Fred Goodwin. It’s an interesting one, this. Here is somebody whose absolutely outrageous behaviour, you know, has destroyed a bank at the expense of shareholders, workers and the taxpayer. Walks away with an enormous reward, is completely lacking in contrition – what do you do about it? What do you do? He is protected by legal rights. Even if you went after him, he could simply emigrate. And the problem with the super-rich, the people who, you know, benefited in an extraordinary way from what has happened in the City, is that in practical reality they are untouchable. And what we are resorting to is the politics of the ducking stool. You know, we queue up to say they are outrageous and obscene and I’m trying to find new words, I have run out of them. But at the end of the day, you are not doing anything. And people out there understand that our powers to deal with people in a internationally mobile world are very limited. The paradox at the end of all this is that I think countries will become more nationalistic in an environment where they have to co-operate more if you are going to deal with things like tax havens. That is one of the fundamental difficult contradictions that we are going to have to grapple with. 

Vince Cable: Just on this first point, on the media and concentration of ownership, we can see all kinds of ominous signs that the weaker newspapers will go down, that independent local newspapers are virtually disappearing. Some of the independent television and radio channels are very vulnerable, and we’ll finish up with a greater concentration of ownership. I think when one looks at what is happening in this crisis to the ownership structure across the economy, there is more and more evidence of concentration. We will have fewer banks. We will have fewer big building developers and fewer of everything, and the ones that are left will be much more powerful. If I were looking to the end of this crisis, I think one of the things we have to look out for is that what we could finish up with is a kind of Italian-style state capitalism, where you have a handful of very big powerful groups which have got enormous political power as well as commercial power. And that is relevant to the media and everywhere else. The second point David made from the chair, which is about the cultural ecology, because I mean if you take something I am interested in which is football, there was a very interesting feature this morning explaining that whereas the Premier League is to some extent protected from the slump, most of the lower divisions have football clubs that are now virtually insolvent and many of which will simply not survive. And local communities who express themselves through sport will simply lose that. 

And the final point I want to make about inequality is this. I think we are into a period where people will be able to think about rougher and more radical solutions than they were able to before. Until recently I think the two things I said in public which caused most outrage, one of which was exactly the point Kate’s made about too many highly paid executives in local government, and the other one was when I suggested that people in houses worth more than a million pounds should be paying relatively more in property taxes. And people went berserk at that suggestion. But I think in this new environment, people will be willing to look at solutions that hitherto would have been be regarded as impractical, or having too much rough justice on well-off people.. Things like, for example, the Dutch idea of saying that in every organisation, there should be a salary differential of ten to one and no more between the people at the top and the people at the bottom. People say to me that that’s very impractical and you can’t make it operate, but I think in this environment, where people are becoming highly charged, highly conscious of unfairness, that kind of solution may well have, maybe the time has come for it. 

Will Hutton: Thank you. Well, this conference does take place in economic terms against an astonishing economic background. Just last week we learned that in January, Japan’s industrial production fell by 10%. It fell by 12% in December, it fell by 12% in November – in other words, it’s fallen a third in three months. Japanese exports in January fell by an astonishing 46%. 

Spool across the Pacific to the United States of America, and over the three months, the last quarter of 2008, their exports fell by 24% and their GDP declined at an annualised rate of 6.2%. There are astonishing falls in industrial production in the European Union, big falls in Britain, for goodness’ sake. In Britain, the Bank of England says that the decline in GDP between summer of 2008 and summer of 2009 will be 4%, and it will carry on falling after that, so that it will fall in total about 6% in 18 months. Between 1929 and 1933 in Britain, over a four-year period, GDP declined by 5.5%. So GDP in our country is declining faster than it did in the early 30s, in a shorter period of time. And as Charlie Bean, the Deputy Governor of the Bank of England alerted us, there’s a 75% chance that that’s too optimistic. 

