Tag Archives: Taking Liberties

Taking Liberties

The British Library’s “Taking Liberties” exhibition opens tomorrow, and will be open until March. It is free, and should be well worth a visit. There is an interactive online tool which examines a lot of the issues

The curator has a website, here.

I previously wrote about this exhibition in August.

Combining this with the Royal Academy‘s Byzantium exhibition could make for a good day out in London.

Now That’s British!

“When Gordon Brown called on the British Library to stage an exhibition about Britishness he perhaps envisaged a patriotic celebration of the national identity. ” begins the story in The Telegraph.

It continues to tell of the new exhibition called ‘Taking Liberties‘ – which is a very British response to such a request from a Prime Minister seeking a publicity tool. It’s an exhibition looking at Civil Liberties in the UK, and how they’ve been slowly but steadily eroded since 1997.

David Davis, the former shadow Home Secretary who recently stepped down from the Parliament to force a by election on the issue of civil liberties, said: “It is an astonishingly good idea but is clearly a snub to the Prime Minister and must be accurately embarrassing for him. Gordon Brown likes to talk about Britishness a lot without understanding that liberty is at the core of Britishness. It is our institutional DNA. Our history and tradition of freedom run longer and deeper than any other country.”

(snip)

Iconic objects such as the Magna Carta, the death certificate of Charles I and Cromwell’s Oath of Loyalty from 1857 will be on display among less well known items some of which have never been on display before.

The exhibition will open on the 31st October and end on the 1st March 2009. Be careful what you ask for, you might just get it.

The British Library is at St. Pancras – very convenient for tube and rail connections.

Taking Liberties

Taking Liberties is to be shown on More 4 tonight

Taking Liberties

Details on the broadcast are available online. It is to be transmitted at 10pm, and repeated on more4+1. at 11pm. It’ll be shown again at 1:10am in the morning.

Blurb from the More 4 site:

About the film
Riding in on a wave of optimism and real belief in their mantra that things can only get better, they proceeded to enact some of the most authoritarian legislation in recent history.

With fast-paced satirical style, this Bafta-nominated film shows how, in just over a decade, some rights and freedoms that took centuries to build up have been rolled back or cut away.

Erosion of civil liberties
The entitlement to habeas corpus – no detention without trial – established when the barons took on King John in the 13th century has, in some circumstances, been abolished.

Millions of CCTV cameras up and down the country undermine our right to privacy.

A series of measures has made it more and more difficult to exercise freedom of speech and already led to the arrest of a large number of peaceful protestors.

Director Chris Atkins has assembled footage to demonstrate how oppressive these new powers can be.

Walter Wolfgang
The 82-year-old holocaust survivor was lifted bodily from a debate at the Labour Party conference for, as talking-head Tony Benn points out, “rightfully” saying that Jack Straw is talking “nonsense” about Iraq. We see a man who tries to protest against the treatment of this old man also set upon by security, and learn that he was later handled roughly – and that poor old Wolfgang was next detained by the police under the 2000 Terrorism Act.

Moulad Sihali
We meet Moulad Sihali an Algerian refugee. He was cleared of all charges relating to a non-existent plot to manufacture the poison Ricin (a non-conspiracy that was “discovered”, conveniently enough, in the propaganda run up to the invasion of Iraq), but has now been made a prisoner in his own home. He’s been fitted with a tracking device, is only allowed outside at certain hours – and then only within a one mile radius of his house – and is forbidden to meet anyone who hasn’t been vetted by the Home Office. The specific charge against him? There isn’t one.

We hear how Maya Evans, a vegan chef, and her friend the writer Milan Rai were arrested under the Serious Organised Crime and Police act for reading out the names of people who have died in Iraq and occasionally ringing a (very quiet) Buddhist bell.

Brian Haw
We watch David Blunkett describe in a Commons debate how he is going to use a “sledgehammer” to “smash” a “nut”. The “nut” he’s referring to, (“and he is a total nut” booms Blunkett) is Brian Haw, a man whose peaceful protests in Parliament Square so enraged the then home secretary that the law had to be changed to get at him – and more than 70 police officers used to remove his one-man anti-government stand.

And so it goes on.

Occasionally the footage is very funny. The police justify taking Haw’s signs away on the grounds that “terrorists can hide bombs in protestors’ placards”, for instance. Elsewhere, protestors are told that if they step off the grass verge they have been crowded onto they could be arrested for blocking a public highway. They are told this by a massed group of policemen who actually are blocking the road.

Maddening revelations
There are recordings of the police intimidating grandmothers; protestors being strong armed; 80-year-olds being dragged along on their backsides by police; Tony Blair staring on silently (in contravention of international law against complicity with torturers) as George W Bush praises the facilities at Guantanamo Bay.

Atkins even succeeds in arousing sympathy for a group of bankers – the Natwest three. Thanks to a 2003 treaty they were extradited to the US – for a crime they allegedly committed in Britain but that British authorities declined to prosecute due to lack of evidence. The ability of the US to take these men from their homes and support networks without presenting any new data to the British government is enraging. “In this matter we are the 51st state” says one observer, and it’s hard to disagree.

Shock tactics
As you might expect from a product that shares a co-producer with Michael Moore’s Fahrenheit 9/11, Taking Liberties is partisan, loud, in your face and all-the better for it.

“This film uses shock tactics. We needed to be unashamedly populist,” said director Chris Atkins and his judgement has been vindicated.

The complex legal issues surrounding civil liberties may not set everyone aflame, but the great gift of Taking Liberties is to show how vital they are.

True, Atkins sweetens the pill with all that dramatic footage and eloquent contributions from talking heads like the ever reliable Mark Thomas and Tony Benn, but it’s the central message of the film that really hits home.

The erosion of these rights and freedoms has the potential to impact seriously on each and every one of us – and if we don’t do something about it, things will only get worse.