“Freedom is the will to be responsible to ourselves” – Friedrich NietzscheHaving 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.