Other campaigns and initiatives we feel are in the spirit of the Manifesto Club. If you want us to link to your freedom campaign, send us an email.
Football fans protesting against travel restrictions
Hull City fans are holding a march in Huddersfield on 23 March, protesting against the excessive restrictions imposed on their team's supporters travelling to the match that day. A 15-year-old boy threatened to launch legal action against West Yorkshire Police, after he found out that he would have to make 350-mile round trip to comply with the imposed restrictions. The fans are marching, they say, not just for one individual, or one team, but for 'all football fans', the law-abiding majority who are facing an increasing series of restrictions on their freedom of movement. This Hull City match will be the 51st travel-restricting 'bubble match': it's a growing trend that should be of concern to all civil libertarians.
Reform Section 5
A broad coalition has formed calling for change to Section 5 of the Public Order Act - which prohibits ‘threatening, abusive or insulting words or behaviour’ in the vicinity of a person ‘likely to be caused harassment, alarm or distress thereby’.
Section 5 is a menace for free speech and legal liberties, and goes against fundamental principles of Common Law. We're delighted to join this coalition for free speech and tolerance. See our article on the problem with Section 5.
Check out the Reform Section 5 campaign page. Write to the home secretary; pass it on...
The Free Speech Debate
As we highlighted in our thinkpiece, A New Deal for Public Debate, there are grave problems with the culture of public discussion. Too often, debaters spend their energies calling for opponents to be banned, rather than on putting their own case. Intolerance, incivility and ad hominem attacks are rife. Which is why a new initiative, The Free Speech Debate, is so important.
This Oxford-based project proposes 10 fundamental principles for international public debate, including: 'we allow no taboos', 'we respect the believer but not necessarily the content of the belief', and 'we speak openly and with civility about all kinds of human difference'.
The project seeks international responses to these principles - and also posts commentaries and discussions about free speech disputes across the world. Have a look and join the debate.
Parents successfully challenging 'No photo' policies
A father who was accosted by security guards, who then called the police, after he took a picture of his own daughter enjoying an ice-cream at Braehead shopping centre near Glasgow has successfully challenged the absurd 'no photos' policy of Capital Shopping Centres Group PLC, which also operates the Trafford Centre and Lakeside. Following the outrageous incident, Chris White set up a Facebook Page, Boycott Braehead, which quickly received overwhelming support and media coverage, and before long the company conceded it had been in the wrong and agreed to change its policy. As White comments on the Facebook Page, 'The positives are that at least one shopping centre group have changed their stances on a "no photos" policy and there is now an opportunity to begin a sensible dialogue on a subject that has touch a public nerve.' Congratulations, and let's hope this is the beginning of a trend.
Petition to review the smoking ban
TV chef Antony Worrall Thompson has a petition on the Downing Street website calling for a review of the smoking ban - and an amendment that would give pubs the option of having 'separate well-ventilated smoking rooms'. The petition, in alliance with the Save Our Pubs and Clubs campaign, is extremely sensible. The best solution would be to have smoking and non-smoking areas, so people can choose according to their habits (and friends). The current blanket ban is entirely inappropriate when 20% of the population smoke: it replaces diversity and negotiation with rigid diktat. Sign the petition!
Scots campaigning against the ban on 'offensive' football chants
Football fans and libertarians are combining to oppose the Scottish government's proposed 'anti-sectarian' law, which would criminalise offensive football songs and chants as well as online comments. Presenting the famously intense rivalry between Rangers and Celtic fans as an expression of a deeper social problem, for which there is little if any evidence, the legislation could see people imprisoned for five years for no more than singing unsavoury songs or winding up rival fans on the internet. The campaign against this law represents an important stand against the abuse of law by politicians determined to be seen to 'do something' about questionable problems, at the expense of free speech and indeed common sense. Sign their petition!
Scots campaigning against the minimum alcohol price
With SNP gains in recent elections, a minimum alcohol price in Scotland looks more likely than ever. In anticipation, the campaign group Take A Liberty (Scotland) has launched a petition against the minimum price. Their petition reads: 'any action taken by the Scottish government to increase the price of alcohol is illiberal and patronising and should be opposed. Using extreme examples of violence or alcoholism to justify increasing the price of alcohol for everyone is irrational and ends up treating all adults - and especially poorer people whose drinks are generally targeted - as children.' An important initiative - sign the petition here. Scotland has long been the testing ground for illiberal alcohol measures, so the issue is of concern for all UK citizens.
