Saturday, 4 October 2014

Human rights? Nah. I've got a party to placate.

While it seems Labour are busy doing all we can to leave the centre ground to the Tories, as the FT's Janan Ganesh pointed out yesterday, they seem to be doing the same to us, in a bizarre "after you, Claude, no, after you, Cecil" stylee. 

This is nothing that new (in fact, I wrote about it a couple of years back) but, this close to an election, it just reinforces the impossibility of calling which way it will go.

The example of vacating the centre ground given by Cameron's speech this week is on the imbecilic dumping of the Human Rights Act, to replace it with some kind of Bill of Rights (it remains to be seen whether that will be the same, or weaker, than the existing European Convention). 

The main point being, he is positioning this as a precursor to "reform" of the ECHR (or rather, pulling out of it, although he dare not say so). If Britain can't cherry-pick which rulings it follows, then the explicit threat is that it will pull out altogether.

In other words: unless you other forty-six signatories do just as I say, I'm taking my bat and ball home. Assuming that the rest of Europe will tell Britain where to stick it and not allow it to destroy the Convention altogether through such a precedent being set, we are out.

Now Cameron gave a decent speech, has had a good week and may yet have secured a post-conference bounce in the polls. But this is a move, for short-term political considerations, which may yet reverberate down the years as a particularly foolish one.

Since then, Tory politicians have been lining up, predictably, to defend it as a liberation from European "oppression". But it is not difficult to see it for what it patently is: headless-chicken panic over UKIP and a sop to the party's right.

Well, not all Tory politicians: the one Big Beast left in the jungle, Ken Clarke has rightly slammed it. But he has not slammed it because he is a dogmatic pro-European, as his colleagues might have you believe: his reasons are more to do with his knowledge of justice. 

No, he is nowadays practically alone within his own party in holding these views because he is neither (a) a dogmatic anti-European, nor (b) bothered about his future career, which is already over.

The heart of the stupidity surrounding Cameron's genuflection to his right is that he thinks he has found a low-cost way of seeming anti-European without incurring, for example, the wrath of his business backers, who see the obvious dangers of "Brexit".

They are ok about such things because businesspeople do not normally have human rights at the top of their minds, and they realise that it does not affect their position with regard to the EU's single market. And his backbenchers are delighted because they viscerally hate anything to do with Europe, and some are probably too daft to even realise that the ECHR is nothing to do with the EU.

Those same backbenchers perhaps do not realise, or care, about some of the context: that the ECHR was set up after WWII for a good reason, to try and prevent repetitions of the Holocaust.

Or that it was largely the brainchild of that most revered member of their own party, Winston Churchill.

Or the fact that its only non-signatory in Europe is Belarus, Europe's last dictatorship, might just tell us something.

Or that Russia is already trying to ignore its demands, so as to curtail the rights of its own people some more, and this will give it succour. Not to mention those other European leaders who will be delighted to be given an excuse to jump ship themselves, so they can continue to curb the rights of their minorities (I'm looking at you, Viktor Orbán. Dying to create your own little Hungarian Roma Holocaust when no-one's looking, eh?).

All this, just to placate your dumb backbenchers and try and attract the votes of those further to the right. It is a low politics, David Cameron, which is not worthy of you (I might also point you in the direction of your friend Nicolas Sarkozy, who did a similar trick in France when threatened by the far right. That didn't end well).

All these are good reasons not to do it. But more than that, Mr Cameron, as you should by now have learned via your dealings with one Vladimir Putin, throw the goons a bone and they will only come back for two more.

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