Tag: ECHR

Concerns about the impact of Brexit on the human rights of disabled people in update report to UNCRPD

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Yesterday I wrote an article about the government’s shameful lack of progress on disability rights in the UK. I discussed the details of a new report and the recommendations made by the UK Independent Mechanism update report to the UN Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

This is a summary of some key concerns that I only touched on in my original write up, and it also focuses on one of the important themes that emerged in the report: the potential impact of Brexit on disabled people’s rights. 

The new report and submission to the UNCRPD – UK Independent Mechanism update report to the UN Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (published October 2018) – provides an independent assessment of the UK Independent Mechanism (UKIM) on the “disappointing” lack of progress by the UK governments to implement the UN’s recommendations since August 2017. 

A year on, there is still no comprehensive UK-wide strategy demonstrating how the UK will implement the CRPD Committee’s recommendations. There has also been “continued reluctance” from the UK Government to accept the conclusions of the CRPD Committee’s inquiry report on the impact of the UK Government’s policies on the rights of disabled people. 

Disabled people across the UK continue to face serious regression of their rights to an adequate standard of living and social protection, to live independently and to be included in the community. UKIM has reiterated that the grave and systematic violations identified by the CRPD Committee need to be addressed as a matter of urgency and that the overall approach of the UK Government towards social security protection requires a complete overhaul, so that it is informed by human rights frameworks, standards and principles, to ensure disabled people’s rights are respected, protected and fulfilled.

Despite the empirical evidence presented from a variety of researchers and the UN investigation concerning the significantly adverse effect of welfare reform on disabled people’s rights to independent living and to an adequate standard of living and social  security, the UK Government has failed to act on this evidence and to implement the CRPD Committee’s recommendations regarding these rights.

The authors of the report remain seriously concerned about the continued failure of the UK Government to conduct an assessment of the cumulative impact on disabled people  of multiple policy, cuts and law reforms in relation to living standards and social security. 

In the section about prejudice and negative attitudes, the report also cites a shameful example of rhetoric from the government that has potentially reinforced negative attitudes and the stigma surrounding mental health and disability: “This includes the Chancellor of the Exchequer, Philip Hammond, stating before a Committee of the UK Parliament: ‘It is almost certainly the case that by increasing participation in the workforce, including far higher levels of participation by marginal groups and very high levels of engagement in the workforce, for example of disabled people – something we should be extremely proud of – may have had an impact on overall productivity measurements.’

Many people understood this statement as indicating that the increase in disabled people in employment is partly responsible for the UK’s decreasing productivity.”

The report also says that employment rates for disabled people have actually risen only very marginally.  

Conservative prejudice is embedded in social security policy and administration

The UKIM report says that government has not taken appropriate measures to combat negative and discriminatory stereotypes or prejudice against persons with disabilities in public and the media, including the government’s own claims that ‘dependency’ on benefits is in itself a disincentive of employment. This is important because it shows just how embedded Conservative prejudice is in policies and within our social security administration.

The idea that welfare somehow creates the problems it was designed to alleviate, such as poverty and inequality, has become almost ‘common sense’ and because of that, it’s a narrative that remains largely unchallenged. Yet international research has shown that generous welfare provision leads to more, better quality and sustainable employment. 

Moreover, this ideological position has been used politically as a justification to reduce social security provision so that it is no longer an adequate amount to meet citizens’ basic living needs. The aim is to discredit the welfare system itself, along with those needing its support. The government have long wished to replace the publicly funded social security provision ultimately with mandatory private insurance schemes.

The idea that welfare creates ‘dependency’ and ‘disincentivises’ work has been used as a justification for the introduction of cuts and an extremely punitive regime entailing ‘conditionality’ and sanctions. The governenment have selectively used punitive behavioural modification elements of behavioural economics theory and its discredited behaviourist language of ‘incentives’ to steadily withdraw publicly funded social security provision.

However, most of the public have already contributed to social security, those needing support tend to move in and out of work. Very few people remain out of work on a permanent basis. The Conservatives have created a corrosive and divisive myth that there are two discrete groups in society: tax payers and ‘scroungers’ – a class of economic free riders. This of course is not true, since people claiming welfare support also pay taxes, such as VAT and council tax, and most have already worked and will work again, given the opportunity to do so. For those who are too ill to work, as a so-called civilise society, we should not hesitate to support them.

In the recommendations, the authors say the government should implement broad mass media campaigns, in consultation with organisations representing persons with disabilities, particularly those affected by the welfare reform, to promote them as full rights holders, in accordance with the Convention; and adopt measures to address complaints of harassment and hate crime by persons with disabilities, promptly investigate those allegations, hold the perpetrators accountable and provide fair and appropriate compensation to victims.

As a society we take tend to take human rights for granted. We seldom think about rights because much of the time, there is no need to. It’s not until we directly experience discrimination and oppression that we recognise the value of having a universal human rights framework. Our rights define the relationship between citizen and state, and ensure that there is no abuse of power. However, we no longer have equal access to justice and redress for human rights breaches and discrimination. 

The high demand for advice on disability benefits since the government’s welfare reform means that the almost complete removal of welfare benefits from the scope of legal aid has had a disproportionate impact on disabled people or those with a long-term health condition.

People entitled to disability benefits relied on legal aid to support appeals of incorrect decisions and to provide a valuable check on decision-making concerning eligibility for welfare support. The revisions to the financial eligibility criteria for legal aid have had a disproportionate impact on various groups including disabled people, women, children and migrants. This is because of the restrictions that the government placed on legal aid accessibility with the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012 (LASPO).

There has been a 99% decrease in support provided by the Legal Aid Agency for clients with disability-related welfare benefits issues, compared with pre-LASPO levels, and the total number of such claims has plummeted from 29,801 in 2011/12 to 308 in 2016/17.

The government has failed to ensure access to justice, removing appropriate legal advice and support, including through reasonable and procedural accommodation for disabled people seeking redress and reparation for the violation of their rights, as covered in the  report.

It’s difficult to imagine that this wasn’t a coordinated effort on the part of the government to restrict citizen freedoms, support and access to justice for precisely those who need justice and remedies the most.

Human rights don’t often seem as though they matter, until they do. But by then, it may be too late. 