Spaniards campaigning against the smoking ban
There is a lively and principled opposition to the incoming Spanish smoking ban, due to launch on 2 January 2011. The main opposition organisation goes under the slogan 'Ban the Bans' (Prohibido Prohibir), and is a group of ‘Smokers and non-smokers who believe in tolerance as a fundamental principle for living together’. We wholeheartly support their call. See their website and petition; and our article analysing the Spanish anti-ban movement.
Australian photographers against photo-bans
A new organisation called 'Arts Freedom Australia' is taking on the restriction of photography in Australia. They had a rally of 700 people in Sydney in August, and are making some of the same excellent points as the UK's I'm a Photographer not a Terrorist. A thoughtful column in The Age by Geoff Strong reflects on how the restriction of photography affects civic culture and the citizen archive.
London comedy clubs against leafleting bans
London comedians have launched a petition against Westminster Council's leafleting ban, which is strangling small comedy clubs in the West End. The right for one citizen to petition another is absolutely essential to a free and democratic life, so we wholeheartedly support these comedians' cause and urge you to sign the petition. Leafleting bans are coming in across the UK, with more and more councils designating zones where leafleting is banned or licenced.
Civil libertarian election 2010 interventions
A selection of civil liberties initiatives we support this month: ‘I’m a Photographer Not a Terrorist’s’ 13 April meeting, ‘Hostile Reconnaissance’; International PEN’s ‘Free the Word!’ festival, a celebration of World Literature, 14-18 April; Henry Porter’s ‘questions for candidates’ postcard; The Institute of Ideas'
21 Pledges for Progress
Live Music Forum
The Live Music Forum is doing sterling work to challenge the growing regulation of live music - and to celebrate the importance of spontaneous local gigs. They have a series of petitions and lobbying ideas on their website here: www.livemusicforum.co.uk/. Do join them.
A new group set up by members of the Manifesto Club and the Brighton Salon to campaign for everyday freedom, against various trends identified by the Manifesto Club, such as booze bans, CRB checks and Brighton's flyering ban - there is a Facebook group on this issue. This is an excellent initative, and sure to provide a wealth of experience and insights to be drawn on by campaigners in other parts of Britain and beyond.
Parents upholding their own responsibility for their children's education, against state encroachments
A group of British parents who educate their children at home have launched a petition against unwarranted state intrusion into their families. The Children, Schools & Family Bill 2009, which is being fast-tracked through Parliament, stipulates further checks on such families by local authorities, on the assumption that parents cannot be trusted to act in in the interests of their own children, while Ofsted has even recommended Criminal Records Bureau checks for parents who educate their children at home. This should raise alarm bells not only for home educators, but for parents who send their children to school on the assumption they're being educated there on behalf of their parents rather than the state, as a public or private service rather than an imposition on the part of the authorities. The Manifesto Club supports parents' right to educate their children at home if they so choose, and the principle that it is parents themselves who are ultimately responsible for their children's education even in the state sector.
The Big Brother Watch blog
Big Brother Watch is a blog documenting many of the same curbs on civil liberties that we campaign against at the Manifesto Club, from booze bans to wheelie bin surveillance. A fine resource for all campaigners for freedom. Set up by the TaxPayers' Alliance, Big Brother Watch aims to become 'the gadfly of the ruling class, a champion for civil liberties and personal freedom'.
Photographers and others defending a photography lecturer facing censorious disciplinary charges
Simon Burgess, a lecturer at East Surrey College, is facing serious disciplinary action (and possible redundancy) for introducing students to the work of photographic artist Del LaGrace Volcano. The college management claims it is 'pornography, salacious, grotesque, worthless' and not relevant to, or appropriate for photography students.
In the spirit of academic and artistic freedom, opposition to censorship, and basic open-mindedness, the Manifesto Club supports all those rallying to Burgess' cause, and taking a stand against a college administration which seems inimical to the basic principles of arts education. Messages of support and offers of help should be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org
SOAS students standing up for cleaners threatened with deportation
A group of students and campaigners has occupied the director's office at London's School of Oriental and African Studies in protest at the arrest and threatened deportation of several cleaners at the university. The cleaners were seized by immigration officials in an early morning raid on Friday 12 June, and several have already been deported. This follows a campaign for a living wage for these workers, which has been supported by many SOAS students, who now feel the cleaners are being punished for demanding a fair deal. Encouragingly, many of the students and others are challenging immigration law as well as the raid itself, and calling for open borders. There is a campaign page on Facebook.
