In the run up to the Queen’s Speech, we saw what amounted to an extraordinary political discussion. Politicians came out of the woodwork on the subject of the Human Rights Act, both for and against the government’s stated aim of repealing the piece of legislation, some with wonderful arguments. A few of them have surprised me, and I would not have thought the authors of the quotes would have held such viewpoints beforehand:
“I have clear views about the importance of international justice, which we need to expand, and Britain pulling out of the European Court will send all the wrong signals on the British commitment to expanding human rights around the world.”
You know who said that? Andrew Mitchell. When I predicted Cameron having problems on the whole HRA front, I never imagined Thrasher would be amongst the rebels. The counter to that view was this:
“Britain’s laws should be decided by Britain’s parliament and adjudicated by Britain’s courts. That applies to both the European Convention on Human Rights, which I think should be transferred to a British Bill of Rights, and the European Union in general.”
That was Liam Fox. So we see that there is a great ideological battle going on in British politics. Problem is, of course, that it is raging inside of one political party. As a liberal, I find myself already backing the liberal Tories, cheering them on. Meanwhile, Labour seem destined to not even be part of the conversation the country is having, UKIP are off on their own island, and the Lib Dems need time to recover.
When I say Labour isn’t part of the conversation, here’s what I mean exactly. There’s a narrative that’s on the verge of becoming accepted truth in England permanently that in the 1970s the country was falling apart because Labour’s relationships with the unions and moribund industry had got out of hand. So Thatcher sorted it all out. Then Blair came along and told everyone that they could have both low taxes and decent public services. That sounded good to people, so they trusted Labour again. Then it all went pear-shaped in 2008. Then the Tories had to come along and put everything back together again. So now people don’t want to trust Labour another time, particularly as they won’t even either apologise for 2008 or supply a counter-narrative superior to “nothing happened, it’s all a myth.”
For the most part, the story told above is incomplete, unfair and slanted against Labour in a way that isn’t proportional. A section of it is unfair towards the Lib Dems too (part of the coalition that supposedly dealt with the problems left behind, yet no credit is being given). However, that’s where the country seems to be and so Labour need to deal with it. Or become increasingly irrelevant. Their bit of the national political conversation is in danger of being nothing more than, “yeah, yeah, let’s stay in the EU and keep the HRA, great. Now can we talk about nationalisation of industry and how austerity is a conspiracy theory, please?”
I want there to be a viable opposition to the Conservative government. For loads of reasons, many of them to do with how I view basic democracy – i.e., it’s important to have a functioning opposition in a Westminster parliamentary system. And my worry is, looking at the political landscape in front of my eyes, that essentially both sides of the conservative v liberal arguments are going to come from within one party, while the others are either rebuilding, too small, or have consigned themselves to irrelevance by talking about something completely outside of the discussion.
Whereas I agree with almost everthing that has been said, the HRA must be ammended if the British public are to come on board. e.g. A murderer comes out of jail and uses the HRA for his right to a family life to stop deportation. The right to a family life of his victim is never considered. Every single person that I know finds this infuriating and until these sorts of decisions are addressed the British public will never agree with it.
Graeme D says
I think it’s even worse than that. This narrow political discourse sits within an even narrower definition of what is apparently mandatory to compete in the ‘global race’. Nobody dare speak against what are seen as unarguable market realities. How this dialogue and its well worked vocabulary, used incessantly by the media (including the BBC sadly) are overcome, I have NO IDEA! Witness the lamentable attempts of all Labour leadership candidates to parrot the language of overspending, benefit cheats and of course, wealth creating ‘heroes’… Worrisome indeed.
David Leslie says
I think the Liberal Democrat role is to stand for liberal values and principles, finding support from like minded.. With a populist and growing anti-liberal party in the South, and rising Nationalist sentiments in the North, a clear division has emerged. No longer is the primary discourse about labour versus capital, each championed by their own. The big debates are now squarely in liberal territory, Europe versus isolation, tolerance versus intolerance, human rights versus repression. Let the games begin, we know where we stand, even as the others rupture.
David Dalley says
“Events dear boy, events.”
It’s easy to feel gloomy looking at today’s political landscape, but even the Tory Party Machine cannot control everything. It will be unforeseen events shaping the political discourse. And if both sides of the argument are framed by the Conservatives… at least their enemies can exploit a party divided.
Whatever the previous Labour opposition did… they did it very, very badly. Perhaps the current opposition parties don’t need to do anything (much)… because Tory governments are unswervingly consistent in upsetting A LOT of people.
Edward Wynn says
There are two issues here – the debate over the HRA and the way political debate is going to be had in the future. Let me comment on the second issue first. I think we need to wait to see what comes out of the Labour leadership election before we jump all over their failure to engage. Labour were hopeless and then TB came along and changed the perception of them. That could happen again. I won’t comment on who could do that. BUT my main worry is that on the Labour front bench the calibre of the individuals appears to me to be lower than that in the Tory government. We need an effective engaged opposition which pushes the government with a thin majority all the time. We may have to wait for this. I discount the SNP because they are and are perceived to be a single issue party whatever their current demenour. I think we have to wait to 2016 to see if Labour are going to be a sensible opposition.
We know there is overlap on issues such as the HRA between the liberal tory wing and the Labour right. The question is how does this manifest itself in the HRA debate. I reserve judgement on this question because I dont know how the constitutional needles will or can be threaded.
Susan Burningham says
You may be right that the conversations seem to be going on within the Conservative party just now, but those of us who are both of a liberal and of a democratic mind might begin using the time given to us by considering how we can remove the ‘conspiracy’ that exists between politicians, the public and the media. The desire on the part of the pubic to have everything without paying, the pretence of politicians that the public can have healthcare, child care etc. without paying a penny more in tax or national insurance, and the media that shows signs of pure hypocritical madness when certain drugs or care facilities are ‘withheld’ on the grounds of costs.
This is a time we Liberal Democrats can use to raise the tone of debate in the country – hopefully a debate that will, with a bit of nagging, be honestly reflected in our media.