Why You’re All Wrong About The Human Rights Act

The Tories aren’t getting rid of the whole concept of human rights, but they aren’t scrapping the act for ‘legislative control’ either

Michael Gove, the new Secretary of State for Justice.
Michael Gove, the new Secretary of State for Justice.

The Machiavellian figure of Michael Gove is strangely likeable in some anti-hero way (for me at least). He’s quite the political operator – forcing through education legislation that many in his own party were opposed to, as well as most in the teaching occupation (a YouGov poll detailing the voting intention of teachers showcased a 17% fall in Conservative support during his time as Minister for Education). It is almost inevitable that his push towards scrapping the Human Rights Act will succeed.

This intention to repeal the Human Rights Act has been ridiculed literally thousands of times since Gove’s appointment, partly because it is Michael Gove is spearheading the charge, rather than a centrist, Cameronite Conservative, and partly because many sincerely believe that a Tory government will not protect the British peoples’ right to life. A few ridiculous posts on Twitter suggest that torture will be brought back in earnest, with many Category D prisons being converted into labour camps for political opponents. Those who think rationally will know that this is not the case. Too many in the Conservative party are of the libertarian mindset for this to be the case (Boris Johnson, for example), and it would be a political miscalculation of Watergate-esque proportions to even indulge in the idea of a quasi-authoritarian state (it would be hard to see a Tory re-election if such reforms were brought in).

The proposals for a British Bill of Rights to replace the aforementioned Human Rights Act will entrench most (if not all) provisions outlined in the European Convention on Human Rights, and it would be foolish to think otherwise. I do accept that the new provisions outlined in the BBoR will probably take away the rights of those accused of terrorist offences, but we definitely won’t be seeing martial law anytime soon.

On the other side of the argument are the typical Conservative loyalists (‘DO NOT DEVIATE FROM PARTY LINE’) who claim that the abolition of the Human Rights Act will bring lawmaking back home, and allow for a fairer justice system with more effective parliamentary scrutiny.

The Tory strategy paper published last October implied that Britain has no authoritative control over its own laws when Strasbourg is involved, with ex-Secretary of State for Justice Chris Grayling saying:

‘We cannot go on with a situation where crucial decisions about how this country is run and how we protect our citizens are taken by the European Court of Human Rights’.

I expect Chris Grayling knows that this is not strictly true. British courts are not bound by the judges and judgements made by said judgements on cases of human rights – the Strasbourg judiciary simply recommends that British judges follow their guidelines. We regularly depart from the rulings and advice of ECHR judges, and will likely continue to do so whilst the HRA remains in place.

Instead of a relocation of power from Europe to Britain, the real aims of the act are to placate both the slightly Eurosceptic British public and Conservative backbenchers, who see the very adoption of rights that are enshrined by European judges as corrosive to national pride and sovereignty (ironically, the convention was drafted by a British MP and lawyer).

Think of the abolition of the Human Rights Act as a slight tip of the hat to MPs such as Jacob Rees-Mogg rather than an intention to develop some Pinochetan (as far as I’m aware, there is no word for things alluding to General Pinochet)  plot to convert the UK into a totalitarian neoliberal hellhole, and you won’t be far off.

Toby Cox



Vandalising A War Memorial Doesn’t Make A Point

Vandalising a war memorial doesn’t make a point – in fact, it serves to invalidate that point in some respects.


I know I’m a little late to the *ahem* ‘party’ on this one, but I feel that an important point about these protests has been missed.

Distasteful methods of protest such as this do very little to serve the cause of those who protested –  instead, they make a bigger deal about the process of the demonstration, rather than the issues that they are demonstrating against.

In fact, a good case could be made to say that such methods of protest begin to associate the unpleasantness of the vandalising of the war memorial with the actual aims of the groups perpetrating the aforementioned vandalism, especially considering the less-than-eloquent use of expletives.

The desecration of a memorial is both morally wrong, and also counter-productive to the aims of the people desecrating it.

Toby Cox


Rand Paul Has Changed

The libertarian right’s messiah isn’t all that libertarian any more

UNITED STATES - FEBRUARY 12: Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., speaks with reporters as he leaves the Senate Republicans' policy lunch in the Capitol on Tuesday, Feb. 12, 2013. (Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)
UNITED STATES – FEBRUARY 12: Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., speaks with reporters as he leaves the Senate Republicans’ policy lunch in the Capitol on Tuesday, Feb. 12, 2013. (Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

I am writing this article whilst watching Rand Paul’s ‘filibuster’ against the extension of the Patriot Act (I use inverted commas because it’s not really a filibuster), and the essence of the Republican Presidential hopeful’s ideology is coming to surface. We see him berating the apparent flouting of due process clauses scattered throughout the U.S constitution (I admire him for this) and also the supposed disconnect between the legislative houses and the American public (although some fact-checking is in order to verify the 70% figure that was referenced as evidence for the U.S public’s disapproval of the provisions in the aforementioned Patriot Act).

One doesn’t have to agree with Rand Paul on these issues to admire the conviction it takes up to stand up against the majority of his own Republican party on this issue – especially considering the flak from several of the more ‘hawkish’ individuals within his party last time he took a stand on a civil liberties issue (most notably Chris Christie). However, in the last few weeks, I have found the chap to be slightly less admirable than he previously was.

It was inevitable that this was going to happen – there is no way that an essentially libertarian candidate was going to win the Republican Party’s nomination (considering that the voter turnout for primary elections is disproportionately of the Christian Right of the party). But I thought that Rand would be slightly more principled in his chase for the White House, like his father was 3-4 years previously. He appears to have flip-flopped on almost every single issue that made him different from the majority of the Republican Party – in 2011, he memorably proposed a budget in which the foreign aid budget to Israel would be eliminated, yet, in 2015, we hear this from an interview with Yahoo News:

‘I haven’t really proposed that in the past. We’ve never had a legislative proposal to do that. You can mistake my position, but then I’ll answer the question. That has not been a position — a legislative position — we have introduced to phase out or get rid of Israel’s aid.’

This pandering to the traditional Republican base was also seen slightly less explicitly when asked about same-sex marriage. Despite, in the past, Rand opposing a state role in protecting ‘traditional marriage’ – implicitly dismissing it as an illegitimate government overreach of power (‘I’m in favor of the concept’, he stated), he has now offered his support for a constitutional amendment essentially banning the practice of anything that is considered ‘non-traditional’ marriage.

These are just two flip-flops from Rand Paul (there are many more – on foreign policy for instance), and I acknowledge the fact that these are necessary considering the social-conservative bias in the Republican primary electorate. However, he is limiting his appeal to prospective swing voters by shuffling slowly toward the Rick Santorum-wing of the party.