Join us at the Convention on Modern Liberty

9:46 am - January 13th 2009

by Sunny Hundal    

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Are you concerned about the increasing threat to our civil liberties from this government? Do you fear that our culture is becoming too accommodating of authoritarian sentiments? Do you worry about how much power the police are being given every day?

Do you want to fight for your liberties? Do you want to meet with others and get organised? Well, the time has come for that.

On 28th of February a group of people and organisations from across the political spectrum are holding the Convention On Modern Liberty across Britain.

This isn’t just about the triumvirate of big issues such as ID cards, CCTV and the DNA database (42 days is thankfully out of the picture now but still in the background). It also incorporates other issues such as collecting information on football fans, increasing police powers not just to snoop on us, but also on terrorism related legislation.

The mainstream liberal-left has become far too accommodating of encroaching state power in recent years, justifying it simply because a supposedly left-wing government was in power.

For me, the left should always be suspicious of state power because it is usually biased towards powerful vested interests against the rights of the common woman or man.

The main organisers: openDemocracy and Liberty, have also brought in partners including NO2ID, Amnesty UK, Unlock Democracy, the Guardian and more. There are even organisations on the right such as the Countryside Alliance and some Tories. I think its time we accepted that in order to win the battle on civil liberties, we have to involve everyone, not just the left.

So, what does this mean for you?

openDemocracy have been kind enough to offer a special panel discussion for bloggers, which will be organised by Liberal Conspiracy. I would like to give an activist feel, not just a space for a calm talking-heads discussion with people coming out more frustrated than they went in.

Over the coming weeks, we need to ask:
– how we should look at privacy differently;
– how different powers affect our liberties, uniting football fans, clubbers, Muslims and even technologists.
– what can be done about it.

Ideally, I’d like to see a situation where, by the time we get to the event, we are looking to get organised and move forward, not just reiterate the issues that could have been discussed online anyway.

As Henry Porter said recently:

It is in the small stories that you see society changing. In a different context, innocence was no protection for a couple in Poole whose local council used anti-terror laws to watch them after they had applied to a new school for their child; or the policeman in Wales who was suffering from depression and went off sick only to become the subject of a £100,000 surveillance operation by his colleagues; or the football fans who were issued with Form 27 under the Violent Crime Reduction Act and prevented from attending matches, or, finally, the care worker who was stopped from getting a job – even in a supermarket – because of unproven allegations kept on police files.

We need your ideas and thoughts. What can be done? What should be done? How can we get organised? Who would you like to help, and how? Is everything being blown out of proportion?

The CoML website is here.

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About the author
Sunny Hundal is editor of LC. Also: on Twitter, at Pickled Politics and Guardian CIF.
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Story Filed Under: Blog ,Civil liberties ,Events ,Our democracy

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Reader comments

I won’t be able to go but sounds an extremely worthwhile campaign.

(Despite the presence of the Guardian…!!)

I would be there, with bells on, but I’m out of the country that day. Hope there are good write ups

I would like to suggest we greatly reduce the scope of our libel laws and promote an act supporting free speech. Many people have become so sensitive that if any one says something they disagree with , they become offended. If we look at the cartoons in the 18 C, Brtons seemed to have a far thicker skin. There used to be a saying ” sticks and stones will break by bones bit words will never hurt”. A free society needs freedom of expression.

It would be good to see the IUSW and ECP there, have they been invited. The liberties of those they represent are being eroded by this Government.

5. douglas clark


Another target group of folk that are being messed about are photographers.

By the way, and sort of off topic, what ever happened to the CiC thread? Starting something is all very well, but finishing it is important too. If Thomas is busy or unavailable, I’d be quite happy to summarise the comments. But only if we intend to present it.

If people really care about civil liberties and the growth of the State, why don’t they just stop voting Labour?

Sounds interesting, I’m up for it.

I will be there.

Getting an EDM in support of a broad ranging “Public interest” defence to defamation would be a really good move – and if the CoML could put a bunch of MPs in a room, get them to hammer out the wording, get it approved by the Convention and submitted to the Commons thereafter, I think it would be a good day’s work.


I like the sound of this, but we all must be clear about what we want to achieve. Talking amongst ourselves about what we all agree on must be avoided. If we aim to build an “action plan” it will keep everyone focused.

would like 2 come – am with Charlie above on prioritising a discussion about libel and libel laws.

11 comments in and no-one has pointed out the typo in the title. Middle classes, I am disappointed in you!

I was just, erm, testing everyone on their spelling. You win a mug sanbikinoraion!

Douglas – good point about photographers.(also, I’ll do the CIC roundup this week).

David Nikel – definitely agree. Are you interested in writing more about this?

