Anyone who imagines (as Uncle Jimmy clearly does, for example) that the BBC has some hidden (or not) agenda of leftist activism can rest easy in her/his bed. Last Wednesday we saw a polemic by Andrew Neil against the European Court of Human Rights, the Human Rights Act, and the very idea that courts might exercise any kind of jurisdiction over the legality or illegality of a government's actions. In short, the most craven Blairism you could hope for (if the idea of Blairism doesn't make you puke).
Throughout the programme Neil assumed that "the British public" automatically shared his opinions, and those of the Murdoch press in general, without question. He began with by covering a few cherry-picked cases where he seemed to believe that victims should make the law of Britain. For example, the case of of a failed asylum-seeker who ran over a schoolgirl. He was jailed for it as he should have been, but apparently the problem is that on his release the ECHR ruled that deporting him and thus breaking up his family would be illegal. Ooh, wicked judges, implementing the law. Surely the problem, if there is one, is that this POS was given far too lenient a sentence in the first place. He deserves prison, not deportation: harder on him, less so on his family.
The we had an interview with Blair's disgraced (and disgraceful) ex-Home Secretary John Reid, the torturers' friend, whining that the Human Rights Act prevents UK governments from detaining suspects indefinitely without trial the way they do in third world dictatorships, or the USA. Bless. Inevitably, the case of Abu Qatada is brought up, and it is assumed that "the public" believe that we should be able to deport him on the basis of evidence obtained by torture. Just think, if Reid's pals had tortured the informant a bit longer he would have told them that Abu Qatada was the gunman on the Grassy Knoll, as well as telling them where Brady and Hindley buried Keith Bennett. Reid told us that if some totally figmental "atrocity" resulted from ECHR rulings, "the people" would demand to pull out of it. Which he would know, having paid so much attention to "the people" when he was Blair's hitman in Parliament.
Neil went on to describe Strasbourg as the "heart of darkness" before launching into a brief anti-Europe tirade. then we had a brief history of the ECHR, from its foundation by Churchill. Prof. Helen Fenwick of Durham University explained how it was set up, and pointed out that while it hasn't been called on to deal with the kinds of gross human rights violations it was meant for, it has dealt with a lot of minor but significant things. Corporal punishment on schools, government phone-tapping, union closed shops, all banned. The right of gays to serve in the armed forces upheld. Also Neil's own case when the Sunday Times serialised Spy Catcher
by Peter Wright and the Thatcher government tried to jail him: case won in Strasbourg.
So the ECHR would seem to be a good thing. What's the problem?
Neil helpfully pointed out it's nothing to do with EU, European Parliament etc. It's part of the (bigger) Council of Europe. ("more unwieldy than the EU, and less fussy about who it lets through the front door", whatever that's supposed to mean). There are 47 signatories to the ECHR, and each one sends a judge to the court. the problem, it seems, is that some cases involving Brits may be heard by judges from countries with questionable HR records (as though ours wasn't!) He cited Moldova, Azerbaijan, Turkey and Russia. Yes, they have poor records, but since Blair removed our rights to peaceful protest, free assembly, freedom from arbitrary arrest, right to trial, right to privacy and freedom from torture, suddenly they don't look too bad compared with us.
Ah, but when these wicked foreigners breach the convention they just ignore the rulings against them. Right... so should we be more like these wicked ex-Commies and Muslims and just ignore the law then? Because nothing collects the moron vote faster than a race to the bottom on human rights (except one on health & safety, of course)
Ah, it's Tony Blair's fault for enshrining the Convention in British law. One must assume then that he intended from the outset that we would ignore any judgements of the ECHR against us. And we don't, because since the Blessed One fled British politics for easier ways to line his pockets we have taken to abiding by the law again. Bummer.
We now cut (I kid you not) to a picture of the minarets of a British mosque before going to Leeds where "they feel the fallout from our British obsession with taking the human rights rules so literally". We met someone from a charity working for victims of forced marriages. Her name was Jasvinder (not a typical Muslim name), and as pictures of her and her sisters (who we learn were forced into marriages) show not a hijab in sight it's a fair bet that she is a Hindu (or perhaps a Christian). However, the film's editors distracted us from that by showing plenty of footage of hijab-wearing Leeds residents. Jasvinder apparently got the government to raise the age limit for people entering the UK for marriage to 21. She expected this in some way to protect British girls from forced marriage to middle-aged Indians or Indonesians, and Neil happily nodded along as though the way in which this change would protect girls from forced marriage was self-evident. The law was of course challenged by British men and women who wanted to marry a foreigner under 21. Well, duh: did Jasvinder forget that some marriages are voluntary? The law was struck down, and a damned good thing: you don't address forced marriages by banning marriage. So this hard-faced woman now reckons that the court failed to consider the rights of "victims". But that's precisely what they did consider: they stopped her from forcing her criteria on who could get married on everyone else. What next? You can't come here to get married unless you're white? Or rich? (Meanwhile, in the background, we were shown Muslim men watching, in case we were in danger of forgetting that all the evils in Britain come from Islam. WTF?) According to Jasvinder, "the question has to be asked, who is running the country?" Because obviously when a deranged single-issue fanatic isn't allowed to ruin people's lives for dubious reasons, it's a crisis of democracy. (The short answer, dearie, is: not you. Now fuck off home and get on with dealing with FORCED marriages.) "The judges have given power to the perpetrators," PERPETRATORS? Of what? Falling in love? Suppose I went to France and fell in love with a 19-year-old who wanted to come here to marry me. Not if Jasvinder's Law was in force, she couldn't: we'd have to live together unmarried (clearly the idea of forced cohabitation leaves Jasvinder untroubled) or go abroad. And heaven knows there's never been a problem of children being shipped out to Pakistan or wherever to be forced into a marriage. So her lousy law would have protected nobody and victimized the innocent. (Why is this fraud getting airtime? Because the whole thing is being unsubtly spun as a Muslim issue, in the same way all the "victim" examples at the start happened to involved perpetrators who were, or appeared to be, Muslims.)
