'A wake up call', said Anthony Barnett of the Convention on Modern Liberty, a series of meetings of those who felt that there was a growing range of threats to our fundamental rights and freedom in Britain: people, as he said, 'who wanted to test out whether this was the case in public, and debate, if the argument held, why this was so and what could be done'.
Planned in six months by openDemocracy, Liberty, the Rowntree Trusts, the Guardian and NO2ID, it brought together over 1,500 people in London, hundreds in the parallel conventions across the UK, and many more via the web, leading the Observer to dub it 'by far the largest civil liberties convention ever held in Britain.'
I thought it would be interesting to go back to those discussions on 'can privacy have a future?', 'are our civil liberties under a grave threat?', 'judges and politicians' and 'is there a media-political class?', to remind ourselves what a remarkable range of people had to say then about the surveillance state. Since I edited the volume of our proceedings, this was a relatively easy exercise. (Speakers’ biographies can be found at the end.)
One keynote speaker from the Convention is sadly no longer with us. This is what he said:
“The first catalyst is technological advance: it is now technically possible to observe, to record, to track, to measure, to analyse, to retrieve in a way which could never be done before…. But the possession of great powers by the state, is not a reason for using them. We have, after all, enjoyed for many years, the power to destroy the world, but have wisely refrained from doing so. … The second catalyst of change has been security: security against terrorist attack; security against the commission of crime. These are not considerations which any rational person would dismiss. But nor are they considerations the mere invocation of which trumps any other. Eternal vigilance must again be the watchword: to ensure that intrusive powers are limited to what is demonstrably necessary; to ensure that powers conferred for one purpose are not used for another; to detect and eradicate abuses. It is worth recalling Benjamin Franklin’s observation that ‘he who would put security before liberty deserves neither’. It is also worth recalling John Locke’s even more salutary warning:
As soon as men decide that all means are permitted to fight an evil, then their good becomes indistinguishable from the evil that they set out to destroy. “
But the people who said the following are still with us:
HENRY PORTER “It’s no exaggeration to say that, unless we involve ourselves in the political process, ours will be the first generation in centuries of British history to pass on a less free society than the one we inherited. That is a shocking thought, but we still have time to act.”
“You are not to be trusted with laws,
So we shall put ourselves out of your reach.
We shall put ourselves beyond your amendment or abolition.
You do not need to argue about any changes we make, or to debate them, or to send your representatives to vote against them.
You do not need to hold us to account.
You think you will get what you want from an inquiry?
Who do you think you are?
What sort of fools do you think we are?”
A nation whose laws express fear and suspicion cannot sustain delight for very long; joy does not flourish in the garden of anxiety. The society these laws seem to be designed to bring about is one of institutionalised paranoia, of furtive hatred and low-level panic. Every scrap of delight and gladness we can find is a blow against that fear; every instance of civility and kindness we come across is a clean wind dispersing a foul vapour…
We are a better people than our government believes we are; we are a better nation. “
HELENA KENNEDY QC “Someone once said that power can turn even the gentlest of souls into a Nero. Well let me tell you, we have managed to see some Neros emerging in contemporary government. I always say there must be something in the drinking water at the Home Office. People who seem perfectly decent, who don’t have staring eyes, who don’t seem mad, go in there and are suddenly overwhelmed with the need to reduce our liberty. “
SIR DAVID VARNEY “Now, when I talk about bringing services together, I am saying that the sort of information we as a society need to share is name, national insurance number, date of birth and address. There needs to be a big discussion about whether that’s the right information to share: but I believe that the public have a right to know what information is being held by public services, what use it is being put to, and what the safeguards are for protecting the integrity of that information….
Member of the audience: I’d like to ask Sir David Varney why, if he believes that only four items of information are necessary for the database, we are being asked for 53?
David Varney: I was talking about information which is required for service delivery. If more information than the four items I have identified is required, then I believe we need the service organisation seeking that information to get the consent of the citizen to provide it. I think the 52 comes from security issues and you will have to ask these organisations because I certainly don’t know why they need that amount of information....”
KEN MACDONALD QC “Now, what the paper completely fails to address is how that precondition, that essential public trust, could possibly survive a system under which the security services were empowered by law to routinely trawl through the private communications data of vast numbers of citizens suspected of no crime, simply in order, as Sir David Omand puts it, ‘to identify patterns of interest for further investigation’. How would the public regard their security services in that world? Of course, such a world would change the relationship between the state and its citizens in the most fundamental and, I believe, dangerous ways. In all probability, it would tend to recast all of us as subservient and unworthy of autonomy. It would destroy accountability and it would destroy trust.