Concerns about the impact of Brexit on the human rights of disabled people

In 2016, I wrote an article about concerns raised regarding the rights of disabled people following Brexit. Earlier this year, I wrote another article about my concerns that the European fundamental rights charter was excluded in the European Union (EU) withdrawal Bill, including protection from eugenic policy.

The result of the EU referendum on the UK’s membership of the European Union, and forthcoming withdrawal, carries some obvious and very worrying implications for the protection of citizens rights and freedoms in the UK. Historically the UK Conservative government has strongly opposed much of Europe’s social rights agenda.

So it was very concerning that the House of Commons voted down a Labour amendment to ensure that our basic human rights are protected after Brexit, as set out in the European Union Charter. 

The EU Withdrawal Bill threatened to significantly reduce existing human rights protections. It excluded both the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights (in its entirety) and the right of action for violations of EU General Principles from domestic law after the UK’s withdrawal. It also handed sweeping powers to ministers to alter legislation without appropriate parliamentary scrutiny, placing current rights and equality laws at risk.

Worryingly, Suella Fernandes, who was promoted to the Brexit department earlier this year warned in November last year that transposing the ‘flabby’ charter into British law would give UK citizens additional protections on issues such as “biomedicine, eugenics, personal data and collective bargaining.”

However, the very fact that anyone at all in government objects to retaining these fundamental rights and protections indicates that we do very clearly need them.

It should be inconceivable that a democratic legislature would vote to take away citizens rights. The regressive step means the loss of the Charter goes rights that simply don’t exist in the Human Rights Act or in our common law. Gone is the enforceable right to human dignity. Gone are our rights to data protection, comprehensive protection for the rights of the child, a free-standing right to non-discrimination, protection of a child’s best interests and the right to human dignity, refugee rights, the right to conscientious objection, academic freedom and wide-ranging fair trial rights to name but a few. Then there are the losses of economic and social rights. Gone too, are the right to a private life, freedom of speech, equality provisions and employment rights governing how workers are treated. These are all laws that protect us all from abuses of power. 

A group of more than 20 organisations and human rights legal experts, including the Equality and Human Rights Commission, signed an open letter on the importance of the Charter of Fundamental Rights ahead of the EU (Withdrawal) Bill returning to Parliament on 16 January this year. The letter was published in the Observer.

Trevor Tayleur, an associate professor at the University of Law, explained that the charter, although narrower in focus than the Human Rights Act, offers a far more robust defence of fundamental rights.

“At present, the main means of protecting human rights in the UK is the Human Rights Act 1998 (HRA) ,” he said. “This incorporates the bulk of the rights and freedoms enshrined in the European convention on human rights into UK law and thereby enables individuals to enforce their convention rights in the UK courts. However, there is a significant limitation to the protection afforded by the HRA because it does not override acts of parliament.

“In contrast, the protection afforded by the EU charter of fundamental rights is much stronger because where there is a conflict between basic rights contained in the charter and an act of the Westminster parliament, the charter will prevail over the act.” 

Under the HRA, only an individual who is a “victim” of a rights violation can bring a claim, whereas anyone with “sufficient interest” can apply for judicial review based on the Charter (see this briefing at p 11)

In their report, UKIM say:  “There are fears that the significant uncertainty in relation to Brexit will lead to a further deterioration of disabled people’s rights.

“The lack of a devolved government in Northern Ireland is also a specific concern to that jurisdiction, because it is significantly inhibiting the relevant departments from taking the required steps. Without a clear and coordinated plan for how the UK and devolved governments will address the UN recommendations systematically, the limited steps taken so far are unlikely to be enough to address the concerns raised by the CRPD Committee.”

The report goes on to say: “Following the European Union (EU) referendum in June 2016, there continues to be significant uncertainty regarding the future applicability of  existing human rights protections in the UK that derive from EU law. The EU Charter of Fundamental Rights was excluded from the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018, meaning that from ‘exit day’ it will no longer apply in domestic law. 

“As a result, domestic protections are more vulnerable to repeal. The Charter goes further than the non-discrimination provisions in the Equality Act 2010 or the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR). Article 26 of the Charter, in particular, is a useful interpretive tool to support disabled people’s right to independence and integration and participation in the community. 

The European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018 also leaves human rights protections at risk of being changed through the use of wide-ranging delegated powers. This means that changes to fundamental rights currently protected by EU law can be made by ministers through secondary legislation [statutory instruments, usually reserved for ‘non-controversial policy amendments] without being subject to full parliamentary scrutiny.

The EU is itself a party to the CRPD. Under EU law, international treaties to which the EU is party have a different status than they do under UK law. For example, EU law (unlike UK law) must be interpreted consistently with the CRPD. To ensure there is no regression, and that disabled people in the UK benefit from future progress driven by the CRPD, the UK Government should ensure these protections are incorporated into UK law, for example by giving enhanced status to the CRPD. 

The Conservatives have used secondary legslation to try and quietly push through several very controversial policies over recent years, such as £4bn-worth of cuts to family tax credits, and the removal of maintenance grants from around half a million of the poorest students in England. The changes mainly hit disabled, ethnic minority and older students.

The government have introduced swathes of significant new laws covering everything from fracking to fox hunting and benefit cuts without debate and scrutiny on the floor of the House of Commons. Many of these policies were not included in the Conservatives’ election manifesto and were nodded through by obscure Commons committees without the substance of the change being debated.

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After the House of Lords successfully challenged the tax credit instrument, the Government then proposed limiting peers rights to reject statutory instruments. This would mean if one was rejected by the Lords, the ministers would simply have to retable it and it would pass automatically.  All of this should be seen alongside other Conservative proposals – including limits on freedom of information, changes to constituency boundaries and electoral registration, attempts to choke the opposition of funding within the Trade Union Bill, and the Lobbying Act. 

In light of this repressive pattern of behaviour, you could be forgiven for thinking that we’ve entered the realms of constitutional gerrymandering, with an authoritarian executive waging war on the institutions that hold them to account. With its fear of opposition and loathing of challenge, the government wants to stifle debate, shut down opposition and block proper scruting and democratic accountability. 

It is within this authoritarian political context that many of us have raised concerns about the impact of Brexit on the human rights of disabled citizens.

