Tuesday, 14 October 2014

When UKIP and the Tories attack human rights legislation, whose interests are they serving?

What makes the appeal of UKIP truly curious is that it’s not only toxic, it’s completely incoherent.

It keeps telling us not to trust Westminster politicians. Vile bunch, the lot of them. Always lining their own pockets and corruptly working in their own interests.

In their next breath UKIP tells us that the burning question of our time is to get us out of the European Union, to repatriate powers.

To Westminster.

Do they actually listen to what they’re saying?

Behind this device there is a profound dishonesty. Firstly, because Nigel Farage, leader of UKIP, is one of the few Members of the European Parliament to refuse to submit his expenses claims to the scrutiny of an independent audit. It seems that what he’s been doing may not stand up to detailed examination. Interesting: the man who denounces both the EU and the cupidity of MPs, would rather we didn’t look too closely at how he spends the money he takes from the EU Parliament.

Secondly, because UKIP, followed in this by the Tories, tend to make no distinction between the EU and other European institutions. So, for instance, they like to direct many of their attacks against the European Convention on Human Rights.

European Convention on Human Rights
Sponsored by Churchill, drafted by Brits
Pause for a moment to think about that. The Tories and UKIP are successfully making “human rights” a term of abuse. Lots of people, all of them as far as I can determine human, think it would be a good thing to get rid of legislation protecting rights that come simply by virtue of belonging to humanity.

Interestingly, when the Tory government launched its most recent attack, it appealed to the spirit of Churchill to stiffen resolve against this devious piece of European skulduggery. It failed to point out that it was backed by Churchill, who used British lawyers to draft it.

Nigel Farage went one step further in the descent into dishonesty, claiming that getting rid of Britain’s adherence to the ECHR wasn’t enough, we had to go a step further and leave the European Union altogether. As he knows, the Convention has nothing to do with the EU, but was adopted by the Council of Europe. That’s a larger and older body than the EU that oversees the European Court of Human Rights, charged with enforcing the Convention.

But what the heck, when you’re fooling people, why worry about mere truth?

Who needs the ECHR anyway? Interestingly, the answer is all of us.

One of the phenomena that has most marked the times we’re living through has been the unbridled behaviour of corporations. In a world where the drive for profit is increasingly unregulated, it can bring disaster on us all, as it did most spectacularly when the banks crashed in 2008.

Back in 1986, two individuals decided to take on one of these corporations. Helen Steel and David Morris began distributing leaflets about McDonald’s, making some damaging allegations against the company (some of which, though not all, were later judged to be true).

David Morris and Helen Steel, defendants in the McLibel case
They lost the case but won the battle
Britain has draconian libel laws. In particular, the burden of proof in a libel case is on the defendant, who has to show that any allegations made are true. This can be costly and difficult to do. And libel defendants do not receive legal aid in Britain.

So McDonald’s brought a libel case, as it had against a number of major media outlets, expecting the defendants to cave as the outlets had, and therefore to win a quick victory.

Three other defendants did indeed apologise, but not Steel and Morris. What followed was the longest trial in British history After ten years, some of the allegations were deemed not to have been proved, so Steel and Morris lost. However, McDonald’s realised that the McLibel case had done them far more damage than the original hand-distributed leaflets ever could, let it be known that it would not be collecting the £40,000 of damages awarded to it.

Now it strikes me that being able to stand up to the ever-increasing might of corporations like McDonald’s is essential for all of us, and likely to become even more important in the future. So resisting the corporations and such bad law as British libel legislation actually matters. And who ruled that Steel and Morris had been denied natural justice?

Why, the European Court of Human Rights. In 2005.

Its ruling was given against the British government. Today that government is calling for legislation to allow ministers to overrule judgements of the court.

It strikes me that we need to resist that suggestion. I’d rather like to see Ministers reined in, not gaining more power. Which is what the rhetoric of men like Farage suggests too.

But with them it’s only rhetoric. He’s at least as keen to see the authority of the Court curtailed. In favour of the very Westminster politicians he’s so quick to deride.

Then, of course, he’s planning to get himself elected a Westminster politician too, next May. And his party likes to take large donations from the corporate world. Besides, as we’ve seen, he likes to be less than candid about certain things. So, in a twisted way, his hostility to European legislation makes a lot of sense.

As long as you realise he’s just as self-serving as the worst politicians he denounces.


Awoogamuffin said...

But Farage is always drinking a pint! Look! It's ale! How adorable! He clearly represents your everyman, right?

David Beeson said...

I'd like to know how he's paying for all those pints. Although, come to think of it, if he stuck to drinking pints instead of politics, I wouldn't be at all unhappy.