There’s two massively important movements taking place right now in Britain, here are some important connections between them. I’ve already written a little about the Digital Britain interim report but more importantly Charles Leadbeater has written a lot and put it all together in a handy portable pdf. Download it here.
The original report either isn’t aware of, or Lord Carter, it’s author, didn’t have the balls to ask some big questions. Leadbeater does. There’s far to many to list here, go read the document, however I will highlight one important conclusion.
It strikes me, as it has done Leadbeater, that the government on the one hand is proposing what they think is an ambitious drive to take the UK’s new media industry and infrastruture forward into the next quarter century. Yet they don’t want to involve us, the public. Moreover, they patently don’t trust us.
Reading Digital Britain one cannot help but feel the government finds the opportunities for people to self-organise through the web all too unsettling for its more technocratic, controlling tendencies. Digital Britain conveys none of the excitement that many young people feel about the world of semi-structured free association that mutual media is creating. This interim report, written behind closed doors in an era of open communications, is little more than piece of space filling to persuade us the government has a vision for the future when in reality it seems to have none, at least not yet. (A model of what can be done, even in government, is the parallel The Power of Information report, which is fully of exciting recommendations for how government can open up its information for citizens to use in novel ways. )
The government say that the UK must be allowed compete with the most advanced nations on Earth and to do this we must have an advanced IT infrastructure. But to use an advanced infrastructure, to create an advanced infrastructure, we must have entrepreneurs, thinkers, dreamers and digital literates. And they must be given tools and those tools imparted with trust.
This basic mistrust of us the people is the reason the Convention on Modern Liberty not only happend this weekend, but was much needed. What could have been another umbrella demo by the SWP and their ilk has the potential to be a real political movement. Here’s why.
Henry Porter quotes David Cameron in today’s Observer. Scarily I agree with him:
“When academics look back on Labour’s time in power,” he said, “the erosion of our historic liberties will surely be one of its most defining, and damning, aspects. Things we have long thought were part of the fabric of liberty in this country – such as trial by jury, habeas corpus with strict limits on the time that people can be held without charge, the protection of parliament against intrusion by the executive – have been whittled away.”
And Nick Clegg from the same article is a little less dramatic but a little more on point:
“We are the most spied-upon country in the developed world, with a million innocent people’s DNA on a criminal database, more surveillance cameras than anywhere in the world, parents snooped on by council officials checking up on where children spend the night, and ceaseless attempts by government to limit our freedom of expression. That’s why the work of the Convention on Modern Liberty is so important in highlighting the liberties we have lost and inspiring a new alliance in Britain to take our freedoms back.”
Both of these quotes go back to the trust issue. Nobody highlighted this issue better than Philip Pullman in his address to the convention. If Clegg highlighted the problems above, Pullman took the higher road and asked us what sort of society we WANT to live in. For if we don’t know the answer to that what have we got to complain about and what have we to aim at.
Courage, virtue, intellectual curiousity, modesty and honour are five big optimistic virtues that are pulled out and analyzed. You won’t find me arguing.
Just imagine for a moment a nation with the courage, with the modesty, with a simple wakeful clarity of mind that are so
near at hand, so easy to find, if only we knew. Imagine a government that trusted the people who elected it. Imagine agencies of the state that regarded the people’s privacy as something it was the state’s duty to guard, rather like the value of their money and the historic individuality of their town centres and their freedom to speak and write as they like. Imagine a nation that cherished these things as a kind of natural blessing, something obviously good that needed no justification, something like sunshine or kindness or clean water. Or honour.
Now what have these things to do with freedom and the threats to freedom we have been hearing about today? What has the virtue of delight to do with virtue of liberty. Everything. A nation whose laws express fear and suspicion cannot sustain delight for very long; joy does not flourish in the garden of anxiety. The society these laws seem to be designed to bring about is one of institutionalised paranoia of furtive hatred and low-level panic, every scrap of delight and gladness we can find is a blow against that fear; every instance of civility and kindness we come across is a clean wind dispersing a foul vapour. Every example we cherish of imaginative play, of the energy of creation and of the enchantment of art and the wonder of science is a weapon in the arsenal and I say weapon, advisedly: we have a fight on
our hands. “I will not cease from mental fight”, said William Blake, and this is the fight he meant. The fight to defend, to restore, and to sustain the virtue which is not now but could so easily be, the natural behaviour of the state.
We are a better people than our government believes we are; we are a better nation.
That really is a big concept yet one that you won’t find on the manisfesto for government of any of the major parties. At least not yet you won’t. That could change.