Stephen Taylor (London, 5jt): Conor Gearty accuses the Convention on Modern Liberty of inflating concern about civil liberties into a moral panic. His attack is a useful opportunity to dispel some comforting illusions.
First consider his jibe a police state or a "surveillance society" or whatever the latest colourful label is. The conflation is his; no one at the Convention claimed the present ‘surveillance society' qualifies as a police state. But David Davis made the point very well: by the time a police state has emerged there are no easy paths back. Because our surveillance society has got us most of the way there, without serious debate, conventioneers think there is every reason to make a fuss.
Gearty offers three arguments not to: things are better than they were; we conventioneers select evidence that makes things look worse than they are; and we have got things out of proportion. These arguments converge on: Things Are Not That Bad. He accuses conventioneers of a covert reactionary agenda, "cloaking the advantages of the rich in the garb of personal autonomy".
Well, some things are better than they were. Gearty is right to point to legislative achievements such as the Freedom of Information Act and the Human Rights Act. Whatever their flaws, these are substantial advances. But they are not substitutes for ancient liberties such as habeas corpus and Coke's "the Englishman's home is his castle".
piece posted on OurKingdom that livelihood without liberty is mere servitude. When I wrote that I did not yet know that Molly had died in hospital, in her 93rd year, in early January.Some weeks ago I remarked in a
Molly, born and bred in Scotland, left school when she was 14. Armed with the sound and extensive teachings that her country, with its poverty, Calvinist traditions and commitment to universal education, then provided to all its children, Molly went straight into ‘service', probably as a kitchen maid, with a wealthy family that owned a local ‘big house'. There she was joined later by a younger sister who, after some years, married the assistant gardener, Dick, employed by the same household.
Tom Griffin (London, OK): There has been a lot said in recent months about democratic republicanism as a neglected tradition in British politics. If Saturday's Convention on Modern Liberty is anything to go by, it is a debate which has struck a chord.
It was standing room only for the afternoon session entitled Liberty, Sovereignty and Republicanism: Can the Leveller Tradition Be Revived In The 21st Century? sponsored by History Today and OurKingdom.
The audience were not to be disappointed, with what proved to be a lively and rigorous debate about Britain's republican past and its relevance today.
There were shades of David Davis as historian Quentin Skinner explained the role of Magna Carta in seventeenth century debates about liberty:
There's a great moment in the Leveller tradition when John Lilburne, who emerges from the historical record as a petitioner for his rights, and has been falsely imprisoned on the order of the House of Lords, writes a tract about his right under Magna Carta to be released, and is sharply told by Richard Overton, in the Remonstrance of Many Thousand Citizens, July 1646. 'Magna Carta is a beggarly thing.' You have not got onto what really matters about freedom.
Last week the Appeal Court handed down a very important judgement settling a question about the Hunting Act. The Act provides that no offence is committed if hunting is done in a way which brings it within one of a number of exemptions laid down in the Act. Astonishingly, the authorities had argued that they had little chance of bringing successful prosecutions if they were asked to prove that challenged hunting was not within the exemptions. They wanted the court to rule that it was up to the accused to prove that what was done was lawful. To rule, in other words, that the accused would be found guilty unless innocence could be proved. The court rejected the prosecutors' request.
The right to be held innocent unless and until proved to be guilty - the presumption of innocence - is one of our ancient and fundamental freedoms On 28 February in London, and in meetings being organised across the country, the Convention on Modern Liberty will deliberate on the many perceived, and growing, threats to all the fundamental rights we have fought for and enjoyed as a free people.
It's been a week that has highlighted the state's interest in diverse areas of our private lives, especially our online activities. There's good news for file-sharers though, as long as they're not dowloading comics...
I am writing this in the United States where people are confronting with some discomfort aspects of their country’s recent past. Their new President when announcing the end of waterboarding and the closure of Guantanamo has reminded them that the US will have and deserve little moral influence if it does not hold to its founding ideals. At the heart of those ideals is ‘liberty’. My friends are asking themselves what ‘liberty’ truly is and who should enjoy it.
What strikes me again and again is that when discussing some of the less fragrant events of the recent past they do not ask ‘Was it legal?’: instead they ask ‘Was it constitutional?’.
Holding to the Constitution is an important part of being American. It is part of the glue which holds American society together.
We have nothing similar in the UK. We are almost discouraged from thinking about our Constitution. We are the poorer for that.
