The Human Rights Act has become for David Cameron what the fox-hunting ban was for Tony Blair: when in a spot of bother with your own support, wheel out something bound to please them.
In his article in the Sunday Express today the prime minister is quite right to note that “[t]here are deep problems in our society that have been growing for a long time: a decline in responsibility, a rise in selfishness, a growing sense that individual rights come before anything else.” He might even be right to say that we “need a concerted fightback against the wrong-headed ideas, bureaucratic nonsense and destructive culture that have led us to this” situation.
So is there to be a renewed effort to tackle corporate lawlessness, or the mindless consumerism that has created a 24 hour, seven-day capitalism so destructive of family life? (It seems “family is back at the top of the agenda.”) Are we to begin this reclaiming of the better parts of our past by returning to Sunday trading laws for example, or by instituting a guaranteed living wage so as to give all workers the means to live decently and be better fathers and mothers as a result?
No it’s none of these, or anything like it. It’s those old Tory favourites, welfare spongers and human rights ‘abusers’: the fightback “means rebuilding the sense of personal responsibility that has been eroded over the years by many things, from the welfare system where work doesn’t pay to the twisting and misrepresenting of human rights.” And “though it won’t be easy, though it will mean taking on parts of the establishment, I am determined we get a grip on the misrepresentation of human rights….. We are going to fight in Europe for changes to the way the European Court works and we will fight to ensure people understand the real scope of these rights and do not use them as cover for rules or excuses that fly in the face of common sense.”
The prime minister is right that it “won’t be easy” – this is because it is impossible. The days are long gone (if they ever existed) when continental Europe listened carefully to their English masters and did what they were told. The Prime Minister knows this, just as he knows that British bill of rights or no British bill of rights, the UK is not about to withdraw from the Council of Europe (home to the European Convention on Human Rights and the maladjusted court about which he affects to obsess so much) anytime soon. Even he must be aware how utterly foolish he looks when his foreign minister wanders the world preaching human rights like some latter day ethical colonialist while he continues to thrash human rights at home. Maybe the Iranians are right and we need their human rights monitors?
In truth this is just noise, a way of getting the old Europhobes excited, pleasing his geriatric xenophobes and annoying the Lib Dems: a silly season story by pseudo-silly people hoping the nonsense they peddle will divert attention from what they are not doing.