This is for one very simple reason: because to abolish the distinction between suspects and those suspected of nothing, to place them entirely in the same category in the eyes of the state, is a clear hallmark of authoritarianism.”
DOMINIC GRIEVE QC MP “The idea that the criminal or the extremist - be it the BNP or mad Islamist - is in some way going to be deterred by these structures, is laughable. But we as politicians seem so often to lack the courage to just come forward and say, ‘none of this will work. You have to accept that society and life carries risk. Death is an inevitability for us all, and whilst it is the duty of the state to do its best to moderate and prevent what is wrong, nevertheless there are finite limits on what we should be doing, because the moment you go beyond it, you start creating that monster…
Conservatives can get things wrong. We don’t have a monopoly on wisdom. But the one thing that keeps me on the straight and narrow – and I actually think helps us – is that, if we are about to consider something that is authoritarian, somewhere in the back of our consciences as Conservatives, somebody says, ‘your grandfather wouldn’t have approved’. It works quite well. “
CASPAR BOWDEN “I am Chief Privacy Adviser for Microsoft in Europe, Middle East and Africa... Advertising is the fundamental business model of the Web… The trouble is that once one has accumulated this kind of profile information with the consent of the user to fulfil this business purpose, it becomes a tempting honey pot for the interests of state surveillance to move in and try and use that data for other purposes. That is precisely what has happened over the years with the situation of mandatory systematic data retention by internet service providers (ISPs).”
PETER BAZALGETTE “My third paradox of the morning would be that Google is allegedly sensitive to data retention. Over the last few years, it has actually reduced considerably the time span for which it is holding personal data. Meanwhile, you’ve got the Home Secretary wanting mobile phone companies to hold personal data for much, much longer. So you have got some commercial organisations trying to be more responsible, while the government is tugging in completely the opposite direction. Between those two points is a complete public policy vacuum. Privacy is only one issue and I’d like to hear people in the debate this morning acknowledge the fact that developing new revenue flows to fund content and services online - that we all enjoy - is also important.“
DOMINIC RAAB “What we see time and time again from ministers when they make a call for greater powers, is that it’s said to be based on ‘unprecedented’ threats – 90 days, 42 days, ID cards, and now again with the giant new communications database. Of course, we face new challenges. But that’s no reason to suspend all critical judgement and junk the basic freedoms that we’ve nurtured and defended for centuries, without properly scrutinising the case. “
JERRY HICKS “So you might ask, why is it that we can’t just believe them when they say that all this is for our own good and for our national security? The reason is that we have got experience. That’s why we don’t believe them. I am not paranoid – not that that stops them talking about me! But we have got experience. Take the ‘War on Terror’. This was supposed to usher in all these restrictions that would ultimately protect us. My view is that a decent foreign policy would make us all an awful lot safer.”
SAM TALBOT RICE “We would argue that an alternative path should take us down the track of data minimalisation. Rather than amassing sensitive personal data and storing it in one place where it’s insecure, the retention and use of data should be strictly limited to the minimum amount required for the minimum time required…
… Our fundamental principle is this: that it’s our data and not the Government’s. The policies that we put forward hinge on the idea that we need to give greater power and choice to the individual rather than use technology to empower and extend the arms of the State. What we like to say is that we want to move towards an information society rather than a database state.”
TONY BUNYAN “This is not just about the collection of data. It’s not just about privacy. It is also about how that data is going to be used. The people who know this well are migrants who are trying to get into the EU, fleeing from poverty or persecution. They are facing that surveillance system. They’re enduring the tracking, the fingerprinting, the misinformation, the intelligence reports that they can’t see, the police reports that they can’t see. The Muslim communities around Europe, not just in Britain, are facing extraordinary surveillance of their social and political lives. We have cases from all across Europe. Also all across Europe, protests have been policed differently, more aggressively. Now we have a conflation of security in policing. The policing of big international events against terrorist attacks is now equated with protests, cross-border demonstrations. The EU now has one manual to cover both.”
QUENTIN SKINNER “There isn’t a dichotomy between liberty and security – secure freedom is the only freedom there is. So to be asked to give up the security of your freedom is to be asked to give up your freedom. And that’s the Leveller case. Thanks very much.”
