Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Tories and Human Rights

I never understand why anyone dislikes the general principle of human rights. That is, to create a set of boundaries between the individual and the State which limit the States ability to oppress its citizens.

What is there to object to in that? And I would have thought that the Conservative Party, philosophically rooted in particular views of the State and the individual, would be the party most aligned to the concept of restricting the State's ability to oppress individuals. Human rights should be a Tory lodestone.

And yet, almost universally, Tories detest human rights. I suspect that if you lead each individual Tory through the principles laid out above, they would hurrumph and agree. So why their practical difficulty with the reality of human rights?

There is, obviously, the issue of sovereignty. Concepts of human rights originated in the international arena - the United Nations and the Council of Europe. Or did they? The ideas underpinning human rights - that of limiting State power - are actually born out of English political philosophy. Hobbes, Locke, Mill...and expanded through the American Revolution into their Bill of Rights.

So human rights are not only philosophically at home in Conservatism, they are as British as John Bull. So we are no nearer reaching the source of the Tory distaste.

I have a suspicion that sovereignty is a large part of it. Because our constitutional arrangements make entrenching legislation impossible, placing limits on State power through domestic legislation is impractical. Any "British Bill of Rights" can be repealed by Parliament as easy as they enacted it -hardly a safeguard against an oppressive State.

We chose, instead, to help create the Council of Europe after the War. British lawyers largely wrote the Council's Convention on Human Rights and a British government signed that treaty - 60 years ago. And we seemed pretty happy with that arrangement until lately.

This is despite the fact that Britain has one of the worst records of being found in breach of the Convention by the European Court for Human Rights. Almost from the beginning, Britain found itself being held to account for breaching the very values it not only subscribed to, but gave formal written shape to.

Many of these cases involved prisoners. Those held in the bowels of the State, separate and isolated from help, are just the type of despised minority group that the Convention intended to protect. Remember, always, that the Council of Europe and the Convention for Human Rights was born from the butchery of the War.

And it has been repeatedly found that British governments routinely failed to maintain that proper perspective between the State and the individuals in its charge. Cases which have been won include prisoners being allowed access to the Courts; being able to see the full Rules and regulations which govern our custody; and removing political interference from the management of Life sentenced prisoners.

On the face of it, what Tory could reasonably object to any of these, illustrative, judgements? On what basis should prisoners be denied access to British courts? On what reasonable argument should we be refused access to the very regulations that govern us? And why, in any State that isn't totalitarian, should a politician ever have the power to decide whether a prisoner is released?

And yet...Tories still hate human rights, and human rights applied to prisoners most of all! Can this really only be reduced to a hatred of the word "European" in relation to human rights? Even though the Council of Europe and the European Court of Human Rights are completely different and separate entities to the European Union? Could their distaste really be due to a misunderstanding?

Tories are renowned as the party of law and order, believing that the rule of law is a bedrock of a stable state. Yet they resist and bemoan having to implement a legal judgement - our right to vote. After two hours of writing, I'm no nearer to comprehending why the Tories hate human rights. All the more so when it leads them into tortuous knots where they reject their core beliefs -individual sovereignty and the rule of law.

Any ideas that would help to unravel this would be appreciated!


  1. Ben, Tories don't hate human rights as such. But there is an ugly element prevalent in mainstream, grass-roots Conservative thinking that is hard on crime and quite Authoritarian in nature. They are a reactionary 'hang-em and flog em' or 'throw away the key' group.

    Rule of law is important to these people. But, over the last week they have bought the lie that somehow Prisoner votes are some evil of the EU...

    Your post makes a good case.. but in the wake of last week's PR disaster by J Hirst esquire it may get limited traction..

  2. Blimey Ben you think too much! lol! No, Tories are just political representatives of the small minority of rich land and factory owners, they are unprincipled and it goes with the territory of an owning elites rule over the vast majority of the population, their favorite and preferred tactics are divide and rule and the apparent 'rule of law' or 'law of the land', force in other words. Oh yes they also own all the production of ideas such as the mass media and other institutions where ideas are passed on like school, family, church etc. But they also have to make out that this isn't really happening like this at all and they have our agreement on everything and to be our rulers, in other words fraud, but in order to successfully fraud they do have to represent in some form opposition ideas in order to make their rule credible, this is deep ... a conversation to have over a pint maybe when you finally get out. Best wishes, thinking of you xxx

  3. There are people on this earth who hate the concept human rights because their Judeo-Christian based judgment system is so ingrained that they genuinely think they have the right to decide just who is human and who's not and give protection accordingly, a bit like Santa's 'naughty and nice' list. Tories still believe in him too.

