Freedom has to be fought for- the relevance of the US revolution to today.

Last night was doubly unusual for me. I had time to watch TV, and there was something on a Saturday night I was willing to watch. I tuned in to the story of the political awakening of John Adams, the 2nd President of the USA.

In their vivid and simplified documentary way the film makers captured the rising tensions in America against the bovine insensitivity of the British government. We saw John Adams, the honest and fair minded man, defend British redcoats against false charges of murder from an angry crowd that had taunted and assaulted them. We saw him turn down preferment from the clumsy colonial authorities, only to go on to advance radical proposals concenring the rights of man when even for him the autocratic inflexibility of the British government became too much to stand, let alone defend. He and his fellow delegates to the Convention fashioned the philosophy and the fine words of freedom that made the intellectual backbone of the new Republic. They shamed the gross incompetence of the British some 130 years after Parliament had had to make a stand for its rights against the Crown.The irony of Britain moving from home of liberty to colonial oppressor could not have been missed by the English gentlemen who made the Amrican revolution. I wondered if any Americans watching could see some of the irony now that America is viewed as the oppressor by some in countries where she uses her troops against the will of the locals. The cause of freedom requires tolerance to the differing views of others in most circumstances.

It made me think how much today we need to fashion a new coalition for liberty in our own country. The countless intrusions into our freedoms have often been criticised individually but when we look back over the last decade the total impact is large. Much damage has been done in the false name of security. More has been done by taking in vain the name of social justice, and still more in misguided ways to save the planet. The government has found causes it thinks are higher than liberty, and has then invented ways of seeking to further them that all result in the same dead and deadly end – more state power, more state control, more taxation, more rights and privileges for the governing and more duties and obligations for the rest of us.

When I go the local shops this morning I will doubtless see several people breaking the law, as many do now most of the time. Some will drive at 35 mph believing they do so safely in a 30 mph zone. Some will park on the double yellow lines in the side road close to the shop, seeing no harm as they will not bock the road. Doubtless some will fail to record cash payments for their businesses in their tax account file. Some businesses will be trading today in ways that doubtless violate some little known or unloved regulation. Some break laws because they cannot see the point of the laws, some break them inadvertently because there are so many to know about, and some break them because it makes their lives easier to break them. Recent research has unearthed just how many thousands of new criminal offences this government has introduced, finding new ways to ensnare the usually law abiding. If you invent enough complicated forms, difficult requirements and new rules for business and the general citizenry you will end up making criminals of most. To what purpose?

As I watched the Adams story unfold I knew I would have been with the crowd in demanding liberty in 1770s Masachusetts. I today I am with all those of you who feel there are too many taxes, too many spy cameras, too many new rules, too many needless interventions in our daily lives. We need to rebuild our free society. As we emerge from the Credit Crunch the message should not be that we need more government, but we need wiser government. We do not need more red coats with better weapons, but someone in charge who knows the temper of the people and trusts them to be freer and to make of their own decisions.

When we get a change of government we do not want managerialists who think it is just a question of running the existing system better, but freedom lovers who ask which bits of the creaking machinery of state do we need to keep running, and which can we pension off.

Men and women in Brtain are no longer born free, and live in chains. We need to burst them, to trust people more and governments less. It was big government working with regulated big banks that got us into our current economic mess. It was big government running scared of terrorism that sought to protect us with guards and gates in ways which cannot work when we need to win hearts and minds. I just wish the architects of the current autocracy had watched and understood last night’s docusoap of freedom. They should see that there is relevance today in Britain from those events long ago on the wintry Eastern seaboard of a great country.

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17 Comments

  1. Posted December 28, 2008 at 10:41 am | Permalink

    It certainly was a good TV programme and John Adams was an interesting man. The trial scenes were excellent and what shone through was the research and attention to detail of the programme makers.

    TV and radio has had its ups and downs in 2008 – the Brand/Ross affair and controversies over voting such as Strictly Come Dancing. Nonetheless there is some great entertainment for all tastes on the box and we should celebrate that.

