Where do our liberties go from here?


10:44 am - March 28th 2009

by Anthony Barnett    


      Share on Tumblr

I’ve never been part of anything that got so many congratulatory messages than the Convention on Modern Liberty, and enquiries about what next and “how do we turn the energy into action?” So, how do we?

Jack Straw in his sniffy Guardian article said, “My very good constituency office files show no recent correspondence relating to fears about the creation in Britain of a ‘police state’ or a ‘surveillance society'”. Can we answer Straw by taking the energy of the Convention to the country?

My sense is that the Convention generated its positive energy because it brought at least four things together in different ways:

1. It joined up the widest range of issues linked to liberties and rights, connecting arguments already being made by the fantastic organisations working in the field. At the heart of this is the aim of stopping New Labour’s hi-tech authoritarian state and its corporate backers now ominously recasting the whole relationship between the state and citizen. But it went much wider, looking at the range of threats we face – from the criminialisation of protest to Britain’s pernicious libel laws. Separately, these may get media coverage as stories. But the overall implication does not.

2. It linked up with a surprising and wide range of organisations, partners, campaigns, magazines and blogs – and already new alliances are forming.

3. It was cross-party and open-minded in its engagement with the issues

4. It combined web, video, meetings across the UK (special thanks NO2ID!) and this gave it a sense of public outreach, youth and seriousness

Can we build on this achievement, or, as Sunny Hundal of Liberal Conspiracy put it, “start an insurgency that wins our rights back from the state”?

Two things are needed. A really wide, creative response that researches the issues, debates and blogs the different points of view, encourages festivals, class presentations, student networks – you name it. I think video testimony and clips of debate tagged from all quarters could be very attractive. But this is too diffused.

We also need an immediate aim that will help give some focus to the energy. This has to be negative in this sense: we have an opportunity to stop the core threats of a hi-tech authoritarian state now, before the election.

The Great Repeal Bill
So here’s an idea. We draw up a Great Repeal Bill written in accessible language that sets out all the things we want to stop and we ask people to take it to all elected politicians and candidates in public meetings and ask which parts they agree should be repealed.

We want the process to have a definite beginning, middle and end: it’ll only work if enough networks, organisations and people like the idea and commit to making it happen well before November.

The idea of a repeal bill is developed (OK, stolen) from the Liberal Democrat Freedom Bill but would be different in: a) language, b) the way it is written, and c) by not being presented as a piece of all-or-nothing politics. Neither individuals nor organisations would have to endorse all of it to engage with politicians and public in a wide educational campaign that asks for discriminating responses.

The aim is to create a talking point that links the issues, deepens Conservative commitments, seeks a Labour U-turn and ensures that the positive arguments are not confined to the Lib Dems and Greens.

We should draw it up in an open way. For example, we could ask the UCL Student Human Right network to write a draft. We put this on the web and get input. You only get good participation on the web if people know what will happen to it.

One suggestion is that we create in advance a ‘jury’ combining well-known and representative figures to assess all the suggestions and decide the version that is taken to the country by June. (People can always propose their additions after that).

At the same time we see how many people round the country want to volunteer to create temporary groups or networks and how they want to engage people – through local media, the web, town meetings, pub discussions. Maybe it should also be reinforced by a celebrity battlebus!

How would we run this? The website could be registered in the hands of the funders whose trusts, foundations and generosity made the Convention possible and whose aim will be to ensure a process that is open to all and privileges none. This should also help ensure that it is temporary. Like all would-be movements however large or small, we are the expression of a moment not an institution.

The outcomes? A map of what candidates, Tories especially, agree should be repealed. A deepened public and media sense of the threatening new role of the state. A mobilisation that will help to defeat this by the next election.

If we do stop the state’s authoritarian momentum all sorts of interesting debates will then open up about what next. By their nature these won’t be consensual. They are bound to take on competing organisational forms, certainly across the blogosphere, and not least within the Labour Party and the trade unions if Labour loses the election and has to figure out why and what to do.

We want to influence this debate too. The earlier the better. Personally, I don’t have huge trust that a Cameron government will not be seduced by the attractions of central power. Even if it does abolish ID cards I want it to have an opposition that demands more of the same, not less.

    Share on Tumblr   submit to reddit  


About the author
Anthony Barnett is a regular contributor, and editor of the blog Our Kingdom. Also a founder member of OpenDemocracy and Charter 88. He co-organised the Convention on Modern Liberty.
· Other posts by


Story Filed Under: Blog ,Civil liberties ,Events ,Westminster

Sorry, the comment form is closed at this time.


Reader comments


What exactly is wrong with the Lib Dem Freedom Bill that means you can’t get behind it? Why split our energies?

What San said

3. Shatterface

Actually (1) is a very good question. Other than the fact it is identified with one party, and the language might not be as accessable – neither of which are big issues to me – what’s the problem?

So what if it is – currently – associated with one party? All that means is that there actually is a political party serious about giving us our freedoms back. I would have thought that that in itself was worth supporting. But even if not, it is surely a shallow believer in freedom indeed who refused to support a good idea just because their tribe didn’t come up with it first.

(Sorry, Shatterface, that comes off as rather aggressive towards you, and it really was not meant to be, more a general wail of despair!)

What San said. Again.

“by not being presented as a piece of all-or-nothing politics.”

But, Anthony, the Lib Dems didn’t present the Freedom Bill as such.

From the Freedom Bill website:

“This is not intended to be an exhaustive list of all the freedoms that have been lost in recent years. Sadly, there are too many. It is intended to be a starting point – to show people how much personal liberty has been stripped away by this Government and the one before it. The Freedom Bill and the corresponding website is a consultative document. We want to hear from you. What have we missed? What have we got wrong? What do you disagree with? Where should we have gone further? Which do you think are the most important rights to restore? What else would you like to see on the website? We hope that this is the start of the journey towards a freer Britain.”

http://freedom.libdems.org.uk/the-freedom-bill/

The thread where the main provisions of the bill are published currently has 169 comments arguing and suggesting improvements. Most are from non-Lib Dems. That sounds like a consultation to me.

I think it’s a great idea to get human rights experts to draw up an alternative version, but then why not simply take it to the Lib Dems, ask them to put it on the site and get the commenters to agree on what elements should be merged from which bill. By all means let’s run parallel campaigning efforts, but for heaven’s sake let’s not aim for two bills! As others have said above, why split our efforts and our audience?

And what’s with this jury business? Sounds a little cliquey to me. In the age of the internet, why not just cut out the middleman, get your experts to draw up a draft and open it to all comers, like the Lib Dems have?

Finally, you may not know this but you’ve actually stolen the Great Repeal Bill tag as well. This idea has been around in Lib Dem circles since Clegg was shadow home secy and that’s what the Freedom Bill was called when he set it up. It’s just that nobody was paying any attention to civil liberties then. Now they are and you think the best way to capitalise is to set up another parallel effort to engage them?

I’m sorry, Anthony, but frankly this smacks of you and a few hangers-on wanting to have lots of cosy and important-feeling chats in Islington bars rather than actually wanting to engage in a process of change. There’s a palpable sense of you wanting ownership of the project more than you want the project to actually succeed.

I hope to be convinced otherwise. I thought the CoML was fantastic, in concept, design and execution. It really was a brilliantly pulled off job. Please don’t ruin it.

