Paul Burstow was the latest guest to grace the 6th. Form Lecture programme at SGS. The Lib Dem Chief Whip - and local MP of course - focused on the defence of freedom for his speech. He gave an eloquent survey of what he saw as the overweening power of the state threatening individual freedoms, and it is not surprising that his talk should have generated some good questions from the audience. His view of freedom is certainly classically liberal - to the extent that he was happy to accept that freedom must come with risks; that some 'anti-terror' measures should be consigned to the waste bin because their impact on individual freedom is more significant than whether they might protect us from external attack. He was clear about not wanting to live in Voltaire's "gilded cage".
The key question for any modern liberal, of course, is how to resolve that tension between protecting individual liberties and promoting empowerment for all. Opposing the power of the state as manifested in its security apparatus is not essentially difficult (although too few still do so nonetheless). Opposing the power of the state when it is more becomingly clothed in its nanny outfit is much more daring. To say that the state has no role in telling us how we should live, how much we should drink, who we should have sex with, what drugs we can smoke....these are the gradual encroachments that are just as iniquitous to individual liberty as the security apparatus. Paul Burstow illustrated his effective case with some high profile, and clearly outrageous, infringements on certain individuals. If you want to see a more low level attack, just drive past any pub of an evening and see the poor sods who have been forced, like naughty children, to take to the cold pavements to enjoy their cigarettes. Freedom comes in many guises, and they are not qualitatively different.