MICHAEL EDWARDS “As I understand it, the current system is based on a philosophy that if we have more information, we can predict and control the world. If we can predict and control the world, then bad things won’t happen. But bad things will always happen, and many more bad things will happen when that desire to avoid bad things happening turns into a desire for domination and persecution, particularly against certain groups of people, and generates widespread mistrust that leads to the breakdown of social solidarity, and the whole cycle starts afresh.”
PETER OBORNE “What …we have now is a cartel politics in which the politicians on either side of the House have far more in common with each other than they do with the voters, and that they form a conspiracy against that wider society.”
SIMON JENKINS “ My last point. Compare Lord Bingham’s lecture this morning with Jack Straw’s article in the Guardian, yesterday. Jack Straw would have been standing here twenty years ago, with Robin Cook, Patricia Hewitt, Harriet Harman. All these people would have been standing here castigating the Tory Government for introducing the surveillance society. What happened to them? Are they all actually devious, venal liars? [Audience cries: Yes!] That was meant to be a rhetorical question. Um, no. Something happens to them when they get into power and we don’t yet know what that is.
If I have one plea to all the lobbyists and think tanks who write endless articles and pamphlets on this subject, it would be this: ‘For God’s sake, stop writing about the importance of freedom! Try and find out what it is that works this poison inside Government on otherwise liberal people’. There is a sort of informal conspiracy operating against which even government ministers are not immune. Because unless you tell Jack Straw what he is, I am afraid that particular poison will go on operating and go on infringing upon our liberties. Thank you very much.”
VINCE CABLE “If you have to deal, as MPs do, with the Immigration and Nationality Department or Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs (HMRC) over tax credits, you see incompetence on a daily basis such as papers getting lost or files getting mixed up. I am reassured by the fact that the system simply cannot manage the data it has got on us.
Nonetheless, in this economic crisis, there is a risk that the overall environment will deteriorate and the kind of powers that people worry about, could be invoked. “
DAVID DAVIS “Earlier this week, Jack Straw said that this is not a police state. And I agree with him: Britain is not a police state. If it were, we wouldn’t be having this meeting. Many of us would be locked up and we wouldn’t have the right to debate. But that does not actually let the Government off the casual, careless corrosion of our freedoms that has been going on for the last decade and more…
In fact, I would like to respond to Jack Straw, not with an answer but with a question. Tell me, Jack, when does it become a police state? When the Government knows everything? When the Government knows - this is a long list I am afraid - everything about every citizen anywhere in the country?...
But I do know this: every erosion of our freedom diminishes us as a people, as a nation, as a civilisation. I also know this: that by the time we know it is a police state, it will be too late. “
DAVID HOWARTH “…these oversight arrangements, that look very good on paper, don’t work, because they themselves are subject to the executive branch of government. You can’t trust the Government to control itself. There has got to be external control, and that is what individual rights are about."
"It is obvious, I think, from the debate, that part of the problem is that the Government – and perhaps most governments – don’t understand that when you pass general legislation to give someone a power for one purpose, it is inevitable that the state will use those powers for other purposes. And if you don’t understand that, you don’t understand politics, you don’t understand government, you don’t understand human nature.”
PHIL BOOTH “If it were another individual obsessively tracking you, monitoring your movements, taking notes on you, snooping and following you wherever you go, we would call them a stalker! There are laws against it.“
SUZANNE MOORE “In the name of keeping us safe, they have imprisoned us. Time to break out. “
And while we are at it – what they said about Britain and torture:
“We know who our friends are,
And when our friends want to have words with one of you,
We shall make it easy for them to take you away to a country where you will learn that you have more fingernails than you need.
It will be no use bleating that you know of no offence you have committed under British law;
It is for us to know what your offence is.
Angering our friends is an offence.“
HELENA KENNEDY QC “It is a real fantasy that laws in relation to terrorism can be vacuum sealed, and that somehow they will only relate to terrorism and only for as long as the terrorist threat exists. The reality is, that you can’t vacuum seal law like that…
We also saw standards being lowered on the right to silence and jury trial in the Diplock courts, which in turn have fed into attitudes to those things in the system as a whole. Now the right to silence has been eroded in relation to all crime. That followed within five years of a change taking place, first of all, in Northern Ireland, in response solely to terrorism.
So be very clear that what we are here trying to deal with today is the abuse of power. Of course, perfectly decent people don’t realise that they are doing it. “
KEN MACDONALD QC “When your every day begins with security briefings and threat assessments – and believe me, I’ve been there – and when you feel responsible for other people’s safety, it is very easy to fall into a way of thinking that places security above absolutely everything else. It’s a simple psychology to slip into. You start to develop a form of protective zeal.”
