Category: Post Election

Government turns its back on international laws, scrutiny and standards: it’s time to be very worried

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Concerns have been raised by lawyers and legal experts that Conservative ministers have quietly abandoned the longstanding principle that members of the government should be bound by international law.

The rewritten ministerial code, which was updated on October 15  without any announcement, sets out the standard of conduct expected of ministers, has been quietly edited. The latest version of the code is missing a key element regarding complicity with international law. 

The previous code, issued in 2010, said there was an “overarching duty on ministers to comply with the law including international law and treaty obligations and to uphold the administration of justice and to protect the integrity of public life”.

The new version of the code has been edited to say only that there is an “overarching duty on ministers to comply with the law and to protect the integrity of public life”.

Legal experts say key issues affected by the change could include decisions about “whether to go to war or use military force, such as the use of drones in Syria, any decision made by an international court about the UK and any laws not incorporated into English law, such as human rights legislation and the Geneva conventions.

Ministerial code changes between 2010 and 2015.
Photograph: Government handout – courtesy of the Guardian

This comes as the UK government is facing another United Nations inquiry regarding widespread allegations that the Conservative welfare reforms breach the Human Rights of disabled people. It also comes following the government announcement this week that there are plans to scrap the Human Rights Act by next summer, to replace it with a controversial “British Bill of Rights.”

Raquel Rolnik, the UN’s special rapporteur for housing, found the bedroom tax to contravene human rights and in 2013, she called for the Tory “spare room subsidy” to be suspended immediately. In a wide-ranging report she also calls for the extension of grants to provide more social housing, the release of public land, build-or-lose measures to target landbanks and increased private rented sector regulation. None of these are recommendations which the Conservatives have been remotely willing to entertain, instead they have directed hostility towards the United Nations.

The Conservatives have already taken away access to legal aid from the poorest and most vulnerable citizens, in a move branded contrary to the very principle of equality under the law. Last year, Grayling, then the Justice Secretary, was accused of turning legal aid into an instrument of discrimination by a court, because of his attempt to introduce a residency test to legal aid access, a move which exceeded his statutory powers when he devised it.

He has also tried to dismantle a vital legal protection available to the citizen – judicial review – which has been used to stop him abusing his powers again and again. Judicial review is the mechanism by which citizens can hold the government to its own laws. With the Criminal Justice and Courts Bill, the justice secretary tried to put it out of reach.

Grayling, suffered a defeat in the House of Lords vote on his plans to curtail access to judicial review, which would have made it much harder to challenge government decisions in court.

Peers voted by 247 to 181, a majority of 66, to ensure that the judges keep their discretion over whether they can hear judicial review applications after a warning from a former lord chief justice, Lord Woolf, that the alternative amounted to an “elective dictatorship”.

He has tried to restrict legal aid for domestic abuse victims, welfare claimants seeking redress for wrongful state decisions, victims of medical negligence, for example.

It’s very worrying that this is a government that wants to leave Europe behind and sever the connection with the European Convention on Human Rights.  It’s a government that wants to do as it pleases, free from international scrutiny and what it clearly sees as the constraints of international law and the judgments of international courts.

The Conservatives have demonstrated an eagerness to take away citizens’ rights to take their case to the European court, with many of their actions clearly based on an intent on tearing up British legal protections for citizens and massively bolstering the powers of the state.

The Guardian reports that a legal challenge against the change will be lodged on Friday by Rights Watch, an organisation which works to hold the government to account. Yasmine Ahmed, its director, said:

“This amendment to the ministerial code is deeply concerning. It shows a marked shift in the attitude and commitment of the UK government towards its international legal obligations.”

In his preamble to the new ministerial code, David Cameron says: “People want their politicians to uphold the highest standards of propriety. That means being transparent in all we do.”

However, I reported last year that in terms of international standards of conduct, the Conservatives are not doing well. Transparency International flagged up many areas of concern in their report: A mid-term assessment of the UK Coalition Government’s record on tackling corruption

The Cabinet Office has of course denied there was any intention to weaken international law and the administration of justice by omitting the phrases from the new code.

A spokesman said:

“The code is very clear on the duty that it places on ministers to comply with the law. ‘Comply with the law’ includes international law.

The wording was amended to bring the code more in line with the civil service code. The obligations remain unchanged by the simplified wording. The ministerial code is the prime minister’s guidance to his ministers on how they should conduct themselves in public office.”

However, a Conservative party policy document promises that the ministerial code will be rewritten in the context of the UK withdrawing from the European convention on human rights. In order to help achieve these aims the document says:

“We will amend the ministerial code to remove any ambiguity in the current rules about the duty of ministers to follow the will of Parliament in the UK.”

Lord Falconer, Labour’s shadow lord chancellor, said:

“If this is what ministers are planning to do it is shocking. We are a country that prides itself on operating in accordance with the rule of law. That has always meant both domestic and international law.

This is a message we have sent out both internally and externally. If we are now regarding compliance with international law for ministers as optional that is staggering. If ministers breach international law it will no longer be misconduct.”