A petition in support of open-ended scientific research
A petition has been launched on the Number 10 website calling on the Prime Minister to promote discovery and innovation in UK science. The text reads in part: 'We request the reversal of a policy now being applied by the UK Research Councils. This policy directs funds to projects whose outcomes are specified in advance. Science has never worked in this way, and never could. The real world is blind to our hopes, fears, and aspirations. Scientific research seeks to describe this world, replacing ignorance and error with knowledge and understanding. Where a specific outcome can be predicted with confidence, then there is no research.'
This is very much in the spirit of Tom Addiscott's Manifesto Club thinkpiece, 'For the public good, set science free', and we wholeheartedly endorse it.
Pro-Test's defence of animal research in Europe
The Oxford-based campaign group Pro-Test, which stands up for the continued use of animals in scientific research, is calling on supporters to write to their MEPs ahead of a crucial European Parliamentary debate on proposals to update the laws governing medical research using animals across the EU. The update is necessary to keep pace with developments in technology, such as the use of transgenic animals, which is important to many fields of medical research today. But some proposed amendments being promoted by animal rights campaigners could place unnecessary restrictions on researchers. This is a chance for all Europeans who believe in the value of scientific research to make the case for putting human medical needs, and human knowledge, before spurious animal rights. Details can be found on the Pro-Test blog: Let Europe hear your voice: time to write to your MEP
The Pink Chaddi Campaign
A self-styled 'consortium of pub-going, loose and forward women' in India, standing up to the bigots who abuse and malign women who frequent bars. Since those same reactionaries also object to Indian lovers observing Valentine's Day, as a supposed expression of Western decadence, the campaigners resolved to send pink chaddis, or underpants, to the headquarters of the fundamentalist Sri Ram Sena as a Valentine's present. This is a welcome sign that Indian women will not put up with oppression in the name of tradition. Their spirit could perhaps be emulated in the supposedly libertine West, given a recent and supposedly humorous attempt to police kissing at a railway station in Warrington in England.
London musicians challenging bureaucratic licensing procedures for live music
Feargal Sharkey is leading a campaign against the requirement for licensees who wish to hold live music events in 21 London Boroughs to complete and submit Form 696, to report to the police the names, addresses, aliases and telephone numbers of performers, as well as, bizarrely, the style of music being performed. There remains some doubt over how rigorously this is being enforced, but it is typical of the increasing bureaucratisation of everyday life, and sets a precedent that ought to be challenged in principle rather than accepted with a shrug. There is a petition against Form 696 on the Number 10 website.
Simon Singh's case against a censorious libel claim
Simon Singh, the British science writer (Fermat's Last Theorem, etc), is being sued for libel by the British Chiropractic Association. The BCA are promoting chiropractic as treatment for children with potentially serious ailments such as asthma and frequent ear infections. Simon Singh criticised this in a Guardian comment piece, which has now been removed from the Guardian site, but is available on this Russian website. In particular, he criticised the BCA for doing this without appropriate clinical evidence. He is now being sued for libel. The BCA want damages and an injunction against him saying such things in future.
Singh is contesting the case and there is a Facebook group for those who want to support him. The Manifesto Club opposes the censoriousness of libel laws in general, and this attempt to silence scientific argument in particular.
Historians campaigning against ‘memory laws’
A group of historians and writers has made a timely intervention to defend the freedom of historical memory. More and more countries have laws on how historical events should be remembered or described – specifying, for example, that an event should be called a genocide (or not); or that colonialism should be described as god or bad. The "Appel de Blois", published in Le Monde, takes on this regulation of historical investigation: it maintains that in a free country ‘it is not the business of any political authority to define historical truth and to restrict the liberty of the historian by penal sanctions’.
This is part of the French campaign, ‘Liberty for History’, led by the French historian Pierre Nora. One of the UK signatories, Timothy Garton Ash, makes the point that laws are not the best way to correct an historical inaccuracy. 'You refute it by refuting it. By mustering all the available evidence, in free and open debate. This is not just the best way to get at the facts; ultimately, it's the best way to combat racism and xenophobia too.’ This is a very important and valuable campaign.