Keep the suggestions and ideas coming… Anthony from OurKingdom will be reading and taking notes (as will others from the convention).

like the sound of this, but we all must be clear about what we want to achieve. Talking amongst ourselves about what we all agree on must be avoided. If we aim to build an “action plan” it will keep everyone focused.

Indeed – we need to focus not on “what” but on “how”.

I would add that if you can’t attend the London event, we are planning a number of regional events around the country – and will be encouraging people to hold local events too.

I’ll be there, hopefully.

(As an aside, will anyone be at the Progressive London bloggers fringe?)


I’ll be at Progressive London too…. didn’t know they had a bloggers fringe though,.. haven’t seen the programme.

Yay,. On board.

I’m already a mug, thanks, Sunny.

20. the a&e charge nurse

How about jettisoning “modern”.

This term almost always implies a rerebranding, or rehashing of exisiting ideas (rather than anything that’s actually original, or new).

Too NuLab for my liking.

Are you kidding? I am thrilled that anyone even thinks there is hope for liberty in “modern” Britain. If such spin tricks statist dinosaurs into listening for a few hours (as they would not if anyone mentioned “ancient liberties”) I am all for it.

I’m not sure it’s the “statist dinosaurs” who are the problem. It’s the “modern” New Labour types who I find are most dismissive of concerns over civil liberties.

Shouldn’t there be a ‘much’ in this sentence from the 1st paragraph:

Do you worry about how power the police is being given every day?

Yes, and it should be the police are being given. And “accomodating” is spelt wrong.

Actually, sod civil liberties I’m going to campaign for proper spelling and grammar in this country.

Doh! Look, I wrote it quickly before rushing out last night and queued it for this morning. The mistakes are all mine and I hang my head in shame for them. All amended now, you bastards 😛

Thanks for this great post, Sunny.

We (the Convention team) certainly will be reading all the comments and suggetions on this thread and taking them on board.

If any bloggers would like to come to the bloggers summit please link to us or send me an email (details on the site) and Ill add you to our list on the site. Any bloggers who can’t make London but are attending one of the regional and national meetings can do the same.

Guy Aitchison
Convention on Modern Liberty

Hate to rain on the parade, but I was just looking at the site and it seems that attendance costs £35 a head. Are there going to be strippers or something?

£35? There’s no way I can make it down to London on top of that…

“Are there going to be strippers or something?”

Not officially, but it’s rumoured that Henry Porter’s going to give us a whirl.

I might be wrong, James, but I never usually am – have a look at the site Guy Aichison’s name is linked to on comment #28 and let us know what you think. There’s a big thingee at the top saying Buy Tickets.

Hey man – I want something better than Porter for £35.

Yeah, it’s £35

To be fair I guess these things cost a fair amount to organise. I occasionally go to conferences for work and it usually costs a few hundred quid a day, which is a lot more even if you bear in mind that they are profit making events.

… point being, Andrew, that you’ve got job. So have I, fortunately, but there’s a recession on and all, and already one person has indicated that the cost will be a bit high for him. I was just a bit surprised to find a supposedly inclusive event with a price tag of some substance, and I wondered if it meant that some people wouldn’t be able to attend.

Kate, yes fair point. It is only £20 for concessions but I guess that’s still a fair bit if you don’t have a job, especially if you add travel costs.

35. Alisdair Cameron

Travel costs alone mean that there won’t be too may folk from the frozen North of England, let alone Scotland, Wales, N.I.. travel time also dictates having to find accommodation for the night, or attend for only about 45 minutes.

Any chance of ‘satellite’ events for us ‘provincial’ types, who believe it or not are also subject to illiberal authoritarianism (often unreported as it’s not happening in London town), who by the by also happen to make up the vast majority of the population.

More timely than ever, given Straw is trying to bloody well sneak back the idea of private (i.e. cover-up) inquests:

36. Alisdair Cameron

Sorry, bollocksed up that link: it’s on the Guardian site, anyhow…

Participation at the regional and national parallel sessions which we are currently in the process of setting up will be free – plus obviously you won’t have to travel to London.

We’ve tried to keep the ticket price as low as possible and they are heavily subsidised. It’s 20 if you’re unwaged or a student and there’s a group discount too (details on the website) and as James points out the regional and national meetings are free.

Hey everyone: many thanks for a great post Sunny. Pockets first, these events cost a lot and this one is subsidised by grants etc, the £35, or £20 if you are unwaged or a student, includes sany and fruit lunch – and am and pm teas and coffee, which cost all in all about £10 a head. We could have not included them but then everyone spends half their time between events waiting in line, to pay for a cup of tea. In my experience the best moments are often meeting people between panels so we decided to include catering and not police the food. The ticket price is very inexpensive.

More imp – how can people participate if they can’t come to the London or a linked event on the day? How do we link the issues, change public attitudes and make a wider impact?

