As fireworks cracked and revellers cheered to mark the anniversary of Guy Fawkes' unsuccessful plot against parliament in 1605, a very different kind of conspiracy was launched on the world from an office near London Bridge last night.
Speaking at the HQ of the left-of-centre think-tank Demos, Sunny Hundal, a political commentator associated with the Pickled Politics weblog and Asians in Media network, announced the beginning of what he and his co-conspirators hope will be a new progressive mood in British politics.
Inspired partly by the web-driven panache of initiatives like MoveOn.org in the USA, which has brought 3.3 million people together to "revive democratic politics", The Liberal Conspiracy (http://www.liberalconspiracy.org) aims to bring together people who "believe in freedom, transparency, human rights, democracy and the public good" to re-invigorate political debate. Unlike MoveOn it is not attached to any one party.
Last year, Hundal galvanised a 'New Generation Network' of primarily younger Asian voices, with allies from a number of different quarters, to challenge the media debate about race and religion. NGN argued that the government needed to be listening to a wider range of people in civil society, not just focussing on often-unrepresentative 'community leaders' when crises emerged.
His new initiative has a much wider remit and is based on the work of a new wave of bloggers who want to help reshape politics with their keyboards.
"The title of the site is obviously a mischievous take on the constantly promoted idea that there is a vast liberal conspiracy running Britain", declares Sunny Hundal, in between trips to the BBC and other media outlets. "Of course there isn’t. But while we’re here, we might as well create one."
He declines to define 'liberal' too closely, suggesting that part of the purpose of the project is to unpack what that much-abused term might mean for people who want "more equality, a better democracy, better standards of living, social justice, eradicating poverty, promoting non-violence and so on to be higher up the political agenda."
In 1605 Guy Fawkes and his Catholic co-conspirators attempted to end Protestant rule by blowing up the Houses of Parliament and killing King James I of England. The new Liberal Conspiracy is altogether more civilised and less sectarian, preferring wine, snacks and a chat a short dstance away from Westminster to put its plans together. But that does not mean it lacks seriousness and intent, say the organisers.
"The internet is crucial because... we want to pioneer a new de-centralised approach to discussion and campaigning for our ideals", says Hundal.
In addition to events and an on-line magazine, the new initiative will include collaborations with The Guardian newspaper, New Statesman magazine and ourKingdom - part of the openDemocracy project.
It will also feature contributions from think-tanks including Demos, Fabian Society, Runnymede Trust and New Generation Network. As far as writers are concerned, "the extended line-up will soon be revealed as they start writing" explains Hundal, gnomically.
The question of religion is not explicity part of the agenda, but the impact of faith as a motivating force - for both good and ill - is recognised by many of those involved in Liberal Conspiracy, and the project will be casting a critical eye in that direction.
Progressive religious think-tanks like New Jewish Thought and Ekklesia were represented at the launch and want to be dialogue partners, but also appeal to a wider constituencies that do not necessarily use or favour the terms "left-liberal".
Across the political spectrum, at the right-of-centre Spectator magazine, transatlantic politics reviewer Clive Davies welcomes the initiative and writes: "Maybe the Conspiracy will give the British blogosphere some much-needed momentum", adding that people have been asking "whether there's enough brainpower sloshing around in the ether."
Meanwhile Sunny Hundal, who stresses that although he has been the main mover he is only one of around 50 people involved in launching the LiberalConspiracy, appeared on BBC Radio 4’s PM programme yesterday to discuss what he calls "a new super-blog".
The Daily Mail, a source of many allegations about liberal conspiracies plaguing Britain, has yet to comment.
More on: www.liberalconspiracy.org