I’m always concerned that language use sometimes reinforces prejudices against disabled people by focusing on us as a group as ‘vulnerable’ and as ‘those in need’, as opposed to citizens and rights holders. However, grave and systematic violations of disabled peoples’ human right inevitably increases our vulnerability to further political abuse. 

The Yogyakarta Principles, one of the international human rights instruments use the term “vulnerability” as such potential to abuse and/or social and economic exclusion. Social vulnerability is created through the interaction of social forces and multiple “stressors”, and resolved through social (as opposed to individual) means. 

Social vulnerability is the product of social inequalities. It arises through social, cultural, political and economic processes. 

While some individuals within a socially vulnerable context may break free from the hierarchical order, social vulnerability itself persists because of structural – social, cultural economical and political – influences that continue to reinforce vulnerability. Some campaigners are very critical of the use of the word ‘vulnerability’, because they feel it leads to attitudes and perceptions of disabled people as passive victims

Since 2010, no social group has organised, campaigned and protested more than disabled people. Many of us have lived through harrowing times under this government and the last, when our very existence has become so precarious because of targeted and cruel Conservative policies and disproportionate cuts to our lifeline support. Yet we have remained strong.in our resolve. Despite this, some of our dear friends and comrades  have been tragically lost – they have not survived, yet many of them were very strong in their resolve to challenge discrimination and oppression.

In one of the wealthiest democratic nations on earth, no group of people should have to fight for their survival. Vulnerability is rather more about the potential for some social groups being subjected to political abuse than it is about individual qualities. Disabled people currently  are and have been. This is empirically verified by the report and conclusions drawn from the United Nations inquiry into the grave and systematic violations of disabled people’s human rights here in the UK, by a so-called democratic government. 

The government’s ‘paternalism’ is authoritarian gaslighting

Over recent years, Conservative policies have become increasingly ‘paternalist’, also reflecting the authoritarian turn, in that they are designed to act upon us, to ‘change’ our behaviours through the use of negative reinforcement (‘incentives’), while we are completely excluded from policy design and aims. Our behaviours are being aligned with neoliberal outcomes, conflating our needs and interests with the private financial profit of the powerful. 

As one of the instigators of the United Nations investigation, to which I regularly submitted evidence regarding the government’s systematic violations of the human rights of disabled people, and as a person with disability, I don’t care for being  described by Damian Green as “patronising” or being told that disabled people – the witnesses of the investigation – presented an “outdated view” of disability in the UK. This is a government minister attempting to discredit and re-write our accounts and experiences while ignoring the empirical evidence we have presented. Such actions are profoundly oppressive.

The only opportunity disabled people have been presented with to effectively express our fears, experiences and concerns about increasingly punitive and discriminatory policies, to voice a democratic opinion more generally and to be heard, has been in dialogue with an international human rights organisation, and still this government refuse to hear what we have to say. Nor are we consulted with, democratically included or invited to participate in the executive’s decision-making that directly affects us. As UKIM note: 

“There is a continued lack of action from the UK and devolved governments on the CRPD Committee’s recommendations. This includes setting up systems that will  ensure that disabled people and their organisations are involved in the design, implementation, and monitoring and evaluation of legislation, policy or programmes that affect their lives. It remains unclear how the new Inter-Ministerial Group on Disability and Society will work with disabled people and their organisations, and UKIM, to promote and monitor implementation of UN CRPD. 

“It is particularly concerning that the UN CRPD’s requirement to effectively involve disabled people and their organisations is not specifically reflected in the inter-ministerial group’s terms of reference. Nor do the terms of reference refer to the CRPD or the CRPD Committee’s recommendations.”

Oppression always involves the objectification of those being dominated; all forms of oppression imply the devaluation of the subjectivity and experiences of the oppressed.

This is very evident in the government’s approach to designing policies that act upon us.  The government has consistently failed to actively consult, engage with and include disabled people, our representative organisations and give due consideration to our views in the design, implementation, monitoring and evaluation of any legislation, policy or programme action related to our rights. Furthermore, the current Minister of State for Disabled People, Health and Work, Sarah Newton, has refused to meet with disabled people and allied organisations. (See also I’m a disabled person and Sarah Newton is an outrageous, gaslighting liar.)

Last year, Theresia Degener, who leads the UN’s Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD), said the UK Government has “totally neglected” disabled people, during a two day meeting with UK government officials in Geneva.

Degener told them: “Evidence before us now and in our inquiry procedure as published in our 2016 report reveals that social cut policies have led to a human catastrophe in your country, totally neglecting the vulnerable situation people with disabilities find themselves in.” 

The Government’s welfare cuts have resulted in “grave and systematic violations” of the rights of disabled people – a claim opposed by ministers but supported by UK courts.

For example, Judges have ruled that three of the government’s flagship welfare policies are illegal because of the impact they have on disabled people and single parents. In January 2016, the Court of Appeal declared the so-called ‘bedroom tax’ unlawful because of its consequences for disabled children, as well as victims of domestic violence. 

Sanctions imposed on people who refused to or could not take part in the Department for Work and Pension’s ‘back to work’ schemes were also thrown out by Court of Appeal judges in April 2016. In June 2017 the High Court said the government’s benefit cap is unlawful and causes “real misery for no good purpose”.  This year, a High Court ruling found that the Personal Independence Payments (PIP) policy had discriminated against people with mental health conditions. 

Between 2011 and 2017 the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) underpaid more than £450,000,000 in means-tested benefits, due to its mishandling of the process by which claimants were moved from incapacity benefit to employment and support allowance.

When announcing its plans to remedy those underpayments on 14th December 2017, the DWP claimed the law ‘barred’ it from paying claimants any underpayments arising before 21st October 2014. That would have had two serious effects: first, up to £150,000,000 of the underpaid benefit would have been kept by the Government instead of passed to citizens who were deprived of it through no fault of their own; and second, any arrears which were paid to disabled people could after 52 weeks have been treated as ‘capital’, and reduced or stopped their ongoing entitlement to benefit.

In March 2018 the Child Poverty Action Group, acting for one affected claimant, brought judicial review proceedings in R (Smith) v Secretary of State for Work and Pensions JR/1249/2018 arguing that the DWP’s position was unlawful. The DWP accepted that it ‘got the law wrong’. The DWP said it will now start making those payments. It was necessary to take legal action against the Government because it said it had no legal power to fully remedy the consequences of a major error it had made in transferring claimants from incapacity benefit to employment and support allowance.

