A new era of liberty?

Tuesday 12 October, 6.30pm until 8.30pm, Hallmark Hotel, Midland Road, Derby DE1 2SQ

Venue: Hallmark Hotel, Midland Road, Derby, DE1 2SQ

Tickets: £7.50 (£5 concessions) per person. Tickets are available from the Academy of Ideas website.

In July, the new coalition government launched a consultation to remove laws that fetter our freedom, explaining that, ‘For too long new laws have taken away your freedom, interfered in everyday life and made it difficult for businesses to get on. We want your ideas on how to change that, ideas on how we restore hard-won freedoms that have been lost’. Did Nick Clegg’s call for people to suggest illiberal or coercive laws they want to abolish mark the beginning of a new era of liberty? The idea seems promising, but is it just an empty gesture, another ‘listening campaign’ to make us feel good? Are we being presented with freedom as soundbite rather than a real debate about the issues?

In today’s cautious and conservative political climate, the foundational freedoms - freedom of speech, freedom to organise and the negative liberty of not having the state intruding into our private lives - are less likely to be supported and are rarely fought for. Is it merely cynical to suppose that the freedom to sack employees is more likely to come out any consultation than the freedom to say what you like? The idea of consultation continues a political tradition of the elite conferring rights rather than the public seeing freedom as being something we have to fight for. Indeed, it sometimes seems most people are not that interested in freedom. The last government’s efforts to deal with ‘antisocial behaviour’ were popular despite their illiberalism. If people value security above all else, freedom is unlikely to become a truly popular cause. So is freedom just a matter of governments removing laws that restrict freedoms or enacting laws that protect freedom? Don’t we need a real campaign over what matters rather than passively filling in consultation forms on a website?

Does today’s backlash against the ‘nanny state’ signal a new era of liberty? Or will campaigners have to go further, and understand the roots of the last government’s illiberalism, in order to hold this and future governments to account?

Guy Aitchison
contributing editor, openDemocracy; co-editor, OurKingdom blog; campaigner, Take Back Parliament

Professor Dennis Hayes
professor of education, University of Derby

Guy Herbert
general secretary, NO2ID; contributor, Guardian’s Comment is free and Samizdata

Dr James Panton
head of politics, Magdalen College School, Oxford; associate lecturer in politics and philosophy, Open University; co-founder, Manifesto Club

Brian Winston
Lincoln Professor, University of Lincoln; author, A Right to Offend: free expression in the twenty-first century

Rania Hafez
programme leader, MA Education, Greenwich University; fellow, The Muslim Institute

Produced by
Professor Dennis Hayes professor of education, University of Derby
Recommended readings
Illiberal Exclusion List Remains

In May 2010, the government’’s Freedom Bill sweetened the pill of coalition for Liberal Democrat voters and libertarian Tories with the promise of rolling back the illiberal legislation of the new Labour years. No longer would we toil under the socialist yoke. We were promised reform of the libel laws, scrapping of ID cards, greater Freedom of Information. But perhaps one of the most insidious restrictions on freedom was left untouched.

Padraig Reidy, Free Speech Blog, 20 September 2010

The law is the enemy of free speech

After a lifetime dedicated to making the world a fairer place, Lord Lester is now tackling Britain's 'chilling' libel laws.

Ian Burrell, Independent, 26 August 2010

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