  2. Tim Bull
    Posted December 28, 2008 at 3:16 pm | Permalink

    When do you think you will acknowledge that the Conservative Party is unlikely to repeal the oppressive legislation to any significant degree, and will transfer your allegiance to the Libertarian Party ?

  3. mikestallard
    Posted December 28, 2008 at 4:52 pm | Permalink

    Of course you are right!
    But my wife represents Mrs Average – something she is extremely talented at being.
    When I say things like you have said above, she always points out that the government is right, actually. Do you really want complete chaos on the roads? What if, say, an ambulance had to drive down the narrow street where the yellow lines have been put to save someone who was dying?
    Politics? Boring. Politicians? Boring. She judges them by tribal instinct and also by the amount of hair they have, and if they look “nice”. And she believes that they all are trying their very best to make her safe.
    She reads the paper every day and votes at every election, faithfully.
    David Davis? Who?
    Most people I meet in this town feel exactly the same as she does, which is why I am so lucky to have her as an adviser. They aren’t bothered by the EU, the credit crunch, Chammy Chakrabati, or anything else much. They live their lives.
    And until people like me, who care very much about our traditional and historic liberties, realise this important truth, we are going to be condemned for ever to the sidelines.

  4. DiscoveredJoys
    Posted December 28, 2008 at 5:15 pm | Permalink

    Here’s an interesting subject to debate – at what point did HMG switch from protecting the country to micro-managing it? There seems to have been an increasing interference in our daily lives after World War II. Perhaps freedoms surrendered to the common cause can never fully be restored?

    I’m fairly certain that there is no swift and painless way of changing this attitude, but unless the state is actively rolled back, it will roll forward over us all.

    There is a change in attitude required – moving from from provision of state run services (e.g. health, education, which the state manages extremely poorly) to establishing the standards for these activities provided by others.

    I believe the people of the UK would be happy to be led well, but are currently dissatisfied and disgruntled at being managed. We want the Government to set the tone, not nag.

  5. Peter Hillier-Brook
    Posted December 28, 2008 at 11:15 pm | Permalink

    I do hope that you can get this message through to David Cameron. It’s hard to see how he could lose votes by promising to roll back the almighty state, but he seens to fear that this would be a consequence, at least in his public persona where “timid” seems an appropriate adjective.

    Reply: On the contrary, David has made clear in recent weeks that he wants a smaller state, less expensive to run and more responsive to the public it is meant to serve.

    • Alfred T Mahan
      Posted December 29, 2008 at 1:22 pm | Permalink

      John, you give the game away with the phrase ‘in recent weeks’. Recently the way to go has been obvious to a blind man in a kayak in mid-Atlantic, and this has been reflected in opinion poll movement. Agreeing with the majority of commentators proves nothing. So I don’t yet see the Damascene conversion of Messrs Cameron and Osborne as proving that they understand in their heart of hearts what is required. They’ve been trimmers up to now – why aren’t they trimmers still?

      Reducing our bloated, inefficient government will require quite exceptional willpower to take on the numerous vested interests that will oppose it. Trimmers don’t have the necessary depth of commitment to make it happen. It will take more than a few comments ‘in recent weeks’ to convince me that the current Conservative leadership have the understanding and the determination to see through what’s necessary.

      I say this in sorrow not in anger.

  6. Posted December 28, 2008 at 11:38 pm | Permalink

    Unfortunately your leader said at the Conservative Party Conference- I am no Libertarian. Confusing Libertarianism with being a Libertine. De Facto Authoritarian ?

    The British people are tired of authoritarianism and tired of being taxed to the point of distraction.

    John Adams faced certain execution as a rebel against the Crown, if his ship en route to France had been captured. Sadly modern MP’s who are broadly Libertarian will not even take the risk of losing their safe seat, let alone face death as did Adams.

    I do not expect you to join the new coalition for Liberty, but I do expect you to take a pricipled stand, if you truly believe what you write.

    Chairman LPUK

    Reply: I do take a principled stand for liberty, as do many of my colleagues in the Conservative party. After all, David Davis resigned and fought a by election over one of the big issues. The Leader of the party agrees with us that freedom has been damaged and some repeals will be necessary, starting with ID cards.

