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.