Liberty and the Tories

Clare Coatman
6 October 2009

I never thought I would ever set foot in a Conservative party conference, but there I was Monday morning in central Manchester registering for three days with the Tories as part of our effort to spread the word about Power2010.

It follows my inaugural party conference last week, at Labour, and continues the themes of over indulgence of food, alcohol and political discussion. It has been especially surreal to be among so many people with who I disagree so fundamentally!

The only fringe meeting where I felt I was on vaguely familiar territory was this evening's event hosted by Liberty. It was much more popular than I had assumed and was soon standing room only.

Shami Chakrabarti chaired and was relatively good about sticking to the role. She commented that unlike certain new arrivals, Liberty has had a consistent organisational presence at the Conservative Party Conference, and would be there for years to come.

Peter Oborne spoke about Churchill's Legacy: The Conservative Case for the Human Rights Act, a pamphlet he co-authored along with fellow-panellist Tory PPC and Policy Exchange Fellow Jesse Norman.

Their argument goes that despite being introduced by a Labour government, the HRA is both conservative and Conservative. It was directly drawn from the European Convention on Human Rights which was largely created by Lord Kilmuir and Sir Winston Churchill with the help of British lawyers following World War Two.

Chris Grayling MP, the shadow Home Secretay, gave a promising talk, albeit one which was light on specifics. He pledged to end “mission creep” (the phenomenon of laws written for one purpose e.g terrorism, being extended to others); roll back the database state and limit state intrusion to what is “absolutely necessary”. He also committed to speak at next year’s Liberty fringe to be scrutinised on how well he has fulfilled his promises.

David Davis MP seems to have had a revival in popularity and was extremely well received by the Tory activists, many of whom left after he had spoken. However, Davis made an ignorant remark hypothesising that, “If we had relied on Guardian-reading vegetarians to defend liberty, we’d all be speaking German” which Sunny Hundal has picked him up on. But he also said some “admirably convincing” things about freedom, as John Harris notes.

I felt the event was typical of the Conference as a whole which lacks the air of excitement I expected, and sticks rather too rigidly to the party line afraid of making any slips or going “off message” with power so close to their grasp.

While the panel (barring Chris Grayling) were broadly coming out in favour of the HRA, oddly no-one mentioned the leadership’s attitude towards it, or how it could be changed.


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