I’m sorry, Anthony, but frankly this smacks of you and a few hangers-on wanting to have lots of cosy and important-feeling chats in Islington bars rather than actually wanting to engage in a process of change

Erm, how is that? Now, I don’t want to get involved in more sectarianism, because this is starting to all sound like that.

the point is that the Freedom Bill is a good starting point and we can build on that. But: (I think, others from COML may disagree):

1) It’s not written in a language I think is easily accessible.

2) It does not cover everything, including other ideas people have put forward, when discussing or thinking about liberty.

3) Just using that will be seen as a trojan horse by the other parties and will then be rejected by them.

I think any such alliance to push our civil liberties has to be seen non-party political. Trying to sell the country, or the other parties, just the Freedom Bill, will be seen as one big Libdem entryist attempt.

I realise Libdems on this forum won’t see it that way, but the COML organisers were constantly accused of that earlier too. We have to engage the broader left in this conversation too.

get your experts to draw up a draft and open it to all comers, like the Lib Dems have?

The ‘jury’ will be those ‘experts’ and then it will be opened up to everyone. That is exactly the plan. We do want to open it up to everyone, and there was a discussion of having it open Wiki-style but I think that’s too cumbersome and open to abuse.

A Great Repeal Bill would be a wonderful idea, IMO. The Lib Dem Freedom Bill would be a good place to start. As Alix (@7) pointed out, it isn’t meant to be an exhaustive list of all the freedoms we’d like to take back.

As for how the website could be structured, I wonder if it would be possible to use/adapt the structure on the whitehouse.gov open for questions website where people can suggest questions and vote questions up or down.

“the Freedom Bill is a good starting point and we can build on that”

But you’re not planning to “build on it” are you. You’re planning to create a rival proposition.

“1) It’s not written in a language I think is easily accessible.”

Yeah, I thought that was an odd objection when I first heard Anthony use it. The Freedom Bill is written in the language of, well, legislation. Because it’s a piece of legislation. Legislation doesn’t contain oratory and sweeping statements – in fact part of the problem with Labour’s legislation is that its terms are far too broad, and effectively allow for councils to, e.g. use RIPA powers to investigate dog poo etc. That lack of technical specificity is part of the problem, it’s not something we want to encourage.

Now it’s a perfectly good idea (indeed normal drafters’ practice) to have a set of Explanatory Notes to show what the bill is about – and since they won’t be enacted in law, they can be as Plain English as we like. That would a good idea.

But if you want to seriously propose a piece of legislation then it should be a workable piece of legislation that uses normal drafting conventions. I need to know more about what you mean by “making the language more accessible”, I think, but at the moment it just sounds like a recipe for bad law.

“2) It does not cover everything, including other ideas people have put forward, when discussing or thinking about liberty.”

So go to the comment thread on the website and put the ideas on there. Better still, like I say, get your guys to draw up an alternative, arrange a meeting with Chris Huhne as a CoML collective and convince him that your provisions are better. Then all of us can get happily behind the resulting document. Just setting up a rival seems to fly in the face of what the Lib Dem consultative Freedom Bill site is trying to do.

“3) Just using that will be seen as a trojan horse by the other parties and will then be rejected by them.”

This is by far your strongest argument, but all you have to do to get round it is aim to create a broader liberal movement annexed to the main bill. Which I think would be a great idea. Battle buses, local campaigning, all fantastic, doesn;’t have to have a yellow bird anywhere near it. But not to co-ordinate the main creation of the bill with another group already aiming for the same thing seems like such an insane duplication of effort that I can’t only think of unworthy motives for it.

“the COML organisers were constantly accused of that earlier too”

Really? That would be deeply bizarre given that no Lib Dem politician had a keynote speech, which did not go unnoticed. If anything the buzz on the day was that it was the Tories who were the entryists.

“one big Libdem entryist attempt. ”

Look: do you agree with the long and honourably held Lib Dem stance on civil liberties or not?

At what point does an “entryist attempt” become a “legitimate programme for necessary change”? Were Labour “entrysists” when they came in in 1997 with a programme of saving the trashed public sector?

“The ‘jury’ will be those ‘experts’ and then it will be opened up to everyone. That is exactly the plan. ”

That’s not what Anthony said on the recording of his piece at the Big Chill meeting and it’s not what he’s saying here either. He’s saying he has some human rights people at UCL, and that they will draft something up and that will go to be assessed by a jury appointed by, apparently, Anthony, with the common consent of the people he regularly has coffee with.

OK

Let’s see if I’m getting this straight.

One of the major parties has proposed legislation to help us regain some of our freedoms. Of course It does not go far enough (and is articulated by someone who has shown that he is not instinctively in tune with individual liberties) but, if enacted, it would be a welcome step in the right direction for once.

But there’s a problem. The Labour supporters on this site cannot be seen to support it because to do so would be disloyal. So instead they propose to try to hijack the policy using the COML as the stalking horse. Please try to understand that our freedom is more important than your misplaced party loyalty and until you can get your own party to mend their authoritarian ways it would be more helpful if you did not try to muddy the waters.

Or if you are serious about civil liberties you might need to consider your position.

I am in agreement with #1 – but I do feel that there is a need for the language to be plain, uncluttered English.

I will certainly be looking out for more information so I can turn my blog into a place where I can get as much out as possible – if you want to add me to an email list that you may be starting then please go to my blog, click on contact me and I will reply with the mail I normally monitor – the one I use here is a live.ca web based one that I look at maybe once a week.

Whichever way you go, I am on-board with it. But I do agree with the Freedom Bill (although it does need tweaking, a lot) – and would hope that that is a real starting point as I will be upping my blogging over the time remaining to support the LibDems – neither Labour nor Tory can be trusted Re: Last 30 years.

I was involved in creating the Freedom Bill website – http://freedom.libdems.org.uk – so no surprise that I think the choice of language for the bill is right. The main three reasons for choosing to put it in the words of legislation were:

a) It means the Bill does exactly what it says. However detailed or tangential your query is, you can look at the wording of the Bill and work out whether the Bill does what you do or don’t want it to do. ‘Plain English’ has many merits, but in this context it risks actually confusing the issue because you’re no longer being clear about exactly what you’re doing. That’s particularly important because…

b) This is an area where the devil is very much in the detail. Sure, there are some broad questions (ID cards – yes or no?) but on many issues it’s the details that really matter (e.g. with phone tapping the issue for nearly everyone isn’t the principle but the practical details of who, how, when and under what controls).

c) By drafting it as legislation you get over the credibility issue. You can point to the Bill on any particular point and show how yes, it is possible to draft legislation that protects our liberties without suddenly giving criminals free range. That credibility it seems to me is very important to win over doubters.

14. douglas clark

And this is how the left falls apart, is it not?

I’d be quite happy to sign up for either, but instead of that we fall out over ownership. The managerialists of the State or Parliament must be laughing in their Pimms….

Alix: “I hope to be convinced otherwise. I thought the CoML was fantastic, in concept, design and execution. It really was a brilliantly pulled off job. Please don’t ruin it.”

OK. So what do we do Alix? I want to convince you especially because In an earlier draft I quoted your brilliant blog of the day and how you’d said let’s do a second Convention, but then changed your mind in the Guardian. That was spot on. It was fantastic but there is no point in trying to do it again. So you helped inspire the process of asking, what else do we do? The aim has to be, as you say, “to engage in a process of change”.

And I agree very much with the first comment, I’m against splitting energies – obviously I support the Lib Dem Freedom Bill. But it is a party political proposal – a brilliant one – whose aim is to win support for the Lib Dems. But the energy at the moment is not in party politics. Frankly, it seems to me that it is cosy and running the risk of self-importance to claim as you seem to be doing that the only way forward is to “support us”.