Anthony Barnett (London, OK): I was down with the Lurgie last week and missed Georgina Henry's stirring call to arms at the launch of the Liberty Central website in Comment is Free. It is well worth a read and gives you a sense of the Guardian's tremendous commitment to the growing range of issues that link connect to liberty today.
At the same time, it touches something quite fundamental. Tony Benn says how. His CiF article today is a little scoop and deserving of the print edition, Benn reveals that he was stopped and searched under by the police under the anti-terrorism powers.
(By the way there is also a fascinating interview with him by Iain Dale in the current issue of Total Politics)
Tom Griffin (London, OK): The first edition of the Carnival on Modern Liberty, compiled, by James Graham, is now up at Liberal Conspiracy. It covers a very busy week which includes the Obama inauguration, the Government's u-turn over Freedom of Information and the launch of the Guardian's Liberty Central.
Next week's blog carnival will be hosted here on OurKingdom. If you would like your article to get a mention, you can submit it via this page.
Tom Griffin (London, OK): The Guardian's new Liberty Central website looks likely to become an invaluable resource for those concerned about the erosion of civil liberties. It features a very useful events page, as well as a powerful aggregator of related content from across the Guardian's output. Here's a sampling of today's stories:
As an online companion to the Convention, it is intended to help promote debate on civil liberties on the blogosphere over the next few weeks. Fundamentally however, it is also intended to spur both bloggers and their readers into action.
I will be producing the first edition this Friday on Liberal Conspiracy. Over the next couple of weeks it will move to OurKingdom and Unlock Democracy and then we’ll be looking for volunteers to host future editions - what about you? (email offers to modernliberty *at* quaequamblog *dot* net).
If you have an article you would like to be included in the first edition you can submit it either by following this link or emailing modernliberty *at* quaequamblog *dot* net. The deadline is 4pm on Thursday 22 January (if you miss this it is no problem as it will simply carry over to the next week’s edition). We are particularly looking for articles on the following sub-topics:
His call for a Bill of Rights with entrenched privacy laws may well be echoed strongly during the important Convention on Modern Liberty to be held next February and, hopefully, echoed with the rider that the protections we already have under the Human Rights Act should not be trimmed away.
Clare Coatman (London, oD): Halloween saw the public launch of the Taking Liberties exhibition (Wednesday's private viewing was blogged by Anthony Barnett). Before the opening of the gallery was an opportunity to see Joan Bakewell in conversation with Shami Chakrabarti - a formidable sight! Conversation spanned 9/11, the treatment of refugees, Winston Churchill, the state of the Home Office and Eleanor Roosevelt, among many others.
Shami kicked proceedings off by dramatically holding her fist aloft and proclaiming, "the British Library has done to me what the British Government did not manage," (referring to the barcoded wrist band provided to all entrants of the exhibition). Shami was engaging and witty, referring to her current post as head of Liberty as penance for her time as a Home Office lawyer, while still covering a plethora of important issues.
Tom Griffin (London, OK): In today's Guardian, Duncan Campbell draws out some of the implications of Barry George's acquittal for the murder of Jill Dando, a charge for which he'd already served eight years in Prison:
It was widely assumed that after the Birmingham Six, the Guildford Four, the Bridgwater Three, Judith Ward and those many other high-profile cases that originated in the 1970s - when evidence rules were lax and there was still a culture of institutional corruption in some branches of the police service - the days of miscarriages of justice were over. Not so.
Tom Griffin (London, The Green Ribbon): The turnout in Haltemprice and Howden may have been better than expected, but it doesn't seems to have shifted the media narrative.
The Independent's Open House blog asks whether David Davis' re-election was a hollow victory. The Telegraph confidently concludes that it was. The BBC's Robin Lustig argues that the hoped for national debate on civil liberties never materialised, while his colleague Nick Robinson continues to see Davis's relationship with David Cameron as the real story.
Rupert Read (Norwich, The Green Party): The Green Party stood in Haltemprice and Howden on a clear platform of being 'to the left' of David Davis on freedom in general and on civil liberties in particular. David Davis did all he could to marginalise and exclude us. The media didn't help, painting the by-election as a freak show, because neither the LibDems nor Labour were standing while a huge field of also-rans were standing.
And yet we have come through well. While virtually everyone else lost their deposits, the Green Party last night scored our highest-ever percentage in a byelection (beating our previous high, back in our best-ever-yet year of 1989), and claimed an unprecedented second place (see the full result and a pertinent comment from our candidate, here).