Friday 29 January 2010

The strange rebirth of liberalism?

What do members of Compass, the Liberal Democrats and philosophical libertarians have in common?

A new initiative in Oxford looks set to find out.

This coming Wednesday, February 3, will see the next meeting of a new political discussion group in Oxford, The Speak Easy.

The Speak Easy is open to anyone and everyone, but it is hosted by three groups: Compass Oxford, the Oxford University Liberal Democrats, and the Oxford Libertarian Society. The aim is to share a discussion 'of topics of interest to liberals of all kinds'.

Wednesday's meeting, which appropriately for a pan-liberal gathering is in the Gladstone Room at the Oxford Union, and which starts at 7.30 pm, is on the legalization of drugs. The event is free. Snacks will be provided. (And you don't have to be a member of the Oxford Union to attend: which is just as well for me, as I have never joined and never will.)

As the flyer puts it:

'The controversial sacking of Professor David Nutt, the government's chief drugs adviser, begs the question of where pharmacology ends and politics begins in the debate on the legal status of drugs. This discussion will consider the state of drugs policy in the UK and elsewhere, and ask how far the legalisation of drugs should be extended. Should 'soft' drugs be decriminalised? If so, what about hard drugs? And if such substances are to be permitted, should that be in the name of public health or individual liberty?'

The Speak Easy strikes me as a fascinating and very welcome development. Next Left has raised a number of concerns about the Labour government's record on civil liberties. The renewal of the left requires a much stronger, principled commitment to civil liberties.

Initiatives like The Speak Easy promise to help build a stronger cross-party culture of liberalism which, in turn, might help to resensitise the left - and hopefully Labour in particular - to the importance of civil liberties.


Colm said...

I don't think we have much to learn from The Hayek Society.

Stuart White said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Stuart White said...

Colm: I fear you are allowing your (and my) disagreements with the classical liberal/libertarian right on social and economic policy to get in the way of the possibility of useful discussion of civil liberties issues. We might learn some things in this specific area by having a discussion with people who also care passionately about civil liberties.

_______ said...

Libertarians, Liberals, Mutualists and Liberal Socialists all claim that they are best poised to maximize individual autonomy (freedom). So a debate between all of them would be most fascinating.

Jock Coats said...

Indeed - Mutuallism is to be the subject of a SpeakEasy on 17th February in fact, and is an idea gaining traction amongst British libertarians.

I suspect you'll have as many difficulties with such libertarian left as Mutualists on economic issues though...:-)