Also the reason why the Convention succeeded was because none of us made any claim to “ownership of the project”. Alix, God spare us from another project, is my view. To suggest that the Tories are “entryists” is hardly the language of someone committed to being non-possessive. Surely the point is that their even tentative embrace of civil liberties is wonderful and to be celebrated.

So of course, this has to be an open and cooperative effort, with Lib Dems especially but aimed at where the change has to come from. Like the Convention it has to be open and educational. It is not a political campaign. It is not an ‘alternative’ Bill I’m suggesting. I’m very sorry if it appeared this way. Please don’t be defensive. (eg it is not a criticism by me that the Freedom Bill is written in parliamentary language and has explanatory footnotes, I thought this was a neat way to ensure Westminster credibility. But what good did this do it in terms of wider public recognition?)

There are three great political parties, larger and more important than the Lib Dems in the UK at the moment: the Tories (likely to win next year), Labour (likely to be main opposition) and the largest of them all, the party of those who don’t vote supported especially by the young.

But it was the young who drove the Convention. There is a real appetite to debate and discuss the issues it raised and how they are connected and what (without using the concepts in a crude or lifeless way) kind of state we should have and what it means to be a citizen, what it means to have rights and to protect the freedom of others. These questions, which really touch people today in a way that is rare and won’t last, open up arguments about identity and liberty here and now. Together – and only together – we can get this argument out to the country, and if we do it will lead to real change.

This is a debate that simply cannot be owned or controlled by anyone, any organisation or any party. If anything there is a conspiracy of anxiety about letting it take off. But this is what the country needs. It could do with being encouraged and inspired, and it needs some kind of initial focus. And it is urgent, the threats are current. And, as these comments show, once the election kicks in next year the logic and language of party interests will take over as they have to, and most people will be turned off.

So how can we take the issues to the people in a connected fashion? If I thought there was a chance that Nick Clegg could storm to an Obama-style victory as the young outsider with the Freedom Bill under his arm, the situation would be different. As it is, we have got to engage Tory and Labour supporters. Even more important we have got to engage the largest and youngest party of all in a debate that challenges them to make their own choices and priorities. That is why the one’s I’ve met so far like the idea of being presented with a menu not a manifesto. (I shouldn’t need to add that we need manifestos too, of course).

As the person who wrote the best blog on it, the Convention belongs just as much to you Alix as anyone. But it has got to get out of London; it has got to engage with main parties to show it is serious about influencing power; it has got to remain open (with no bullshit about “entryism”) to all supporters of modern liberty (pre-modern liberty did not include human rights); and it has got to get its act on the road this year.

What’s your solution? Especially given that even if unknown to yourself you helped inspire this one. What would your battlebus be about if you prefer battlebuses to hustings of choice? This is a genuine question, not a rhetorical one.

16. douglas clark

Anthony,

As I said before, I could sign up for either.

I know, one or two, young people and they are not cynical about their freedoms. What they are genuinely cynical about, along with the rest of the non voting public, is politicians.

(For reasons that anarchists, libertarians, liberals and anyone who isn’t a paid up member of the Labour Party has pointed out on here, ad nauseum. Given the incumbency issue. It would be the same for the Tories)

So, I can see the point you are making, that ownership of the concept of liberty cannot be seen as a political football. Because that would make it, in a sense, unelectable.

You are essentially talking about changing the relationship of the individual with the state, which I agree with entirely. But that is, it seems to me, is cultural rather than political. Also admirable.

How, exactly, are you going to turn us into the French? Because that is what is needed. A general view that people are more important than politicians, taken to any extreme you are comfortable with.

17. Richard Edwards

There is much to commend a freedom bill. There are many laws that should be expunged from the statute book forthwith. But such a law would not prevent further illiberal laws being enacted in the future. Without a proper guarantee to prevent this we will condemn ourselves to a Sisyphean struggle for liberty.

I think the faith in the Conservatives misplaced. Do we really think that the Conservatives can be trusted to safeguard our freedom? We get exercised over draconian laws of Blunkett, but have we forgotten the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act etc of Howard? The Conservatives are the fair-weather friends of freedom, embracing its cause as an artful political expedient to help secure power. A resurgent new right will carry on the new left’s work in 2010, just as the latter did in 1997.

Only a new constitutional settlement will properly help to prevent a regression. And as part of that settlement we need an entrenched charter of rights; a charter that is part of a lex superior endorsed by the people in a plebiscite. Not I hasten to add modeled on the government’s latest proposals or the anemic Human Rights Act. The HRA has done nothing to stop the slow asphyxiation of freedom.

Of course, as in Canada and Hong Kong the statute book would have to be properly spring cleaned before a Charter entered into force. The HRA compliance scrutiny of 1998-2000 was little more than a light dusting. This is where the freedom bill should be used.

However, there is a big picture to this issue. Namely the form of a new constitutional settlement. And it is that we should be debating.

18. Shatterface

Most of us would like to think that this is not a party political issue but actually it IS.

There might well be Labour Party members who still have liberal tendences but they are still members of a party that has done more to set back liberty in this country than any other.

Any vote for them will be seen as an endorsement of the party they represent. A vote for a liberal Labour politician is a mandate for their illiberal leadership. They need to be booted out.

And yes, maybe their replacements will be just as bad so we vote THEM out next time, and so on.

We deny any illiberal government a second term, time after time, until they get the fucking message.

I agree with Richard that the ultimate aim must be a political settlement that puts certain powers “beyond use” such that the state can never do them – but I am having trouble seeing how we get there from here. Perhaps acceptance for some sort of freedom bill is a start, but what are the five steps beyond that?

So, clearly the main thing that needs to be made more clear is what the freedom bill actually says. This is a problem with almost every bill created by government anyway, so it would be a welcome step if those creating the freedom bill started a practice of accompanying the legal side with a “public friendly” version.

But other than that where’s the issue with it? The organisers of it clearly welcome submission, something that is never considered elsewhere. It is also very much a tool that can be used to strike against the establishment of illiberalism.

If it smacks of a Lib Dem ploy, some kind of masterful marketing exercise then I really don’t care because, you know what? They’re the only party doing this properly so far, and until other parties come out doing the same sort of thing to the same level then they DESERVE to be got behind to send that message. Having yet another fringe of Labour being ignored or patronisingly placated with weasel words is not going to change anything.

There seems to be some confusion here.

The Great Repeal Bill isn’t a legislative thing – it a name used to help people everwywhere discuss our freedoms.

So while I agree with Mark Pack – you’re misunderstanding where we’re coming from. We need to get people across the country discussing our civil liberties and raising the political temperature.

As it stands the Freedom Bill won’t help us do that because its a legislative piece of work. It serves a different purpose to the one we need.

Most of us would like to think that this is not a party political issue but actually it IS.

No, if the issue is made party-political then we get drawn into intercine party political fighting. That was already going on behind the scenes during the COML and its a testament to the work and patience of Anthony Barnett and Henry Porter that it didn’t break down.

There’s far too many sectarianism everywhere, and frankly I don’t see the fight for our civil liberties through that prism. This has to be a conversation that involves Labour, Libdems, Conservatives and non-aligned people of Britain – as the Convention did.

The way forward is merely carrying forward in the same spirit it did before, and now to be taken over entirely by Labour or the Libdems would be a disservice to its ethos and present a setback.

