Posts Tagged ‘European Convention on Human Rights’

H.G. Wells’ The Rights of Man Back in Print

May 16, 2016

This probably may not be news to many of you. Looking along the politics section of the Bristol branch of Waterstones this afternoon, I found that Penguin have reissued H.G. Wells’ The Rights of Man, which is his defence of human rights, written during the first two years of the Second World War. The blurb for it on Amazon states

H. G. Wells wrote The Rights of Man in 1940, partly in response to the ongoing war with Germany. The fearlessly progressive ideas he set out were instrumental in the creation of the UN’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the EU’s European Convention on Human Rights and the UK’s Human Rights Act.

When first published, this manifesto was an urgently topical reaction to a global miscarriage of justice. It was intended to stimulate debate and make a clear statement of mankind’s immutable responsibilities to itself. Seventy-five years have passed and once again we face a humanitarian crisis. In the UK our human rights are under threat in ways that they never have been before and overseas peoples are being displaced from their homelands in their millions. The international community must act decisively, cooperatively and fast. The Rights of Man is not an ‘entirely new book’ – but it is a book of topical importance and it has been published, now as before, in as short a time as possible, in order to react to the sudden and urgent need.

With a new introduction by award-winning novelist and human rights campaigner Ali Smith, Penguin reissues one of the most important humanitarian texts of the twentieth century in the hope that it will continue to stimulate debate and remind our leaders – and each other – of the essential priorities and responsibilities of mankind. See: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Rights-Man-H-G-Wells/dp/0241976766?ie=UTF8&*Version*=1&*entries*=0

Looking at the Amazon entry, it appears it came out last year in 2015, so obviously I’m somewhat late in just noticing it. Or perhaps it’s only recently that it’s found its way onto the bookshop shelves. I didn’t buy it, but I’m mentioning it here in case there are people, who are interested. And the blurb is right: human rights in Britain are under attack, and the millions of displaced people around the globe have been left without homes through murderous and oppressive regimes, so it is, as the blurb says, still very relevant.

I also thought I’d mention the book because, as the Channel 4 skit Mike put up on his site pointed out, the team that drafted the European Convention on Human Rights included British lawyers. Traditional, historic British conceptions of what constitute our inalienable human rights are a fundamental part of the European Human Rights legislation Cameron, Osborne and IDS despise, and wish to replace with a much weaker British Bill of Rights. And they, like Bliar and Broon, are totalitarians, who wish to expand the secret state while doing everything they can to prevent public scrutiny of government and officialdom. They were trying to find ways to water down the Freedom of Information Act to prevent the release of information they may find awkward or embarrassing. In the view of the present Tory administration, information released under the Act is only to be used to understand how a particular official decision was made, not to challenge that decision. And they have done their best to protect the firms that have signed up to workfare by steadfastly refusing to release their names, in case public pressure forced them to withdraw from this highly exploitative scheme and it ceased to work.

This is a government hell-bent on taking our rights away, and reducing Britain to what Jeremy Corbyn has rightly described as ‘a zombie democracy’, a political sham, which retains some of the forms of democracy, but where they substance has long been hollowed out and removed. In this ominous political climate, it’s good that Wells book is being republished.

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What Has the European Convention on Human Rights Ever Done for Us?

April 25, 2016

Mike over at Vox Political has just posted up another brilliant TV skit, showing precisely what the European Convention on Human Rights actually has done for us. Starring Patrick Stewart, Adrian Scarborough and Sarah Solemani, this short, five minute sketch is about a Europhobic prime minister (Stewart), who asks rhetorically what the Conventions has ever done for us.And he is then told, at length, by his cabinet colleagues. They also point out that the Convention is part of the peace-keeping legal arrangements in Northern Ireland, and removing it would mean going through the whole, awkward and painful rigmarole all over again. He then says we shouldn’t be pushed around by the ‘frogs’ and ‘krauts’, and should write our own Bill of Rights and enforce it on them. They tell him that, indeed we have. It was done at the end of the Second World War. And in reply to his next question, they tell him that it’s ‘the European Convention on Human Rights’.

As the credits tell you, it’s based on the section ‘What have the Romans ever done for us?’ in Monty Python’s Life of Brian. It’s the kind of razor-sharp political sketch that was the stock in trade of Bremner, Bird and Fortune, the latter two famous as the Long Johns. And before then it was part and parcel of the Beeb’s Yes, Minister.

Patrick Stewart is a keen supporter of human rights, and does belong to at least one human rights group, though don’t ask me which one. He has said in an interview that he joined after a group of actors were arrested for performing in a play their government judged was subversive. He realised then how precious the freedom was, which he as an actor took for granted.

This conspicuously tells you exactly what the European Convention of Human Rights does for us, and by implication why Cameron wishes to deprive us of it in favour of a much weaker British Bill of Rights. And if you’re wondering which one of the two is most probably correct, it’s probably the man, who played Captain Picard all those decades ago.

Mike’s got the sketch at: http://voxpoliticalonline.com/2016/04/25/confused-about-human-rights-theresa-may-heres-sir-patrick-stewart/

Go there to learn things Theresa May either doesn’t know, or doesn’t want you to.

Pitt’s Speech Demanding the Suspension of Habeas Corpus During the French Revolution

March 2, 2016

Also going through the book, Your MP, by the pseudonymous ‘Gracchus’, I found Pitt’s speech of the 16th May 1794, asking parliament to pass a bill suspending Habeas Corpus in order to allow the government to round up subversives during the French Revolutionary War.