The Guardian cites Ken Macdonald QC, the former director of public prosecutions, who said:

“It is difficult to believe that this change is inadvertent. If it’s deliberate, it appears to advocate a conscious loosening of ministerial respect for the rule of law and the UK’s international treaty obligations, including weakening responsibility for the quality of justice here at home.

In a dangerous world, the government should be strengthening its support for the rule of law, not airbrushing it out of the ministerial code. On every level, this sends out a terrible signal.”

Ironically, on the same day that the new code was quietly released, the attorney general, Jeremy Wright, gave a keynote address about the importance of international law to an audience of government lawyers at the Government Legal Service International Law Conference.

Wright said:

“The constitutional principle to respect the rule of law and comply with our international obligations is reflected in the ministerial code – which applies to me as much as to any other minister. The code states that there is an overarching duty on ministers to comply with the law, including international law and treaty obligations and to uphold the administration of justice and to protect the integrity of public life.”

It is not clear whether or not the attorney general was informed about the changes to the ministerial code at the time of his speech. Both the Cabinet Office and the attorney general’s office have declined to answer this question.

Tory ministers are a major source of national embarrassment when they denounce the European Court of Human Rights whilst instructing the rest of the world, including other European states, to respect our collective international human rights obligations and “the rule of law.” Human Rights legislation exists throughout the free world. Free speech, the right to a fair trial, respect for private life and the prohibition on torture are values which distinguish democratic societies from despotic states.

There is no justification for editing obligations to upholding international laws, human rights or for repealing the Human Rights Act: that would make Britain the first European country to regress in the level and degree of our human rights protection. It is through times of recession and times of affluence alike that our rights ought to be the foundation of our society, upon which the Magna Carta, the Equality Act and the Human Rights Act were built – protecting the vulnerable from the powerful and ensuring those who govern are accountable to the rule of law.

Update: Former head of government’s legal service says obligation that ministers must comply with international law – dropped from revised ministerial code – had irritated PM: No 10 ‘showing contempt for international law’


I don’t make any money from my work and I am not funded. I am disabled because of illness and struggle to get by. But you can help me continue to research and write informative, insightful and independent articles, and to provide support to others, by making a donation. The smallest amount is much appreciated – thank you.

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Austerity Is a Choice, Labour Must Offer Another – Jeremy Corbyn

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Austerity is a political choice not an economic necessity. When the Chancellor rose to his feet at the emergency Budget in July, and when he does so for his Spending Review in October, what is being put forward is an ideologically-driven rolling back of the state.

The analysis published today by the TUC reveals how the Budget gives money to the rich, but takes away from the poor.

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This is the Conservative project, dressed up in the post-crisis language of budget deficits and national debt for extra impetus. Inequality doubled under the Thatcher government, and her heirs seem to be doing all they can to ensure that legacy is extended.

The Budget showed austerity is about political choices, not economic necessities. There is money available: the inheritance tax cuts announced in the Budget will lose the exchequer over £2.5billion in revenue between now and 2020. What responsible government committed to closing the deficit would give a tax break that only applies to the richest 4% of households?

The Conservatives are giving away to the very rich in inheritance tax cuts twice as much as reducing the benefit cap will raise by further impoverishing the poorest, and socially cleansing many towns and cities.

Another choice was to cut UK corporation tax to 18%, which at 20% is already the lowest in the G7, lower too than the 25% in China, and half the 40% rate in the United States.

The Treasury estimates that this political choice will see our revenue intake from big business fall by £2.5billion in 2020. That’s nearly twice the amount saved by cutting the tax credits available families with more than two children.

In such circumstances, Labour must be clear: we oppose the Budget, and we oppose austerity. As a group of 40 economists wrote to the Observer a few weeks ago, “opposition to austerity is actually mainstream economics, even backed by the conservative IMF”.

The language of “bringing down the deficit” is non-controversial, it is the method (austerity) that reveals the Chancellor’s agenda as just a cover for the same old Conservative policies: run down public services, slash the welfare state, sell-off public assets and give tax cuts to the wealthiest.

I stood in this race because Labour should not swallow the story that austerity is anything other than a new facade for the same old Conservative plans.

We must close the deficit, but to do so we will make the economy work for all, and create a more equal and prosperous society. Bringing down the deficit on the backs of those on low and average incomes will only mean more debt, more poverty, more insecurity, more anxiety and ultimately more crisis.

We must invest in a more productive economy. Our national infrastructure – energy, housing, transport, digital – is outdated, leaving the UK lagging behind other developed economies. In the Budget, the Chancellor cut back public investment even further.

You cannot cut your way to prosperity. We need to invest in our future. And that takes a strategic state that seeks to shape the economy so that it works for all.

That is the choice for Britain and the choice that Labour must offer.

Jeremy Corbyn is the Labour MP for Islington North and Labour Party leader.

