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The state, the nation, and civil liberties

Gareth Young
22 February 2009

On Thursday I went to London, to the Foreign Press Association, situated in the former residence of William Gladstone, to record a video for The Convention on Modern Liberty (who were holding a press conference there).

I should have known it was going to be one of those days when I asked the ticket officer at Lewes Station for a return ticket to “piccalilli” instead of Piccadilly. Anyway, the little speech that I had intended to deliver to camera didn’t come out quite as I had intended, and in order to illicit a more conversational style I was prompted with questions and asked to improvise a response. It was excruciating, even more so for the film crew than myself I imagine.

Having thanked the crew for their patience I went to meet Anthony for a cuppa, and he suggested that I posted the speech that I had intended to make to Our Kingdom. So without further ado, this is what I had written down and had intended to say.

Hello. My name is Gareth Young and I am a member of the Campaign for an English Parliament.

For some attending the Convention on Modern Liberty the CEP will seem like a strange bedfellow, we are, after all, an organisation that campaigns for democratic rather than individual rights. But the two are related. The great strength of the Convention is in its diversity, together we represent a broad coalition against an overbearing and oppressive government.

If you’re anything like me then you’ll be truly depressed at this Government’s contempt for individual liberty, it seems to be on an almost daily basis that I open the newspaper and read about a new assault on our freedoms.

Habeas Corpus. Magna Carta. Common Law. Trial by Jury. These things provided England with certain freedoms long before democracy gave us the right to choose our government. But now our government undermines these freedoms, and for me a little bit of England is lost each time.

The burden of duty falls upon us. We must stop them.

The tendency towards authoritarianism is a sign on a State under threat. The threat of terrorism we know about. But what is less discussed is the threat posed by the loss of public faith in our democracy and institutions of government. Not only that, there is also a loss of faith in Britain itself. The British State is wobbling, de-legitimised, unsure of itself.

The Government’s response to these threats has been a head-long flight into a weird chimera of state authoritarianism and prescriptive British nationalism. British ID cards, a British Statement of Values, British oaths of allegiance, a Britishness Day, a British Football team, a British Bill of Rights, British Citizenship tests – which my own wife had to sit, and passed, but sensibly declined the ceremony. But you get the Britishness picture, you can hardly fail to because Brown is obsessed by it.

In attempting to link the debate on civil liberties and citizenship (rights and responsibilities) with the debate on national identity (Britishness) the Government is guilty of confusing citizenship with national identity. Conflating State and Nation. But rights are rights, they are unconditional, they should have nothing to do with how British we feel.

Not content with ownership of our personal information, our genetics, and the ability to track and monitor our every movement, they also want to manage our national identity. Those of us who are English are at a bit of a disadvantage here because we don’t have the devolved institutions to act as a bulwark against an authoritarian State, with their obsessive Britishness agenda, intent on controlling English society culturally, economically and politically.
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