In my previous post, I outlined the Conservative plan to strip you of your Human Rights and replace the ECHR (Full text of the Convention here: http://www.echr.coe.int/Documents/Convention_ENG.pdf) with a British Bill of Rights. I maintained then that I didn’t believe that the Tories actually want to remove, in general, any of the rights within the bill but do want to give themselves the power to remove your rights selectively whenever it chooses to.
We will still have to wait to see what any proposed British Bill of Rights actually contains to see if this prediction bears fruit but while reading up on this it has become quite clear to me that several imposed or proposed policies skirt a very fine line with regard to the articles within the ECHR. I’d hazard a guess that if any of your Human Rights are to be removed then the following would be the ones to watch.
Article 4:- Prohibition of Slavery and Forced Labour.
Workfare is the policy introduced in 2011 to “encourage” the unemployed to get back into work by putting them on a 30 hour per week Mandatory Work Activity (MWA) for no pay and under the threat of losing their £240 per month JSA if they refused. Companies like Tesco and Poundland hungrily lapped up the chance to take on folk who’d cost them even less than the meagre wages they paid to their actual employees (and yes, if you run the maths, it’d mean that person would be working for the equivalent of just £2 per hour. Far below the minimum wage, never mind the Living Wage which is deemed to be the minimum required pay to maintain a decent life).
For the Tories, this also meant that they could strike the jobseeker off the unemployment figures, never mind if they didn’t have any time left to actually seek a job…
In 2013, the policy was taken to court for violating this very right and whilst the government initially won the case (although more on that later) it would not be surprising to see the Tories make sure that they don’t have to go through it again. After all, what is the difference, exactly, between Mandatory Work and Forced Labour?
[Addendum: A partial list of companies which use or have used Workfare has been compiled by the Boycott Workfare group here: http://www.boycottworkfare.org/?page_id=16]
Article 6:- The Right to a Fair Trial.
In 2013, Caitlin Reilly and Jamieson Wilson, two unemployed people compelled into the Workfare program who unsuccessfully sued the government over Article 4 of the ECHR in reference to Workfare won their case that the rules and regulations surrounding Workfare were also illegal and that the DWP did not have the authority to impose them.
The government responded in one of the most authoritarian ways possible by changing the law to make those rules legal and then retrospectively applying them to the case. In 2014, the High Court in London ruled that this retrospective rule change was a violation of Article 6 of the ECHR. Surely no normal, democratic government should be able to simply change the rules to suit itself after the fact?
Article 7:- No Punishment Without Law.
The header quote says it all in this regard. Cameron’s statement shows intent to directly contravene this article. The rule of law is one of the fundamental pillars of a functioning democracy so it is here that my concern is most direct.
The Conservatives are intending to bring back their “Snooper’s Charter” which would allow them to intercept and read your personal correspondence even if you are not even suspected of any kind of wrongdoing. And here was me thinking that a core small-c conservative value was one of small government which allowed people to live their lives as they wished. I thought it was supposed to be the lefties who went in for the totally controlling surveillance state? Hmm.
Article 10:- Freedom of expression.
Theresa May is now on record as wanting to push through a new “Anti-Extremism” Bill which would target anyone who wants to “divide our society” or who displays an insufficiency of “British Values”…without, of course, actually defining which values are or are not “British”.
This one should be a particular concern to my friends within the Independence campaign. After all, to the Tory mindset, what could be more “divisive to society” or “un-British” than trying to, in the Conservative parlance, “Break up Britain”?
May has been unable to define exactly what kind of behaviour she does and does not find objectionable, who could?, but one of the things she has identified is a respect for Tolerance of views…apparently without noticing that she is preaching exactly that kind of intolerance of views with which she does not agree. It’s further of note that she wishes to grant a specific exemptions to the Universities of Oxford and Cambridge with regard to the teaching of “extreme ideas”.
I guess it’s a case of “think what-ever you like so long as it agrees with our little wordview”.
Human Rights are too important to be thrown away under a pretence of some ill defined threat. The Scottish Greens will certainly oppose any effort to strip them from us and I hope that we shall be joined by members of all parties, including any Conservatives who see the foolhardiness of these efforts and the anti-libertarian stance within them.
I’ll leave things with the famous quote by Ben Franklin.
“They that can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety.”