I think… In many respects, I am beginning to think that what is taking place internationally is graver than what took place in the early 1930s. The fall in house prices, the rise in unemployment, the collapse in wealth – you can see it yourselves with your own eyes just in Britain, and it is an international phenomenon. It is the result of an extraordinary ten-year period before that which in many respects was more extraordinary again than the period in 1920s in Wall Street. When Galbraith wrote his book on the Great Crash about leverage in American investment banks and margin trading, that was child’s play besides what we saw in the last ten years. In June 2007, just a month before Bear Stearns had to declare on July 31 three of their hedge funds bust, and the following day Banque Paribas said the same thing, one quarter of the balance sheet of American investment banks was being turned over every day, re-financed every day in these wholesale money markets that everyone thought were like the sea: here to stay. They have rolled back, those investment banks, all of them are no more. In Britain, the building societies that used to borrow in those markets cannot do that any more. We are watching the most spectacular implosion of credit and asset prices. The UK commercial property market is shut. There hasn’t been a significant deal in UK commercial property for four or five months. 

What’s the impact of all this going to be for liberty? For the way things are going to trend? 

Well already, internationally, you can see that the auguries are not terribly auspicious. In the European Union, are we going to put our hands in our pockets – the British, the Germans and French – to bail out the East Europeans and the Austrians in particular, where there is a first order crisis going to emerge in the next three months?  Is there enough European solidarity to do that? 

Angela Merkel says we must co-ordinate the bonds we issue and was given a kind of quiet diplomatic raspberry by the rest of the European Union. There’s a real sense of “sauve qui peut” at the moment. The Americans shrank from protection in the physical stimulus measures, but Sarkozy says he’s not going to put any money behind the French car industry if the French car industry then starts locating production to the Czech Republic, against completely the spirit of the free movement of goods and the whole purpose of the European Union. Everyone knows the story of the 1930s. When unemployment climbs as precipitately as it does and when the safety net is at weak as it is, people blame the other. The person that is outside the national community, outside the tribe. They blame other races, other ideologies – anyone but oneself. And in Britain, let’s be brutal, unemployment will rise by a million by July or August of this year, and I think may very well rise another million after that. We have, over a 25-year period, made the Social Security net incredibly threadbare. Compared with the early 1980s, for example, when you were made unemployed in the early 1980s, broadly speaking you were asked to live on two fifths of the average wage. And we got through that in relatively good order, with people actually quite frightened about social unrest, and there were riots in places like Toxteth. Spool forward 25 years, and we are asking them to live on a fifth of average earnings when you go on Jobseekers Allowance, which is £60.50. Remember, the average wage in this country is £25,000 a year. It’s an absolute calamity. And I think that as escalating numbers of people find that the social safety net is as threadbare, hard questions are going to be asked of the way in which our affairs have been run this last ten years and the way they are going to be run in the future. 

There will be, I think, demands for vengeance. To pick up David’s point, I really like the evolution of… We have heard about the undeserving poor, we now have the undeserving rich. I think there will be… I think the kind of way we all feel about Sir Fred Goodwin’s pension is going to become a generalised anger about the way things were run. 

And this could go either way. This could be a moment for the left or it could be a moment for the right. But whether right or left, the likelihood is it is going to be, the conversation will be about closure, it’s going to be about more state, it’s going to be about more surveillance and intrusion, less openness and it is going to qualify not just economic liberties, many of which got us into this place in the first place, but actually political liberties. I think that there will be the rise of parties all over Europe which will be extremely unpleasant, and I think there will be extremely unpleasant evolutions in places like Japan, where I think the LDP is completely imploding – it will be the right that actually takes over in Japan. In Russia, I think the situation is getting extremely noxious, and even nationalist forces to the right of Putin are in the ascendant. That is the terms of trade in our times. 