Besides – aren’t we in favour of letting a thousand flowers bloom? Loads of people turned up their nose at COML when it was first mooted – and I’m proud of the fact it was so successful despite the in-fighting, sectarianism and accusations of trojan horse that were thrown at it.

The Great Repeal Bill isn’t a legislative thing – it a name used to help people everwywhere discuss our freedoms.

So don’t call it a bill, then. It seems odd to criticise the Freedom Bill for not using clear enough language (and I’d take issue with that as each clause of the Bill has a corresponding explanatory clause) and then talk about a bill that isn’t a bill as a clearer alternative. Using a legislative term for something that isn’t intended to be legislative is not exactly a good start.

The purpose of publishing an actual bill is to demonstrate it is possible to repeal this legislation, to have an actual bill in the bag ready to be used when the opportunity arises and to kickstart a discussion. That discussion is going on on the Freedom Bill website. The key test of whether the Lib Dems are serious or not will be whether they consistently bring this bill back at every opportunity (for example, as a ballot bill).

Fundamentally, my instincts as a campaigner tell me that with a general election no more than a year away, setting up yet another commission would be a waste of time and resources. What we need is to build support around a fairly tightly defined set of issues. I think it is pretty clear what those issues are and more chat might keep the few thousand currently involved in this conversation happy but won’t make the case for the vast majority of the rest of the population. I accept that in any campaign, there is a fair amount of discussion to be had (eg. through extensive use of public meetings), but this initiative does seem to lean more squarely on the chat side of things. It doesn’t appear to have a clear strategic goal at its heart.

I should add that one of the reasons why the Lib Dems stopped calling the Freedom Bill the Great Repeal Bill was that nobody knew what it meant. It was essentially jargon, and a bit of an injoke that you would only really get if you had heard of the Great Reform Act.

“Support the Freedom Bill”. It’s a straightforward call for specific action. Mass political campaigns have been centred around particular bills before now (Criminal Justice Act), or even specific clauses (Clause 28). The fact that the bill itself is written in the language of legislation is neither here nor there: part of the job of a campaign is to communicate the content of the bill in more accessible terms.

There’s a contradiction between Anthony’s assertion that the cause is urgent, and his call for a grand discussion of indefinite duration. James Graham is right: given the urgency, let’s rally around something we all agree would be a significant step forward.

So it originates with the Lib Dems. So what? In Parliament, members of one party can vote for a bill proposed by members of another party without the sky falling in. And, in the wider world, if Labour-voting left-wingers have to hold their noses to support a Lib-Dem-born bill, I’m sure they can be persuaded to do so. They have, after all, had considerable practice at nose-holding in recent elections.

“Support the Freedom Bill”. It’s a simple message. Let’s get it out there.

James – entirely agree we don’t want a ‘commission’ and never suggested this.

You say that the discussion “is going on on the Freedom Bill Website”. If only.

I got depressed when I looked at it before, but I have posted a link on it to this exchange. The discussion is split between two posts, the first is ‘Sign the Petition’, it has 104 Comments, almost all between the Feb 24th when it was launched and 3rd March. http://freedom.libdems.org.uk/sign-the-freedom-bill-petition/

The second lot of comments are one that reports Chris Huhne’s launch:
http://freedom.libdems.org.uk/chris-huhne-introduces-the-freedom-bill/
It has 169 which carry on mainly until 9 March and then run down to the 21st with a hostile post saying, “so far this commentary has been notably free from official LibDem content”.

I know how hard it is to keep a blog debate going. But this is the site of major UK party with over 60 MPs carrying a major campaign…..

So, Iain, when you say the Freedom Bill is a “straightforward call to action”, “let’s get it out there”, do I hear the sound of whistling to keep one’s spirits up? It seems to me I’m doing quite a lot to “get it out there” – who knows it exists? This is not a hostile question. Telling everyone to get in line and support the Lib Dems does not seem to be engaging supporters of the other parties or the wider public.

James says: “What we need is to build support around a fairly tightly defined set of issues. I think it is pretty clear what those issues are.” Great! This sounds like another approach. Can you set them out for us James? The dozen demands that unite as many as possible. Then we can ‘stress test it’ to see if it really does bring Tories into the picture as well as Labour democrats.

“Support the Bill” does not equal “Support the Lib Dems”, any more than “Oppose the Iraq war” meant “Support the Lib Dems”.

There’s a lot that can be done in terms of awareness-raising, encouraging engagement and so on, and I applaud the efforts you and other have undertaken in that regard. I just think that passing over a set of concrete, positive proposals in order to spend time we don’t have coming up with an alternative set of very similar proposals at an unspecified future date is a really dumb move. It’s like something out of a guidebook on “How Left Politics Sabotages Itself Every Time”.

You, and Alix and others, have a part of what’s needed. Chris Huhne and his buddies have another part. Groups like No2ID have yet another. No one can afford to spend time reinventing the wheel. Everyone with a piece of the solution needs to come together and contribute what they have.

Sunny said: “There seems to be some confusion here.

The Great Repeal Bill isn’t a legislative thing – it a name used to help people everwywhere discuss our freedoms. ”

Well, this is now starting to sound like a whole different idea. If it’s not a legislative thing, as James said, why muddy the waters by calling it a bill? And if it doesn’t fulfill the exact same role as the Freedom Bill, why call it by such a specific name?

And, like I said in my first comment, a parallel campaigning efforts is great news, and if it can provide a popular conversation version of the issues hinted at in the Freedom Bill, then that’s exactly what’s needed. Your sense that political parties currently don’t have the momentum to do this on a grand scale is bang on. But why make your first action the production of a rival proposition? As Iain Coleman says, you’re reinventing the wheel. Why not just adopt the Freedom Bill as is, then plan a follow-through and work out how to campaign on it on a genuinely national basis?

In fact, it strikes me that if your actual aims are more in line with the quote from Sunny above, you’re probably not being ambitious enough. The Freedom Bill, as the site explains, is only meant to be a starting point. It’s not a bill of rights or a constitution, its function is to repeal all the crap. If you want to know exactly how the repeals will affect the law, you can read the Explanatory Notes, same as with any other bill.

It’s the first step – as Sanbik says, we still don’t have a clear sense of steps 2-5. If anything, your role could/should be to look at steps 2-5.

As to lack of input from the party into the Freedom Bill site comment thread (although there is some), I tend to agree but let’s give them a fair chance. You’re talking about creating something that will be “taken to the country” in June. Let’s see how far the Freedom Bill site discussion/outcomes have progressed by June.

(NB, Anthony, one factual point about your first response: I didn’t bring up the subject of entryism, I was responding to Sunny. I said that the discussion topic of the day at the Convention was Tory entryism because in my experience talking and earwigging it was. I have no beef with the Tories’ civil liberties stance beyond healthy cynicism and hope that showed in my reportage).

Incidentally:

“Loads of people turned up their nose at COML when it was first mooted” – Sunny

Yes they did, and I wasn’t one of them, something you might like to consider before hurling the “sectarian” accusation around too much more. I think I’ve earned the right to have my objections at this later stage taken seriously.

Sunny: thanks for that clarification.

Anthony: I’m not sure how carefully you’d read the comments previous to the one you quoted, but the background is that there have been several comments on the lines of “you can’t implement this bill because the EU won’t let you” and responses from the party of “we don’t agree; take one of our clauses and quote chapter and verse from EU rules to show why you think that is the case”.