This article was originally published on 7.09.15

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Pictures courtesy of Robert Livingstone

 

Debunking the myths on Commons procedure and the Welfare Bill part two – Peter Kyle MP

Many thanks to Peter Kyle MP for this explanation of his decision to abstain on a vote for the second reading of the Welfare Reform and Work Bill.


The Welfare Bill

Last night I abstained on a vote for the Second Reading of the Welfare Bill. I did this after a lot of thought and I want to explain why. There’s already some myths about what was being voted on last night and also misunderstanding of parliamentary procedure and I want to tackle all these issues, too.

When I first read the Bill it became abundantly clear what the government was up to. They had lumped together measures that Labour – and many of you – would wholeheartedly support with other policies that we would rightly hate. These are the games they are playing simply to divide the left – that’s right, they’re playing games with welfare simply to get one over on us.

On the issues that I support in this Bill, the three most significant are the creation of three million new apprentices (many are the higher and advanced ones included in the Labour manifesto); lowering of rents for social housing; and more investment into the ‘troubled families programme’ which has its origins in the early intervention policies I worked on in 2006 and 2007. Each of these measures would directly benefit us in Hove and Portslade and I want them as soon as possible.

Then there are some really terrible policies that will damage not just our community but society too, such as scrapping targets on abolishing child poverty, and cuts to funding for people with disabilities or living with cancer or Parkinson’s disease, or are declared unfit for work. These I obviously oppose with all my heart.

So you see my predicament: people have suggested to me that it is a matter of principle that I should have voted against this Bill. But for me, as someone who has worked so hard to end youth unemployment, it is also a matter of principle to vote for the very apprenticeships that will help me honour my pledge to you. To vote against that part of the Bill would mean I also vote against my principles. I also see the suffering of people in arrears in social housing, it would have also meant breaking my principles to vote against help for them, too.

So, as a way forward, Labour tabled what is called a ‘reasoned amendment’. This is a way of stating which parts of a Bill you oppose and which you support when you abstain. It enabled me to not vote for or against the overall Bill, but instead make a public statement about why that course of action was taken and which parts I supported and opposed.

And there’s more. There are three more stages that this Bill must pass through in the House of Commons before it moves to the House of Lords. The next is Committee Stage (which is what I just sat on for the Education and Adoption Bill) where you can scrutinise the Bill line by line and table amendments to each section of it. Labour have already published some of the amendments we will seek to introduce at this stage and I’ve included them at the bottom of this update. Each one of these will have to be voted on by MPs and you should all lobby the MPs who are on this committee to support them. All it would take is for two or three Tories to do the right thing and the amendment will become law.

Then the Bill returns for its Report Stage, and finally it’s Third Reading. At these points it is still possible for me to vote against the entire Bill if I believe that is the only course of action left. After that, the Bill passes to the Lords where the government lacks a majority and the Labour team there can try to bring further influence.

Some people have said on social media that I am now supporting cuts to Tax Credits which contradicts an interview I gave to the Argus recently, so let me clear this up: cuts to Tax Credits are not included in this Bill, they will be introduced later in the year by another parliamentary procedure called a ‘statutory instrument’ and I will vote against them. The only time I will vote for cuts to tax credits is when wages are already at a level at which they are no longer needed, not before, as the government are doing

There’s one more myth doing the rounds that I’d like to debunk: Labour could not have won the vote last night because not a single Tory voted against this Bill. Some people are suggesting that because not every Tory voted last night, we could have beaten them. The truth is that if it had looked like we were going to vote against the Bill the government would have simply forced all the ministers and cabinet to break free of meetings to come and vote. It is a heartbreaking truth but because we lost the election we cannot beat the government unless Tories vote with us.

I won’t pretend that this has been easy for me because it hasn’t. Because we lost the election we don’t get to choose the battles we fight or the battleground. The Tories chose to put all these conflicting policies into one Bill to make it difficult for people like you and me. They are hoping that the general public’s lack of awareness of the intricacies of how laws are made will force the left to split and for Labour to crumble yet further after our defeat.

I told you during the campaign when I wrote about other tough issues like my Israel / Palestine visit that I would not dodge difficult decisions but I would always be available to explain myself, to listen, and to learn from your perspective and experiences. I didn’t reach the conclusion to abstain simply because the whips told me to.

For me, it was the only way I saw of moving forward while being true to my principles even though I knew a lot of people would be shocked and concerned upon reading the headlines. Believe me, I’d rather that hadn’t been necessary.

I want to get going and solve the tough challenges we face, like youth unemployment and the cost of housing and families that need support, and I want to oppose the vindictive nature of the way this government are using welfare reform to demonise the poor and vulnerable. I will do both with all the strength I have, even though sometimes it will mean taking difficult decisions that risk upsetting the very people I have gone into politics to help. I knew this job would have its difficult moments and this is one of them. I’m doing the best I can to deliver positive change on your behalf even though it is the Tories who are dealing the cards in parliament.

I’ve had my say now, and I’m really looking forward to hearing what you think, so please post and share your thoughts and experiences and I’ll do everything I can to respond to as many as possible.

All the best, Peter.