  7. Posted December 29, 2008 at 10:37 am | Permalink

    Unfortunately David Cameron appears to care not for such things. It seems he is mainly intent on landing a 5 year contract with the British electorate with the break clause on his side only with the freedom to change the terms of the agreement, its content and purpose, again only on his side. The Tories are ever more Statist, more Centrist in areas and are still wedded to that leech of Sovereignty and Freedom, the EU.

    We need to understand that the State is, at best, a necessary evil and one must constantly review and test that necessity. The Conservative Party leadership sees Government as a “good”. People want more good, so the Conservative Party will want a bigger state machine.

    John, you appear to be wise enough to see the State for what it truly is and wish to limit it as a matter of prinicple and pragmatic reality.

    The only UK party that sees the State thus – at best a necessary evil – also stands for Freedom, Rule of Law and Liberty. That party is the Libertarian Party. The Tories cannot be reformed from within as it is still moving in the wrong direction. It beggars the question already asked above – why, John, do you remain in the Tory party and not seek out the Libertarian Party?

    Reply: I have seen several parties set up in recent years on the basis that the Tories do not go far enough in a preferred direction. None of these parties – UKIP, Referendum,English Democrats etc – have ever got a single MP elected to Westminster, and I suspect none will again at the next election. I think people with strong beliefs in less Europe, more freedom, a referendum or whatever are better advised to join the Conservative party and add their voice to those of us who share some of their aims. If more people vote for these fringe parties it just gives the statist Eurocracts in the Lib dems and Labour more chance of winning more seats.

  8. David Eyles
    Posted December 29, 2008 at 12:17 pm | Permalink

    Now recovering from post-lambing-fatigue, this is the first time I have had time I have had to to read this article properly. Compared to David Cameron’s statements on the subject, it is commendably explicit and just what we need from an eminent back-bencher to get the ball rolling a little faster. The only thing I will add is that the foundations for the 1689 Bill of Rights and US independence were laid down in 1215. For those with the time, I have given below two links to articles I wrote in September. The first gives the background to the signing of the Magna Carta and a summary of its contents; the second continues this and then deals with the wider implications for our modern times, many of which are echoed in JR’s article above.

    The links are: http://conservativehome.blogs.com/platform/2008/08/david-eyles-why.html http://conservativehome.blogs.com/platform/2008/09/david-eyles-why.html

    The re-establishment of liberty and the rule of law are the vital precursors to recovery from our current economic and social malaise. Without these basic concepts re-established, we cannot hope to recover from the mess that this government has got us into.

    And, yes, I think that it really is time: “….. we need to fashion a new coalition for liberty in our own country.” I’m up for it. How many others out there are also interested?

    • mikestallard
      Posted December 29, 2008 at 6:12 pm | Permalink

      You have written a frank and sincere appeal at the very deepest level and I want to answer in kind.
      Why bother?
      There are lots and lots of reasons why we should override Magna Carta and the Bill of Rights and disregard the American Constitution: 1. They are out of date now. 2. We are not American but European, willy nilly. 3. Upon what basis should these three statements be accepted? What makes them right?
      In the days when they were laid down, Britain/USA were Protestant/Christian countries which saw man as created in God’s image. Therefore all men were equally precious in God’s sight. The King was just another human under God. The Law, as instituted by man under God, overruled even the King’s Majesty.
      Does that still hold in 2008?
      Lots and lots of people would laugh out loud at the very suggestion. I am not one of those people, because I am a Christian. But there are not many of us left, you know……

  9. Posted December 29, 2008 at 12:19 pm | Permalink

    It is a good job that John Adams did not take your view, he knew that he could not reform the Monarchy from within, and joined a fringe movement to set America free. The SNP also was once a fringe party in Scotland, it is now the Party of Government in Scotland and the Tories a fringe party.

    John Adams joined a revolutionary party and took to arms and freedom took twenty years to achieve, the SNP have taken the constitutional route and have taken seventy years.

    Reflecting the will of the people, not how many powerless MP’s that can be elected should be the worth of any party.

