Monday, 5 July 2010

Hearing Voices

“Freedom is the will to be responsible to ourselves”Friedrich Nietzsche
Having regularly mentioned the Voices of Freedom debates over the past few weeks, perhaps it’s worth reviewing the series as a whole.

Native Americans live by a proverb stating that “It takes a thousand voices to tell a single story” and The Free Society must be congratulated for gathering quite a few such voices, over five evenings, to discuss various issues surrounding personal freedom and civil liberties. It wasn’t quite the telling of a single story, mind you, as attendees soon discovered.

Any preconceptions that this was to be a mutual back-slapping exercise were disproved on a regular basis, most notably by Philip Davies with his polemic defending methods of surveillance during the second debate. Big Brother Watch’s Alex Deane replied with such vigour, I swear I saw steam emanating from his collar.

The series concluded in much the same way, with the Guardian’s Michael White initially responding to pre-emptive provocation from Guido Fawkes and James Delingpole with a straight bat, before going on the offensive in the post-speech Q&A, albeit arguably employing a succession of straw men and well-rehearsed left of centre clichés. As you can imagine, this elicited murmurs from around the room which were only muted by Delingpole (sitting shoulder to shoulder with White) firing back in similar fashion. All very feisty indeed, and that’s without mentioning the little spat between the Libertarian Party’s Chris Mounsey and Lib Dem Mark Pack, or Brendan O’Neill (Spiked!) controversially advocating the right to strike.

In fact, only the fourth event was free of dissent. But considering the subject was “Hyper-regulation and the bully state” – a downside of recent life with which it is almost impossible to agree – that’s hardly surprising.

Of the five evenings, one did fail to live up to expectations. That being the third, held to shed light on the possible consequences of ‘The Big Society’ regarding personal freedom. It did nothing of the sort, really, mainly because no-one – even the speakers on show – seemed to have any idea of what it means. We were, however, treated to a delightful speech from the Libertarian Alliance’s Tim Evans which had heads nodding furiously until a hurried denouement associating liberty with owning a gun. For what was mostly a conservative audience, this was the verbal equivalent of being blindsided with the lead piping in the conservatory. Jaws were clanging onto the floor all around. What fun!

All in all, this was a summer in the city to savour. As the talk of the country and - if they are to believed - the goal of the coalition, turns to offering more liberty and freedoms, these debates were a valuable contribution and very timely.

From Philip Johnston (author of the economically-titled ‘Bad Laws: An Explosive Analysis of Britain’s Petty Rules, Health and Safety Lunacies and Madcap Laws’), we learned that bound hard copies of certain modern laws require two people to lift them; from Philip Booth (No2ID), we learned that the coalition have pulled back from abolishing the NHS summary care records database; and from the aforementioned Philip Davies, we learned that he really enjoys a good ruck.

Mostly, though, we learned that there are voices demanding freedom in many disparate quarters, and that such people, and groups, aren’t ready to give up just yet. Far from it.

Oh yeah, and for those who weren’t already aware, it proved that the IEA (aided by Boisdales) are masters at hosting a more than decent political bash complete with cheeky viniculture. So if this were to become a regular summer feature, I reckon you wouldn’t find too many who comprised this year’s packed audiences complaining.

In the unlikely event that I survive the inherent dangers of the boat trip finale, I'd certainly be up for more next year, anyway.


Pat Nurse said...

Has there been any debate about smoking in these freedom thingys? Mark Pack being on the panel astounds me as he is about as liberal on smoking as hitler was with equality on religion and race! Is this new ConDem coalition looking to brush this issue under the carpet? It's about time they put their money where their mouth is!

Dick Puddlecote said...

Chris Mounsey on Mark Pack:

"I thought the main opponent to liberty here would be Michael White, but Mark Pack is truly terrifying!"

(not verbatim, obviously)


JJ said...

I would have been happier with a more focused attack on the smoking ban, and how much of all of this will filter through to the main stream media...has any of it been reported outside of the blogosphere?

Sorry I just think this is no more than an excuse for a knees-up.

Dick Puddlecote said...

JJ: It wasn't about the smoking ban, it was about a variety of freedom issues of which the ban was one.

It was designed to reflect the recent mood for less authoritarian government which is why it was packed to the rafters, one assumes.

5 debates over one issue, whether it be the ban, summary care records, freedom of information, quango interference, or the 'Guardian elite' (A Guido term) wouldn't have filled more than a quarter of the room. And it certainly wouldn't have attracted such influential speakers to hear views on ALL the topics.

DaveA said...


I think Simon is playing a clever game here. What he is drawing attention to is that you start with smokers and you are next.

He has rebranded himself as the champion of liberty.

Mark Pack said...

Yup, mentioning some scientific research and saying we should think about its implications is a truly an attitude that strikes terror in some :-)

Pat Nurse said...

Yup, Mark Pack - but then it depends which "scientific" research and which self interest org has commissioned it and whether the cherry picked results align with said group's certain prejudices.

The truth is, if we really are a free and democratic nation, then freedom of choice is paramount and INDEPENDENT scientific research valuable in allowing us to choose what we do with our own lives.

There is something very unsavoury about a blanket smoking ban when respect for both sides of this issue should be given and choice should be the dividing line between two very strong and opposing views.

It was wrong when smokers could smoke everywhere. It is wrong that they can now smoke nowhere because the state is trying to engineer social change by legislating for humiliation against a minority group. Isn't that what the state did with homosexuals back in the day when we were unenlightened, ignorant and intolerant? I mean, we've moved on haven't we - or is all of the above still completely acceptable if the minority group is not a popular one?

Pat Nurse said...

ooh 'eck - did you delete me, Dick?

Dick Puddlecote said...

Pat: No. Other bloggers have mentioned a glitch whereby comments go missing, could be that. For example, Dave A's comment above wasn't visible when I read Mark Pack's earlier.


liz said...

Enjoyed the article very much - wish I had the train fare money (and Priority Club points) to have attended them all. I'm looking forward to seeing you on Wednesday - I too am somewhat concerned at the prospect of being on an actual floating device - though am gratified to see that the vessel in particular is named after my good self. Anyway - I have decided I must either keep off the alcohol or tie myself to the bar 'Titanic' style (or was it 'Towering Inferno...?) in order to avoid any incident that may require the services of the river police. As the first is really not an option I'm bringing a long scarf. Please feel free to tie up alongside me !