What’s wrong with the human rights act?

14 Oct

So today, I learned of Theresa May’s most recent attack on the human rights act. Or as I like to call it, Theresa’s most recent attempt to wind me up. This of course based on a recent failed deportation of a Bolivian student because he allegedly owned a cat. As much as I miss Liquorice my old cat and I know a few cat crazed individuals, I have to regretfully inform you that there is no “right to own a cat” clause within the human rights act. Sorry (Meow)/ (Shoes).

In fact the unsuccessful deportation had nothing at all to do with either the human rights act or Maya the cat (incidentally the name of my Dad’s car, which is a Jaguar, that’s a little bit funny to me). The deportation was due to the Home Office not following its own procedures correctly, in essence they scored an own goal and the judge’s ruling bore no relation to human rights grounds, but still the issue came up… again…

Firstly I’d like to point out a few things; I actually don’t know many people who disapprove of the human rights act who have actually read the human rights act, or more the point, read what those rights are. Do you really know many people who are dead set against their right to be alive? Or get married and start a family? Have a fair trial? Or participate in free elections? I listened to the justice minister Lord McNally talk about this somewhat and he hit the nail on the head. This is to my mind the best law ever written, but it’s not perfect, for instance your right to marry and start a family does not include homosexual couples, which is to my mind wrong. However Lord McNally simply said he asks people who want to scrap the act, which article (right) they wish to repeal (scrap). Unsurprisingly, not many people respond to that question.

Why don’t people know how to answer that? That’s because there’s not really much to disagree with in it. A lot of what is reported in the media regarding the act (though actually not the Kettering Evening Telegraph so kudos to them), is hyper-sensationalised urban myths, just like Maya the cat.

I’ve had this conversation with a UKIP supporter at county hall and he said what he didn’t like about it was the fact that it seemed that Europe was muscling in on British justice and it seemed like criminals were being given more rights than victims of crime. This is perception, but I thought it helpful to point out a few things to him.

  • Firstly not all rights guaranteed under the human rights act are unconditional, if you are arrested and imprisoned for instance; you have thus lost your right to liberty. The act doesn’t prevent criminals from being punished, but rather protects them from “no punishment without law” and grant “a fair trial”, all of which are enshrined parts of British morality.
  • Secondly the human rights act is based upon the European Convention on Human Rights, it is a British law which enables British judges to rule on human rights matters without having to send human rights cases to Europe. I don’t know about you, but that sounds like the complete opposite of European intervention to me. It is true that the European Convention would still protect those rights so long as we remained in the EU if we scrapped the law, which would make all these arguments academic without withdrawing from the EU, but really, what’s wrong with protecting our rights to hear these cases within the UK?

So are anti human rights campaigners misdirected? Should they be picking a fight with the European convention instead?

Certainly my UKIP acquaintance thought this was a valid question, but then I asked him a couple of very simple questions. British rights for British people based on our own moral framework is all well and good but shouldn’t we ensure that when Brits go abroad on holiday or on Business that they’re protected from harm, from torture or imprisonment without trial? Well yes of course, is the response. Well then; you’ve just made the case for international law, laws to be respected and enforced in more than one country, so how do you do this without infringing on a country’s sovereign right to govern itself? By establishing the most basic rights that any human being of any nationality should hold whilst in that country and that’s exactly what the European Convention on Human rights does. So do me a favour, if you’re curious or sceptical at all (it’ll take you two minutes), have a look at this link and tell me if you actually disagree with any of those rights. I’d be interested to hear what you have to say on that one.

As for a British bill of rights, are there any rights there that you want to scrap? If there are then we can have that debate and I’ll likely fiercely defend those rights, however if you have more you’d like to add to those or discuss how we could better enforce them, great, I’m all ears, but we already have a 100% British written law to protect British human rights, it’s called the human rights act. So if you want to make it better then I’m all ears, but don’t bash it if you’re not going to tell me what’s wrong with it, it is British rights for British people.

So there we get to the crux of the debate, the rights of undesirables as Theresa May would put it. Before I make many, many comparisons to the Third Reich on this one (thank you Mr MacPhail). People who visit this country have every right to be protected by its laws and that includes their most basic rights as discussed before and before we start complaining about rights to education and voting, I will point out the fact that these rights are again, not absolute, simply coming here from abroad does not entitle you to these rights outright, a couple from Nigeria, or really anywhere else, does not have the right to vote for an MP simply because they come here on a work visa to work without obtaining citizenship, the law differentiates between British Citizens and foreign workers.