  4. Kudos to the students who went to the Tory HQ today. Big society demonstrates at Tory HQ on mass!

  5. Good luck tomorrow Ben, thinking and praying for you.

  6. It's not just Tories, Ben. The great British people are entirely perverse and vengeful in their attitude to malefactors, and all politicians pander timidly to this. Brits are the first to condemn barbarism in foreigners but would, actually, welcome the more sanguinary punishments favoured by the Taleban. Ignorance, terror and rage are to blame. As for the the human rights agenda, well it's nothing but a conspiracy by foreigners to subvert everything we stand for (whatever that is). If more people knew more about prisons I think they'd be appalled by their brutal stupidity and start thinking constructively. There is a strong self-interest argument to be made: mended people make better neighbours than angry social exiles with nothing to lose. I don't know that abstract principles are at all persuasive. But pragmatism always goes down well. A strong lead is necessary from politicians. Brits could actually be brought to feel very proud of their penal system. But they're still at the fear and ignorance stage: square one. I think.

  7. Sophie:

    Do you really believe violence was the correct response from a handful of students who won't even be personally affected by these changes?

    Maybe in Burma, where they've been fighting for democracy for decades, rioting is understandable. But here? Where none of the over-privileged juvenile idiots with a such a staggering sense of entitlement have ever struggled for food or a roof over their heads?

    As a graduate, it is very important to me that everyone gets equal access to the best education. Today's petty nonsense made me sick and it made me ashamed. Those smashing windows and spitting at police didn't do it to fight for university funding, they just wanted to kick off and this was as good an opportunity as any.

    Those few might have done more to harm the prospects for future students than the fee rises and cuts together. Disgraceful.

  8. 50,000 students on the streets and at least 5,000 at the Tory HQ is not a handful. Quite right they are angry the Tory-dems are rolling back the clock to make education available to only the privileged few whereas it should be a fundamental human right.

    The utter disgrace is the Judas behaviour of the lib dems who talked as if they supported education and yet handed it all to the Tories who are the ones who are stopping education through cuts and fees. Shame on them. They old saying 'never trust a liberal' rings more true today than ever.

    Oh yes there was violence, particularly by tooled up men in armed clothing, helmets, shields, and batons, violence that doesn't get reported unless they kill someone and then get away with it (Ian Tomlinson, the king of the Hill, Jean Charles de Menases) again and again.

    You might dis the students Wigarse, but if and when they are victorious, you personally would be quite happy to reap the rewards of a better education. A better education that was fought for by students by whatever means they have.

    Those students who are prepared to fight for education are our future and deserve respect, not forked tongue condemnation.

  9. Not sure if this is the place to post this. But just read in The Guardian your story. What an indictment of our system, of the useless waste of a human life and liberty to keep you in jail for so long, way beyond your tariff. I do hope that present publicity will move things along for you. Glad to hear that M. Gove is fronting up for you, though I can't say that I find him inspiring in any other area, including his present portfolio ! Is the judge from your original trial still alive ? I wonder if he might tell the Prison Service, the Justice Ministry and the Parole Board what his intention was when he sentenced you ? Finally, it appears that you are not dangerous or a threat to the public. So what is the rationale and justification for continuing depriving you of your liberty ? It sounds to me that the only reason is because you won't conform or are an awkward sod or just won't play the prison game. To penalize you for being a curmudgeonly old sod is simply unjust. How can I help ?

  10. To Gaina - as a Christian I have to say that if you have come across judgmental 'Christians' that you describe I am not surprised but very sad, as they are not really Christians. You need to look at the teaching of Jesus, which as I have said before on this blog is a radical ethos of love, acceptance and forgiveness. You will find lots of Christians working in the Prison voluntary sector and trying to make a difference in some small way, as do I.

    Good luck Ben for your hearing today.

  11. Many tories would happily fight to their last breath to defend the rights of Middle Class home onwners. Their problem comes with the idea that human rights apply to everyone, not just people they like. I am always comming across the phrase "why should criminals/peodophiles/illegal immigrants/terrorists/squatters/benifit cheats/etc/etc have any rights ?".

  12. Actually, you hit the nail on the head of why tories distrust Human Rights legislation, the source, Europe. Which is why Tory policy, a British Bill of Rights, along the philosphical lines you laid out, was in the manifesto. It, alas was sacrificed at the altar of the Coalition.

    As it happens, I'm broadly in favour of granting prisoners the right to vote, though I suspect I'm in a minority of Tories.

  13. Ben: Good luck at today's Parole Board hearing. Good post. Shame no solution to the problem.

    Robin Horsley: "last week's PR disaster by J Hirst esquire". And what PR disaster would that be? I did media interviews from 6.50am until 11pm on one day alone. The Today Programme, Daily Politics Show, Jeremy Vine Show, just to mention threee. My YouTube video has had almost 11,500 views. Hardly a PR disaster. I think it is the BBC which has been left with egg on its face PR-wise, because of Andrew Neil's and Jeremy Vine's conduct during questioning of me when neither addressed the real issue but instead chose to attack me personally. As a result, I am now suing for libel. I suspect you are a nonentity jealous of my fame.

  14. John,

    You blew it completely. You just guaranteed that the govt will now implement Prisoner Votes in the most limited way possible. The YouGov poll on Sunday (76% against prisoner votes) was confirmation of the mess you made of it.

    I applaud you for getting the judgement and for doing something controversial enough to get lots of publicity but unfortunately you did in such a way that you set the majority against you.