    Labour have revoked freedoms and Liberties in ten years that took centuries to achieve, one of your own MP’s had his offices searched and was arrested under anti terrorism legistlation, yet the Conservative party seemed quite muted in its response. I doubt whether Pym, Holles and Hampden would have allowed this to pass in such a manner.

    What I do agree with you on is the pressing need for a realignment in favour of Liberty, how this is achieved in this moribund political system is another matter.

    Reply: Adams knew he had the people of Massachusetts behind him when he broke with the Crown. There is no evidence of popular support for fringe parties, even though the issues they raise are important. Be a pressure group if you like – I want to change things, and need to belong to a party which can do that.

  10. Posted December 29, 2008 at 1:04 pm | Permalink

    I respect your point of view about personally wanting to remain within the Conservative Party, for me Libertarianism is a philosophy of freedom and personal responsibility.

    Whilst the Conservative Party, first tries to match Labour spending, then tries and dispenses with Green policies in a desperate need to curry favour with an electorate that is hooked on ever greater State intervention, my Libertarianism has no home in the Conservative Party.

    The bulk of our members are under thirty, the Conservative Party is ageing. So I have a confidence in the future, and the eventual refusal to render unto Caesar, when Caesar is being too damn greedy.

    None of this however would stop me supporting you personally if you made Liberty and a written Constitution your reason for sitting in Parliament !

  11. Derek W. Buxton
    Posted December 29, 2008 at 4:32 pm | Permalink

    Sir,
    Another excellent article, under the banner of the restoration of our hard won freedoms I could again vote for the Conservative Party. Whilst I believe in you, I cannot accept that the Party as a unit will agree with your analysis or accept your conclusion.

    I also think that the increasing raft of new laws is deliberate, done by a set of control freaks, certainly led from the top but done by those who should be/are our servants, the “civil service”. There should be checks and balances against this but where are they? Parliament is irrelevant and our Judges politicised, not forgetting the EU who causes many of these things but allows the blame to fall on the local government. And this is where the stupidity of our government shows in it’s full glory,…. they keep quiet about it. Unfortunately so do the opposition and the media. “Don’t rock the boat” they all cry, problem is, said boat is sinking, fast!

    On this, it is a sad comment that just two days after an EU spokesman said that metrication wasn’t intended to penalise our traders, a London local authority did exactly that. Why,… because our parliament made that the law in this country, meanwhile the French still use livres for their purchases.

    Derek Buxton

    reply: I am pleased to remind you the whole Conservative Opposition spoke and voted against many of the infringements of our liberty like ID cards, no EU referendum, 42 days detention without trial etc.

  12. Francis
    Posted December 29, 2008 at 10:33 pm | Permalink

    I agree with the rest but I’m not convinced by the idea of the American revolution as simply good against evil; sounds like Yankee propaganda.

  13. Sava Zxivanovich
    Posted December 30, 2008 at 9:17 pm | Permalink

    Empower the family again.

    That is a good start.

  14. Tim Bull
    Posted December 31, 2008 at 11:25 am | Permalink

    (JR)Reply: “I do take a principled stand for liberty, as do many of my colleagues in the Conservative party. After all, David Davis resigned and fought a by election over one of the big issues. The Leader of the party agrees with us that freedom has been damaged and some repeals will be necessary, starting with ID cards.”

    You do take a stand for liberty, yes … but
    The action of David Davis was personal and not supported by the party.
    “… some repeals will be necessary, starting with ID cards.” is hardly a strong position to take on the issue.
    Freedom is at the heart of what it means to be British and you underestimate its importance at your peril.
    The Conservative Party is not yet in step with the majority and should not assume that a poll lead will translate into a majority vote, unless DC and others make clear and unambiguous commitments to repeal or amend all such oppressive legislation.

  15. Steve Whitfield
    Posted January 10, 2009 at 6:24 am | Permalink

    Shout this from the rooftops, our personal freedon and liberty is at stake here. This ever encroaching big brother approach to our lifestyle will not stop unless lots of us shout loud.

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    John Redwood won a free place at Kent College, Canterbury, He graduated from Magdalen College Oxford, has a DPhil and is a fellow of All Souls College. A businessman by background, he has been a director of NM Rothschild merchant bank and chairman of a quoted industrial PLC.

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