DOMINIC GRIEVE QC MP “I don’t think there is any other European country, even the United States, that has gone completely hell-for-leather in this fashion – and which is transforming us into this rather unpleasant place. The whole episode concerning Binyam Mohamed fills me with utmost shame. Here we are, a country which outlawed torture in the middle of the 17th century, and yet we appear pretty clearly to have colluded with it in the course of the last few years, for issues of state expediency.
We’ve got to change the philosophy, because, unless we change the philosophy, this is going to continue. “
TIMOTHY GARTON ASH “ What can Britain do? One thing we could do, is to stop colluding in torture. That would be a pretty good start.”
PAUL ROGERS “on the last direct count, 98 thousand people killed in Iraq, (the World Health Organisation surveys show many more than that); 120 thousand people detained without trial, many for years at a time; four and a half million people as refugees and all the problems of prisoner abuse, torture, rendition and the rest. It is so different from what was anticipated… “
MARY KALDOR “The reason why we collude in torture is because we are so worried about our arms links with the United States, whether it’s Trident we are talking about or BAE. This is something that nobody is really looking at, but it is incredibly important that we restructure our economy away from this dependence on arms and oil, as this will then give us a real capacity to act in support of human rights.”
TONY BUNYAN “The EU is going to put in place a new five-year programme from 2010 onwards called the Stockholm Programme. One of the key themes is the need to harness the ‘digital tsunami’, as they call it, to be used by the state… the EU took a decision, five years ago, to create a ‘security industrial complex’ in the EU to compete with the United States’ (US) military industrial complex.“
STUART WEIR “Most obviously, the government uses the fear of terrorism, organised crime, extremism and other forms of anti-social conduct to justify severe measures that remove and restrict traditional civil and political rights.”
VICTORIA BRITTAIN “Lord Bingham talked about the 1947 committee led by Lord Sankey which took evidence from all the different parts of British society, asking what the Second World War was about, what were we fighting for? Among the things that they came up with was that secret evidence is not ever permissible. And the second thing was that nobody can ever be held for more than three months without trial. Well I’m going to talk today about people who have been held in Britain for seven years without any trial, and who have no prospects of any trial. “
MURRAY HUNT “In the current controversy about torture, there is an obligation on the state imposed by human rights law to carry out positive, adequate investigations. The Government has to do something. And it is for Parliament to put the pressure on the Government when human rights standards actually require the Government to do something.”
MOAZZAM BEGG “Habeas corpus is enshrined in the Magna Carta, that great institution of Britishness, one of those British roots which we - Muslims especially - are urged to know all about… So if people are patting themselves on the back because they think Guantanamo is coming to a close, they should take a look at the secret detentions process. “
GEOFFREY ROBERTSON “We should be enormously proud of our abolition of Star Chamber in 1641, which marked the end of torture. “
LORD BINGHAM “That is why this Convention is so timely and so important: a candle may today be lit, or re-lit, in Britain which, we may hope, shall never be put out. “
Before Lord Bingham’s candle goes out, I'd like to ask them what they would say now… have they changed their minds ?
Lord Bingham (1933-2010) was called to the Bar in 1959 and was made QC in 1972. In 1980, he became Judge of the High Court and subsequently, Lord Justice of Appeal in 1986. From 1992 he was Master of the Rolls until he became Lord Chief Justice of England and Wales in 1996. He was then Senior Lord of Appeal in Ordinary from 2000-2008. Appointed a Knight of the Garter in 2005.
Peter Bazalgette invests in digital media companies and acts as a consultant to such companies as Sony Music and Sony Pictures. Until 2007, he was Chief Creative Officer of Endemol and is a former Board member of Channel 4. He was knighted in the 2012 New Year Honours for services to broadcasting.
Moazzam Begg is one of nine British citizens held in US custody in Bagram and Guantanamo. He was released in 2005 without charge or apology. Since his release he has written an award-winning autobiography, Enemy Combatant, and appears regularly in the international media as a writer and commentator. As director of the human rights organisation, Cageprisoners, he lectures extensively around the country on issues surrounding imprisonment without trial, torture, anti-terror legislation and community relations.