Ministers have also accused by the UN of misleading the public about the impact of Government policies by refusing to answer questions and using statistics in an “unclear way.”

Gaslighting.

The CRPD Committee has requested that the State party (the government) disseminate the concluding observations of their inquiry widely, including to non-governmental organisations and organisations of persons with disabilities, and to disabled people themselves and members of their families, in national and minority languages, including sign language, and in accessible formats, including Easy Read, and to make them available on the government website on human rights. 

That hasn’t happened and is unlikely to do so in the future. So please do share this article, The government’s shameful lack of progress on disability rights in the UK – new report update and submission to the UNCRPD Committee, and the UKIM update and shadow report widely.

 

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I don’t make any money from my work. I’m disabled through illness and on a very low income. But you can make a donation to help me continue to research and write free, informative, insightful and independent articles, and to provide support to others. I co-run a group online that helps people with ESA and PIP claim, assessment, mandatory review and appeal, increasingly providing one to one emotional support, too.

The smallest amount is much appreciated – thank you.

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A Tory Bill of Rights? We should be asking what could possibly go right

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Ministerial code amendment indicates a government that doesn’t like international transparency, accountability and scrutiny

Last year I wrote about how the government has quietly edited the ministerial code, which was updated on October 15  without any announcement at all. The code sets out the standard of conduct expected of ministers. 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”.

Conservative party policy document had revealed 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.”

Yasmine Ahmed, director of Rights Watch, an organisation which works to hold the government to account, 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.”

The Conservatives have planned since 2010 to scrap the Human Rights Act (HRA), which was the previous Labour governments’ legislation, designed to supplement the European Convention on Human Rights. It came into effect in 2000. The Act makes available a remedy for breach of Convention right without the need to go to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg.

The citizen rights protected by the Act are quite basic. They include the right to life, liberty and the right to a fair trial; protection from torture and ill-treatment; freedom of speech, thought, religion, conscience and assembly; the right to free elections; the right to fair access to the country’s education system; the right NOT to be given the death penalty; the right to marry and an overarching right not to be discriminated against.

Cameron has argued that it should be repealed just 15 years after its implementation … so that he can pass another unspecified Act – a British Bill of Rights. Why would any government object to citizens being afforded such established, basic protections, which are, after all, very simple internationally shared expectations of any first world liberal democracy?

In the Conservative proposals to scrap our existing human rights framework, and replace it with their own, one sentence from the misleadingly titled document  – Protecting Human Rights in the UK, (found on page 6 ) – is particularly chilling: “There will be a threshold below which Convention rights will not be engaged.”

Basically this means that human rights will no longer be absolute or universally applied – they will be subject to stipulations and caveats. And discrimination. The government will establish a threshold below which Convention rights will not be engaged, allowing UK courts to strike out what are deemed trivial cases.

The Tories’ motivation for changing our human rights is to allow reinterpretations to work around the new legislation when they deem it necessary. The internationally agreed rights that the Tories have always seen as being open to interpretation will become much more parochial and open to subjective challenge.

Any precedent that allows a government room for manoeuvre around basic and fundamental human rights is incredibly dangerous.

No other country has proposed de-incorporating a human rights treaty from its law so that it can introduce a Bill of Rights. The truly disturbing aspect of Cameron’s Bill of Rights pledge is that rather than manifestly building on the HRA, it’s predicated on its denigration and repeal. One has to wonder what his discomfort with the HRA is. The Act, after all, goes towards protecting the vulnerable from neglect of duty and abuse of power of the State. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights was an International response to the atrocities of World War Two and the rise of fascism and totalitarianism.

During their last term, the Tories contravened the Human Rights of disabled people, women and children. It’s clear that we have a government that regards the rights of most of the population as a mere bureaucratic inconvenience, to be simply brushed aside. 

The abolition of the Political and Constitutional Reform Committee: some implications

Last year I also wrote about the Political and Constitutional Reform Committee, which was originally established for the duration of the 2010 parliament and was very quietly scrapped following a meeting of party whips.

The cross-party Committee was primarily 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 this parliament, with the referendum on membership of the European Union set to be held.

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 finalises drawing 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 European Convention on Human Rights, 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 had 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  at the time 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.”

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. Without access to justice, we simply cease to be free.

The Tories have turned legal aid into an instrument of discriminationThey 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 a dislike for “big state” interventions. But in every meaningful way, the Tories are vastly increasing state powers and an all pervasive, intrusive authoritarian reach.

 

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Shut The Door On Your Way Out Campaign

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                                                   We call for his resignation.

 

This cross-border Campaign aims at naming and shaming those colluding in the cuts to disabled people instead of addressing disabled people’s rights. We will be writing a series of letters asking for the resignations of those not defending our rights as appointed to do so.

This letter is to the Chair of EHRC.

Dear Lord Holmes of Richmond,

I wish to draw your attention to the functions that were delegated to the Disability Committee and the Commissions duties as they relate to “disability matters” in:

  • Promoting understanding of the importance of equality and diversity
  • Encourage good practice
  • Promoting equality of opportunity
  • Promoting awareness and understanding of rights
  • Enforcing equality law
  • working towards the elimination of unlawful discrimination and harassment
  • Promoting understanding of good relations

Let me draw your attention to an article printed in the Guardian by the  EHRC on 01.03.2016 http://www.theguardian.com/politics/2016/mar/01/equalities-watchdog-criticises-planned-cuts-to-work-support-allowance

The very body you are a Commissioner for, the EHRC, say that the proposed cuts to ESA will disproportionately affect disabled people, widen inequalities and undermine the UK’s Human Rights obligations.

How can you be seen to be promoting the above when you went on to vote for these cuts to both ESA and PIP as a Conservative Peer, your actions will have a detrimental effect on disabled people’s lives, to both  Independent living and will undermine the UK’s Human Rights obligations.

As a disability rights campaigner I am calling for your immediate resignation of the position you hold as Disability Commissioner and Chair of the Disability Committee for EHRC as alongside my peers and other user led organization’s we think you are no longer worthy of this position.