To finish, I want to say this. I think that it behoves us at this convention, and people who think along these lines, to argue our heads off that actually the way through this recession, and the way through to prosperity on the other side, is actually to recommit to the great Enlightenment traditions. I think the reason why we got into this mess was that we didn’t have sufficient checks and balances inside the banking system. We didn’t have enough… The constitution, if you like, of capitalism was neglected, and left to free-market fundamentalists to argue the toss. There must not be, resiling from that world, a migration to a world of authoritarian statism on either the left or the right. A world of checks, balances, pluralism, entrenched liberties, and deliberation, justification, many voices. It is that kind of discourse that actually is the, is the genius if you like of Western societies, and if we resile from it faced by a slump, we won’t get to the other side without, I fear, protection, closure and more slump and even war. 

So it’s an absolutely crucial moment to assert the case for Enlightenment values – to dare to know, to stay open, to understand the kind of fundamental value of free men and women deliberating over whatever challenge it may be – for our generation, a world depression. Thanks. 

Will Hutton: The simple answer is yes. I want to say much more about this in the next session, when we talk about how we make the case for liberty. 

I think that what is evident over the last… What is now evident to all, behind the story of the debt and the asset prices and the banks getting over-stretched, the bankers paying themselves extraordinary sums of money, all of it, lies running our economy and society, both domestically, and to pick up the point from South Africa, internationally, grotesquely unfairly. And it’s evident, it’s obvious that we need to run our economies and societies more fairly and more sustainably. And one of the components… There are three components of fairness, I think. One is some sense of proportionality. Fred Goodwin, even if he had been successful at Royal Bank of Scotland, should not retire at 50 years old with a pension of £675,000 a year, a pot of £16m to produce that. That is grotesque. You know, it is a disproportionality, and having failed, it is even worse. There is a second component of fairness, which is the nature of the deal, the social deal. What is the quid pro quo? What are our social entitlements, to what degree do we have to earn them, to what extent are they a matter of right and to what extent, when people get in situations of their own free will, do we say, “That’s fine, we’ll still write you a cheque”? Big issues. There’s a third component of fairness which is fair play, that what we are talking about in this convention – procedures, the way we make law, the way we regulate ourselves, the constitution in which we actually do the other fairnesses. What I think… For me, those three fairnesses are all wrapped up, they’re interlinked, they are interdependent. And if we corrupt or qualify to any degree our capacity for fair play fairnesses, for the procedures by which things are done, then we get the ourselves precisely into a world in which the remuneration committee of Royal Bank of Scotland, under the eyes of the incoming Minister for the City, Lord Myners, pays this chap £575,000, and thinks “Brilliant, we have got away with it. If he had been in office another few days he might have noticed but we have slipped it through the net.” That kind of approach… What sits behind the capacity to be so unfair, which we all call outrageous, sits an unfair process. 

So for me, being better at governance matters in the public sector and it matters in the private sector. And we won’t solve the problem of gross inequality, also picked up by the lady who first spoke, unless we have better ways of actually talking to ourselves as a national community and then acting on what we decide. That will include Fred Goodwin not getting paid £575,000 for a bank that requires £45 billion-worth of our money and £325 billion of our insurance. Unbelievable. 

Will Hutton: We have all come to this session on recession and liberty, and I thought that last question, you really put your finger on it. I think the danger is that this recession is going to take out lots of pluralism. It’s going to weaken trade unions, it’s going to weaken regional newspapers, it’s going to weaken national newspapers. ITV are pulling out of regional news. We may only have the BBC as a news provider – Channel 4 is tiny and it’s struggling to fund itself from advertising, which is plunging. All these things weaken pluralism, weaken diverse voices and undermine a capacity to speak back to power. It’s a very dangerous moment and I thought your question put your finger on it better than any of us speakers and it really got me going. Thanks!

Suzanne Moore: Hello, everybody. I just want to say a few quick things and to cheer you up after that. I am obviously in a difficult position here because I am in danger of outshining Will and Vince with my in-depth knowledge of the economy. So I am not going to try and do that. I am going to talk about the culture and what the recession might mean for our civil liberties, and how we have got to this position. And I do want to think of some reasons to be cheerful. I think today is a reason to be cheerful – just look at the numbers of people here, and not to just talk about what we have lost, but talk about what we might gain. 