    I really think you let down the prison population.

    I suspect the reason you went about it in that way was not really naivety. I suspect you just want to set-up a whole series of legal battles to fight. Because, as you made clear last week, your aim is just to stick two fingers up at anyone in authority - the new govt, the media, anyone. You clearly don't give a monkeys about the issue.

    I love the 'nonentity jealous of my fame' line. That really made me chuckle.

    Hope you enjoyed your 15 minutes of infamy.

    Remember that famous line. Infamy, Infamy they have all got in for me.

    They have now.

  15. Sophie,

    Referring to your first comment. I just wanted to say what a lovely 19th Century position you take on Conservatism.

    For me it evokes thoughts of smoke belching chimneys and streams of workers at the factory gates standing in rags as the factory owner (Tory of course) goes past in his horse drawn carriage peering snootily from his window.

    It's such a romantic view, unfettered by the realities and complications of 21st Century life.

    Tell me. Do you cast yourself as the Lord's cheeky daughter or the radical scullery maid?

  16. Ooops typo; I meant to say how TROLL you are Robin

  17. It's a fair cop Ms J. So what's the answer then?

  18. My answer is that the way to understand the modern world is through its echoes in the past.

  19. Fair enough Sophie. All the Best Robin.

  20. Sophie:

    Lol, nice troll touche.

    In response to the the students issue, I know there were 50k protesting and many turned up at Tory HQ, but only a handful were actually violent and it's them I'm referring to. You have fallen into the trap of assuming that because I disagree with you over one aspect of the demonstration (the violence), then I must disagree with you over all of it - that is a simplistic and silly view and a downright wrong one, be careful of making such assumptions.

    I am also painfully aware of the failings of our police but, again, be careful of making sweeping generalisations and unfounded accusations - from what I have heard there is no evidence that that is what happened in this case and, in fact, it would seem the police did the best they could caught utterly unprepared for what everyone thought would (and should) have been a peaceful demonstration.

    It looks as though a minority of silly anarchists infiltrated the demonstration and decided to use it as an excuse to kick off and, in doing so, they did enormous harm to the cause they hijacked and lost the students a lot of sympathy.

    I do believe there is a time for violent protest. That time is when our most basic human rights are being infringed upon, when we are suffering violence against us and as a last resort when every non-violent protest has been tried and has failed. Education is a most basic human right, but a university education less so and certainly none of the other criteria for violent protest were met in this case. The rioting seems to have been petty dummy spitting by a minority of juvenile muppets with an entitlement complex and they have greatly harmed the caused they claimed to be fighting for. Disgraceful.

    As for the fee rise, I have not decided where I stand on that issue as yet. The current system is unsupportable and the money has to come from somewhere, so, if you're against the fees hike, what do you suggest instead?

  21. "Some will inevitably try to paint imaginative, militant action as 'violent'. So let me say this about the 'violence' on 10.11.10. I'm not frightened by the media's hysteria, or browbeaten by the servile centre-left that wants to keep opposition as timid as possible. When people ask why occupy a building, how that helps the cause, the answer is very simple: we want to disrupt the processes of power, and we want them be frightened to do what they're about to do to us. We want them to be afraid of us. They're about to dismantle our social safety net, shred higher education for millions of working class people, cut teaching in schools, raise the cost of living for everyone except the rich, throw hundreds of thousands of people on the dole, creating many more redundancies as a byproduct, and cheating a whole generation of the education and employment that they need for a decent life. That's war, and you can't do that to people and expect them to be polite about it. More occupations, protests, and strikes, would only be the moderate and sensible response to this government's social vandalism."

    I could not put it better myself, its a quote by Lenin from the Tomb

  22. Also, a quote from The Londonist; "The 10,000 protesters who laid siege to Millbank or the 200 who got inside or 50 on the roof were, of course, a minority of the protest; but the anger and passion on display was undoubtedly representative of the 50,000 who marched."

  23. Ben, speaking as a member of the Conservative party, I can tell you what the issue is, and it is one of both sovereignty and interpretation. The Human rights charter is English statute and common law foistered on Europe, and quite right to! The problem is they run the courts that "interpret" it, and produce odd results never in the mind of those who came up with the original statute or principle in English law, and then try and push that back on us.

  24. "That's war"

    No. It isn't. And it certainly doesn't justify violents. End. Of.

  25. But Benedict, the ECHR has decreed that humans have a right to vote in the democracy they find themselves a part of, they have also decreed that prisoners are humans. Ergo, prisoners have a right to vote.

    Is it the "voting is a human right" or the "prisoners are humans" bit you consider odd? And would it be less odd if it had been decreed by a British court instead of one presided over by Johnny Foreigner?

    I can't imagine you disagree that prisoners are humans, so it must be the "voting is a human right" you have a problem with. In which case, you won't mind if your government takes yours away on a whim will you?

    Because that's the risk you run if you decide to pick and chose which human rights you conform to - the risk that one day someone will arbitrarily decide which you get and then there will be no court for you to appeal to.