Look forward to your reply

Susan Archibald
Disability Rights Campaigner.

Please sign the petition and support this campaign – Campaigners Demand For Lord Chris Holmes Resignation.

Supported by:

Dr Stephen Carty -Black Triangle Campaign

Professor Peter Beresford, Co-Chair, Shaping Our Lives

Mo Stewart –Disabled Veteran/Researcher

Dr Simon John Duffy – Centre of Welfare Reform

Gail Ward – Cross Border Alliance

John McArdle-Black Triangle Campaign

Pat Onions – Pats Petition

Rosemary ONeill – Carerwatch

Frances Kelly – Carerwatch/Dead Parrot Campaign

Linda Burnip – DPAC

Debbie Jolly – DPAC

Anita Bellows – DPAC

Merry Cross – DPAC

Rick Burgess – DPAC  Manchester

Paula Peters – DPAC

Annie Bishop – Involve North East & Cumbria for deaf, blind and people with disabilities

Carole Robinson – Bolshy Divas

Tracey Flynn – Bolshy Divas

Catherine Hale – Disability Researcher

C  Richardson – Disability Researcher

Stef Benstead – Disability Researcher

Jayne Linney DEAP

Sue Livett-Campaign for a Fair Society England

Michelle Mayer

Rosemary Trustam-Publisher Community Living Magazine

Jo Walker

Sue Jones – Psychologists against Austerity/Human Rights/Policy Researcher/Writer

Again, if you want to sign our petition please click the link here.

 

Further reading:

http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/politics/dwp-drew-up-plans-to-charge-disabled-people-for-fit-to-work-appeals-internal-documents-reveal-a6993996.html

http://thirdforcenews.org.uk/tfn-news/disability-activists-call-for-commissioner-to-resign?

http://www.mirror.co.uk/news/uk-news/secret-government-plan-charge-disabled-7798786

http://www.disabilitynewsservice.com/tory-peer-faces-calls-to-quit-as-ehrc-commissioner-over-support-for-wrag-cuts/

http://www.disabilitynewsservice.com/revealed-dwps-secret-financially-devastating-proposals-for-benefits-appeals/

http://www.disabilitynewsservice.com/secret-dwp-proposal-to-scrap-esa-substantial-risk-rules-would-breach-right-to-life/

http://www.thenational.scot/news/snp-calls-to-see-reports-on-suicides-following-benefits-cuts.16660

 

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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Tories to scrap Human Rights Act by next summer

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The Government are planning to fast-track a British Bill of Rights, aiming to get the extremely controversial legislation made law by next summer. 

A Bill of Rights was a Conservative manifesto pledge, but is strongly opposed by civil liberties groups that say it will restrict freedoms that are guaranteed under the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR). 

The Independent reports that a 12-week public consultation on the Conservative Bill of Rights will start in November or December this year. It will be worded to clarify that the UK will not pull out of the European Convention of Human Rights, as some critics have feared, (and actually, as David Cameron has pledged previously). It will even mirror much of the ECHR language in an effort to “calm opposition.”

The Conservative Bill of Rights will go straight to the House of Commons without a Green or White Paper, which are usually introduced before legislative scrutiny.

It is understood that Michael Gove will visit Scotland before the consultation is published, when he will try to convince the Scottish government to back the Bill of Rights. He will also need the support of Wales and Northern Ireland. The Bill will need to be carried over to the next Queen’s Speech, expected in May, if it is to become law before MPs leave for summer recess in July.

A cabinet minister told The Independent on Sunday that the summer timescale was “aspirational”, because the Bill could be “really clogged up in the House of Lords” and predicted it was more likely to be law by the end of next year. The upper chamber has some seasoned lawyers, many of whom fear the consequences of scrapping the HRA, and the Tories do not command a majority in the Lords. 

The rights protected by the Human Rights Act are quite simple. They include the right to life, liberty and the right to a fair trial; protection from torture and ill-treatment; freedom of speech, thought, religion, conscience and assembly; the right to free elections; the right to fair access to the country’s education system; the right to marry and an overarching right not to be discriminated against. Cameron has argued that it should be repealed just 10 years after its implementation (the Human Rights Act (HRA) came into force in October 2000) … so that he can pass another Act.

No other country has proposed de-incorporating a human rights treaty from its law so that it can introduce a Bill of Rights. The truly disturbing aspect of Cameron’s Bill of Rights pledge is that rather than manifestly building on the HRA, it’s predicated on its denigration and repeal. One has to wonder what his discomfort with the Human Rights Act is. The Act, after all, goes towards protecting the vulnerable from neglect of duty and abuse of power.

The HRA incorporated the ECHR in British law, it is a straightforward statute, that works by allowing individuals in the UK to enforce their rights in their local courts.  The Act makes available a remedy for breach of a Convention right without the need to go to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg.

It was designed to supplement the ECHR. It also requires public authorities to respect the rights of those they serve. As a part of Labour’s 1997 commitment to a new constitutional settlement, it represented a new way of thinking about law, politics and the relationship between public authorities and individuals.

The rights protected by the HRA are drawn from the 1950 European convention on human rights, which was a way of ensuring that we never again witness the full horrors of the second world war, and overwhelmingly, one of the greatest stains on the conscience of humanity – the Holocaust. Winston Churchill was one of the main drivers of the Convention, it was largely drafted by UK lawyers and the UK was one of the first countries to ratify it in 1951.

This was the establishing of a simple set of minimum standards of decency for humankind to hold onto for the future. The European Convention on Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms (ECHR) was drafted as a lasting legacy of the struggle against fascism and totalitarianism.

Yet the HRA is quite often portrayed by the Right as a party political measure. However, whilst the Human Rights Act is ultimately recognised as one of the greatest legacies of Labour in government, Cameron seems oblivious to the fact that Human Rights are not objects to be bartered away. They arose from struggles that were begun long ago by past generations who gave their lives for these rights to be enshrined in our laws.

The case for the HRA is a strong one. It is a moral case based not only on learning from the history of some of the worst violations of human rights before and during the second world war, but also from recent history – the here and now. If a new settlement based on social inclusion and greater equality is to be reached, the HRA should not be viewed suspiciously, as a burden, but promoted as an instrument of equality, social cohesion and public purpose. It is expected of a democratic government to improve the understanding and application of the Act. That is an international expectation, also.