Phil Booth was national coordinator of NO2ID, the UK-wide non- partisan campaign opposing the National Identity Scheme and the database state until 2011. Founded in 2004, in response to the Government’s stated intention to introduce the compulsory registration and lifelong tracking of UK citizens by means of a centralised biometric database, NO2ID seeks to put an informed case against state identity control to the media, to national institutions and to the public at large.
Chief Privacy Adviser in the Microsoft Worldwide Technology Office, Caspar Bowden provided expertise on the technology and public policy of privacy to 40 National Technology Officers around the world. He is a specialist in Data Protection and surveillance law, and privacy-enhancing technologies. In 1998, he co-founded the Foundation for Information Policy Research, with the late Professor Roger Needham and Professor Ross Anderson, an independent think-tank that studies the interaction between computers and society. He was appointed expert adviser to the UK House of Lords on three bills concerning privacy and surveillance. Previously he was a quantitative strategist with Goldman Sachs, and a software engineer consulting for clients including Microsoft, Acorn Computers, Research Machines, and IBM.
Victoria Brittain is a journalist and writer. Her most recent book is as co-author of Moazzam Begg’s Enemy Combatant. She is on the board of the Institute of Race Relations.
Tony Bunyan is an investigative journalist and writer specialising in justice and home affairs, civil liberties and freedom of information in the European Union. He has been the director of Statewatch since 1990 and edits Statewatch bulletin and Statewatch News online. He has taken ten successful complaints against the Council of the European Union and the European Commission to the European Ombudsman on access to EU documents.
Vince Cable (born 9 May 1943) is a British Liberal Democrat politician who has been the Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills since 2010 and the Member of Parliament for Twickenham since 1997.
David Davis was Parliamentary Secretary at the Office of Public Service and Science from May 1993 until July 1994 when he was appointed Minister of State at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office until April of 1997. From 1997 to 2001, he served as Chairman of the House of Commons Public Accounts Committee. In September 2001, he was appointed Chairman of the Conservative Party, and in July 2002, he was appointed Shadow Secretary of State for the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister. From November 2003 to June 2008, David was the Shadow Home Secretary. As a backbench MP, he campaigns for civil liberties.
Michael Edwards is a Distinguished Senior Fellow at Demos in New York, and a Senior Visiting Fellow at New York and Manchester Universities. From 1999 to 2008, he was the Director of the Ford Foundation’s Governance and Civil Society Program, and also co-founded the Seasons Fund for Social Transformation. His latest book is Small Change: Why Business Won’t Save the World (Berrett-Koehler).
Professor Timothy Garton Ash is the author of nine books of ‘history of the present’. He is Professor of European Studies in the University of Oxford, Isaiah Berlin Professorial Fellow at St Antony’s College, Oxford, and a Senior Fellow at the Hoover Institution, Stanford University. His essays appear regularly in the New York Review of Books and he writes a weekly column in the Guardian which is widely syndicated in Europe, Asia and the Americas.
A barrister and QC, Dominic Grieve was elected as a Member of Parliament for Beaconsfield in 1997. He is Queen's Counsel and a member of the Privy Council. He has been the Member of Parliament for Beaconsfleid sicne 1997, and he has been Attorney General for England and Wales and Advocate General for Northern Ireland since 2010.
Iain Henderson works on Mydex, a social enterprise initiative planning to help individuals realise the value of their personal information. He also blogs about buyer-centricity/ VRM issues at Right Side Up and at The Kantara Initiative and carries out customer information strategy work for clients through Information Answers or H2X.
Jerry Hicks joined AEU when he started work at Rolls Royce Bristol in 1975 as an apprentice. He was elected as Shop Steward in 1984, as Deputy Convener in 1987 and as Convener for the Test Areas in 1990. In 2003, he was elected to the Amicus National Executive Committee (polling the highest vote in the Aerospace and Shipbuilding sector). Hicks is standing in the current election for General Secretary of Unite taking place during 2013.
David Howarth is a British academic who was Cambridge’s MP (2005-2010) and Liberal Democrat Shadow Secretary of State for Justice. He won his seat in Parliament after a 17-year political career with Cambridge City Council. He is an Electoral Commissioner.
Murray Hunt has been the Legal Adviser to Parliament’s Joint Committee on Human Rights since 2004. Before that he was a practising barrister at Matrix specialising in human rights and public law. He is the author of a number of publications concerning human rights and public law, including Using Human Rights Law in English Courts.
Simon Jenkins is a journalist and author. He writes columns twice weekly for the Guardian and weekly for the Evening Standard.
