I took part in a debate in Parliament last night organised by the Young Fabians and the Bow Group, with the latter proposing the motion "This House believes that Britain is a less free country under Labour". (In true Tory style they changed the title at the last moment without telling us, as we were expecting to debate "This House believes that Britain is no longer a free country".)
We were narrowly defeated, by forty-something votes to forty-something else (none of the three tellers could count properly), but seeing as everyone in the room had arrived with their minds completely made up before we started, it wasn't much of a reflection on the quality of the debate, which I think we won hands down. I was joined by Conor McGinn, from the Young Fabians and Tom Hamilton, from Mencap, and Dominic Grieve led for the proposers, with the predictable litany of the Human Rights Act, ID cards, CCTV cameras, abolition of jury trials for serious fraud cases, control orders, etc. I pointed out to him that people living in the Stapleton Road area in my constituency - dubbed 'the most dangerous road in Britain' by the Sunday People a couple of years ago - might actually welcome the freedom that CCTV cameras give them to go about their daily business without being mugged. Probably not such a pressing concern in Dominic's constituency, Beaconsfield, where the average income is nearly £75,000 a year, making it the wealthiest constituency outside London. As I also said in the debate, I don't think it's a coincidence that the libertarian wing of the Conservative party happens also to be well-heeled wing. If, like David Cameron, your family is worth £13 million, you don't need the economic and social freedoms that state intervention can bring - you can always go private.
The seconder of the motion, whose name escapes me, mounted a particularly spirited attack on the Government. Apparently pancake races are being cancelled because of the mounting cost of injury insurance! And - in a compelling example of just how despotic and tyrannical this Government has become - he told a hushed audience that he had received a penalty notice when he drove his own Routemaster bus through central London without paying the congestion charge. (N.B. He collects classic vehicles. He is not a bus driver. That probably did not need to be said). This was, he told us, a complete outrage - buses are legally exempt from the congestion charge! Our efforts to explain to him that the exemption was perhaps not introduced for his own personal benefit, but because buses generally speaking carry lots of people around who might otherwise be using cars, fell on deaf ears. Nor did he accept that the 'positive freedom' created for Londoners by providing cheaper, more reliable and in many cases free public transport, might outweigh this gross infringement of his personal liberty. I look forward to seeing him in Parliament one day.