There is no justification for editing or repealing the Act itself, 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.

Observation of human rights distinguishes democratic leaders from dictators and despots. Human Rights are the bedrock of our democracy, they are universal, and are a reflection of a society’s and a governments’ recognition of the equal worth of every citizens’ life.

One sentence from the misleadingly titled document that outlines how the Tories plan to scrap the Human Rights Act – Protecting Human Rights in the UK, (found on page 6 ) – is particularly chilling: “There will be a threshold below which Convention rights will not be engaged.”

Basically this means that human rights will no longer be absolute – they will be subject to stipulations and caveats. The government will establish a threshold below which Convention rights will not be engaged, allowing UK courts to strike out what are deemed trivial cases.

The Tories’ motivation for changing our human rights is to allow reinterpretations to work around the new legislation when they deem it necessary. The internationally agreed rights that the Tories have always seen as being open to interpretation will become much more parochial and open to subjective challenge.

Any precedent that allows a government room for manoeuvre around  basic and fundamental human rights is incredibly dangerous.

During their last term, the Conservatives contravened the Human Rights of disabled people, women and children. It’s clear that we have a government that regards the rights of most of the population as an inconvenience to be brushed aside.

 

 

The ultimate aim of the “allthesame” lie is division and disempowerment of the Left.

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The speech-writer for David Cameron in the run-up to the 2010 general election, Ian Birrellseems to have finger in every lie on behalf of the Tories. He’s the contributing editor of The Mail on Sunday, whilst writing columns regularly in several other papers. He’s been published in The Guardian, The Wall Street Journal, The Economist, The Daily Mail, The Financial Times, The Times, The Observer, The London Evening Standard, The Sun, The Daily Telegraph, The Sunday Telegraph, The Independent, The Independent on Sunday, Prospect, New Statesman and The Spectator.

On the 2nd January, Birrell cobbled together a somewhat strange and hugely speculative article in the Guardianclaiming that “a Tory-Labour unity coalition may be the only way forward after 7 May” and the two parties have more in common with each other than with the insurgents. A national government would prevent a constitutional crisis.”

There are no quotes or citations, just an unsubstantiated comment: “But most people in Westminster privately predict a hung parliament.”

As I said, entirely speculative, seemingly without an aim.

Birrell also claims there was “a brief flicker of unity” between the parties during the Scottish referendum. That’s a neat side-stepping of the fundamental fact that Labour, like most socialists, have always been internationalists, which has absolutely nothing to do with the Tories’ position on Scottish independence at all, and everything to do with Labour’s core values. It’s also a claim frequently made by the Scottish Nationalists –  Labour “sided with the Tories.” Anyone would think that the Scottish National Party want to undermine support for the Labour Party in Scotland…

There is of course a subtext to Birrell’s article. It is a piece of propaganda. The subtext is “the mainstream political parties are all the same.”

The “allthesame” myth came straight from Tory HQ. The BBC’s Tory correspondent Nick Robinson admitted live on air that Cameron’s best chance of winning the next election is if people believe politicians are “all the same.” That is very clearly not the case. I think this is a major ploy aimed at propagandarising an exclusively class-based identity politics, to target and fragment the “working class left.”

It purposefully excludes other social groups and also sets them against each other, for example, working class unemployed people attacking migrants – it really is divisive, anti-democratic, and quite deliberately flies in the face of Labour’s equality and diversity principles. That’s the problem with identity politics: it tends to enhance a further sense of social segregation, fragmentation and it isn’t remotely inclusive.

Of course it also enhances the tropes “outoftouch” and  “allthesame.” It’s a clever strategy, because it attacks Labour’s equality and inclusive principles – the very reason why the Labour movement happened in the first place – and places restriction on who ought to be included.

Think of that divisive strategy 1) in terms of equality; 2) in terms of appealing to the electorate; 3) in terms of policy. Note how it imposes limits and is reductive.

It also demoralises and confuses people.

The Tories set this strategy up in the media, UKIP have extended it further and the minority rival parties, including the Green Party and the Scottish National Party have utilised the same rhetoric tool: all of these parties frequently use the term “liblabcon”for example. That’s a sort of cognitive shortcut to what has been tacitly accepted, apparently, as a “common sense” view that partisanship amongst the mainstream parties is dead. I’ve written at length about this process of “normalisation” –  how social conservatism and neoliberalism have been absorbed culturally, and how this serves to naturalise the dominance of the Right and stifle the rationale for critical debate here – Manufacturing consensus: the end of history and the partisan man.

Be prepared for much more of this propaganda tactic: the Right are engaged in an all out war.

Firstly they know that Ed Miliband has edited their script, abandoning the free-market fundamentalist consensus established by Thatcherism in favour of social democracy.

Secondly, the right-wing media barons who set the terms of what is deemed politically palatable in Britain have never forgiven Ed Miliband for his endorsement of Leveson, which they believe is an unacceptable threat to their power.

Thirdly, they know Labour under Ed Miliband may well actually win the 2015 election.

It doesn’t take much effort to work out that the two main parties in competition have nothing in common at all. They debate oppositionally in parliament. Cameron attacks Miliband at every opportunity and on a very personal level, quite often. It’s plain, if you listen to the parliamentary debates, that neither man can stand what the other represents.

And how would the Tories and Labour reconcile their fundamental differences regarding human rights, the European Convention On Human Rights (ECHR) and the European Union? How about the bedroom tax? The National Health Service? Taxation? The welfare reforms? Equality? These are issues on which the two rival parties will never be able reach a consensus.

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It’s quite difficult to assert that there are significant differences between the parties, because of the constant repetition of the “allthesame” lie. It has become almost like a comforting, lulling mantra and a shortcut from cognitive dissonance. People often get quite angry when confronted with evidence that challenges this soundbite. But policies provide very good evidence, they are scripted from ideologies and are statements of a party’s intentions.

Ed Miliband has been cautious in making policy promises and has said that he won’t pledge anything that he may not be able to deliver. Here are Labour’s key policies to date, each has been costed and evidenced.