The reality of the argument is simply, why do we need a British Bill of Rights, if it would simply duplicate the human rights act? If not, it is better to simply amend it. Unless it is your intention to remove basic human rights from people you don’t happen to like, which is firstly illegal under the European Convention anyway and secondly, immoral to the point of evil. Unless you wish to return to a morality reflective of the time of Apartheid or female subjugation or homosexual persecution, then you cannot tell me that one human being holds more value as a human being than another.

Such an act would never be allowed by Liberal Democrats in government, no matter the media hype. I would never belong to a party that tried. Yes I would resign my party membership over it and I wouldn’t even have to think about it.

It gets better, when we stand up together

27 Sep

So its official, those maybe two or three of you who read my last blog will know that I’ve declared war on bullying and discrimination, especially homophobia in Northamptonshire. But already I have some news for you, on Thursday (29th September), I am officially calling for the County Council to sign up to the Stonewall Education Champions programme. This to give every school in the county resources and training they badly need to tackle bullying and homophobia.

But better still I’m doing so with the full support of local hero and Rugby star Ben Cohen, which is one hell of an endorsement. For this I owe Ben personally a great debt of gratitude for this and everything else he is doing for the cause. With any luck, the administration will see past political differences and recognise our point and spend the £1250, about 0.001% of our budget and actually give us these resources. We’ll just have to see, but to be honest I’m not the only one fighting this fight and neither is Ben, Stonewall and even the Northampton Youth Forum is taking action on this.

To be honest, I can’t mention heroes without talking about Lady GaGa. What sticks in a lot of people’s minds is the image of Jamey Rodemeyer and the circumstances that surrounded his death, his last words were to thank Lady GaGa, a person he looked up to for strength and support through everything. Could you imagine having someone believe in you that much? Then have them kill themselves? No part of this is GaGa’s fault, not by any stretch of the imagination. But as someone given a position of office and a position of responsibility, I will tell you without question the single hardest thing in the job is knowing that you cannot fix everything, and cannot save everyone (it certainly doesn’t stop you trying). What really haunts you, is everything that you couldn’t fix, every problem you couldn’t solve and every person you couldn’t save, the more power you have, the more influence you have, the harder it is.

I had a friend kill themselves recently, it was horrible. But that’s not really the same situation I guess, but how an artist like GaGa must feel about something like that, I don’t know. What do you say to her in this situation? One of her little monsters killed themselves. I’d say, for all that its worth that this little monster was elected and will fight to his last breath to defend every last one of them from hatred and intolerance. That’s right Aufona, I’m a GaGa fan and proud of it.

You can call it “Stamp out hatecrime” “Stand up” or “It gets better”, at the end of the day these are slogans and banners. We are all fighting for the same cause and its time that the LGBT community saw that we are behind them, that the people that live in the wider community, their wider community are behind them; and to every victim of bullying, to every struggling teen and every lost soul we can say that we are with you, you are not alone and it will get better and we want you with us, side by side when we win against this prejudice and finally put it where it belongs. In history books.

Has bullying become a hatecrime? (Jamey Rodemeyer)

23 Sep

I have, like many of you, learned recently of the tragic death of Jamey Rodemeyer. He was just 14 years old. As someone who’s been trying to support the It gets better campaign for some time, this was a terrible blow.

For those of you who do not already know, the It gets better campaign is a US born campaign led predominantly by members of the LGBT community and has recently become international. It involves members of the public and celebrities and politicians telling their own stories of overcoming adversity and giving young people, those struggling with this discrimination and harassment the message to hang on, because it gets better; because life gets better. So the campaign is also seeking to end homophobia and bullying once and for all and I’m behind that with every fibre of my being.

Jamey himself was bullied immensely due to his sexuality, in my opinion an absurd reason to single someone out, but the real tragic part of this whole story is that he got the message of the it gets better campaign. He made his own youtube video to spread the message himself, but in the end he was still bullied and it killed him. It saddens me more than you would believe to know this. Even his idol Lady GaGa with her extraordinarily high profile message in this campaign couldn’t prevent this from happening to one of her little monsters,  being moved to the point of tears for the horror of it all. Believe me I can empathise.