Here are some of the amendments Labour will try to have included in the Bill:

  • An amendment to prevent the Government abolishing the targets for reducing child poverty;
  • The Government are also trying to delete child poverty from the remit of the ‘Social Mobility and Child Poverty Commission’ so that it becomes just the ‘Social Mobility Commission’. An amendment will prevent that taking place; 
  • An amendment which will mean that the household benefit cap would not apply to persons who are responsible for a child under 2 years old, are a carer, or are in temporary accommodation because of domestic violence; 
  • A new clause which will require the Secretary of State to report each year on the impact of the household benefit cap, particularly on child poverty;
  • An amendment which will require the level of the household benefit cap to be reviewed every year, rather than only once in a Parliament. The review would be based on the new clause above requiring the impact of the benefit cap on child poverty to be assessed each year;
  • An amendment which will require the Social Security Advisory Committee to review the Discretionary Housing Payments fund each year to ensure that sufficient resources are available. Discretionary Housing Payments are used to support those who are unfairly affected by the benefit cap; 
  • An amendment which will set the target of full employment as 80 per cent of the working age population – in line with the Labour Government’s definition and recent research which shows that this would be an ambitious target. The Bill includes a process for reviewing progress towards ‘full employment’, but does not define what is meant by that; 
  • An amendment to require the UK Commission on Employment and Skills to assess whether the Government’s target for apprenticeships is being met, so that the Government can be held to account. There is significant concern among businesses and others that the quality of apprenticeships is being watered down in order to increase the numbers; 
  • An amendment which will require the resources which are being dedicated to helping troubled families to be clearly set out; 
  • An amendment which will ensure that interventions to support troubled families are focused on helping people into work; 
  • An amendment to prevent the Bill restricting Universal Credit for three or subsequent children even when the third child is born before 5 April 2017;
  • A new clause preventing the restrictions to tax credits applying to three or more children where a third child is born as a result of a multiple birth, where a third of subsequent child is fostered or adopted, where a third child or subsequent child is disabled, or where a family with three or more children moves onto tax credits or universal credit in exceptional circumstances – including but not restricted to the death of one member of the family, the departure of one parent or loss of income through unemployment – which would be set out by the Social Security Advisory Committee. It also sets up an appeals process for all cases covered by this clause; 
  • An amendment preventing cuts in the Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) for the WRAG group of around £30 a week. People who are in the WRAG group have been through a rigorous test which has deemed them not fit for work, for example because they have Parkinson’s or are being treated for cancer;
  • An amendment requiring the Government to produce a plan to offset the impact of lower social rents on housing associations. Labour supports the reduction in social housing rents, which will help low-income families and bring down the housing benefits bill. However, we must protect against impacts on the ability of housing associations to build new affordable homes and maintain their existing properties;
  • An amendment which subjects the four-year benefit freeze to an annual review subject to changes in inflation.

    ___

    See also: Emma’s statement on the Welfare Reform and Work Bill


    Michael Meacher MP said:

    It is extraordinary that the Labour party could have got itself into such a muddle over welfare reform (which is Tory-speak for crippling welfare cutbacks) when Osborne’s sole motive for this bill, which had its second reading today, is to create divisions within Labour and label it as the party of shirkers.  The bill is awful.

Benefit cuts “will involve cuts to benefits” shocker

imagesBy Private Eye Political Correspondent Noah Surprise.

There was widespread shock across Britain today that the £12 billion of welfare cuts promised in the Tory election manifesto would turn out to be £12 billion of cuts to the welfare budget.

“We definitely didn’t think these 12 billion worth of cuts would involve people like us,” said one first-time Tory voter, having her child tax credits halved.

“We thought it would only affect those wretched people on those awful benefit shows on Channel 4.” https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/en/b/bb/Benefits_Street.jpg “We feel utterly betrayed by the Tories,” said another father, who is having his family working tax credits slashed.

“Why didn’t Osborne say these 12 billion worth of cuts would affect me? I naturally assumed it would hit people in the North, guests on the Jeremy Kyle show and muslims. That’s why I voted Tory.”

George Osborne has insisted he’d worked hard to ensure that the cuts to benefits were spread evenly between those people most likely to vote Labour and those most likely to vote Lib Dem.

539627_450600381676162_486601053_n (2)Courtesy of Robert Livingstone

See also:

Budget 2015: cuts to make Daily Mail readers wince, but not just yet

The budget: from trickle-down to falling down, whilst holding hands with Herbert Spencer

And finally, a timely reminder of Martin Niemöller’s words on the ultimately self-destructive complicity of bystander apathy, because despots never simply attack and persecute the group of your choosing:

Labour faces a dilemma: which way do we turn?

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I’ve remained quite detached from the Labour leadership debates. I’ve seen an awful lot of infighting that saddens me, much of it has been fueled by what is now standardised, mainstreamed mediacratic misinformation, misquotes and generally fiendish right-wing mischief-making. I’ve purposefully avoided getting caught in the crossfire.