That specific case has never been made … so there is a legit question about how useful it is to always be responding to this sort of anti-Europeanism. However, there clearly is a wider issue here about how to persuade people who have such firm Euro-spectic views. Persuading some of them that restoring liberties is possible would help broaden the base of support for the things we do all agree on.

It seems to me that’s part of the “steps 2-5” talked of above, which is where there is plenty of productive scope for making the case for civil liberties in a way that doesn’t simply duplicate what others are doing but nor does it require anyone to sign up to believe one party and one party only.

It seems like a useful thing that could be done and that the lib dems have not done, is to take all of the commentary given on the freedom bill site and produce a second revision that takes into account the comments; that would surely drive things forward – and if prominent Labour bloggers were to actually put their intellect to work on the matter, they could actually be part of that process and take some ownership.

This sounds like the sort of thing a (user-restricted) Wiki could be useful for, since that will actually store a history of revisions. If someone could take the text of the LD Freedom Bill and move it over to a Wiki for some hard-thought revision, that would take it out of the direct scope of lib dem control. Simultaneously, the wiki could also be used to provide a parallel “plain English” version of the bill that punchily sets out the case for the bill in the way that Sunny and others seem to want.

What do y’all think about that?

In fact, hell, let’s do the show right here.

The twelve demands of the angry liberals

We believe:

1. That everyone should free to do exactly as they like, provided they don’t harm anyone else.
2. That everyone is entitled to their own private space, and no person or organisation should be able to invade it at will, whether physically or on the internet.
3. That the culture of over-petty small law enforcement and officiousness in this country is a threat to a tolerant, happy, fair society.
4. That large, expensive national databases cannot possibly be secure, and that there are better ways to solve social and security problems.
5. That anyone who is locked up by the police must be charged within seven/fourteen days. [to be discussed]
6. That activites such as walking, staring, driving and photographing are not a threat to national security.
7. That the police should hold a full public enquiry every time a taser weapon is used.
8. That individual surveillance should only be carried out by police where there is suspicion of serious crime, as defined by a magistrate/civil court. [wording? is magistrate high enough?]
9. That public space is there to be used by the public, whether singly or in groups, and they should be not removed from it unless they are demonstrably harming someone else.
10. That no-one should have to provide personal information to the government without a good and specific reason, and innocent people’s details should not bee retained on criminal databases.
11. That the right to protest peacefully anywhere is vital to democracy.
12. That someone needs to help me separate out, order and word these demands better.

I’d go non-party doorstepping and public meeting organising with a perfected version of that quite happily.

And I like Sanbik’s idea as well, for the more legislatively minded. They wanted consultation, they got it, we’ll show them what it would look like. It would be a good way of keeping up pressure on the party.

The key thing, I think, would be not to spend too much time on any of this.

I’m gonna have #12 on my placard, I think, Alix 🙂

What do we want? CLEARER DEMANDS! When do we want them? IN A REASONABLE TIME FRAME!

Alix: Great. There needs to be one which says, “The Government will not hold arbitrary power”. Again wording to be clarified. The key point – see Quentin Skinner in his session – is that Ministers must not hold arbitrary power even if they do not exercise it.

35. Richard Edwards

OK two more Alix:

13. That government is the servant of the people, not its master.

14. Government should be conducted by and under the law.

Anthony: I really enjoyed the CoML on the day, and I spent a fair bit of time defending it online both before and afterwards from those who said that such an event couldn’t work and couldn’t represent any real strand of opinion within the political discourse. I think that the event’s success confounded a lot of those criticisms.

However, I’m not sure where this new initiative is going. Reading the original post, I see a lot about how “we”: “could”, “should” or “may” do something, “maybe”. There are vague notions about celebrity battle buses and some kind of list of which MPs might support our list of liberties, but no real notion of how pressure might be brought to bear on them to do so. This is not a new idea, and it’s something that will only work if a critical mass of public involvement can be engaged; half-measures are worthless.

I’d love to see something more happen, but I’m not sure that this is the right thing. It seems to be based on the assumption that what we really need right now is to engage a few more of the great and the good in finely honing our argument, as if we don’t already have a pretty good idea of what we want to see happen and as if the major obstacle to success is imprecise language. Take it from people who have been blogging and drafting these ideas into language of immense subtlety for the last five years at least: precision of language and clarity of argument are not what’s holding us back.

The key problem is public engagement. We lack an effective non-party structure for campaigning about these issues, and I don’t see any plan for setting one up. NO2ID do excellent work in campaigning against ID cards and the database state and it’s notable that it was only through their involvement that the CoML had any reach outside of London. It’s not fair to expect their infrastructure to sustain a whole set of other campaigning goals, so you need a clear plan for how you’re going to set up regional and local campaign initiatives. This is hard work that is not made one jot easier by having a finely-honed argument as compared to the one we have already.

In the meantime, the Lib Dems are already campaigning for a Freedom Bill that probably does much of what you’re talking about. The door is open for other parties, or non-party organisations, to support this. I don’t really want to get into the machinations of hung parliaments and coalitions, but there is a realistic prospect of that bill becoming law if the right pressure is applied in favour of it. You’re right to be distrustful of the Tories, despite the honest intentions of some of their activists and MPs; there are plenty more who don’t share their opinions, and if they get into government I don’t expect to see much care for ‘liberty’ beyond the liberty to do things that the Conservative party approves of. All the more reason to ensure that realistic, concrete commitments are made to a bill that might actually pass into law, rather than a slightly more ephemeral set of aims, ambitions and the dreaded ‘aspirations’ to extend liberty which I suspect is the most likely outcome of any new campaign.

There are, I think, two ways to go here:

1) Take the momentum of the CoML and build a genuine grass-roots national campaign infrastructure. The revolution will not be consummated in a bar in Islington. This is bloody hard work and not terribly glamorous, but it’s also potentially the most rewarding avenue. I think that you can rely on people’s own liberal instincts to campaign on the right side of the issues without having Helena Kennedy and some law students draft up the subject matter; the key is to connect people and provide the means of organisation around a succession of campaign areas. This is a project that requires ‘depth’ of involvement rather than ‘breadth’ of engagement with disparate groups. Involvement has to be personal and it requires effort to sustain it, not just ideas (you might want to start by contacting the people who attended the CoML; unless I missed it, there has not been so much as a follow-up email or letter inviting us to take part in any kind of campaigning activity, though I imagine that this is one of the things that “should” have happened).

2) Become the intellectual vanguard of constitutional reform. This is a long-term project, but it’s very well suited to the kind of infrastructure already in place (the proven ability to hold cross-party conventions, engagement with just enough of the establishment to be realistic without so much as to be stifled by it, the fairly strong presence on the internet, and so forth). For this case, everything you said about language does make sense; we’re not talking about a piece of legislation to pass in a year’s time, but a long-term project that is about ideas and values. Here, rather than in the notion of drafting a bill, is somewhere that the strengths of the current organisation can be used. This project requires the breadth of engagement to bring in people who don’t agree about much other than the need to enshrine key liberties.

I don’t think that Great Repeal Bill idea, which you already admit is being pursued by someone else who is actually in a far better position to effect it, is a good fit for the kind of operation you/we already have. I think it could be a blind alley, that wastes the good will and energy of the people already involved.

Mark @ 29, I think Parliament can pass any legislation it wants. Whether it is upheld or found unlawful by our domestic courts or the European Court of Human Rights years down the line is another matter.

