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Thoughts on “Together” AGM and 1st Anniversary Panel Discussion

(Neil Lock, 03 September 2022)

I went to the very first annual general meeting of Together Declaration in central London on the evening of Thursday 1st September. For those not already aware of this organization, it is a promoter of civil liberties and human rights. Its mission statement includes: “No future overreach in the name of ‘safety’.” “Uphold fundamental rights for citizens, applying unified pressure when legislation puts these at risk.” “Safeguarding open debate and free speech.” “Freedom to congregate and protest.” “Bodily autonomy must be respected without exception.” “Privacy and anonymity are a fundamental right and enormously important for citizens in daily life.” “We, the public, must always be heard and not treated with contempt or sidelined. Our voices must be heard by those in power.” See https://togetherdeclaration.org/about/.

This was my first visit to London in three years. It has changed, and not for the better. I actually felt as if I had crossed over into enemy territory. The streets were all but empty of cars, and quite a few of those that were around were Mercedes or Rolls-Royce chauffeured limos. The number of beggars and rough sleepers had gone up by an order of magnitude. Businesses which ought to be open on a Thursday evening, including my favourite London restaurant, were shuttered. Tourists were expected to keep to a one-way system when walking across Westminster Bridge. Welcome to the élites’ world, a world of “them” and “us,” where “they” order us around and have everything, and “we” are oppressed and have nothing.

Getting in to the hall was more than a bit chaotic. Early arrivals had to wait outside in a queue for quite a while, and the registration process was non-intuitive, with each desk only being able to check in people whose surnames were in a particular range in the alphabet. By the time we were in, it was already time for the AGM to start.

We had reports from Together “supremo” Alan Miller and the steering committee. The thrust of the message was, first, we have come a long way in just one year, and have achieved a certain level of profile and media attention. But second, we still have a very long way to go. The next stage is to connect with a far greater number of ordinary people. To “break out of the echo chamber,” or as Norris Windross put it, “We must become the many, not the few.”

One thing which did become clear is that Together, as an organization, has a very high level of financial discipline. When I saw the balance sheet, I was astonished by how much we have already achieved for so little money.

Two questions were put to the meeting. (1) Should we continue to campaign in the same ways as we have been doing so far? (2) Should we create a “people’s cabinet” of Together people with expertise in particular relevant areas? The meeting, all but unanimously, answered both questions with “Yes.”

There was a longish break between the members-only AGM and the panel discussion. I took a look around me. The main hall was completely filled, and about half of the upstairs area was occupied too. There must have been at least 500 people there, probably more. The demographic was younger than I expected; I was probably 25 years older than the average. There was also, if anything, an excess of women over men. (I’ve seen a similar demographic before, when I was a member of Liberty).

We were “warmed up” by comedienne Tania Edwards. I confess I didn’t find her very funny, though I did enjoy the line “How can you have a good pandemic without the BBC?” There were short presentations from several members of the Together alliance: Barrister Francis Hoar. Ryan Karter of the Workers of England trade union. Harry Miller of the Bad Law Project. Toby Young of the Free Speech Union. What came over to me was the wide range of views and political inclinations among those allied in the fight to re-claim and to secure the rights of ordinary people in the UK. This has to be a good thing.

Dr Aseem Malhotra (speaking by video) put his finger on one root cause of the problems we face: the unchecked power of big corporations and of governments. (Myself, I would add internationalist and globalist organizations, including the UN and the EU, to the list).

Then, at last, to the panel. I was one of those who had submitted, and had had accepted, a question for the panel (but we ran out of time before reaching it). I won’t ascribe responses to individual panellists, but here were the main take-homes I got from the discussion. I’ll also add my own personal thoughts on some of the matters.

Panel Thoughts: Ideally, we should get our own experts on to the Enquiry, and get them to ask the right questions. But that won’t be easy. So, second best is to make a lot of noise to our MPs – then at least they won’t be able to claim they didn’t know about the issue. One panel member thought that the government narrative over COVID is starting to come apart, and made a comparison to the Hillsborough disaster.

My thoughts: As to Hillsborough, I hope it doesn’t take that long! But making government accountable for what it does is an absolute key. Even in a supposed democracy, there seems to be a default position among politicians and high-ranking government officials that “the king can do no wrong.” This has got to change, and we should be looking to raise the profile of the accountability issue in public opinion.

Another issue relevant to government actions over COVID is the culture of over-precaution and “safety at any cost,” which has grown in government over the last 20 years or so. This culture favours, and tends to increase the level of, government overreach.

Panel Thoughts: Basically, no. But we should try to help the victims of injustice by promoting their personal stories, and helping them fight for compensation.

Panel Thoughts: Not much in the short term. Except to seek to persuade government that they need to invest for economic growth, and to cut green taxes. We need proper medium- and long-term plans for energy policy.

My thoughts: For me, Together has focused too much on “cost of lockdowns” as a cause of the energy problems. The cost (direct and indirect) of lockdowns has, of course, had a big negative effect both on government finances, and financially and psychologically on all the individuals who have been impacted. But in my view, it is not, in itself, a cause of the energy problems.

The main cause of these problems is idiotic energy policies, that have been driven for decades by nonsensical green pipe-dreams. These have left the UK (and the rest of Europe, too) open to gas supply disruption. But they also threaten the viability of the electricity grid. The problem is not just cost, but reliability of supply too. We shall see what happens this coming winter. It could be very nasty.

All that said, there are at least two common themes between harsh lockdown policies and the green agenda (“nett zero” and all the rest). One, both have been driven by bad “science,” peddled by activists in SAGE or the CCC that do not have the interests of ordinary people at heart. Two, both have been philosophically rooted in the culture of over-precaution and “safety at any cost.”

Panel Thoughts: We have to get back to doing science as it should be done. We need to listen to the people who know and deal with the facts, rather than politicized “experts.” We must be relentless in promoting free speech and debate, even for those with whom we do not agree. We need more independent assessment to spot poor science.

My thoughts: I agree with everything the panel said. Also, helping to publicize misuses of science for political purposes is something we should do as much as we possibly can.

Panel Thoughts: They have “links,” and money talks. There is a similar problem within the UK, with links between big corporations, academics and financial regulators. We need far more transparency.

My thoughts: Lack of transparency and the lack of open and public debate are both big issues. I think this is another aspect of the same problem as lack of accountability. It all comes down to dishonesty by government towards the people they are supposed to serve.

Panel Thoughts: The politicians have failed us. The political system is broken. We can voice anger to our local MPs, and we might try to get MPs and candidates to sign up to a suitable set of principles.

My thoughts: I agree that politics is broken. I go so far as to think that the problems cannot be solved within the current system. Personally, I see a new political party as being exactly the wrong thing to do. Reform UK has already tried that, and it seems to be going nowhere. I’ll be leaving it when my membership expires next month. We need to start thinking more radically. Together is a promising start towards that.

I think it is also worth listing the remaining questions which were accepted, but didn’t get put to the panel due to lack of time. These mostly reflect issues a little away from Together’s current focus, but which are foreseen to become problems in the quite near future.

At the end, there was movement towards the pub. But as it was already 9:45pm, I had a train to catch, and the pub chosen was in the opposite direction to my station, I regretfully had to forego that pleasure.

Potted summary:

And what is our best way forward? There are those who push for protest NOW! That, I think, is not the right way forward. Only when we understand well enough the issues on which we need to fight, and have some idea about our strategy and tactics to win on those issues, will we be able to bring Together enough good people to win back our rights and freedoms.

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