This exhibition explores the development of liberties and rights through history, starting with Magna Carta and developing the story, through the 1689 Bill of Rights, the Act of Union (they seem to recognise, unlike Mr Brown the difference between English and British history), the 1832 reform act etc, right up to the present day Human Rights Act. It contains plenty of original documents, not just official papers, but sufferagette diaries, photos of chartist rallies and the like.
I do wonder though, if Gordon Brown was the right person to open it. The Exhibition tries to encourage debate (with an interactive section) so I guess couldn’t stop Brown purely because of his illiberal tendencies. And he of course, doesn’t see his tendencies to be illiberal, so I suppose there is a debate to be had.
And it is a debate I welcome. I am, I will admit, a late comer to the cause of Civil Liberties. Put off by some ridiculous scare mongering arguments, I have only recently, when I started to look into it become converted. In fact, more than merely converted, I am starting to think that this may be the single most important issue around.
There is no doubt we have a huge growth in surveillance, and in legislation, and that there are questions to be asked. Looking at the history of it, one thing that interests me is how historically left-wing (liberal, you might say) positions, are being taken up and celebrated by the right wing (libertarian). This shows in someways only the folly of a simplistic left/right axis, but also that this is an issue, like that of an English parliament, where people from very differing political traditions can unite and work together.
I hope, if I have time, in the next few weeks to try and record some of my thoughts on liberties, rights and other political ideas, to try and clarify my position, more for myself than for my readers. I would certainly love to see the Taking Liberties exhibition before I do this, a historical perspective has always been informative for me. I don’t live in London, so my not get there for a while though, we shall see.
This is, all in all, the perfect time for such a display, and its raising of questions, and attempts to initiate debate. Let us all take it in the spirit it is intended.