That we can’t lawfully deport people to countries where they face a real risk of torture is, I think, where this desire for a new bill of rights partially originated from. But we will be prevented from lawfully deporting such people while we remain party to the Convention.

@Anthony Barnett:

James – entirely agree we don’t want a ‘commission’ and never suggested this.

Well, you say jury and I say commission. Potayto, potarto… but the jury you envisage won’t be randomly selected and will be commissioned, so I think my term is more precise.

39. Grauniad Rules Ok

The main problem with trying to get everyone under the Freedom Bill of the Lib Dems, is that Nick Clegg will be steadily taking the Lib Dems rightward in an effort to win Tory marginals. Even if he doesn’t, those Labour voters who flocked to the Lib Dems in 2005 in protest against Iraq will either come back to Labour or stay at home.

The Lib Dems, as a political force, are pretty much finished. Any initiative to fight the government has a far better chance if it is not aligned to any party – otherwise why don’t NGOs like Liberty simply become Lib Dem think tanks and apparatchniks? It’s because they know there’s no point tying their colours to the mast of a sinking (yellow) ship.

Great. This discussion is really helpful.

I quite like Sanbik’s idea of moving the Lib Dem freedom bill into a Wiki. There would need to be some process so that anyone who edited the Wiki would have to provide some kind of public justification for why they’d done so, perhaps by linking to articles and reports on the subject. Plain English, yes, but let’s draw from some of the great historic rights charters of the past (MC, Agreement of the People etc). It could be quite an inspiring document. Alix and Anthony’s demands are a good start.

@39:

steadily taking the Lib Dems rightward

As they say on Wikipedia, “citation needed“.

42. Shatterface

From the comments so far I still get the feeling that an alternative Bill to that of the LibDem’s is little more than a symbolic gesture so that Labour supporters can register a protest before voting in the same people responsible for this mess. Again.

@ 30, something like commentonthis.com or debategraph.org.

Debategraph looks quite neat, though it doesn’t seem to encourage in-depth comments (fun to play with, though!). I think that the simplest thing might be a wordpress/blogger blog that posts each new revised document as a new post (with the legislation tagged as “dd” and the plain English tagged as “dt” so they can appear side-by-side) – although that does rely upon a single person to honestly collate the comments and resolve conflicts in a sensible way.

However, with a wiki the problem is that if two people disagree on a point, each will constantly revise the wiki with their own point of view. I think ultimately there has to be a stage where decisions get made and made firm.

Finally, it does seem to me like this activity is really only useful so long as there is a national campaign structure being built as per Rob Knight at 36 – and as just some guy on the internet, I have no idea as to how one would really go about setting up such an organization – it seems like you need to attract people to the cause but also keep them by getting them motivated to do useful things that result in tangible successes for them. I have no idea what those things would be.

Although, that said, I was kinda contemplating some sort of online karma-based pressure group where you get “points” for signing petitions, signing friends up, writing to your MP, organizing local meetups, etc. Dunno if it would work or be that useful, though.

45. Ivor Cornish

Alix your bullet point demands are excellent, and most people, except perhaps the criminally insane, would agree with them.

A way to disseminate these into the wider community is required.

Anthony I partly agree:-

‘So here’s an idea. We draw up a Great Repeal Bill written in accessible language that sets out all the things we want to stop and we ask people to take it to all elected politicians and candidates in public meetings and ask which parts they agree should be repealed. ‘

‘take it to all elected politicians and candidates in public meetings’
The ‘Great Repeal Bill’ should be issued to candidates as soon as they come forward, so as to illicit their response, otherwise much time and effort would be wasted going to meetings of ‘the converted’ . Those that did not respond can then be challenged in public meetings, possibly by local activists (see below).

This I feel is much harder to achieve:-

‘At the same time we see how many people round the country want to volunteer to create temporary groups or networks and how they want to engage people – through local media, the web, town meetings, pub discussions. Maybe it should also be reinforced by a celebrity battlebus!’

Trying to create ‘temporary groups or networks’ would be an uphill struggle, and largely unnecessary, and should only be attempted if other routes fail.
Activist groups form a large cross section of causes and opinions, across the country, and know which buttons to press in their communities. They already have their army of foot soldiers and should be informed/encouraged to campaign against the laws, many of which may have already impinged on their activities. Several groups are already on board, and were at the excellent CoML. The larger the base, and wider the geographical spread, the better the chances are of success.

Before the next election, a convention/jamboree, call it what you want, should be held to give support to the candidates of which ever party agree with repealing most/all of the existing laws. The M.P.’s who have voted for some, or all of these laws, and are running again, should be exposed. A convention/jamboree should be as large as possible, with as large a number of candidates, and non-party speakers as can be mustered, and be as short as possible for maximum publicity.

In the interim one can only hope that some of the M.P’s who voted for these laws are trapped by them. As Blair was when subjected to a saliva swab after being arrested for war crimes in Alastair Beaton’s partly fictional film ‘The Trial of Tony Blair’ which was on Channel Four January 2007.

I would like to start looking at Alix’s list now, expecting the debate to be shifted to wiki / blog / some other internet application.

1. That everyone should free to do exactly as they like, provided they don’t harm anyone else.

I think everyone can see that this is stretching “do” and “harm anyone” too much. Put yourself into the mindet of a Daily Mail reader, briefly. (Also, this appears to contradict 2. below)

2. That everyone is entitled to their own private space, and no person or organisation should be able to invade it at will, whether physically or on the internet.

Is this like a bubble? I can do what I like in my bubble? Can I slander you in my bubble?

3. That the culture of over-petty small law enforcement and officiousness in this country is a threat to a tolerant, happy, fair society.

Try to reframe this as “sledgehammer to crack a nut”. Oherwise it just sounds like you let your dog fowl the pavement a lot.

4. That large, expensive national databases cannot possibly be secure, and that there are better ways to solve social and security problems.

What about a large cheap database? Are you seriously suggesting the issue is just with the security of the system?

7. That the police should hold a full public enquiry every time a taser weapon is used.

This fails to differentiate between intention and equipment. Remember Blair Peach? he ran into a no entry sign. Apparently.

8. That individual surveillance should only be carried out by police where there is suspicion of serious crime, as defined by a magistrate/civil court.

The issue is what happens to the surveillance information. I can sit outside your house or follow you around according to 1., if not 2.

9. That public space is there to be used by the public, whether singly or in groups, and they should be not removed from it unless they are demonstrably harming someone else.

What about if the are only potentially harming someone? Or a group?

Yes they did, and I wasn’t one of them, something you might like to consider before hurling the “sectarian” accusation around too much more. I think I’ve earned the right to have my objections at this later stage taken seriously.

Sorry if it came across like that Alix – because I know you’re not one of them.

My point was broader – there was a lot of scepticism and sectarianism when COML was first mooted (and it continues behind the scenes).

I think the 12 demands list looks good too…

When I listened to Anthony Barnett outline this idea last Thursday night (in a bar not many miles from Islington), I thought I understood what he was suggesting. Reading his article again, I still think I understand what he is suggesting. Ivor Cornish (comment 45) is perhaps thinking along the same lines?

Anthony asked for “A map of what candidates, Tories especially, agree should be repealed”. The idea that came to me from that statement was of a short document identifying a number of possible repeals, with a check box against each. It would be directed to election candidates and potential candidates, with the aim of finding out and recording, for each of them, just what level of civil liberties they actually do support. But it must be understandable to the general public as well.

For example, if the document listed 20 proposed repeals and a candidate ticked 5, they would be a “25-per-center”. One who supports all 20 would be a “100-per-center”.