Lady GaGa said “Bullying must become be illegal. It is a hate crime“. This is the first time I know of that this point was made as aggressively as this. Is it a hate crime?

Whether hate is done out of hate or dislike or for thrills, its certainly done out of malice. There’s a point that I’ve been making for a while that bullying is about segregation, its about making others different from you and using a pack mentality of superiority to subject someone to degrading treatment. Big labels of homosexuality make this easy, with huge caricatures and sweeping generalisations to ease the way, its discrimination on its lowest, most common level, we’ve all seen it, we’ve all witnessed it. Someone bullying someone else. The vast majority of people see it as abhorrent and wrong, but really; have you ever stopped and thought about it this way? Is it not exactly the same mentality of hateful discrimination we see elsewhere, somehow we look at schools and think, these kids don’t know any better and think that this is in some way less harmful than racist jibes in the street or homophobic condemnation from public figures, but really its the same isn’t it?

Bullying in my mind should be illegal for this reason and we should be tougher on it. Not to say that friends don’t tease each other, I tease mine and they tease me, but the love I have for my friends is much greater, if ever I caused hurt it would have never been intentional and I would always seek to make it up to them and never do it again. But there’s the difference isn’t there? Malice… But even then its not that simple, how many of Jamey Rodemeyer’s bullies are saying to themselves and their parents that they didn’t mean it? That there was no malice? This doesn’t sit right with me, because I doubt very much that they didn’t know, some of what they were doing was hurtful to him.

As for hate crime, I’m not wild about telling people what they can and cannot think when they make any action in their life. Having read George Orwell’s 1984, the nightmare prospect of thought crime is terrifying to me, not to mention horrifyingly illiberal. But even this is problematic in a practical sense, because does that mean that the ones who bullied him for thrills, who didn’t care about his homosexuality but joined in anyway, used it as an excuse to bullying him for a laugh are any less guilty than the homophobes? In my mind no. Nothing, ever gives you the right to treat someone in this way.

For a matter of humility, there are all people that we do not like, often there are groups we cannot stand, but there’s a lesson there about tolerance. To take a lesson from John Stuart Mill, they are free to do what they like until it causes harm to someone else and we know for certain that bullying causes harm.

So am I happy to just comment on this?

No. This to me, is not an exercise in Charlie Brooker’s “oh dear-ism”. I want this ended. In the US and the UK and frankly, across the globe. So I’m going to keep supporting the It gets better campaign and Stonewall here in the UK. Aside from pledging to support Joel Burns and other supporters of the it gets better campaign in the US any way I can, over here in the UK, I’m going to everything I can.

Stonewall are leading this fight in the UK and I’ve pledged to support them, they’ve asked if Northamptonshire County Council will sign up to their campaign to end homophobia and bullying in schools by becoming Education Champions. This, to give our schools access to incredible resources and training for our teachers to compliment the good work they are already doing. For the cost of £1250, for the entire county… For that money, I’ll pay it out of my own empowerment fund if needs be, the other 72 councillors can thank me later. But I swear I will see this done, I will see an end to discrimination and bullying in our schools and wherever else I find it. I will not let Jamey and the others that have suffered in his place, suffer in vain. Enough is enough.

It gets better. It will get better, I promise…

Lynne’s Gay Marriage fiasco!

21 Sep

So I thought under (Meow’s) suggestion I would actually start a blog and post when I can, so predictably; I thought I’d start with an equalities issue. Probably because I’m utterly obsessed with equalities issues and also because its really just struck me as the most bizarre event in the last couple of weeks. And boy I really did just think… “oh good grief…”

I’ve got to tell you, I was really proud to be amongst the first to sign Equal Love’s petition for the legalisation of Gay Marriage so Lynne Featherstone’s announcement regarding the legalisation of Gay Marriage was to my mind, probably the most important and symbolic change the coalition government has done so far. This is a ban which should have been lifted decades ago, or rather more accurately, should never have existed in the first place.

One thing to consider is that I always like President Obama, but I never converted to the cult that existed in his honeymoon period, simply because I did not believe that he was liberal enough for me. Then what happened? The end of don’t ask don’t tell happened…

Essentially these are two entirely different things, legalisation of Gay Marriage and an end to the crime of Sodomy in the military are two entirely different issues, but I’m in my heart of hearts an equalities activist so equalities and civil rights is always going to win me over, but why this specifically?