On ‘Modern’. Well, I just don’t think we should surrender the future to New Labour. Sure, they have devalued the word ‘modern’ but we needed a way to say that we want to draw on the traditions of liberty but not be seen as being exclusive or thinking that there are not big modern (there you go!) challenges in terms of IT etc.

A quibble – can you please try to stop portraying ‘the right’ as being against liberty? As a rightist myself, I support the freedom of the law-abiding individual to do as he pleases. Perhaps you disagree with fox-hunting or gun ownership but do these things not qualify as part of the broader spectrum of liberty?

Tory – we’re certainly not trying to portray the right as being against liberty. A look at the Convention website will show you that we’re aiming to be genuinely cross-party. One of the first videos we’ve shot for the site (which will go up next week) is a great video by Peter Oborne. Sunny has also made one.

Does the £35 include lunch? And coffees?

I have just found out about the Convention and am very excited by the thought of a large number of civil liberties groups coming together to fight ID cards, ever increasing state surveillance and so on. The fight for basic liberties must, however, must not just focus on what our current government is doing but what is being visited upon us in this policy area by the European Union as well. The new EU data retention directive will be introduced shortly here without any parliamentary debate by a statutary instrument included under the European Communities Act 1972. Our government, of course, is an enthusiastic backer of this measure and lobbied for it behind the scenes in the Council of Ministers so we have to assume a similar law would have been introduced anyway. However, the significance of it being initiated through a directive is that no future Tory or Lib Dem government, coalition will be able to reverse this measure. Once passed, it will effectively be taken off the political agenda whether we as citizens want it to be or not. Those organising the Convention will hopefully take into account the growing authoritarainsim of the supranational, as well as national, state.

Leon – Yes the £35 includes both lunch and teas and coffees.

marc – thanks for this, agree the EU is an important and frequently neglected part of this debate. Tony Bunyan of Statewatch will be speaking on this.

marc @ 45, we must indeed be very wary of policy laundering via the EU. The reason for doing it is that it shifts blame for possibly politically damaging proposals from our Government to ‘the EU’, such that the vast majority of people will think “EU interfering with us again” rather than our very own Beloved Leaders, and that it is sometimes easier to get such things done using the EU than domestic legislatures.

Leon – Yes the £35 includes both lunch and teas and coffees.

Well that’s sold it to me – I’ve booked my ticket


I’ll be there.

48. Habeas Corpus

First of all, let me just say that the protection of civil liberties is a must for any democratic state and therefore is something that i obviously feel strongly about. Living in the northeast i’m curious as to details of the linked events, although i can’t help but i feel somehow disadvanatged what with still being in school (well 6th form) as travel is an issue. Any help, particularly from people living in the northeast on what would be the cheapest option would be much apppreciated. On a sidenote this is the first time i’ve stumbled on this site and i must say it’s refreshing most of the people i know personnaly, either wern’t concerned or didnt care about id cards,goverment databases or any similar issues.

49. Jonathan Best

Got my ticket and looking forward to it. Henry Porter is the dogs bollocks I reckon. Just keeps plugging away at the subject until people have started to listen – and now act.
The possibility of neutralizing this government’s tendency towards authoritarianism is pretty unlikely though, so what are we prepared to do to stop this? Vote tory?
Now that scares the hell out of me.

habeas – there will be coordinated action across the country so don’t feel left out… see the website on how you can do something locally… we want to make this a national event.

The habit of banning is difficult to throw off, I wish I could be there, but I know I would get far to a hostile reaction.

I became aware of the event as aresult of yesterday’s Guardian. I am both interested and I intend to particcipate.

This country has a desperate need to remind itself that as the cradle of democracy it has a role to play (and indeed a responsibility to exercise that role) in remedying the appauling situation the world is in.

Political apathy on the part of the people who appear to be more concerned with voting on “Big Brother” (oh the irony!) than engaing in a political process that took centuries of sacrifice to acheive the right to participate in, is no longer acceptable.

Government, above all other forms of human activity, is the one in most need of regulating and checking. Those who guard our liberties and are trusted with the task of protecting our values hold a responsibility that is bordering on sacred.

But “who shall guard the guards?”

To my mind the answer is everyone of us who has, until prehaps recently, taken it for granted that this delicate and precious way of life will continue forever because it is our automatic birth right now has a responsibility to engage in the debate.

I am greatly heartened to see this event being organised and equally cheered by the participation of the caliber of persons such as Geoffrey Robertson, Helena Kennedy , Quitin Skinner and Dominic Raab.

Lets not forget the words of one of our more conservative political thinkers

“all that is require for the triumph of evil is that good men shall do nothing”

Edmund Burke.


Who’s turning up? Madonna?

I’d happily pay £35 to throw rotten fruit at Shami and Davis after their shocking silences in the last two weeks.

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