Liberty on the march

Yesterday saw one of the most hopeful developments in years — the first nationwide meetings of the Convention on Modern Liberty. One of its driving spirits is my Observer colleague Henry Porter. In today’s paper he reflects on the experience and on why he’s putting himself through it.

More than once, I asked myself – why the hell are we doing this? Putting on a convention with more than 150 speakers in eight different cities across the United Kingdom at the same time as maintaining an alliance of about 50 organisations, not all of whom loved one another – or us – with the weaving, ducking and diving that entails can be demanding.

You begin to glimpse the morbid addictions that fill the life of the seasoned political campaigner. You find yourself developing skills of appearing to agree when you don’t, of smiling when irritated, of asking for money without the slightest shame, of reading and sending more emails than is recommended in a lifetime. Your language deteriorates and by degrees you morph into a version of Alastair Campbell, preoccupied by slights, losing friends fast and living off chocolate biscuits.

The best reason for doing it is — as Henry observes — Jack Straw, the most slippery authoritarian in modern British history. He’s currently Secretary of State for Justice, which just goes to show that satire isn’t dead. His most recent coup is the Coroners and Justice Bill, which contains measures that introduce secret inquests and would lift the ban on data sharing between ministries in the Data Protection Act.

Before the Convention (and the death of his son) David Cameron said that:

“When academics look back on Labour’s time in power the erosion of our historic liberties will surely be one of its most defining, and damning, aspects. Things we have long thought were part of the fabric of liberty in this country – such as trial by jury, habeas corpus with strict limits on the time that people can be held without charge, the protection of parliament against intrusion by the executive – have been whittled away.”

Cameron’s right. It’s difficult — as Andrew Marr said on TV this morning — to see the Tories as defenders of civil liberties, but if Cameron commits the party to a comprehensive rolling back of New Labour’s surveillance state then I’ll vote Tory.

En passant: Here’s an interesting web project for the next election. Create a website which asks every single parliamentary candidate whether s/he supports the plan for a National ID Card. Yes or No. And then post the answer on the site.