The Human Rights Act must be defended

Following the wide success of Laura Wade’s 2010 play Posh, the recent film adaptation has reaffirmed the public’s fascination with The Bullingdon Club at The University of Oxford. Painting a picture of the Club that is so drenched in entitlement and nepotism it feels almost contrived, its characters caricatured and embellished to the point of irony.

While exaggerated – Oxford undergraduates do not wear cravats to Freshers’ Week socials – there were ominous similarities with the Conservative Party Conference in Birmingham. No longer the moderates of the coalition, and with one eye clearly on Nigel Farage, the party has shown ample willingness to pull out of the European Convention on Human Rights. This would put the UK in company with Kazakhstan, Belarus and The Holy See as the only countries not to ratify the convention. This not only sets a dangerous precedent for the rest of the EU, it demonstrates an appalling disregard for the integrity of a law that safeguards the right of the individual to hold its government to account. It displays the sort of indifference and disconnect that erodes our civil liberties, with as little thought for the consequences as a bratty public schoolboy trashing a restaurant.

Justice Secretary Chris Grayling has been commissioned in setting out the blueprint, called the “British Bill of Rights”, which gives more power to the Government over the laws that it implements, ensuring that parliament is the ultimate source of legal authority. Cameron has indicated the Bill will better account for the cultural, philosophical and historical differences between the UK and the rest of the EU.

While his concerns may be legitimate, his solution displays an alarming disregard for the problem of remaining a signatory of the European Convention on Human Rights, and at the same time reserving the right when it suits him to pretend it does not exist. As Dominic Grieve indicated, who lost his job as Attorney General in the cabinet reshuffle last week, “It is not dissimilar from Putin using the Duma to ratify his annexation of Crimea. Putin will say, well it is not lawful; the Duma has said so.”

The principles of the Human Rights Act are what now elevates us above Putin’s homophobic, corrupt Russia, and Saudi Arabia’s misogynistic absolute monarchy. To leave is to set a dangerous precedent. One of its fundamental conditions is the preservation of a basic standard consistent across countries, under the belief that we are all essentially the same – regardless of culture, nationality or ethnicity. That Cameron is willing to undermine this over the tedious battle for Tory/UKIP marginals goes a long way in demonstrating how extreme the conservatives have become.

It is telling that the last time a reduction of human rights was so heartily applauded was somewhere in Nuremberg in the 1930s, placing Cameron in company with a number of questionable individuals who deem a necessary check on untrammelled political power a mischievous handicap. Just as Miles commendably attempts to break from the Bullingdon mould in Posh, somewhere in the Tory brain there remains a desire for the provision of a safeguard that elevates human liberty above the wider body politic. Judging by the conference, and the less than savoury conclusion to Wade’s play, it looks unlikely.

 

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