An update from the Convention on Modern Liberty

Christina Zaba
27 February 2009

So 24 hours before the Convention kicks off, we've set up a centre of operations in the Royal National Hotel across the road from where the event will be. At one end of the room Henry is briefing the press team for tomorrow. At the other, people are sitting on the floor in orderly style, stuffing Convention carrier bags. Georgia is using a neat camera to shoot, Leibowitz-like, the hands and faces of people on phones, at computers, writing in notebooks, calling couriers, receiving boxes, arranging printers, bringing coffee. Anthony walks up and down making calls and beaming genially. Guy in CML T-shirt drinks Coke and taps away at his laptop. Young Claire is typing, eating a sandwich, licking her fingers and writing with a biro in a notepad simultaneously.We haven't even hit the hall yet.

Geoff Cox, a NO2ID volunteer steward, leans across and grabs a bottle of water. He's come up from Dorking, where he runs the SE region NO2ID group.

"I want to see some sort of talk tomorrow about the liberties we've lost, backing up that UCL Human Rights Group study on the Convention website," says Geoff. Until last year he ran a small business selling ladies' hosiery. Now, at 52, he's a full-time volunteer campaigner.

"Michael Portillo said that hundreds of thousands, perhaps millions, of people have died defending freedoms," he says. "Somehow we need a system to quantify the freedoms we've lost and how many lives those losses are supposed to have saved. We need the debate. Are they saying one life, five lives, a hundred? What are the terms of the debate? We need to be able to weigh it properly. Otherwise they can just say what they like.

"We've taken our civil liberties for granted. People are casual about it here. Other countries are not so casual. We've had two hundred, three hundred years of winning every time. But we're not winning now. The public needs to wake up. We won't really know the value of our freedom until we've lost it.

"I'm in NO2ID to combat the erosion of civil liberties in this country and I'm finding that more and more people are coming up to our stall on a Saturday and talking about how upset they're getting. These are middle class people, Middle England, as Andrew Gilligan said in his article yesterday. It's true. We're seeing it down in Dorking.

"I'm really excited about the Convention on Modern Liberty, because I've long wanted all the civil liberties groups to come together - the sum of the parts is always stronger. We need to join together, all of us. So I'm happy to volunteer for any of this stuff. To make it happen."

He gets back to the carpet, and stuffing 1,500 bags with Convention materials. NO2ID are taking care of all the stewarding, and have organised the satellite conventions in 7 cities across the UK, using their network of 60,000 campaigners against the database state. Phil Booth, personally responsible for all those meetings, is out on the road. But here comes NO2ID's Stephen Taylor through the door, bringing in huge boxes of programmes, leaflets, newssheets, with the others. They're all smiling.

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