This information, suitably marshalled (in a database, perhaps? – only joking), could be of good use to those who select candidates, as well as to the general public. I am minded of a scheme along similar lines, used by libertarian-conservative Sean Gabb prior to the 2001 election to classify the views of Tory candidates as Europhile or Eurosceptic. (That was called the “Candidlist” – you can still find it on the Web).

The differences between this document and the Lib Dems’ Freedom bill are then much as Anthony suggested – (a) different audience so different language, (b) it has check boxes on it, which the freedom bill doesn’t.

Let me also say that for me, the biggest appeal of the Convention (at which I was present in the guise of a humble Steward) was that it wasn’t party-political. It would be a shame to lose that.

Neil Lock

49. Ivor Cornish

Neil

I agree.

However :- ‘….. it wasn’t party-political. It would be a shame to lose that.’

I suggest it would be more like a catastrophe……… alienating others whose opinions we may not agree with, but who are equally affected by the bulk of these laws.
The broader the coalition the harder it will be to trivialise / attack.

This quote from Gerry Hassan seems relevant
http://www.opendemocracy.net/ourkingdom/gerry_hassan/politics_of_liberty

Where we start from is the dilution and entropy of British and Western democracies and the fundamental imbalance between how we conduct our politics, public affairs and everyday lives, and corporate power. This has returned us to a politics with eerie similarities to the 18th and 19th centuries with a closed political elite and increasingly ‘court’ politics from Berlusconi to Brown to Sarkozy. Faced with this environment, we will require a politics in the UK and internationally which goes back to re-establishing and reimaging the principles of democracy, justice and liberty.

This is the terrain that the Convention on Modern Liberty should situate itself on, building the widest possible constituency and a politics and practice which is ‘liquid democratic’. The Convention showed ‘a glimpse of the civic spirit’ that is ‘neither obsessed with the market nor with a supposed war on terror’ (22). It has created a space, goodwill and momentum for creating something significant, but an open, generous debate will be needed to even begin the next stage of such an initiative.

Can the traditional pressure groups in this area join in to act in a way which sees the urgent need for the bigger picture? If we are to succeed we will have to be bold and challenge some of the assumptions many of us hold about our ideas of change and pet projects. Can we move beyond the ‘national conversation’ Brown promised the UK, to a country-wide ‘imagination’ of our society and its future?

Neil @48:

I am minded of a scheme along similar lines, used by libertarian-conservative Sean Gabb prior to the 2001 election to classify the views of Tory candidates as Europhile or Eurosceptic. (That was called the “Candidlist” – you can still find it on the Web).

Did this have any impact at the time? Genuine question, not rhetorical.

I recall UKIP taking a similar approach (in 2005?), stating that they would not run against those Tory candidates who held ‘acceptable’ views on Europe, with the intention of pressuring Tory MPs/candidates into a more Eurosceptic stance to avoid having UKIP run against them.

Anthony @50:

I like what you’re saying, though I fear that the answer to your questions might be “not really, no”. I’m not sure what is being brought to the table that the traditional pressure groups are going to find so compelling that they have to be a part of it. Again, there’s no infrastructure.

Rob #51

You can find Sean Gabb’s own assessments of his Candidlist at:

http://www.seangabb.co.uk/flcomm/flc045.htm (in the heat of the moment)

http://www.seangabb.co.uk/flcomm/flc064.htm (after the event).

Neil

@Sunny, ok then, I’m sorry for being right stroppy 🙂

Hokay, so there’s two parallel ideas – the 12 demands (or however many) as a sort of general wishlist which has nothing to do with actual legislation and the Freedom-Bill-With-Amendments work. Plus there’s still some nebulous thing that Ivor and Neil are talking about @48-49 which seems to revert to all the weaknesses I first identified, but never mind that, onwards and forwards!

If I could just tease out Rob’s infrastructure point a bit – I don’t think the problem we face is an intellectual one. I think many people would find Anthony’s analysis @50 congenial and enlightening. We don’t have a problem with the strength of our analysis. We have a problem with our lack of a practical plan and our lack of an extant campaigning network.

Would a sensible goal be to end up with (let’s say) a special Angry Liberals (or whatever) hustings held in as many constituencies as possible come the GE? Ok, so to get candidates to turn out for that, we’d need enough people signed up to the idea (whether to the 12 demands, or its negative brother the Freedom Bill, or both as a package). To get enough people signed up, we need publicity and campaigns networks. I’m going to try building one in Manchester and I’ll start with the local Lib Dems and No2ID, because they’re already interested in campaigning on these issues. In fact No2ID are probably doing follow-up work to the Convention anyway.

I wish anyone who wants to build an “our-shit-don’t-smell” network with no political taint at all in their area the very best of luck. And I’d make a special plea that people try to understand that co-operating with, taking forward the ideas of or even belonging to a political party doesn’t mean selling your soul and agreeing with everything they say.

Just to clarify, Anthony above was quoting Gerry Hassan, and I’ve edited the comment to show that

Would a sensible goal be to end up with (let’s say) a special Angry Liberals (or whatever) hustings held in as many constituencies as possible come the GE?

Great idea Alix!

Alix @several:

This is one of the most coherent entries into Liberal political thinking I’ve seen for a while. I want to help.

So where to work on the @Alix list?

Hm, I know a Wiki is the conventional answer, but I think to involve as many people as possible the 12-demands thing should ideally be a simple “point and squirt” blog page with comment facility. Any chance of a permanent page on the menu bar here Sunny?

But I could be talked out of that if people think it’s worth my getting to grips with the dreaded Wiki (groan). I do however see how reproducing the Freedom Bill and amending it is best suited to a Wiki, because with legislative text you need precise information about the edits.

John Q Publican, you’re not a Manchester publican by any chance? 🙂

http://www.facebook.com/group.php?gid=62011653321

Any chance of a permanent page on the menu bar here Sunny?

yup – coming soon…

Alix: “I wish anyone who wants to build an “our-shit-don’t-smell” network with no political taint at all in their area the very best of luck.” LOL! 🙂

I agree the big twelve should not be a wiki.

Please don’t make then “demands”

The Twelve Principles

We don’t want to position ourselves as barking at the caravan. We are the caravan and they are barking.

“We are the caravan and they are barking.”

😀 Can that be our slogan?

Hi, Have also found this a very interesting blog stream and have only just been able to read it fully as I was busy finishing up my work as production manager for the Convention. I too felt that while Anthony’s idea for the Great Repeal Bill was inspiring it needed the kind of practical, skeptical going over it has been getting here. I like Aliix’s implied portrayal of the list of demands as the postive sister to the Freedom Bill. So just expressing my support really.

@57, @58

OK Alix, go make/re-use a blog. Sunny can point to it if he wishes to at any point.

63. Richard Edwards

I have taken Alix’s list and tweaked, edited them and added to them as he asked. Tried to take on board other people’s comments too. I tried to maximise cross party appeal, but somethings might grate. I can add notes, make it more legal or add a preamble if people like. Comments welcome.

[Preamble]
We believe and declare that:-

1. Human dignity and individual liberty are the cornerstones of civilization.

2. Everyone has the right to privacy, including the right to be left alone should they wish.

3. Everyone is entitled to equal concern and respect, and shoudl not be discriminated against for reasons of race, age, sex, or sexual orientation.

4. Government must be conducted by and under the law, and that the powers of the state shall be clearly and precisely defined in law.