Most of you already know my position on the matter – that whilst I think Jeremy Corbyn reflects my own values and principles most closely and has my support, I will continue to campaign from within the Labour Party for progressive change, regardless of who is leading. I will also continue to campaign to raise public awareness as best I can at a broader level, regarding key social issues.

I’ve said elsewhere that I have never regarded a Labour government as the end of our fight for progressive and positive change, but rather, as the only viable starting point.

The Labour Party is a broad church. I can respect other people’s various preferences for a party leader. Not least because I recognise that the Labour Party is on the horns of a dilemma. However, much of that dilemma has been created by the shifting Overton Window, nudged ever rightwards by the radical Conservative neoliberal paternalists in office.

It’s worth considering that even the least esteemed party leader has given us social policies that have meant most of society are much better off than they are under ANY Tory government. Yet here we are with a second term of Conservative austerity: welfare is being dismantled, the NHS is being steadily privatised, public services are stripped of funding, there is growing inequality, grinding poverty and increasingly, human rights abuses.

It’s a point that many people seem to miss. The so-called High Priest of neoliberalism – Tony Blair – presented us with some outstanding social policies nonetheless, such as the Human Rights Act, the Equality Act, the Climate Change Act, the Anti-Bribery Act, Every Child Matters, the Fox Hunting Ban and animal welfare policies, Good Friday Agreement, and many more, which the Tories are currently very busy trying to repeal. These policies certainly defy the widespread, retrospectively applied “Thatcherist” label and do not fully warrant the sheer extent of knee-jerk hatred that people pour out at any mention of Blair nowadays. This said, Blair was certainly a neoliberal, and his social safety nets were designed entirely in that context: to protect people from the very worst ravages of the economic neoliberalism that he endorsed.

Without the Human Rights Act and the Equality Act, we would not have won any of the legal cases brought against the Tories, regarding the welfare reforms.

Just for the record, I am not a Blairite. I didn’t like the Third Way – left-wing social policies with a neoliberal economics compromise. I protested against Iraq. However, if the Party is to learn, develop and move on, we must have an open mind, a balanced view and not dismiss the lessons from merits and success because there were also failures. And Blair’s synthesis of a reduced, ethical socialism was at least founded on an idea that we can remove some of the unjust elements of capitalism by providing state safeguards, including social welfare, public services and via protective policies. Now we are desperately fighting to preserve that basic layer of traditional and institutionalised social justice. The persistent Conservative narrative, comprising of tales of “welfare dependency” and “scroungers” have  de-normalised collectivism and shifted the balance between citizen rights and responsibilities, unfavourably.

As a result, the Labour Party is caught between a rock and a hard place. Many supporters don’t seem to know which way to turn.

Some people think we should take a sharp left turn, re-embracing our post-war principles, others feel we would be better moving right towards a Blairist central destination, more in line with the perception of where the ever-narrowing Overton Window has placed shifting public opinion. Do people want a principled-responsive or populist-responsive party?  The latter option, it is held, will make the party seem more electable. The difficulty is that the apparent public shift to the right make achieving both options difficullt. And neither direction is without risk.

Perhaps one way to define the dilemma clearly is by seeing it as that of “the real” and “the ideal” – the “real” is that we have to appeal to the broadest base of the population that we can, yet without compromising our inclusive, internationalist principles, we will continue to lose supporters to UKIP and the right. The “ideal” is that we very much need to build bridges with other progressive, anti-austerity parties, appealing to and uniting the left. But that is also risky because there has been a public shift to the right, here in England, at least.

Nationalism in England seems to have pulled many to the right, nationalism in Scotland (allegedly) pulled people left.

I don’t hide the fact that I am skeptical about the claims made by the Scottish National Party, and have pointed out more than once that Sturgeon’s skillful rhetoric, which is peppered with Glittering Generalities, does not connect up with concomitant policies.

The latter direction – the ideal – is the most appealing to me, and probably the easiest one to take, since it means compromising few if any of our traditional core values and principles. And of course, it presents a very clear, much needed alternative to social conservatism and neoliberalism. If we aim at uniting the left it would obviously make an election win much more likely in the future.

It is down to us to continue to raise public awareness about the devasting socio-economic consequences of Conservatism and unfettered neoliberalsm, and to present a clear, bold, coherent and cogent alternative.

We need to be shouting loudly that austerity has nothing to do with economic competence, it’s an ideologically-driven, crude experiment in human despair, for a start. We need to smash the illusion of cosy consensus, reflected in the Conservative and mediacratic smoke and mirror rhetoric.

The fact that the right-wing Sun feels at liberty to publicly endorse Kendall, who is widely perceived as the tame Blairite candidate for the leadership, indicates the extent to which the establishment want to thwart even a gesture of democratic socialism. Within OUR party.

And then there are the vile Conservative party supporters who never fail to descend to the blatantly despicable, launching a campaign to elect Jeremy Corbyn as the next Labour leader, strictly as a manipulative and opportunist event to discredit what they fear and loathe the most.