One of the reasons I can remain slightly optimistic is because all around us now, people are making the obvious connection between what has been regulated and what hasn’t been regulated. What hasn’t been regulated are the huge financial institutions, what has been over-regulated is our private lives, and people are really feeling this, they are actually feeling it. This is no longer theory, this is no longer stuff that obscure columnists write about. We feel it. My child can’t sing What Shall We Do With A Drunken Sailor because there must be no reference to alcohol in school. To take my child to my local high street I have to have a CRB check, I have to be police checked. It costs the school £35, it makes me feel like a potential paedophile. I’m her mum. I mean, these are everyday things people feel they don’t like, they are objecting against. 

How did we get to that position? We didn’t get to that position just because of the recession. We have been in that position for about ten years. I was trying to work out how we got there and I don’t have the answer, but one of the things I think that has happened is that we keep hearing that all the traditional institutions, political institutions, all authorities have lost power, and that we don’t trust them any more. Well, in that case, how come they have even more power than ever? I mean, it’s a contradictory thing that’s going on. What’s happened is that there has been this whole layer of experts brought in, experts in every field. Culturally… I mean, culture always precedes political change and if you watch TV or read newspapers or anything like that, you will know that you have an expert telling you how to live almost every single part of your life. They will tell you what not to wear, what not to eat, what not to smoke, what not to drink. We are all infantilised. We are all on the naughty step. That is what culture has been telling us for the last ten years and we have all bought into that in some way. But the message is also that we need protecting, not really from terrorism, but ourselves. That is where we have lost a lot of, you know, real, real personal liberties, and the idea is that if we are left to our own devices, not only will we be fat and smoke or get ill, we won’t look ten years younger, we won’t be able to clean our houses, we won’t be able to pluck our eyebrows or we won’t even know how to have sex unless somebody actually explains it to us. That might seem trivial, but in a time of accelerated cultural and social change, these experts have become authority figures. I see them as very much part of the restriction of individual liberties, as these people who know best. 

And these people will also benefit in a recession, believe me, because they are already writing books on how to survive the recession, how to eat less, grow your own vegetables. There will be even more of these experts. And we must resist all expert advice – I am telling you that. 

But we are actually asking, I think – again, this is a reason to celebrate – who has been given freedom and who has lost it. And we can see, I mean, it is these bankers, it is this guy with the ridiculous pension. He has been given enormous amounts of freedom while other people have struggled. Just going to the bank, nobody could phone their own banks any more. We have become incredibly passive about this, and now we have lost… You know, that’s what we’ve lost. 

Many of us are just simply bewildered about the security measures we are asked to be involved in on a day-to-day basis. I stand in airport queues all the time – not all the time, but every time I go to an airport. I can’t understand why my lipstick is all right but my lip gloss is a threat to humanity. I just cannot understand it and nobody seems to be able to explain it to me. 

And what I hope is happening is that there is a general resistance to these absolutely insane security measures and that it is coming… I see it because I have got teenagers, I’ve got 20-year-olds, coming from young people. And actually some of the ways it comes from young people are ways that we old people don’t like. It is a reclaiming of public space, it is a culture of public intoxication which British people are extremely good at. It’s one of the things we do really well – we go out, we get smashed. We go out in public. It is our public space, we do not need people telling us not to do this, in my opinion. It is part of what we’ve always done. And young people are at the edge of this, they will fight this. You know, the new police act – if you have a party, even at my age, if I have a party with more than 20 people, in police terms that’s a rave. That’s called a rave. I mean, it’s just insane. But young people are finding ways round it and they’re also finding ways, as they always will, around this incredible culture of surveillance. 