5. The state must be accountable both democratically and legally for their decisions and actions.

6. That laws should only be enacted by legislatures directly elected by and out of the people under laws that guarantee a universal franchise and secret ballot. That all elected bodies should be truly representative and ensure that every vote is of equal value.

7. Everyone has the right to petition Parliament. The right to peaceful protest in Parliament Square should not be abridged.

8. Everyone, whether a citizen or the state, is equal before and under the law.

9. There should be no established church or religion. Freedom of religion must be guaranteed by law.

10. Everyone has the right to freedom of speech, and opinion. Public debate should be uninhibited, wide ranging and open as befits a free society. The press must be free and not subject to any form of official sanction or harassment.

11. Every citizen shall have the right to make political choices freely, to form and participate in a political party, and to campaign for a political party or cause.

12. Habeas corpus should not be suspended for threats real or imagined.

13. That everyone arrested by the police should be charged or released within seventy two hours; and that anyone charged with an offence will be entitled to bail unless a court decides otherwise. That all accused of a crime shall be presumed to be innocent and shall enjoy the right to a fair trial before an independent and impartial court in accordance with due process of law. Anyone accused of a serious crime offence shall have the right to trial by jury which must not be abridged by law.

14. No one shall be required to carry an official document for the purposes of identification.

15. The right to life shall be protected by law. No one shall be subject to capital punishment whether de jure or de facto.

16. Every person shall have the right of access to all official information held by the state.

Richard: All wonderful but it has turned Alix’s dozen from an angry intervention into UK politics, which is what we need, into a UN declaration of, well, something that sounds like apple pieties. Sorry not to be more constructive at the moment.

I think we have to be clear about what we are trying to produce here. Is it a statement of basic principles, is it a Bill of Rights, is it something more like the Freedom Bill? I think that Richard’s (and Alix’s) points, which I certainly agree with, would variously fit into all three. Maybe we do need all three – to essentially say this is what we believe liberty to mean, this is how we propose to protect it and this is how we go about undoing the damage done in recent years. But then I guess it risks becoming over-complicated.

66. Richard Edwards

Yes Anthony I realise the list is a bit apple pie and motherhood. But sometimes bald statements of principle serve a useful purpose. They help provide clear answers to the two obvious questions – what do you stand for? And where are you going?

The Claim of Right 1988 in Scotland is a good example. It provided a pole star of principle to those engaged in campaigning and developing the case/framework for devolution in the Convention. When people asked what do you stand for they could say here read this. And it appealed right across the party political spectrum.

Modern liberty is a broader issue. And requires therefore a broader canvass. A statement of principles serves as a lightening rod to channel the electricity of anger to the cause. The specific issues of ID cards, the erosion of the defendants rights, the rise of the surveillance state and so on are illustrative of the principles. Those issues provide the emotional illustration of the principles, and the points for campainging surely?

One of the supreme ironies of modern Britain is that the country of Orwell has created a truly Orwellian surveillance system. But why should that be a problem? Answer because in a free society we have a right to privacy. The right to be an individual. To be treated as such. And not to be treated as a unit for monitoring and processing by a phalanx of databases.

But sometimes bald statements of principle serve a useful purpose. They help provide clear answers to the two obvious questions – what do you stand for? And where are you going?

Given that I have recently found myself arguing the case for basic civil liberties with people claiming to be on the left I think that no principle is too basic to be worth stating at the moment.

Yes, but I think Sunny point (and correct me if I’m wrong!) is that Richard’s rewording is dry, not that it’s stating the obvious. Part of the problem such people are having with the Freedom Bill (and I agree) is that the language is inaccessible and boring – that’s not to say that the Freedom Bill itself should not contain exactly the wording required to do the job, it should, but the campaigning language needs to be punchy, attractive, angry and exciting.

69. dontkillthemessenger

I like the idea of the Repeal Act however this should serve an underlying document, the technical detail if you like. My experience of campaigning is that people are put off by anything that smells of legislation no matter how plainly it is written.

What we need to produce is a bundle of documents in layered form. The foundation would be a declaration of principles. Richard has made a start but this needs further discussion, not least about how the declaration of principle interacts with the Human Rights Act. The draft act would form the next layer and the top layer would consist of a slimmed down version of the principles and the acts to be repealed. The message however needs to be about how Jane/Joe Average is going to benefit. In political terms it’s the ‘what’s in it for me’ argument. As San says, it must be in campaign language, challenging and pithy.

I would also just like to say that it would be nice if the draft legislation project could be opened out beyond UCL, I am a law student, studying at a different institution, but would very much like to get involved in such a project.

On the issue of legislation and accessible language. If you are repealing legislation then you have to write in legalese but it would be an idea to look at the draft Coroners Bill (the 2006 one http://www.justice.gov.uk/docs/coroners_draft.pdf and not the current bill with the secret inquest clauses) which was the first attempt to draft a bill where each clause has a plain English version alongside it. The pdf in the link does not make this clear but if you look at a hardcopy of the actual bill you will see that each page has two columns, one with the legal clauses and the other alongside has a plain English explanation on the other. The consultation process for this bill was also of a very high standard and attracted a lot of praise at the time, so there may be lessons to be learnt from that as well.

The other problem is that many of the legal provisions you will want to repeal are buried in other Acts (I know because I have worked on most of them as part of my day job) so it will always be quite a technical job to unpick, note the complications of repealing the DNA retention clauses as shown by the relevant clauses in the Freedom Bill.

I think it would be useful to have a bill as a focus for the campaign but you will also need to support this with a raft of campaigning materials.

I think the work done around the Sustainable Communities Act is an excellent template to follow and that Bill provided a real focus point for an excellent series of regional and local events.

My experience of campaigning is that people are put off by anything that smells of legislation no matter how plainly it is written.

My experience is the exact opposite. Showing people the actual draft legislation demonstrates that you’re serious about implementation, enables people to move onto the practicalities of how it all works and that you aren’t merely running some kind of glorified opinion poll. It is an excellent discipline for a campaign: if you can’t actually write down precisely how you want the law to change, is it actually a viable campaign (obviously this doesn’t apply to things like changing a tax rate, but then that is a pretty specific ask already).

I have to admit I somewhat despair when I look at how much money is squandered by organisations which run these high profile “me too!” campaigns like Make Poverty History and the G20-inspired Put People First. So much more could be achieved by ploughing even a fraction of those resources into more specific activities, but if it doesn’t involve user-generated YouTube videos and wristbands it is somehow deemed as unworthy. Let’s not go down that route.

Are we actually on twin tracks here.

The 12 demands, which can be used as a template for candidates to be encouraged (pressurised) to sign up to, put into personal and party manifestos and subsequently used as a plumbline to hold those candidates accountable. And put on a pledge card or a poster?

The detailed legislation to clear the sh*t out of the stables by a “Freedom Bill”.

One point: we need much more networking outside the political/media niche, to have commentary from the authoritative subject specialists. Lawyers, medics, social workers and all the others I can’t think of for now in their professional capacities.

Matt


Reactions: Twitter, blogs
  1. Liberal Conspiracy

    New post: Where do our liberties go from here? http://tinyurl.com/cw84bb

  2. Liberal Conspiracy

    New post: Where do our liberties go from here? http://tinyurl.com/cw84bb

  3. goLookGoRead

    RT @onModernLiberty interesting discussion going on on LibCon in response to Anthony’s proposal for what next http://is.gd/pEEM





Sorry, the comment form is closed at this time.