The past fifteen years haven’t been good ones for our democratic rights and civil liberties – to put it mildly. Whether on issues of lifestyle choice, such as smoking and drinking, or our right to freedom of expression, we’ve seen successive governments legislate to influence our behaviour, prescribe what we can say and do, and punish us if we step out of line. It’s not surprising then that many people are beginning to ask where our freedoms going and how do we get them back. One such group is the Liberty League.
Launched by a 21-year-old undergraduate student at King’s College London 18 months ago, the Liberty League describes itself as, “…for students and professionals committed to the defence of freedom”. The League already has over 30 active student societies across the UK, including one started recently at the University of Leeds. I interviewed its founder, Christina Annesley, to find out about the Leeds Liberty League.
1. Why did you think Leeds University needed a Liberty League?
Student politics at Leeds and at many other universities seems to be mostly dominated by radical left-wing societies with the exception of political party associations such as Labour Students and Conservative Future. We felt that there was nowhere for students to go if they did not fall in line with the thinking of radical socialism or weren’t necessarily party affiliated. We wanted to create a group that would come together and spread the ideas of liberty in a non-partisan way, and to reach out to individual students who wanted to challenge the status quo in terms of the acceptance of our gradual erosion of freedom in this country.
2. Who’s behind Leeds Liberty League, and where and when do you meet?
I founded Leeds Liberty League after becoming involved with the national organisation and attending their conferences. I got together with fellow libertarians from both Leeds Conservative Future and Leeds Liberal Youth, with some help from as non-affiliated people I knew from the wider movement both back in Westminster and from surrounding universities. We usually meet every couple of weeks in the Old Bar at our student union to discuss political policies and philosophical ideas in regards to liberty, as well as practical ways in which we can combat the Student Union’s generally illiberal way of thinking. As the new term begins in September we will start holding regular speaker events with politicians and think-tank figures.
3. League supporters generally call themselves as libertarian, how would you define that? And are they predominantly from one particular party or political perspective?
Libertarianism is the political philosophy that holds the individual as sovereign and wishes to minimize the role of the state. We believe that every human being is born free and equal and has the right to be free to do what he or she wishes so long as he or she does not violate the rights of another human being. In practical terms, that means that we tend to be extremely liberal on social issues but conservative on economic ones. Consequentially many of our members are members of the Conservative Party, UKIP or the Liberal Democrats, but equally many are non-party aligned. Libertarianism is an ideology unto itself and therefore Liberty League attracts people from all walks of political life who share a common love of freedom.
4. What kind of reaction have you had from other groups at the university?
The reaction to the idea of a Liberty League has been mixed. We have had successful recruitment from both Leeds Conservative Future and Leeds Liberal Youth, and many people who would not necessarily have described themselves as libertarian before now have come to see how many like-minded students there actually are. Unfortunately the dominance of the political party status quo is still prevalent; the Union recently held a Question Time event and whilst the big three political parties were invited to be represented, Liberty League’s request to be on the panel was declined. The left often dismiss us as ‘basically a Tory group’; we have a long way to go before many students fully understand the concept of libertarianism and how it utterly transcends party politics.
5. What are the League’s aims nationally?
The League aims to act as an organisation and network for societies on campuses the UK and help them to recruit, organise and spread the ideas of liberty and freedom around different parts of the country. It holds two conferences a year with a fantastic line-up of speakers from pro-liberty think tanks and organisations across the country, giving young students and professionals a chance to meet, socialise and network with like-minded libertarians. It also co-ordinates national campaigns for each society to contribute to across the country.
6. Are you supporting any current campaigns at the University or Leeds in general? And what issues do you have your sights on?
The next national campaign is concerning the government’s plain packaging proposals for cigarettes. We are contributing to this in Leeds and are intending to set up tables highlighting the ridiculousness of state-enforced plain packaging by labelling other student essentials such as coffee, condoms and alcohol in a similar way. We will be the first non-left wing political group on campus to actively campaign on campus in this manner. We also have many issues with our own student union to tackle; LUU is notoriously illiberal and has banned both bottled water and Nestle products, with further proposals to restrict free consumer choice currently being lobbied for at the moment. There is a lot to do but we will struggle to fight for freedom and liberty both on campus and nationwide.
Leeds Liberty League meets every second Tuesday from 5pm in the Old Bar at the Leeds University Union. The next meeting will be Tuesday 24th April, followed by a social. For more information contact Christina.email@example.com. Also join their group on Facebook and follow them on Twitter.
Paul Thomas is co-founder of The Leeds Salon, which asks ‘What does the Leveson Inquiry mean for Press Freedom?’, at the Carriageworks, Tuesday 17 April. He writes regularly for the Salon’s sister-journal Freedom in a Puritan Age and Culture Vulture.