One of the things that has happened is that the surveillance means that public space is locked down. Any group of teenagers is now a threat. More than two teenagers together constitutes a kind of, you know, everybody has to leave the country. It’s absolutely locked down. And I think that the whole CCTV culture, which of course has bought about its own fashion… Why do we have this fear of hoodies, why do people wear hoods? So that you can’t see them on CCTV. You reap what you sow. And CCTV has been the New Labour answer to replacing society. Instead of watching out for each other, we think these things are watching us, and it is not the same thing. We do have to reinstate the feeling of community. 

In this brave new world we have this insane interventionist government whose only model is surveillance. And Labour has been appalling at making… Well, it could have easily made, and Will has made, an argument for a quite benevolent state. Instead of saying that the state is CCTV cameras, it could say it is when you go to the doctors and when you send your kids to school. It could have made that argument, it could have made the safety net argument. But it hasn’t. It’s created the space for Cameron to come in and say “We won’t have the state, we’ll have society.” That what is he will do, and I hope society does exist when Cameron gets in and means that we all start looking after each other, but I am not sure it will. The recession means that we actually have a chance to think about new ways of doing things, and organisations like NESTA, for instance, are talking about the 1930s, the Depression and how that actually spawned the New Deal and the creation of modern welfare, and how we actually have got a chance of reorganising our whole social system. It is not all doom and gloom. 

And I think that one of the great things about today is that it has brought together a coalition of right and left, of quite different groups of people who want to talk about liberty. I think this will be the issue.  I think the left-right divisions are becoming more and more meaningless. And one of the things that really struck me about the election of Obama, and it strikes me about today, is that we have people here talking about the enshrined rights of the Magna Carta, and these ancient liberties, but doing it on Twitter. I really like this combination of the very old and the very new. And when people talk about how Obama got in and how his campaign was fantastically run by people who understood technology – when you talk to those people, what really happened was, yes they did use the web, they were on their Blackberries the whole time to find out who might vote for him. What they found out was what kind of person that person would respond to, and then send them round to knock on the door. It was a combination of technology and old-fashioned knocking on the door, and a campaign that could use technology with, you know, face-to-face interaction. 

That is the space that I think we have to take for ourselves if we want to fight for liberty. A combination of yes, use this all this technology that surrounds us, try to understand it, try to work with it – young people certainly do. And the political classes can legislate all they like but that will not stop, you know, our young people going out doing what they do. It will not stop the Daily Mail taking pictures of them and saying it’s the end of the world. I don’t think it is the end of the world. I think any attempt to curtail liberty always begins with, I’ll just throw this in, it always begins with policing female sexuality, which is why you’ve got endless pictures of girls with their skirts up in the Daily Mail. We’ve got to fight that. You can’t be very high-minded about it. You can care about Guantanamo Bay, but you do have to also care about young people pissed in the streets – it is all part of the same thing. I want this recession to, if it gives us anything, make us think about the key thing, which is what is the redefinition of public and private space. That is what is really happening here. What’s public, what’s private. We’re very muddled. We have allowed what I think should be private to be made public, we have allowed the public to be completely neglected. I would hope that somehow we can have a discussion and move forward, and we can use really really old-fashioned methods and really new ones as well. Thank you. 

Suzanne Moore: I just wanted to come back to this question people are raising, is there a choice between equality and liberty? I think the success of New Labour, if you like, has been to change a lot of people’s minds. Because we thought maybe we were voting for equality or that there would be less inequality. The fact that we have got widening inequality and less liberty – and Iraq – has made it almost impossible to understand… I mean, when you talk about the incompetence or the impotence of the political class, I don’t know which party you vote for if you want liberty and equality. Maybe you already know, everybody else knows, but the party that can represent the things that Will was talking about, a simple, more proportional way of rewarding people, it’s not Labour. It’s not Labour. We are at a real crunch point now, because it is going to be a Tory Government. Are they going to take forward the mantle of liberty? This is what I am worried about. I can’t see it happening, but I think that is the point we are at. What I am hoping, and what I would really like to start happening and I do see happening with young people, is that we have actually, to go back to the 60s, a counter-cultural movement, as we had against Margaret Thatcher, and it will be against the new Tory government and it will be about liberty. 

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