The thing about policies that have been passed into law is that they can be verified on the Parliamentary website and elsewhere. How many of you reading this think that Blair was a “Thatcherite”? I’m not a Blairite. I do like Miliband, who is a very different leader than Blair was. Miliband denounced New Labour in 2010. His stance on Syria in 2013 draws a clean line under the Blair approach. Yet Blair is still being used as a stick to hit the Labour Party with.

The claims made in lying articles in the media and the often inaccurate and distorted claims of fringe party supporters are based on a propaganda technique called transfer and association, which is a method of projecting negative (or positive) qualities of a person, entity, object, or value (an individual, group, organisation) to another in order to discredit it (or sometimes, to make the second more acceptable, this tactic is used in advertising a lot.)

It evokes an emotional response, which stimulates the target to identify with recognised authorities. But that stick is hitting a closed door now. Newsflash: Blair hasn’t been party leader for some years.

I worked on compiling a list of New Labour’s policies, and despite Blair’s faults, there really were some outstanding achievements, such as the Equality Act, the Human Rights Act, various animal welfare laws, Every Child Matters and the Good Friday Agreement. I have listed New Labour’s achievements with a comparable list of the Coalition’s “memorable” moments, too. If you hated Blair, and see him as some sort of high priest of neoliberalism, it’s probably even more important that you read this. I promise it will help you to understand cognitive dissonance, at the very least, and perhaps to appreciate the importance of evidence and critical thinking: Political parties – there are very BIG differences in their policies.

And this, for some balance and perspective: Thatcher, Mad Cow Disease and her other failings, the Blair detour and déjà entendu, Mr Cameron.

The “allthesame” lie is a way of neutralising opposition to dominant ideas. It’s a way of disguising partisanship and of manipulating and reducing democratic choices. It’s nothing less than a political micro-management of your beliefs and decision-making.

It also reduces public expectation of opposition and in doing so it establishes diktats: it’s a way of mandating acceptance of ideology, policies or laws by presenting them as if they are the only viable alternative. And those that refuse to accept the diktats are enticed by the marginal parties who offer much, safe in the knowledge that they won’t have to rationalise, evidence, cost or deliver those promises. This also plays a part in diluting viable opposition, because the smaller parties tend to employ the same strategy to gain credibility and support – negative campaigning and repeated lies and soundbites.

Lynton Crosby, who has declared that his role is to destroy the Labour Party, rather than promote the Conservatives, based on any notion of merit, is also all about such a targeted “divide and rule” strategy. This is a right wing tactic of cultivating and manipulating apostasy amongst support for the opposition. It’s a very evident ploy in the media, too, with articles about Labour screaming headlines that don’t match content, and the Sun, Mail and Telegraph in particular blatantly lying about Labour’s policy intentions regularly.

Propaganda isn’t always obvious, and that’s how it works. We need to be very mindful of this.

Ultimately, the only party that will gain from any of this negative campaigning approach and divisive propaganda is the Tories. And that is who we should be collectively opposing.

The Tories launched their election campaign a couple of days ago, and already, it’s obvious that the entire campaign is founded on attempting to undermine Labour’s  credibility by telling lies about their economic management – The Tory election strategy is more of the same: Tories being conservative with the truth.

Contrast the Conservative with the truth approach I’ve discussed here with Miliband’s consistently genuine approach to politics – Ed Miliband: Labour election campaign will be one of hope, not falsehood.  

Whatever party you support and regardless of whether or not we agree on the issues I raise, my key aim, whenever I write, is to inspire a sense of responsibility and some critical thinking. That helps to reliably inform our decision-making.

I won’t apologise to my critics for being a Labour Party supporter, but I will always provide evidence and analysis to support and justify my own views and I will always be happy to engage in dialogue, provided that it’s a respectful and polite exchange. No party is above criticism, quite rightly so, as politics has to be an accountable, reflective and responsive process. That’s what democracy is about.

There is, however, a big difference between genuine criticism, on the one hand and propaganda and lies on the other, which are being masqueraded as “criticism.” If debate isn’t established on a genuine, critical exploration of evidence and establishing truths, then it’s not debate: it’s simply indoctrination.

Related

Don’t believe everything you think: it’s almost election time.

From  Psycho-Linguistics to the Politics of Psychopathy. Part 1: Propaganda

Ed Miliband is the biggest threat to the status quo we’ve seen for decades.

Once you hear the jackboots, it’s too late.

The moment Ed Miliband said he’ll bring socialism back to Downing Street.

Ed Miliband’s policy pledges at a glance

Miliband is an excellent leader, and here’s why.

Cameron’s Nudge that knocked democracy down: mind the Mindspace.

403898_365377090198492_976131366_nThanks to Robert Livingstone for the excellent memes.

The link between Trade Unionism and equality

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In an article I wrote earlier this year – Conservatism in a nutshell – I outlined some basic themes of New Right Conservative ideology. I said:

Conservatives don’t like social spending or welfare – our safety net. That’s because when you’re unemployed and desperate, companies can pay you whatever they feel like – which is inevitably next to nothing. You see, the Tories want you in a position to work for next to nothing or starve, so their business buddies can focus on feeding their profits, which is their only priority. Cheap-labour conservatives don’t like the minimum wage, or other improvements in wages and working conditions. These policies undo all of their efforts to keep you desperate. They don’t like European Union labour laws and directives either, for the same reason.

Conservatives prioritise handing out our money to their big business partners, no matter what it costs us as a society. For example, a spending breakdown reveals how NHS funding has flowed to private firms, much of that money has gone to companies with corrupt ties to the Tories, whilst health care is being rationed, care standards have plummeted, services are cut, and by the end of the next financial year, health service workers will have had their pay capped for six years, prompting fully justified strike action.

Following the tide of sleaze and corruption allegations, Cameron “dealt” with with parliamentary influence-peddling by introducing the Gagging Act, which is primarily a blatant attack on trade unions (which are the most democratic part of the political funding system) and Labour Party funding, giving the Tories powers to police union membership lists, to make strike action very difficult and to cut union spending in election campaigns.

The Transparency of Lobbying, non-Party Campaigning, and Trade Union Administration Bill is a calculated and partisan move to insulate Tory policies and records from public and political scrutiny, and to stifle democracy. And there are many other examples of this government removing mechanisms of transparency, accountability and safeguards to rights and democracy.

