Are there votes in calls for freedom?

So was it all talk and no substance? Little more than an awkward clash with the 6 Nations? Probably a bit more than that, judging from the early press coverage. Civil liberties offer a welcome respite form recession. Yesterday’s Convention on Modern Liberty fielded an impressive line up of speakers on 8 centres including Belfast, from the left to the libertarian right, the former senior law lord and the last English DPP. One of the conference weaknesses was the failure – as usual – to merge regional concerns with the metropolitan – like who in London takes in the NI agenda any more? Perhaps in follow-up they can rectify this, but I’m not holding my breath. I suspect that most significant result of the day-long conference will be to help persuade David Cameron that first the first time ever, there may be votes to be won in slowing the trend towards the centralising, surveillance State. All parties in opposition pay lip-service to freedom of course, only to do a U-turn in office. For the Conservatives to stand for libertarian causes in power would be truly counter-intuitive. I detected signs of Tory wobble when the lawyerly Dominic Grieve was demoted from shadow Home Secretary to Justice and replaced by the more conventionally Tory Chris Grayling. At the Convention Grieve was pressed on Grayling’s call for “fewer rights and more wrongs.” From the Guardian:

But then Grieve sprung a genuine surprise and said that he wants the Conservative to promise a repeal bill of their own. This would include measures that the party is already pledged to, such as scrapping ID cards and ensuring that the DNA database does not include the samples of the innocent. But he also wants the party to promise that on coming to office they will carry out an audit of all the anti-terror and anti-crime legislation of the past 12 years and beyond. All those things that “are a fetter on liberty and have very few real benefits” would be got rid of.

With the interesting claim “Despite continuing party political division, there is evidence of growing support for a Bill of Rights at a community level in Northern Ireland”, the Belfast session covered human rights and a wide waterfront ( texts welcome ) and featured cross-community debate on policing and justice which looks as if it sprung no surprises.

Each of the panel members also noted the need for restraint, without appeals to populism that may exacerbate the ethno-religious divide in Northern Ireland. Yet a central paradox remains concerning public confidence in the criminal justice system; that adequate public confidence is required to facilitate the transfer of criminal justice, but only the transfer and effective governance of criminal justice shall create adequate public confidence.

  • Brian,

    David Davies with the closing speech played a blinder yesterday; this from The Observer:

    The British people wear their liberty like an old comfy suit, they are careless about it, but the mood is changing. Last year 80 per cent of people were in favour of ID cards, now 80 per cent are against. There’s a point of reflection that we are reaching, the communications database which is planned to collect every private text and phone call and petrol station receipt will create uproar.”

    That people had paid £35 a ticket to attend such an event was a real sign that people were waking up and getting irritated by the threat, he said. “We are getting on the way to becoming a police state and the surest thing I do know is that by the time we are sure we are, then it will be too late.”

    There is most definitely a very strong libertarian current within the UK Conservative party away from the centralised surveillance state (ID cards, 42 days etc) and what’s more, as you’ve identified, it’s a cause that is reflecting more and more UK public opinion.

  • Ulster needs freedom

    The Irish expansionist machine has kicked into gear since the BFA.

    Why can’t you Irish be satisfied with the southern half of the island? why do you need it all?

  • There was a good turn-out in Belfast for this event and an interesting marriage between the London-centred debate on civil liberties across the UK with our own discussions on human rights concerns closer to home (as well as further afield).

    As previously noted, for those who didn’t make it, there is a series of blogged reports posted at Belfast and Beyond – http://blogs.amnesty.org.uk/belfastandbeyond