MP for Hornsey and Wood Green
My most recent column published in the Ham & High today.
The political party conference season is always a time when politicians naturally turn to thinking and talking more to their internal audience – the party members who turn up to fill the halls when they speak. With a coalition government it also means we therefore hear more about issues where the two parties in government disagree, especially those issues on which party members feel passionately.
And so the talk of human rights at both the Liberal Democrat and Conservative Party conferences – same topic, but very different talk, at each.
In the Blue Corner, Theresa May (my Home Office boss) launched an attack on the Human Rights Act on the morning of the Conservative conference in the Sunday Telegraph saying that saying she “personally” would like to see it go because of the problems it caused for the Home Office. On Marr the same day David Cameron – when questioned on his Secretary of State’s position – backed it up, saying he too would like to see it go and be replaced by a written British Bill of Rights.
In the gold corner, Nick Clegg – my other boss (and Deputy Prime Minister obviously) – at our Conference a couple of weeks ago defended the act: “So let me say something really clear about the Human Rights Act. In fact I’ll do it in words of one syllable: It is here to stay”.
Positions stated, party differences made clear. But the truly important point – and one I hope and trust that both coalition parties subscribe to – is that human rights are absolutely crucial to a civilised world and civilised society – and something to be proud of.
And in fairness – I have been impressed by William Hague and the priority he has given to human rights (including equal rights for women and the LGB&T community) in the Foreign & Commonwealth Office work across the world. There is a real personal sincerity from many leading Conservative figures showing how, in this respect at least, the Conservative Party now is very different from the one of Section 28.
The Foreign Secretary has supported my own international mission in tackling violence against women across the world and gay and trans rights by supporting my key messages on these issues. Travelling ministers will now raise such issues wherever appropriate and possible in their travels – it is becoming a core part of their work when abroad on behalf of the UK , rather than something to be sidelined into the occasional special trip.
As for the Human Rights Act – there are times when people cynically, lazily or ignorantly quote it in a way that completely perverts its intention (and doesn’t stand up if put to the test in court). In that respect it is very similar to the Data Protection Act – often also called in aid as the supposed justification for bizarre decisions in a way that fuels shock media stories but really says far more about the ignorance of those quoting it than about what it actually says.
As even David Cameron said, the real issue with the Human Rights Act is its over-interpretation by some. We do see stupid judgements and ridiculous trivialisation of the Act and the intention of the Act.
So there is scope for common ground on dealing with those excesses, but outside of tha – the Home Sec’s ‘personal’ desire to see the Human Rights Act go – is just not going to happen under this government.