We have witnessed a dramatic increase in levels of economic inequality this past four years, reflected in the fact that income differences between top earners and those on the lowest wages are now higher than at any time since records began. The UK now ranks as one of the most unequal societies in the developed world, even more unequal than the US, home of the founding fathers of neoliberalism. Our current levels of inequality have far exceeded the point at which campaigners need any further proof to show how socially corrosive and life-limiting the subsequent deepening poverty is.

Despite the legislative framework of Labour’s Equality Act, passed in 2010, there is a growing gender-based pay gap, continued abuse of agency workers, the problem of the two-tier work force and the contracting out of public servicesStrong trade unions improve public services, too.

Speaking at a press conference on the first day of the 2014 TUC Congress, TUC General Secretary Frances O’Grady said:

“The key message of this year’s congress is Britain needs a pay rise and I also expect many of the debates on the floor to focus on the importance of the coming general election for people at work.

Today, I want to highlight the threat posed by the Conservative Party’s promised manifesto proposals on strike ballots.

Because these proposals are designed to make unions weaker. And if unions become weaker, then the chances of people winning a pay rise, improving living standards and tackling inequality in Britain today will become a good deal harder.

The Conservative Party is not just proposing a few more bureaucratic obstacles that will make life a bit more difficult for trade unions.

Taken together, they would effectively ban strikes by the back door. And, on top of that, they would open up elected union leaders to increased surveillance by the state.

They are not just an attack on fundamental liberties. They will act to lower living standards for the majority of working people – whether or not they are union members.”

One half of the British population owns 9% of household wealth whilst the other half owns 91% of the wealth; and the five richest families in the UK are wealthier than the poorest 20% of the entire population.

Conservatives are always obsessed with “economic growth”, but we know from history that economic expansion in itself does not promote equality: it is the types of employment, the rules and structure of the economy and policies that matter most. Conservative governments always create high levels of inequality.  Furthermore, they rarely manage to bring about the economic growth they promise. But recession due to reduced public spending is an inbuilt feature of neoliberalism, as we witnessed during the Thatcher era.

Inequality hinders growth in another important way: it fuels social conflict. However, social diversity has no negative impact on economic growth, despite what those on the blame-mongering Right would try and have us believe. It is economic policies that shape inequalities, not minority groups: they are the casualities of inequality not its creators.

Economic inequality is also about discrimination. Black and ethnic minority workers are disadvantaged in finding employment. Dismissal of pregnant workers is a widespread practice. Last year, the wage gap between men and women’s earnings increased and the progress previously made towards equal pay has been reversed.

Cameron’s government has mobilised resentment and fear on the part of relatively privileged social groups in relation to other subordinate or putatively threatening groups of politically defined Others – immigrants, unemployed people, disabled people, unionised workers, single mothers and so on.

Social inequalities and hierarchies are defended by Conservatives and secured in several ways. The defence of power, wealth and property, when threatened, tends to be micro-managed via rigid authoritarianism, through systems of mobilised prejudice and through free-market policies (the predictable effects of which are to transfer wealth upwards). All Conservative politics pivot on a fundamental commitment – the defence of privilege, status, and thus sustaining social inequality.

But it is only by shifting money from the high-hoarding rich to the high-spending rest of us, and not the other way around, that investment and growth may be stimulated and sustainable.

The Office of Budgetary Responsibility forecasts that the Coalition are facing a £17BILLION blackhole after the low pay  that their own policies have strongly encouraged have caused a slump in tax payments to the treasury.

It is very clear that austerity is not an economic necessity, but rather, it is an ideological preference, used as a justification for “shrinking the State” whilst defending power, wealth and privilege.

The Coalition have introduced trade union laws which inhibit trade union recruitment, activity and collective bargaining. Employment rights are being removed, at a time when policies have reduced access to unfair dismissal protection and access to employment tribunals.

Trade unions are most effective when all workers are represented and therefore trade unionism encourages social inclusion. Collective bargaining and representational support will not work in the long term if some workers have substantially less to gain from the process than others.

For this reason, trade unions and the Labour Party have worked at eliminating sex, race and other forms of discrimination in the workplace. This has taken time, given how deeply ingrained inequalities have been in our society. We know that where trade unions are active, employers are more likely to have equal opportunities policies.

But for proper support of economic equality, trade unions need legal protection for their activities so they may operate freely and build effective social solidarity and promote egalitarianism.  Trade unions seek increased participation by working people in the decisions that influence their lives and a fairer distribution of the nation’s wealth. That is the antithesis of Conservatism.

Freedom to speak out against injustice, to campaign for economic equality and to work together through trade unions are underpinned by rights set out in the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR). It’s no surprise that Cameron has pledged to exit the ECHR and to scrap Labour’s Human Rights Act.

To tackle economic inequality and build a fairer society, it is essential that trade-unions can operate freely and that collective bargaining is renewed. The impoverishment and exploitation of any one group of workers is a threat to the well-being and livelihood of everyone.

Building a future economy where the benefits of work and profit are shared requires legal reform in support of effective trade unions.

Lydia Hayes and Tonia Novitz from the Centre For Labour and Social Studies have written  the following proposals, designed to change public policy, so that trade unions are better able to represent their members, by  simplifying the statutory procedure for trade union recognition, and putting in place arrangements for sector-wide collective bargaining:

1. Introduce a legal framework through which trade unions can freely organise and engage in collective action to build economic equality.

2. Amend trade union recognition legislation so that all workers who choose to join a union can be represented in collective bargaining and other workplace matters.

3. Ensure the law provides for sectoral bargaining which can set minimum terms and conditions across an industry or a service sector.

4. Defend human rights which protect the functioning of trade unions (including rights to free speech, freedom of assembly and freedom of association).

5. Give trade unions access to workers and workplaces, so that they can advise on the benefits of membership and collective bargaining.

6. Enable workers to have access to information about trade unions at their workplace so that they can make an informed choice and easily join a trade union if they want to.

None of this will happen during the current government’s term, because Conservatism is in diametric opposition to trade unionism, equality, human rights and egalitarianism.

Related
The Institute of employment Rights

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Thanks to Robert Livingstone for the graphics.

 


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