See, for example: For just a £3 membership fee you can help consign the party to electoral oblivion in 2020 – and silence its loony Left foreverThey really wish. The arrogant authoritarians think they can decide the 2020 general election in advance and on behalf of the voting public.

It’s not as if the ridiculous Right’s dominant social Conservative/neoliberal narrative has any coherence, it’s a just a flimsy justifcation of crass inequality, cruelty and primitive tyranny.

There’s a lot of bad faith and reduced trust amongst many of us on the somewhat factionalised left, which makes working together a far from easy task. Nonetheless, it seems to be the only viable option, to me.

Perhaps we simply need a timely reminder that the real enemy is and always was the Tories – they are relentlessly and systematically uncivilising and desolating the country, dismantling our post-war settlement – our finest achievement – and they are coldly and  remorsely destroying many people’s lives. And then blaming their victims, punishing those that they have impoverished for being poor.

We must make sure that the unremitingly savage social Darwinist dystopia that the Tories have designed is not normalised by the malicious political and media establishment, the swivel-eyed, ever-scornful twittering Conservative commentariat. Tyranny and cruelty must not become so casualised and entrenched in the public’s psyche that we forget what it is to be civilised, forget how to be humane, forget basic human kindness. If we lose hope, lose faith in each other, we really are lost.

We must present our alternative narrative, remembering that once our society evolved and progressed, now it is diminishing and regressing. It’s time to push back at the enclosing, stifling boundaries, crushing human potential as it drags us inwards, reducing us from human subjects to objects of increasingly depopulated, dehumanising socio-economic policies founded on ideology, not human need.

There is a great need for the ever-fragmented left to work together to achieve common aims, and placed less emphasis on the minutiae of party politics and divisive electioneering tactics, prioritising crucial social issues and needs instead.

Many people are suffering terribly because of brutal Tory policies, and we would be shabby, barren socialists indeed if we didn’t give our full attention and effort to doing our best in working cooperatively to organise and fight collectively to oppose the authoritarians and push back hard for positive change.

What’s the point in sterile debating and fighting amongst ourselves about what “real” socialism is when we don’t do the necessary joined-up thinking that brings about its practice?

I say let’s do it. Let’s be the change we want to see.

The alternative is to continue to witness the terrible consequences of a pathological world-view, now creeping forward to catastrophically affect more and more ordinary people, as Tory authoritarian ideology is translated from Darwinist rhetoric into public  policies that manifest harsh, bleak social realities.

Many Green Party supporters have rejoined the Labour Party to support Jeremy Corbyn. There is still a clear unifying momentum going on at grassroots level, and it’s overwhelmingly behind a clear, socialist alternative. Let’s go with the flow.

Upwards and onwards.

changeworld2013


I don’t make any money from my work. I am disabled because of illness and have a very limited income.

But you can help by making a donation to help me continue to research and write informative, insightful and independent articles, and to provide support to others. The smallest amount is much appreciated – thank you.

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The Labour Party tells David Cameron to abandon plans to dismantle the Human Rights Act

936319_485819054820961_1954794757_nA group of senior Labour Party figures have said that David Cameron should drop his plans to dismantle the Human Rights Act.

In a joint letter, headed by acting leader Harriet Harman and Lord Falconer, the Shadow Secretary of State for Justice, the Prime Minister is asked to abandon his plans to scrap the Act entirely.

Harriet Harman said: “What an irony that yesterday the Prime Minister was presiding over the celebration of Magna Carta at the same time he’s planning to undermine the Human Rights Act.

“No wonder that though he mentioned human rights in South Africa – and preyed in aid Nelson Mandela – and mentioned human rights in India – and preyed in aid Ghandi – he could not bring himself to mention Europe and our Convention.”

The Human Rights Act is a UK law passed by the Labour government in 1998. It means that you can defend your rights in the UK courts, instead of having to travel to Strasbourg – and that public organisations, including the Government, the Police and local councils, must treat everyone equally, with fairness, dignity and respect.

The Human Rights Act protects all of us – young, old, rich and poor. It originates from an international response to the atrocities of World War Two, including the Holocaust and fascist regimes. The Human Rights Act consolidates much of the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights, 1948.

The whole point of Human Rights is that they are universal. Yet despite this, the Government wants to replace our Human Rights Act with their “British Bill of Rights and Responsibilities”. This would weaken everyone’s rights, they would become open to subjective interpretation – leaving politicians to decide when our fundamental freedoms should and should not apply.

This is the same Conservative Party who despise open justice, who have destroyed legal aid and tried to destroy Judicial Review. This is the same Party that thinks they are above the Rule of Law. It is the same Party that has systematically dismissed the Human Rights of disabled people, women and children.

The letter to David Cameron says:

Dear Prime Minister

As you are aware, this year is the 800th anniversary of the signing of Magna Carta, a year to celebrate Britain’s role as a guarantor of individual rights. Yet, as we celebrate this great landmark, the commitment to individual human rights now appears to be under threat.