Because there is no glory in it at all. Seeing as the US is enormously more culturally segregated and partisan than the UK is by a country mile, its fair to say that US Republicans get tarred with the same brush, and that brush in many respect comes with a huge glob of religious fundamentalism, specifically Christian. Since anyone who like me has read the joy of joys that is the gospel according to Leviticus (its in the Bible), full well knows that homosexuality is called an “abomination” we can fairly accurately reflect that not only are US Republicans considered anti homosexual, they’re pretty much viewed as being on a pretty harshly homophobic platform. So what does this matter? Well personally I don’t like being insulted very much, but I’ve never really been called an abomination, so I think we can take it as read that overwhelmingly most homosexuals vote Democrat, there is of course actual evidence to support this, but you see my point I hope. In return deeply Christian or conservative voters who sway during elections might be compelled to be anti Mr Pres for sticking up for persecuted people.

So why do it at all?

Because at the end of the day there’s a difference between right and wrong. Some things are worth fighting for even if there’s no glory in it and even on the worst of occasions there is no hope. The same applies here, why do it?

Well Liberal Democrats customarily have strong support amongst the LGBT communities, unsurprisingly really considering we’ve been jumping up and down on every administration for decades to fix just this, amongst other things of course. Not to diminish the members of the LGBT communities that do vote Labour or even Conservative, because I know those that do, but the question here is more of a practical one. Sodomy is a crime in the US Military, principally it is illegal to be gay. As opposed to Civil Partnerships in the UK exist between same sex couples are recognised in law in almost exactly the same way as marriage, so easy win right? Everything’s fine?

Wrong. If you’re telling me its the same thing, then why do we legally have to use a different name out of respect for the institution of marriage? That is to my mind, pathetic and just plain abhorrent. There are subtle differences between the two but more than anything its simply the principle of the thing, you cannot reasonably ask someone to control who they fall in love with, certainly not between two consenting adults. So big win for equalities and everybody goes home a bit happier surely?

Apparently not…

We’ll skip the part that it has to go to consultation first, which I’m not wild about, but hey letting the public have their say could well improve the policy itself (we’ll get to that later), besides being the proud Liberal that I am, I must concede the right for people to oppose what seems utterly common sense to me. Hey its democracy, you gotta love it…

People are upset…

Who’s upset? Well Peter Thatchell apparently and some other equal rights campaigners. They have a few complaints.

 

  • It goes to consultation
Well that’s a bit tough I suppose, I have to live with it, so I suppose you do to. Price of democracy and all that…
  • Religious ceremony marriage is still universally banned
Yep, I’m with you and the Quakers on this one. If I believe, which I do that religion should play no part in the legislation or running of the state or government, I have to accept that until any religious organisation goes as far as to cause harm to another individual, government has no right to interfere with the running of it. More over Government shouldn’t be telling anyone what they can and cannot think on the matter.
  • Civil Partnerships are not open to heterosexual couples
Okay, now personally as a heterosexual man, I don’t have a problem with marriage at all, in fact one thing that I really want to do is get married, cos I’m a not so closet romantic. However there are people that just prefer the connotations of civil partnership rather than marriage to cement their relationship. That’s fine and its more than reasonable, however I suggest that’s a problem with an archaic and sweeping generalisation of marriage within society, which is a cultural thing that needs to evolve rather than just replace it, but hey I don’t really have a problem with Civil Partnerships at all.
So what really gripes me about the whole fiasco? The fact that those complaining are so adamant at utterly condemning the action by government. I had to take a breath at that point. As someone who believes in what these people are supposed to be fighting for tooth and nail, I actually find this condemnation absurd and more than a little offensive to be honest. I agree with these issues, but to me it is utterly ridiculous that we get to the point of finally overturning an utterly unacceptable legal ban that is heavily discriminatory, and all some campaigners want to do is attack Lynne Featherstone.
This is finally going to be overturned! Why are campaigners attacking the very people who are trying to help them? If its to score political points then my patience with these “friends” of mine is going to wear thin. The law being put forward is not perfect, but in reality they very rarely are. Even my beloved human rights act is not perfect, but that’s life. So how about we all use this upcoming period of consultation for what its supposed to be for? Lets allow the government to consult with us and try and fix these issues before it becomes law. Let’s just stop bickering and get it done.