Now I’ve written a number of pieces on this blog about the origins of democracy in certain strands of theology that stressed the need for representative assemblies and which permitted Christians to overthrow a tyrant. One of the criticisms of this type of history, however, is that it misrepresents how difficult and arduous the process by which democracy emerged in the West actually was. Instead of a being a smooth development in which democracy finally flowered from long, historic constitutional roots, at each stage of the process valuable constitutional freedoms had to be fought for, and were only painfully won. And historians have pointed out that for much of its history, Britain was an authoritarian state, which was all too ready to dispense with its citizens’ ancient freedoms when it suited the governing classes. The classic example of this was the 18th century, when fear of the Revolution across le Manche spreading over here moved the British government to suspend Habeas Corpus and pass range of legislation severely limiting free speech and banning a variety of ‘seditious combinations’, including the nascent trade unions.

Here’s Pitt’s speech:

The monstrous modern doctrine of the Rights of Man … threatens to overturn the government, law, property, security, religion, order and everything valuable in this country, as it has already overturned and destroyed everything in France, and endangered every nation in Europe …

That great moving principle of Jacobinism, the love of plunder, devastation and robbery, which now bears the usurped name of liberty … the arrogant claims of the same class of men as those who lord it now in France, to trample upon the rich, and crush all; the dark designs of a few, making use of the name of the people to govern all; a plan founded in the arrogance of wretches, the outcasts of society …

With some qualifications because of its florid 18th century, this has a peculiar contemporary ring about it. The attack on the ‘Rights of Man’ for example. If you replace that with the European convention on Human Rights, which is based on the French Revolutionary tradition of les droits du l’homme, (excuse my French), then the sense is more or less the same. As is the rant about the ‘arrogant claims of the same class of men as those who lord it now in France, to trample upon the rich.’ With a few alterations, you could put this in the pages of the Daily Mail today and no-one would notice. Really. A few years ago the Mail took it into its tiny collective skull to publish a rant against the French education system. It particularly attacked the elite state schools, which educated the French technocratic and governmental elite. They were nasty, horrendous, undemocratic, and excluded the French hoi polloi. Which is probably true, I dare say. It then started to compare them negatively with the British public schools, which were supposed to be better, and the mark of a freer society. Some of us would argue that it actually shows the alternative.

In fact before the introduction of democracy over here in the form of the acts finally extending the franchise to women and the rest of the working class, the doctrine of universal human rights really wasn’t widely adopted over here. The ruling classes thought it was too abstract, and too French. Instead, they linked political rights to property qualifications and the ability to pay certain levels of tax and rates. And you can see that today. It’s carefully hidden, but there is definitely an attitude that if you’re rich, you should have more rights than the rest of us. Willie Whitelaw in the 1980s said that business owners ought to have two votes, as they were responsible not just for themselves, but for their employees. One of the High Tories about twenty years ago wrote a book arguing that we should ditch all the horrendous reforms of the 1960s, and get back to a more stable age before gender equality, the legalisation of homosexuality, when there was better respect for property. He wanted the property qualification restored for jury service, so that people with a responsible attitude to the protection of property would fill the court rooms, passing guilty sentences on those caught infringing the country’s property rights.

So it really doesn’t come as a surprise, given the long history of suspicion by the ruling classes against any doctrine of equality and universal rights, that Theresa May now wants to extend the powers of the surveillance state. Or even that in the last parliament the Tories and their Lib Dem enablers passed legislation providing for secret courts and massively extending the length of time a suspect could be held for trial during their investigation.

Britain considers itself one of, if not the great founding nation of political liberty. Pitt’s speech, and the ominous rise of the surveillance state under Major, Bliar and Cameron, makes you wonder how true this really is.

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Welfare Weekly: Tories to Repeal Human Rights Act by Next Summer

October 19, 2015

Welfare Weekly have published an article claiming that the Tories intend to fast track the repeal of the Human Rights Act and its replacement with a Bill of Rights by next summer. The article begins

The Government are planning to fast-track a British Bill of Rights, aiming to get the extremely controversial legislation made statute by next summer.

A Bill of Rights was a Conservative manifesto pledge, but is strongly opposed by civil liberties groups that say it will restrict freedoms that are guaranteed under the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR).

The Independent reports that a 12-week public consultation on the Conservative Bill of Rights will start in November or December this year. It will be worded to clarify that the UK will not pull out of the European Convention of Human Rights, as some critics have feared, (and actually, as David Cameron has pledged previously) it will even mirror much of the ECHR language in an effort to “calm opposition.”

The Conservative Bill of Rights will go straight to the House of Commons without a Green or White Paper, which are usually introduced before legislative scrutiny.

Liberal Democrat leader, Tim Farron MP, said not allowing proper scrutiny of the Bill “makes a mockery of parliament”. He added: “Fundamental British rights should not be treated in this haphazard way. Generations before us died for them.”

Mr Farron’s concerns have been echoed by the leading human rights barrister Geoffrey Robertson QC, who described the Government’s intention as an “outrage”.

The complete article is at http://www.welfareweekly.com/tories-to-scrap-human-rights-act-by-next-summer/.

The article states that the Human Rights Act is based on the 1950 convention on human rights, which was formed to prevent any further atrocities such as those committed by the Third Reich. It was strongly supported by Winston Churchill. It makes very clear just how dangerous the government’s repeal of the Human Rights Act is, despite Cameron’s attempts to allay fears by making the new Bill of Rights reflect the wording of the EU convention on human rights and by retaining members of the Convention.

I’ve reblogged several pieces today on the way Cameron and his Tory cronies are gradually undermining our civil liberties using legislation that purports to do just the opposite. This is another case, where the rights the Tories will grant us in the Bill will be much weaker than those currently protected by existing legislation. Cameron and the Tories are totalitarians, and this just one more move in their overall strategy our destroying our constitutional freedoms in the interests of creating an authoritarian state for their big business paymasters.