Neil moaned that this was just one example where our Supreme Court has over-ruled our legislators in Parliament. (That's what Supreme Courts are paid for. I began to expect him at any moment to start whinging that the Americans have the same problem and bring out a Pro-lifer to decry Roe v Wade
.....) Actually his whine was that sex offenders won the right to appeal against lifelong inclusion on the Sex Offenders' Register. Once again, duh! They didn't get the right not to be
on the register, or even not to be on it forever
. They got the right to appeal,
so that if there was evidence they no longer posed a threat they could have their lives back. Cue shots of tabloid headlines "Perverts' Charter". Has Murdoch bought the BBC now?
And then we came on to the "human rights industry". (Isn't that called "legal practice"?) Cue shots of Maseratis and Ferraris we were supposed to believe belonged to wicked HR lawyers (though for all we knew they could have belonged to footballers or supermodels). Michael Mansfield, famous human rights defender, pointed out that HR lawyers are no better-off than any others, and that Neil's so-called "industry" is simply one of many legal specialisms. Neil kept interrupting him and finally simply cut him off when he repudiated the suggestion that human rights law is a gravy train. Then Neil suggested that because "the public" (ie the Murdoch press) don't agree with some ECHR rulings they bring all HR law into disrepute. Mansfield, sharp as a knife, asked who has assessed the public's attitude? Because he has had good feedback over plenty of HR issues: protection of journalists' sources and of people tackling government abuses. Who says the public don't like the HRA? So Neil asked whether a poll on Abu Qatada wouldn't support his deportation! (Not from what I've heard, it wouldn't.) Mansfield said he wouldn't want opinion polls governing the legal system: but that is precisely what Murdoch and Neil DO want, of course, because the gutter press can control them, whereas judges on the whole are impervious to tabloid spite.
Mansfield also pointed out that the same day as the Abu Qatada judgment got all its tabloid column inches, the ECHR dismissed an appeal against the British government's right to impose whole-life sentences. And how much tabloid coverage did THAT get?
Finally Neil allowed that there were some HRA good news stories. Breast cancer parents using the HRA to force the NHS to provide Herceptin treatment. Or the couple married for 65 years and put into separate care homes by their council. But let's not cheer: it's all just "judges over-ruling legislators" and challenging the supremacy of Parliament. Which, once again, is what they're being paid for.
We moved on to prisoner voting rights (yawn) and met a campaigner whose name I missed. The campaigner was (surprise!) a fan of the ECHR, which ruled that depriving prisoners of the right to vote was illegal He had also done time for murder, so clearly anything he said could be discounted, right?. We were shown a Youtube video of him celebrating his victory with a drink and a spliff: shock horror. Tabloid techniques again: when you have no argument against something (if we're trying to rehabilitate prisoners for eventual return to society, why would we ban them from having any say in what that society is like?) resort to ad hominem attacks. Neil claimed that the video undermined respect (whose?) for human rights, then showed his own respect by (1) interrupting repeatedly (2) sarcastically repeating the question when he didn't get the answer he wanted (what WOULD have satisfied him?) and (3) blanking the rest of his answer with a voice-over accusing the campaigner him of "wishful thinking" when he simply pointed out that Europe's highest court had ruled in favour of prisoners' votes so the MPs should shut up and implement the law. Damn this democracy threatening rule by tabloid! And if the government continues to flout the law it may have to compensate disenfranchised prisoners. "Cheques to prisoners - for their human rights! That'll go down well in the Age of Austerity. " Spoken like a true Sun(day Times) hack. In any case, so far neither NuLabour nor the ConDems have implemented the ECHR ruling and given prisoners their right to vote, so hey, down there with Russia!
Then we had a Routemaster publicity stunt by Tory Eurosceptic who wants to scrap the HRA and withdraw from the ECHR, relying on Magna Carta. (Because that worked so well to protect us from Blair, Blunkett and Reid.) He doesn't mind that if we withdrew we'd be lumped with Belarus: they're just foreigners who don't have our human rights heritage. (as typified by Oliver Cromwell, the Peterloo Massacre or the Tolpuddle Martyrs....).
A historian pointed out that only 4 clauses of Magna Carta are still in law, and only one (right to fair trial) relates to HR. Plus Parliament has been over-riding it for centuries.
So the problem is that "we" (Murdoch) don't like it when judges foreign or domestic tell us what to do. Bless. Neil had a go at the LibDems, as well as at the Tories in the Council of Europe: no matter what the Tory spokesman said in favour of the CoE and ECHR, he ignored it and went to his tame interviewees. He implied that the HRA protects people who run over schoolgirls (a lie).
Finally he told us that we should withdraw from the ECHR. Gosh what a shock.
Will Jimmy, currently much exercised over imaginary BBC bias against Blair, run a campaign against the anti-Europe, anti-HT, blatant Blairite bias of Neil and the BBC? Of course not.P.S. "Jasvinder" turns out to be Jasvinder Sanghera, who is indeed not a Muslim but a Sikh. And while I still think her proposed law was a crazy idea, I will happily retract my description of her above as a "fraud": her organisation Karma Nirvana does excellent work helping women - of all religions - escape from forced marriages.