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights – adopted in 1948 – which Conservative politicians contributed to – enshrines:

  • The right to life, liberty and security
  • The right to a fair trial
  • Protection from torture
  • Freedom of thought, conscience, religion, speech and assembly
  • The right to free elections
  • The right not to be discriminated against

Which of these rights do you not agree with?

Defending the Human Rights Act and our membership of the European Convention on Human Rights is not straightforward because it often involves defending the rights of an unworthy individual from a legitimate authority, or the rights of an unpopular minority from a popular majority.

The Human Rights Act is always going to be a nuisance to those in power because it stops them getting on and doing things unconstrained. But there is an inherent susceptibility for those who have power to extend it, to over-reach and ultimately abuse it. And that is irrespective of how legitimate that power is, how they acquired that power and whether or not they think they are doing the right thing.

So it is right that government ministers should have to look over their shoulder and that their power is tempered by other people’s rights. And we do need to have our executive and our legislature set within a framework of human rights.

This is important to people’s human rights here in Britain and for the human rights of those in other countries. If we were to walk away from our international human rights treaty obligations, we would not be able to press other countries to respect human rights. We cannot say to others in Europe – particularly Eastern Europe – that they should stay within a European framework but that we have somehow outgrown it, or don’t need it anymore.

Human rights are part of, not at variance with, our British values and they matter for our place in the world.

We understand you have put your plans on hold for a year, while you work out exactly how you will go about the dismantling of our human rights laws.

We ask you today to abandon your plans entirely, and as a result of the public interest in this issue, will be releasing this letter to the media.”

It is signed by the Rt Hon Harriet Harman MP, Interim Leader of the Labour Party, and the Rt Hon Lord Charles Falconer QC, Shadow Lord Chancellor and Shadow Secretary of State for Justice.

The letter is also signed by Andy Slaughter, shadow minister for justice, Lord Bach, shadow attorney general, Karl Turner, shadow solicitor general, Keir Starmer MP, Baroness Corston, former chair of the Joint Committee on Human Rights, Baroness Kennedy QC and Kate O’Rourke, chairman of the Society of Labour Lawyers.

Related:

A strong case for the Human Rights Act

Human rights are the bedrock of democracy, which the Tories have imperiled.

15553155399_94869b2dcd_oMany thanks to Rob Livingstone for his excellent memes

 

Watchdog that scrutinises constitutional reform is quietly abolished and Tory proposals are likely to lead to constitutional crisis.

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The Political and Constitutional Reform Committee, which was originally established for the duration of the 2010 parliament, has been very quietly scrapped following a meeting of party whips.

Originally, the cross-party committee was established to scrutinise the plans of the Coalition government, such as the House of Lords Reform and the Alternative Vote – many of which never made it onto the statute books.

The parliamentary committee’s main role was to scrutinise proposed major constitutional changes. This undemocratic development is especially worrying given the likelihood of significant constitutional changes in the forthcoming parliament, with the referendum on  membership of the European Union set to be held within the next two years.

There are further plans for devolution of powers to Scotland and Wales, as well as to cities, and it is expected that these will be delivered at the same time as the government repeals the Human  Rights Act, and draws up a bill of rights to replace it.

Considerable doubt exists among experts that the Council of Europe, a human rights watchdog responsible for ensuring the Convention is upheld, will accept the Tories’ proposals. In fact the plans are highly unlikely to be accepted. As a result, it is quite widely believed Britain will disengage from the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) and undermine Europe’s’ civil liberties framework in the process.

Cameron has previously pledged to withdraw from the ECHR, indicating plainly that he is indifferent to the fact that such a withdrawal would very likely spark a complex constitutional crisis in the UK.

If the Human Rights Act is repealed in its entirety, the repeal will apply to the whole of the UK. The Scotland Act gives powers to the Scottish Parliament, provided that they comply with the ECHR (among other things). This would not change with repeal of the Human Rights Act alone.

However, human rights are also partially devolved (the Scottish Parliament, for example, has set up a Scottish Human Rights Commission), and so any unilateral repeal of the Human Rights Act by Westminster would violate the Sewell Convention, which outlines that the Westminster government will: “not normally legislate with regard to devolved matters in Scotland without the consent of the Scottish Parliament.” Nicola Sturgeon has stated clearly that the Scottish National Party oppose the repeal of the Human Rights Act.

And similar principles apply through the memoranda of understandings with each of the devolved legislatures in the UK.

In Northern Ireland, human rights are even further devolved than in Scotland, and the Human Rights Act (HRA) is explicitly mentioned in the Good Friday Act in 1998. To repeal the HRA would violate an international treaty as the Agreement was also an accord between two sovereign states – the UK and the Irish Republic.

Repealing the HRA unilaterally would put the UK in violation of the Good Friday Agreement, and its international treaty obligations to Ireland.  This would certainly damage our international reputation, as well as having consequences for the reciprocity on which the Treaty depends.

It’s quite possible that it would also be understood within Northern Ireland as a violation of both letter and the spirit of the Good Friday Agreement,  signalling that the UK government were no longer committed to the Agreement.

