Carnival of Modern Liberty

2:44 am - February 28th 2009

by James Graham    

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carnival on modern liberty logoWelcome to the sixth Carnival on Modern Liberty. We’re back at Liberal Conspiracy, in eager anticipation of the Convention on Modern Liberty which will be taking place today (as if you didn’t know…).

My thanks to Our Kingdom, Lib Dem Voice, Yorksher Gob and Wardman Wire for keeping it going over the past few weeks.

Would you like to host a future edition? If so, then drop me a line on and I’ll slot you in.

This week we have revelations that our government may be complicit in torture, ongoing attempts to undermine Freedom of Information, tasering children and nosy civil servants. But it isn’t all bad news, as the media coverage of the Convention has been reaching fever pitch.

If you are attending, make sure you head over to the bloggers’ summit at lunchtime, co-hosted by Liberal Conspiracy and Comment is Free. And whether you are attending or not, make sure you register on the new Convention social network.

Coverage of the Convention itself

Mainstream Media

Andrew Gilligan gives it a plug in The Standard: “In the Second World War, millions risked their lives for liberty; hundreds of thousands gave their lives. Now, when the risk is by comparison so much smaller, the death toll so comparatively tiny, we are shamed and surprised by our rulers’ surrender to repression.”

Bagehot in The Economist describes the Convention as “A mob of Britain’s finest eccentrics” and speculates whether the civil liberties agenda can get mainstream support during an economic downturn, but concludes “Liberty could turn out to be one of the few things that prosper in the slump.”

On a similar theme, Mary Riddell writes in the Telegraph: “No law of economics decrees that oppressive countries get richer faster. Yet already recession ushers in an age of presumed guilt. With war declared on bankers, terror suspects and children, we may soon see the green belt concreted over for Titan prisons, leaving only a rump of angry citizens to breathe the tainted air of British freedom.”

The Observer has produced a list of what it calls “The New Freedom Fighters.” Er, I’m not convinced this list comprises of much more than Robert McCrum’s regular dinner party set (worthy though they may be), a point which Anthony Barnett himself acknowledges on OurKingdom. Any nominees for the real new freedom fighters?

Writing to promote the Scottish Convention on Modern Liberty, Dr Geraint Bevan comes up with this rather useful metaphor in the Daily Mail has got in on the act (and it is a sign of the value of the Convention that it has even managed to get the Daily Mail expressing concern about civil liberties): “Town Hall Stasi routinely deploy anti-terrorist powers to snoop on dog foulers and families suspected of cheating school catchment area rules.”

Blogs, etc.

Spyblog has produced a fantastic list of “Practical things to do and bring to the Convention on Modern Liberty

The Libertarian Party South East would like to remind you about their Alternative Convention on Modern Liberty.

Flesh is Grass welcomes the Convention, with some qualifiers: “Yes, as proclaimed on the front page, our fundamental freedoms are under attack from counter-terrorism. But terrorism itself is also an attack. When rights and freedoms butt against each other, how are decisions best made? I can’t see much about that in the programme.”

Paul Sims from New Humanist explains why they signed up to the Convention: “While at first you might think that New Humanist doesn’t have the same direct stake in these issues as groups like, say, Liberty or No2ID, the events of the past few weeks have shown how the right to free speech can be threatened by the actions of the British government. The implementation twice in one week of new rules designed to exclude foreigners expected to engage in “unacceptable behaviour”, firstly to ban the anti-Islam Dutch MP Geert Wilders from visiting the House of Lords, and then to ban the Westboro Baptist Church from picketing a play in Basingstoke, seems to have set a disturbing precedent.”

Simon Barrow from Ekklesia gives us his take: “Will faith groups turn in upon themselves, resort to aggressive popularism and shy away from sharing free public space with others? Or can they develop global understandings of citizenship and shared responsibility, rooted in the reflectiveness of their own specific traditions, which open doors and expose abuses of power?”

Dan Lockton on Design with Intent speaks for a lot of us: “I’m a normal person, trying my best to advance the progress of humanity, yet I feel that the government has contempt for me as a member of the public in general, on an everyday basis. Everywhere we go, we are watched, monitored, surveilled, threatened, considered guilty. We shouldn’t have to live like this.”

1000 words a day brings it all back to Margaret Thatcher’s dictum “there is no such thing as society“: “Having accepted (gratefully) Thatcher’s dictum, no organisation such as a corporation (or, somewhat bizarrely, government) need have any responsibility either for its own members (or employees) or for anyone outside itself. This is because a corporation is composed of individuals, and so is not a Society; and a corporation cannot itself be a part of a Society which does not exist.”

