What Price Modern Liberty? What Cornish Input?

Posted: January 28, 2010 in civil rights

The What Price Modern Liberty debate organised in Truro on the 23rd of January produced a sell-out event.

Henry Porter has this to say in his article cross posted to OurKingdom and Comment is Free:

We were taking part in What Price Liberty? at Truro and Penwith College in Cornwall, which was among the most impressive day-long discussions that I’ve attended. The sell-out confirmed another conviction of mine – that there’s a great appetite for live events and intelligent public discussion, which is not being satisfied in the country.

Which country? England, UK or Cornwall which Mr Porter must know has its very own constitutional arrangements.

The popularity of this event is reassuring and lets hope it’s the first of many that will occur across our little country and around the rest of the UK. As successful as it was I can’t help feeling it could have been much better and far more inclusive of actual grass roots Cornish human rights and civil liberties campaigners.

Some of my, perhaps too acidic, comments left on the OurKingdom site are as follows.

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A ‘great sucess’? That remains to be seen and is quite relative to ones point of view. For middle class down shifters from Padstein perhaps.

Did they address any of Cornwall’s constitutional conundrums that allow the Duchy to fiddle in public affairs without concern?

Did they mention the unacceptable manner in which the Duchy can escape the Freedom of Information Act?

Did they discuss the governments totally unreasonable refusal to recognise the Cornish as a national minority under the Council of Europe’s framework convention for the protection of national minorities? A status that would clearly empower the Cornish and thus threaten the current feudal arrangement between the Duchy and UK government.

Did they invite, or even consult, any of the longstanding Cornish organisations whose work includes human rights and civil liberties. Groups such as the Celtic League or Stannary?

A big ‘NO’ to all of the above.

Blow-ins from up the line who love nothing better than telling the Cornish what they need to do.

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Guy Aitchison wrote:

So, your basic criticism of this event is that it didn’t manage to organise the Cornish proletariat into overthrowing their English oppressors.

Sorry you see it like that Guy and I’m equally as sorry that you don’t think the working class Cornish and their opinions matter.

Is it that you really think that groups such as the Stannary Parliament and Celtic League, who have been working on human rights issues for decades now, really have nothing to say and no place at such a conference?

My comments have nothing to do with the Cornish proletariat overthrowing the English oppressor. My point is simply that the Cornish were, without doubt, poorly represented at this conference as were Cornish human rights organisations.

Let me turn the issue around Guy. If you organised such a conference in a territory that has a very specific constitutional history, a strong identity and a very noticeable social fracture between the rich coast and poor interior what would you do?

Would you totally blank local grass roots human rights organisations and campaigners? Would you organise the event in the least local most middle class part of the territory?

“Everyone says it was an interesting event” Was everyone there? Sadly no.

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Shortly after the conference and in response to a short e-mail Oliver Bains of Groundswell contacted me with the following wise comments:

Thanks Philip.. not sure whether you were there. Interesting comments.. all else aside I did try to give an opportunity for Cornish delegates to get stuck in with the following..

‘I have no claim to Cornishness myself although my antecedent Walter Borlase, vicar of Madron, did raise an army of 250 men in Penzance to keep out John Wesley. Well done him I say, fighting for lost causes is a characteristic I recognise instantly.

‘In those days the great creative spirits were fostered by the most liberal society in the world. Our own Cornish inventors were amongst them. The brilliant portrayal in Nick Darke’s play Laughing Gas, completed so admirably by Carl Grose – of Humphrey Davy, giving his first lecture at the Royal Society at the age of 22, friend of Samuel Taylor Coleridge, James Watt and the seditious Joseph Priestley, is a demonstration of how we are enriched by those whose freedom allowed free rein to their inventiveness and creativity – a true example of John Stuart Mill’s ‘collision of ideas and intellect’. Remember that many of these people were from here, from Cornwall. This is not an abstract discussion we are having.

‘And for many Cornish people a sense, and for some a reality, of oppression has existed down through the centuries, a sense of oppression under the English yoke. It reminds me that while Cornish is a minority group in the UK, so many migrants, from France, the Iberian peninsula, travellers from other parts of the kingdom, and now the EU and outside the EU, are minorities within Cornwall. We must be careful that in asserting our freedoms we also protect the freedoms of others.’

Unfortunately no-one did!

Intelligent and and well placed comments indeed, but perhaps the lack of response was due to the lack of Cornish participants and certainly due to the total lack of any input from Cornish human rights campaigners. If another event of this nature is planned then my advise, for what it’s worth, is cast your nets widely. “Remember that many of these people were from here, from Cornwall”, exactly and you don’t need to go further afield to find some very well informed individuals with much to say about constitution and rights.

To finish I’ll just take this opportunity to plug another up-and-coming talk in Kernow. John Kirkhope, Public Notary and Solicitor, will be presenting his research on the –Laws of Cornwall– in Falmouth at 2pm this Saturday the 30th of January.

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