The Good Friday Agreement was also subject to a referendum in both Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, both having to consent for the Agreement to be implemented.  The referendum enabled the Agreement to have widespread legitimacy, but importantly, because it took place in both parts of Ireland, it answered historic Republican claims to be using violence to secure the “right to self-determination” of the Irish people.

It was also necessary to changing the Irish Constitution. So a unilateral move away from UK commitments carries serious bad faith and democratic legitimacy implications, potentially with deeply problematic historical consequences.

The Conservatives also have plans to reintroduce the redefining of parliamentary constituency boundaries in a way that will be advantageous to the Conservative party. It is estimated that the planned changes will help the Tories to win up to 20 extra seats at a future election.

It was during the last term that the proposals were originally put forward. Labour and Liberal Democrat MPs were joined by those of smaller parties – including the SNP, Plaid Cymru, the DUP,  the Greens and Respect – to defeat the proposals, giving them majority in voting down the Tory plans for boundary changes.

The Tories are also committed to implementing a form of “English vote for English” laws – a move which will further undermine ties within the UK. But this pre-election pledge placed an emphasis upon English voting rights to undermine the nationalist appeal of UKIP south of the Border, whilst spotlighting the constitution to bolster the Scottish National Party in Scotland, again using nationalism tactically  to disadvantage the Labour Party.

At a time when the government is planning potentially turbulent constitutional changes in the forthcoming parliament, the move to abolish the watchdog – The Political and Constitutional Reform Committee – will serve to insulate the Tories from democratic accountability and scrutiny.

The Political and Constitutional Reform Committee had instigated an inquiry in 2013 regarding increasingly inconsistent standards in the quality of legislation, which resulted in several key recommedations, one of which was the development of a Code of Legislative Standards, and another was the creation of a Legislative Standards Committee.

The government response was little more than an extravagant linguistic exercise in avoiding accountability, transparency and scrutiny. Having waded through the wordy Etonian etiquette of paragraph after paragraph in the formal responses to each recommendation, the meaning of each may be translated easily enough into just one word: no.

For example: “A bill when it is published is the collectively agreed view of the whole Government on how it wishes to proceed. The process by which it has arrived at that view is a matter for the Government, not for Parliament.”

“The Government does not believe that a Code of Legislative Standards is necessary or would be effective in ensuring quality legislation. It is the responsibility of government to bring forward legislation of a high standard and it has comprehensive and regularly updated guidance to meet this objective. … Ultimately, it is for Ministers to defend both the quality of the legislation they introduce and the supporting material provided to Parliament to aid scrutiny.”

It’s troubling that the House of Lords Constitution Committee raised concerns during the inquiry that there is currently no acceptable watertight definition of what constitutional legislation actually is. The current ad hoc process of identifying which bills to take on the Floor of the House of Commons in a Committee of the whole House lacks transparency: it is clear that differentiation is taking place in order to decide which bills are to be considered by a Committee of the whole House, but the decision-making process is “unclear.” The very worrying response:

“The Government does not accept that it would be helpful to seek to define “constitutional” legislation, nor that it should automatically be subject to a different standard of scrutiny. The tests suggested by Lord Norton and the list of characteristics suggested by Professor Sir John Baker are themselves subjective: whether something raises an important issue of principle, or represents a “substantial” alteration to the liberties of the subject [citizen], for example, are matters more for political rather than technical judgement.

Well no, such matters may be more for legal judgement, given the current framework of Human Rights and Equality legislation. The idea that the law is superior to the megrims of rulers is the cornerstone of English constitutional thought as it developed over the centuries. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the European Convention on Human Rights both refer to the Rule of Law.

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights of 1948, is the historic international recognition that all human beings have fundamental rights and freedoms, and it recognises that “… it is essential, if man is not to be compelled to have recourse, as a last resort, to rebellion against tyranny and oppression, that human rights should be protected by the rule of law…”

And of course there are implications for our current understanding of the word “democracy.”

Oh. There you have it: the government does seem to regard the liberty of citizens to be enclosed within their own doctrinal boundaries. Those Tory boundaries are entirely defined by partisan dogma and value-judgements, ad hoc justifications, all of which distinctly lack any coherence and rational expertise. Or independence and protection from state intrusion and abuse.

This is a government that has taken legal aid from the poorest and most vulnerable, in a move that is contrary to the very principle of equality under the law.

The Tories have turned legal aid into an instrument of discrimination. They have tried to dismantle a vital legal protection available to the citizen – judicial review – which has been used to stop the Conservatives abusing their powers again more than once. The Tories have restricted legal aid for domestic abuse victims, welfare claimants seeking redress for wrongful state decisions, victims of medical negligence, for example.

Reflected in many Conservative proposals and actions is the clear intent on continuing to tear up British legal protections for citizens and massively bolstering the powers of the state.

The hypocrisy is evident in that this is a government which claims to pride itself on its dislike for the state. But in every meaningful way, the Tories are vastly increasing state powers and intrusive authoritarian reach.

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