I am supporting the Convention on Modern Liberty because I see grave threats to our free way of life in Britain. These threats do not come from terrorists. They do not come from immigration. They come from our own government.
We forget how recent and how unusual our freedom is. Our ancestors lived in what we would now call political and economic slavery, without laws or courts to protect them from the powerful. We forget that it took centuries of struggle to establish the rights and freedoms we now consider normal. The right to trial by jury, not to have our homes ransacked by officials, our mail read… they all require that those with great resources – the rich, the corporations, and even our elected government – treat us with respect.
Yes, you can lock us up – if you can convince a jury of people just like us. Yes, you can snoop on us or invade our homes – if you can show good cause to a judge. Yes, you can stop me going about my business – if you have grounds that will stand up in court. The freedom we enjoy and consider normal consists almost entirely of obstructions placed thoughtfully and deliberately in the way of executive power.
The last decade has seen more and more of these essential obstructions swept away. Each time it is done, we are offered the latest moral panic as an excuse – terrorism, computer fraud, sexual offenders, control of our borders – and promised that the exceptional new powers will be used only for those purposes, and with due discretion; and that information the government demands we entrust to them will be guarded with respect.
As our ancestors knew from bitter experience, the state is not capable of keeping such promises. The police neglect their duty if they do not use every power they have to get results; so thousands are now routinely stopped and searched each year under powers once granted to ‘combat terrorism’. When information to be held ‘in confidence’ is available to thousands of officials, secrecy is a charade; of course CDs get left on trains.
In the perspective of history, the last half century has allowed us to enjoy our freedoms in peace and comfort. In that short time we have forgotten how much it cost our ancestors to win those freedoms, to place those obstructions in the path of power. The state is now busily sweeping the obstructions away, taking back our freedoms like toys from children who no longer deserve them.
If we do not stop this, if we do not reclaim the freedoms recently taken from us, and insist on facing and tackling the problems ahead – climate, economy, energy – as free people, then the servants of the state will be right. We will no longer deserve them. And we shall, in a single generation, have squandered the free society it took our parents and ancestors three centuries of struggle to win.
Get your ticket to the Convention.