24th May 2009 Jonathan Harris

Guardian Liberty Debate, Hay 2009

The topic for debate was: “The Left is a lonely place on liberty”.

Debating: David Davis MP, Henry Porter, Charles Clarke MP and Professor Conor Gearty

I’ve been to quite a few talks and debates over the years. Most I’ve enjoyed, many have inspired and often I’m struck by the points raised to give me considerable pause for thought. It’s very rare that one has all of these qualities as well giving me great heart for the future tinged with a nagging fear.

I was privileged enough to attend this debate, in very good seats too. As soon as it started everyone had the nagging feeling that the hour and a half allotted wasn’t going to be enough. You had two political heavyweights (Davis, Clarke), an erudite campaigning journalist (Porter) and a human rights legal legend (Gearty). Once they got started the quality of the speaking and fencing was such that you could just sit there and lap it up. Witty, passionate, assertive. All without malice, nastiness and the ‘ya boo’ politics that we see so often in the Dispatch Box. People actually addressed and answered questions and traded points.

There are far too many administrators and self servers in public life, it was reassuring to see that there still are orators and statesmen among us. An open ended debate would have been much more preferable. All of them are supremely confident speakers, all spoke with a obvious grasp of their subject, had a view and were unafraid to express and defend it. Both the politicians impressed, I had long suspected that both were above your usual stuttering party toady. Porter was good but not memorable. Gearty was a revelation. I’d not heard him speak though students of his still speak in awe of his legal mind and dynamic presentation, it was a joy to hear a trained and experienced legal mind in full flow. It took him moments to have the crowd in the palm of his hand. Ironically with his record in human rights law it was thought he might have been on the other side of the debate.

A fuller report and sound clips are to be found here.

Dear Guardian/Hay Festival, next year can we 2 hours please!