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Can Civil Liberties have an impact?

February 28th, 2009

Today, I will be joining around 1,000 participants nationwide at the Convention on Modern Liberty – a conference of speakers and activists from across the political spectrum who share a concern about the direction with respect to our basic rights and liberties.

Although not an automatic adherent, I acknowledge that we now live in a society that is becoming ever more scary from this particular perspective, and am interested to see what some of the great thinkers of the age have to say on the issue. If memory serves, then there is one CCTV camera for every 14 people in the UK. We have seen the proposal of hitherto-unthinkabe legislation (42 days and the ID card database), and it is estimated that 8% of the population is already on the DNA database, independent of whether they have ever beeb found guilty of an office.

Beyond the Damian Green affair, we have seen modifications (or attempts at modifying) a whole host of fundamental liberties, including trial by jury (for complex legal trials) and double jeopardy. The biscuit,however, should go to Jacqui Smith for allowing (upon her order) the police to search the home of any employee who works for a company that has signed a non-disclosure agreement for the ID cards programme. Overturning the needs for a search warrant on the back of an NDA is just breathtaking government.


    Civil Liberties is one of those issues that will rarely if ever garner electoral support for its political movements. Haltemprice & Howden still stands out as a largely anomalous campaign. It is staggering that in 30 years of asking, the issue still doesn’t register on the Ipsos MORI issue tracker, and is unlikely to if it remains in its current format. The Mori options, generated by respondants, are almost entirely ‘tax and spend’ priorities, rather than significant concerns, and I think the poll gets treated as such. Getting more abstract principles to break through as principal concerns is very difficult.

If the comparison can even be made, I remain skeptical that an issue such as Civil Liberties could hold its own agains the major issues in a ‘tax and spend’ priorities, but that is largely a function of the questioning. I wonder if their importance to the Briitish public could be seriously underestimated, and whether there are seats in the South East especially where this could make all the difference. This is a limitation of the strength of modern polling – measuring the breadth and depth of public support for an agenda that has been largely hidden will be a most difficult task, but if able to track and improve those results, then the Convention on Modern Liberty will have exceeded our heavy expectations.

So, will Civil Liberties be a tangible issue at the next election? It could be, but that will take some co-ordinated effort. These good people have their work cut out – but I wish them the very best.

Morus






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