Students campaigning against 'No Platform' motions
The Manifesto Club supports students across Britain who are calling for the abolition of 'no platform' policies in student unions. We believe that no speakers should be denied a platform on principle, however objectionable their opinions, and that universities should not be afraid of argument. See these commentaries from Oxford, Sussex, and UEA. The Sussex group in particular fought a heroic battle to overturn the university’s ‘No Platform’ motion (see their Facebook group, Support Free Speech at Sussex University), taking on the combined forces and political manoeuvring of the Student Union.
Oppose bans on public drinking
The new London major's first act was to ban drinking on the Tube. As spiked's Brendan O'Neill points out, one's attitude towards public drinking has long been a test of libertarian spirit. The Manifesto Club supports all those – and there have not been many – who have raised a protest against public drinking bans. These include the organisers of this Circle Line Party against the Tube drinking ban, and David Shariatmadari on Comment is Free; and this petition from the publicans and patrons of Soho, who call on the PM to ‘resist a ban on drinking outside and maintain the liberal culture of Soho’. See also Dolan Cummings' comment against the booze ban in the Manifesto Club Members' Room.
Defending academic freedom in a climate of panic
Students and academics at Nottingham University are campaigning against the deportation of Hicham Yezza, a former PhD student and current employee of the university, who was arrested under the Terrorism Act along with MA politics research student Rizwaan Sabir. The arrests came after a colleague saw an al Qaeda manual Yezza had printed for Sabir's research, and called the police in a panic. They were later released without charge, but Yezza was immediately re-arrested on immigration charges because of confusion over his visa. There will be a public reading of the research materials on campus on Wednesday 28 May, as a show of support for academic freedom. Meanwhile, the threatened deportation is a reminder of more mundane obstacles to the free exchange of ideas and research in a climate of panic and increasing surveillance. The campaign to release Yezza is heartening.
Standing up for embryo research
The Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill is currently being considered by the House of Commons. The Bill proposes to allow embryo research to continue in the UK, including embryonic stem cell science and animal-human hybrid embryo work. When the Bill had its second reading on Monday 12 May, representatives of hundreds of patient groups demonstrated outside Parliament, together with scientists, doctors and others, to show their support for the Bill, and to counter lobbying from vocal opponents who want to impede embryo research and clinical interventions like preimplantation genetic diagnosis.
Most of the public do support research in this field, recognising its medical benefits as well as the broader value of scientific experimentation. It is important to show support for legislation that supports such experimentation, and not let debate on these issues be dominated by fear-mongering and anti-science prejudice. The Manifesto Club supports all those who stand up to make the case for scientific research and experimentation. See the HFE Bill weblog.
Say no to league tables!
The UK University College Union - Uncensored website has launched a campaign against university league tables. The feisty campaign calls on academics to boycott and sabotage the league tables, which reduce the 'open and unfinalised' process of university research and teaching to simplistic metrics amenable to 'servant journalists'.
Standing up for amateur photographers
Austin Mitchell MP has submitted an Early Day Motion to Parliament in defence of Photography in Public Areas. He notes that photographers in the UK are increasingly being pestered by police, police community support officers and wardens. These busybodies try to stop people taking pictures, or make them delete pictures they've already given, sometimes on the spurious grounds that pictures of public places could be useful to terrorists, as well as the familiar 'child protection' grounds already documented by the Manifesto Club. With the Metropolitan Police currently urging us to report photographers as potential terrorists, Mitchell's motion is to be commended for making the simple point that photography is a normal and benign part of life that should not be sacrificed on the altar of the precautionary principle.
Cotton wool kids can't swim
The Scottish youth research group Generation Youth Issues, which campaigns against the over regulation of young people’s lives, has launched a campaign to get rid of the irrational safe swimming policies being adopted by council swimming pools across Scotland. Regulations that often vary from pool to pool and council to council are increasingly taking a hyper-cautious ‘cotton wool’ approach to adults taking their children swimming and are refusing entry to parents who turn up with their children because of ‘health and safety’. This campaign is very much in the spirit of the Manifesto Club's campaign against vetting, and we hope to see many similar initiatives.
Free speech in Germany
Hundreds of people have signed an online petition against the criminalisation of Holocaust denial in Germany. The ban not only denies people the right to express their views, but also obscures the reality of the Holocaust by turning it from an historically established fact into state imposed dogma. Humanists and anti-racists should be the first to support free speech in Germany and elsewhere, and not allow the issue to be claimed by far right cranks.
If you know of other campaigns and initiatives worthy of the Manifesto Club's support and potential collaboration, please do contact us.