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Human rights will shatter the myth that Cameron is in control of the UK’s destiny


The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) will be central to Tory planning for the EU referendum. The Tory manifesto gave a clear commitment to scrap the 1998 Human Right Act (HRA) and curtail the role of the European Court of Human Rights. It seems likely that there will be a measure paving the way to the Act’s replacement with a British Bill of Rights in the first year of this new government. This is a key part of Cameron’s plan to manage the EU Referendum which he unwisely conceded in order to appease his unruly right wing.

He has been told for some time now that the EU is in no hurry to make any treaty changes and it has also been made clear to him that the EU will not amend its core freedoms (in particular freedom of movement for labour) or its acquis (the body of acquired EU law). Scrapping the HRA and even withdrawing from the ECHR are then to be the red meat he can offer to his rebellious back-benchers if he cannot achieve the treaty changes or opt-outs from the EU fundamentals.

The problem with this neat package of political management is that sacrificing the HRA/ECHR opens up an international and legal quagmire. A government policy paper published last October, only 8 pages long, followed a Coalition commission which over 2 years tried to reach agreement on what a British Bill of Rights might look like, but proved inconclusive. It promised to break the link between British courts and the ECHR, to limit the use of human rights laws to the most serious cases, and to limit their reach in the UK (e.g. so that British armed forces were not subject to human rights claims).

That opens up a can of worms. What if Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, which are within their legal rights under the devolved settlements to remain in the ECHR, decide to do so, as they almost certainly will? Precisely which internationally agreed human rights does a Tory Britain wish to drop? Is Britain really prepared to threaten the legitimacy and status of a court entrenching human liberties across Europe? It is unlikely this transparent act of political legerdemain will pass through Parliament: the House of Lords will certainly vote against it, and maybe (with a Tory majority of just 12) enough Tory MPs also who value preserving the union more than these subterfuges.

What all this reveals is that it’s not the HRA/ECHR which can be accused of dysfunctionality so much as the first-past-the-post voting system (3.88m votes to deliver 1 UKIP MP compared with 26,000 per Tory MP), the powers – or lack of them – for English city regions, the influencing of MP numbers for political advantage, the funding of political parties, and the centralised control over taxation for local authorities. But they’re not part of the political fix – yet.


  1. David Pavett says:

    The case of he ECHR and the ECtHR does indeed sound like quite a minefield for the Tories.

    The “free movement of labour” is another matter. There are good arguments against it and it needs to be properly debated within Labour. In the early days of the EU the left saw it as a generalisation of the reserve army of the unemployed. Was it wrong?

    I strongly agree about the dysfunctionality of the FPTP electoral system. We need to hear more people in Labour saying this. The present system is broken. Any change in the electoral system probably also needs to be accompanied by a major new constitutional settlement. Some discussion on this within Labour would be welcome.

    1. Robert says:

      Burnham now Hunt has gone looks to be the front runner with Cooper in second place so Burnham wins and Cooper is his deputy.

      But Burnham now backs the referendum on the EU which is a bit of a you turn.

      So where will they stand on the Human right will they back the Bill of rights which was once spoken about by New labour.

      I think we are going to have to wait to see who wins the battle for the leadership if it is a battle.

      I doubt labour will do anything about FPTP why should they it has worked for them in the past it can work for them again.

      1. Dave Walsh says:

        FPTP can’t work for Labour ever again! If people haven’t yet got this then we really are in trouble. There is now a significant anti-Labour and anti-immigration vote in the North that will not go away, many of these people are ex Labour voters and they are not coming back. Meanwhile in Scotland, the SNP may have hit a high water mark but it will always win at least 50% of the seats from now on, the game really is up for Scottish Labour.
        On the subject at hand, it’s scandalous that the Tories can seek to remove this legislation with the percentage of the popular vote that they polled.
        Labour needs to abandon the Blairites, re-discover it’s soul, get behind multi member constituency based PR or something similar and get used to polling 30% and being a significant partner in future coalitions with Scottish Labour, the SNP and others – that’s the Labour future, not a return to 1997. If the guardianistas in London don’t like it they can off with their Progress entryists and join the LibDems. Pity we will have to lose another election before we realise it.

        1. David Ellis says:

          In a neo-liberal EU the free movement of labour is no more than the freedom of capital to have millions of workers chasing each other around the continent in search of the crappiest wages and the most minimal welfare. That is not free movement that is slavery.

          In a socialist Europe each member would be required to operate a regime of full-employment (not an aspiration for it but a regime) so that we could keep open borders without the misery of mass migration.

        2. Robert says:

          But whom is going to tell Progress to get lost and if they do not, it maybe the left who are seeking a new home.

          But PR or STV the issue is labour would find it very hard to get another vote on that, it worked for the Tories, and they will not want to give labour any chances.

          But yes I’ve been saying for years that labour should change to a left leaning party, the right never stopped laughing.

          1. Dave Walsh says:

            No referendum required, make it a manifesto commitment and dare others to vote against it. Problem is it needs a Labour government or Labour-led coalition which looks increasingly unlikely. We have 10 more years of Tory rule before it’s even on the cards.

    2. J.P. Craig-Weston says:

      “I have never doubted your courage and devotion to the cause. But you have just lost a Division, and prima facie the fault is upon you; and while that remains unchanged, for me to put you in command again, is to justly subject me to the charge of having put you there on purpose to have you lose another.2

      Abraham Lincoln

  2. David Ellis says:

    Of course the labour movement could not vote positively or even abstain on the neo-liberal principles enshrined in the foundational treaties of the EU and it certainly cannot vote for Cameron’s reforms. It is imperative that, with UKIP embroiled in civil war, that the left take ownership of the OUT Campaign and turn it into a rejection of neo-liberalism and Cameron’s reforms and government. Vote Out – For a Socialist Europe.

    1. James Martin says:

      So what changed your mind David, given a few months ago you were very pro-EU and criticised those of us arguing for UK withdrawal?

  3. swatantra says:

    The HRA must be simplified and iut made perfectly clear that undesirables will not be allowed to hide behind it.

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