The Taking Liberties blog wondered yesterday if my, and other, Tory involvement was designed by the organisers as giving the whole event a figleaf of political impartiality, when in fact the whole thing is a leftie love in. I understand the sentiment, but I think the concern was misplaced. When I got here, I must admit I felt the event had a smack of a student conference circa 1983. But one of my Twitter followers reported from the main hall that she was surrounded by the readership of Horse & Hound.
Here are my brief opening remarks...
In the style of Alcoholics Anonymous let me kick off by saying My name is Iain Dale and I am a Conservative. But being a Conservative can mean different things to different people. I used to believe in the death penalty. I used to think Identity cards were a bloody good idea. I used to believe that if you had nothing to hide, then you had nothing to fear. I used to think that the proliferation of CCTV cameras was a good thing. I used to trust the state to protect us by whatever means necessary from terrorism. I thought banning Gerry Adams from the airwaves was exactly the right thing to do. In short, I was your classical authoritarian Tory. Keith Joseph said in 1975 "It was only in April 1974 that I was converted to Conservatism - I had thought I was a Conservative but I now see that I was not really one at all”. He was talking about economics, but I could say the same about freedom. And it’s taken ten years of the most authoritarian government in living memory to show me what protecting rights and protecting freedoms actually means. I recall the words of Ronald Reagan, who said that the most scary words in the English language were "I'm from the government and I am here to help".
The fact that this convention is taking place at all is testament to the fact that thousands, hundreds of thousands, no millions of people are now more concerned about losing some of their fundamental freedoms than at any other time in our recent political history. Some of us thought things would improve with the departure of Tony Blair, but they have if anything got worse.
So if David Cameron were to become Prime Minister, what would change? Just how committed is he to the very concept of civil liberties. How much sway do the likes of Michael Gove and George Osborne have compared with civil libertarians like Dominic Grieve. Now that David Davis has dispatched himself into the outer wilderness what are we to expect of Chris Grayling, whose first pronouncements in the job have hardly cast him as a defender of liberty. Why have civil liberties, which used to be the preserve of the left, have been adopted by many on the right. What would a civil liberties agenda mean for minorities under a Tory government and how might a Tory administration react to a new terror attack? Would it abandon a civil liberties agenda and retreat into its more traditional authoritarian bunker, or stick to the principles which have guided its approach over the last three years? And finally, what effect will the recession have on the Tories’ commitment to individual freedom and prosperity?
The 120 strong audience in my session was very middle class and contained a strong LibDem contingent, who seemed baffled by any Tory commitment to civil liberties, which they clearly thought was skin deep. One of them illustrated the LibDem dilemma perfectly. He railed against the Tory policy of allowing local communities to decide whether they want CCTV, prefering instead a Whitehall knows best approach. How very liberal of him.
I think Alix Mortimer was live blogging the session at if you want to pop over there. It's an entertaining read.
Meanwhile, my head is throbbing like a... well, a throbbing head, and I am coughing my guts up. Am doing News 24 paper review later. Wonder if I will get through it a) without coughing and b) without infecting anyone. In the meantime I am heckling by coughing at the Liberal Conspiracy Bloggers Summit. And infecting, no doubt. I'm a sharing person, after all.