Mary Kaldor is Professor of Global Governance and Director of the Civil Society and Human Security Research Unit at the London School of Economics. She was convenor of the study group on European Security Capabilities established at the request of Javier Solana, which produced the Barcelona report, A Human Security Doctrine for Europe and in 2007 the follow-up report, A European Way of Security: The Madrid Report of the Human Security Study Group.
Baroness Helena Kennedy is a leading barrister and an expert in human rights law, civil liberties and constitutional issues. She is a member of the House of Lords and chair of Justice – the British arm of the International Commission of Jurists. She is a bencher of Gray’s Inn and President of the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London. She was the chair of Charter 88 from 1992 to 1997, the Human Genetics Commission from 1998 to 2007 and the British Council from 1998 to 2004.
Sir Ken Macdonald, QC, practises at Matrix Chambers and is a visiting Professor of Law at the London School of Economics. He was Director of Public Prosecutions, 2003-2008 where he was the first leading defence lawyer to have been appointed to that post. Since stepping down, he has been an outspoken critic of the communications database proposed by the government to track phone calls, emails, texts and internet use.
Suzanne Moore is an award-winning columnist on the Mail on Sunday. She formerly wrote for the Guardian and the Independent.
Peter Oborne is the chief political commentator of the Daily Telegraph and reports for Channel 4's Dispatches and Unreported World. He has written a number of books identifying the power structures that lurk behind political discourse, including The Triumph of the Political Class. He is a regular on BBC programmes Any Questions and Question Time and often presents Week in Westminster. He was voted Columnist of the Year at the Press Awards in 2013.
Henry Porter is a novelist and political columnist for the Observer newspaper in London. Since 2005, he has been chronicling the attack on liberty and rights in Britain. He has now written over a hundred columns on the subject.
Philip Pullman is a celebrated writer whose Dark Materials trilogy has drawn adult and children readers into a lively dialogue about faith. His interest in Milton illuminates his attitudes to liberty as rooted in an English tradition that he seeks to revive.
Dominic Raab was an international lawyer at the Foreign Office, before working as Chief of Staff to respective Shadow Home and Justice Secretaries, David Davis and Dominic Grieve. In January,2010, he published The Assault on Liberty - What Went Wrong With Rights, and was elected Conservative MP for Esher & Walton in the 2010 elections.
Sam Talbot Rice was head of research at the Centre for Policy Studies (CPS). Before joining the CPS in 2007, he was a Policy Adviser in the Conservative Research Department, a Researcher to two front-bench MPs and head of communications at ARK Schools, a group of academy schools. Since 2012, he is a ‘policy special adviser’ to Jeremy Hunt, Secretary of State for Health at the Constitution Unit.
Geoffrey Robertson QC is founder and head of Doughty Street Chambers, a Recorder, a bencher of the Middle Temple and served as the First President of the United Nations Special Court for Sierra Leone. He is currently a member of the UN Justice Council. His books include The Justice Game – a memoir of some of his notable trials – and The Tyrannicide Brief – an account of how Cromwell’s lawyers brought the King to justice.
Paul Rogers is Professor of Peace Studies at Bradford University where he teaches courses on international security, arms control and political violence. He has written or edited nearly 30 books and his work has been translated into many languages including Chinese, Japanese, Turkish and Farsi. Paul Rogers is international security consultant for the Oxford Research Group, writes a weekly assessment of international security trends for openDemocracy and was Chair of the British International Studies Association, 2002-2004.
Quentin Skinner is Barber Beaumont Professor of the Humanities at Queen Mary. Professor Skinner was previously the Regius Professor of Modern History at the University of Cambridge. His work has won him fellowships of several academic Academies, including the British Academy, The American Academy and the Academia Europaea, and he has been the recipient of numerous honorary degrees, including degrees from Chicago, Harvard and Oxford.
Sir David Varney joined Shell in 1968 after gaining a BSc (Chemistry) from Surrey University. He gained an MBA at Manchester Business School in 1971. Returning to Shell, he worked in Australia, Holland and Sweden before becoming Head of Oil Products Europe. In 1996, he became Chief Executive of BG plc (previously British Gas). In 2002, he became Executive Chairman of Mmo2 plc. In 2004, he was appointed Chairman of HM Revenue & Customs.
Stuart Weir is Associate Director of Democratic Audit, the independent research organisation that audits democracy and human rights in the UK. He formerly founded Charter 88 and was the first director of Democratic Audit in which capacity he wrote and edited numerous books and reports (as he still does).