Identity Cards

One story which received surprisingly little comment outside of the computer press is the revelation that “staff at 30 local authorities have been responsible for ‘serious security breaches’ in the government database that will form the core of the national ID cards programme.” (ComputerWeekly). Ditto, revelations that the government is continuing to appeal a decision by the Information Tribunal (more of which in a moment) to release internal reports into the feasibility of the government’s ID cards programme on the grounds that doing so “would have jeopardised support from government agencies“. Hat tip to Helen Duffett’s twitter feed for both items of information.

Himmelgarten Cafe meanwhile comments on revelations that that researchers have found a way to bypass facial recognition systems on several laptop, its implications for ID cards and Meg Hillier, the government’s latest database state cheerleader.

War? What is it good for?

The answer to this perennial question has been blocked from release by Jack Straw this week, who has intervened to block the release of minutes pertaining to the decision to invade Iraq. Chicken Yoghurt comments: “Straw says he’s vetoing the release of 2003 cabinet minutes where the legality of the war was ‘discussed’ because they would do serious damage to cabinet government. What we know however, thanks to the Butler Inquiry is that, at the time, cabinet government was in the toilet.” David Hencke calls it a “disgrace.”

Meanwhile, Lib Dem Voice have been taking the Tories to task for looking both ways in the debate and David Davis’s muted response despite highlighting the dangers of such a blanket veto in the legislation when it was going through Parliament in 2000.

Finally, those perennial defenders of elective dictatorship Spiked have leapt to Jack Straw’s defence: “Democracy does not mean revealing every off-the-cuff comment made in committee meetings or rush-written ‘memo of concern’ sent between ministers; democracy is something more profound than that.” Er, no, it doesn’t Brendan, but that is why the government has a right to appeal and argue their case until the cows come home (which it has declined to use in favour of a blanket ban).

The UK complicit in torture and rendition?

This is also the week the government’s constant denials that they had in any way been involved in illegal rendition (and thus torture) finally ran into the ditch. Mr Eugenides contrasts John Hutton’s apology with Jack Straw’s categorical denial and accusation about conspiracy theories back in 2005. Not a sheep agrees.

Meanwhile, Binyam Mohammed has been released from Guantanamo Bay. The Guardian have issued his statement on return as a comment piece. David Milliband says that the government takes allegations of condoning or cooperating with torture seriously (presumably this involves calling the accusers “conspiracy theorists” a la Jack Straw). And Duncan Campbell draws an explicit link between Binyam Mohammed and Gary McKinnon.

Finally, former Labour Leadership contender Bryan Gould has “disowned this government.” Tom Harris MP’s reaction is an illustrative example of the degree of denial within the Labour backbenches and can best be summed up as “not listening, not listening, not listening… loser! Quitter! You can’t have an opinion if you live in New Zealand, anyway.”

Young People – a serious threat to our civil liberties

The police’s taste for tasering people has come under some scrutiny. Meanwhile, those stalwart defenders of our traditional liberties, the Conservatives, have come up with a tremendous new plan to deal with youth crime: home internment for up to a month on the swish of a pen by a magistrate. As Chicken Yoghurt asks: “So where’s David Davis, that doughty defender of civil liberties, when you need him? Didn’t he once accuse the government of ‘casually disregarding our civil liberties in the face of problems to which it has no adequate solutions’?”

Lib Dem Freedom Bill

Not surprisingly, this has been welcomed with varying degrees of ecstacy from Lib Dem bloggers such as Rob Parsons, Jonathan Calder and Alix Mortimer while the Tory Thunder Dragon snorts that “after a few headlines they’ll revert back to their authoritarian ways” (a comment which even taking into Huhne’s comments about Geert Wilders last week must rank as one of the most self-delusional of 2009 thus far).

SpyBlog has responded with some criticisms and a pinch of cynicism. The Libertarian Party has dismissed it as being “mere tinkering.”

More comment from teekblog and the Church of Atheism. Steven Farrington takes Huhne to task for misrepresenting George Orwell’s 1984 (he makes a fair point we could all do with remembering).

Next week…

The Carnival lives on! Jonathan Calder takes over next week over on Liberal England.

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About the author
James is an occasional contributor to Liberal Conspiracy. He blogs at: Quaequam Blog!
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Reader comments

Will be chairing a Fabian/Compass session there a bit later on about liberty and the left. So some thoughts on the event, particularly on Labour and civil liberties, and the Tory engagement with the issue

Tremendous survey – thanks!

Reactions: Twitter, blogs
  1. Liberal Conspiracy

    New blog post: Carnival of Modern Liberty

  2. Helen Duffett

    Inordinately chuffed by the words, “Hat tip to Helen Duffett’s twitter feed”

  3. Liberal Conspiracy

    New blog post: Carnival of Modern Liberty

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