Saturday, February 28, 2009

From the Convention on Modern Liberty

I have just finished chairing a session on "The Conservatives & Civil Liberties" at the Convention on Modern Liberty. Interestingly, there were no parallel sessions on the Labour Party, whose position on such matters seem rather more equivocal than the Tory stance.

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.


Dominic Allkins said...

Always had you down as a generous sharing person Iain. Keep it up :-)

Tim Hedges said...

Another night on the sauce. When will you learn?

Oldrightie said...

When I got here, I must admit I felt the event had a smack of a student conference circa 1983.

From where some good and some very awful Politicians emerged.

Dick the Prick said...

Well the lefties have made a right hash of it up till now so perhaps they need a boot up the arse.

Matt said...

your link to the blog had an extra "p" in it.
Was this a check to see how many of us would click on it, and go to the wrong site?

subrosa said...

Honey and balsamic vinegar made into a thin paste for the cough Iain and a spoonful as often as you like. You can warm it in the microwave a little. If that fails I suggest a bottle of Glenfiddich then you'll have a reason to feel rough.

I do hope you're going to do a post about it Oldrightie.

Salmondnet said...

Shame on you Iain. Using the liberal trick of conflating the death penalty with genuine civil liberty issues.

There are some very good reasons for having it and two quite good reasons for not having it. None of the arguments either way have anything to do with civil liberty.

Dick the Prick said...

If we're gonna have modern liberty we may as well have modern murder. The 2009 spring collection is especially glamourous - fabulous.

Liberty is the same as it's always been, putting a frock on it and asking it to play tabble tennis until Tuesday don't make it so.

Liberty is Tory - just write an account of it and allow discretion.

Unknown said...

Iain - The best thing about the Tory workshop was your introduction which asked all the right questions. I just felt the answers were incoherent and confusing. If David Davis or Dominic Grieve were in charge of party policy on civil liberties and human rights, I would be more confident. I'm still afraid that under pressure the Tory party in government will line up with Richard Littlejohn and the Sun. I suspect you are just as afraid as I am. Philip Blond's communitarian arguments deserve a closer look but were unclear to me. I didn't think some of the panel members had thought through the issues at all. Nobody is going to abolish CCTV in the name of liberalism; but a true liberal understands that the state (parliament and the courts) exists to defend people's liberties and rights. That means clear national legislation for how CCTV surveillance is used, not an ACPO-led free-for-all. Smart surveillance technologies allowing facial and behavioural recognition make this imperative. These rules can't just be devolved to individual communities. That was my point. It may seem paradoxical to you, but I don't think you've thought very hard about the issues either.

Dimoto said...

Hmm, that's a bit odd.
Didn't you realise that the Liberals were taken over by Social Democrat carpetbaggers in 1988 ?
If there was a real Liberal party, they could be quite a force, but the frustrated Social Democrats who dominate the LibDems can only think of finagling themselves back into a Labour government.