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Home > Politics

Human Rights: Beatles, Beer and Bollocks

3 November 2006

'Human rights are British. Human rights are as British as the Beatles. As British as the BBC. As British as bitter.'

That was the Lord Chancellor, Charles Falconer this week, the man responsible for our legal system, finding an unlooked-for lyrical alliterative outlook in his unelected and illiberal largesse. You have to wonder how much it cost the tax payer to come up with such patronising and transparently contrived nonsense.

Ah, the evergreen Fab Four, our world-renowned broadcaster and the upstanding British pint. Of course, our championing of human rights around the world fully deserves to stand in that glittering pantheon. The thing is, the Government doesn't perceive human rights in the same way the rest of us do. For them, our core of humane and decent values isn't so much one of cast iron as one of warm plasticine to be shaped and moulded as they see fit. And like plasticine when you mix all the colours, human rights in this country right now are starting to resemble a shitty brown mess.

Take our practice of deporting terrorist suspects (they may be innocent, they may be guilty, but denied as they are to a fair trial, we'll never know) to countries where they may be tortured. Or other suspects held in this country without trial and slowly losing their sanity (they lost their rights some time ago). Take the terrorist suspect known only as 'DD' who was given refuge in Britain when Colonel Gaddafi was our enemy but now we're his mate again, 'DD's being sent back home to an uncertain and possibly messy future (Libya's not too hot on human rights either). As British as the Beatles? The refrain 'DD's hearing is 'Get Back to where you once belonged'. He's got a one-way Ticket To Ride and pieces of him could shortly be lying Here, There and Everywhere.

What about our suspected collusion is American extraordinary rendition (that is, exporting terrorist suspects to countries who are prepared to go a little further than water boarding in order to get the goods)? We say 'suspected' because Tony Blair won't order the inquiry that would put those suspicions to bed. He seems to have forgotten that the mantra 'if you've nothing to hide, you've nothing to fear' also applies to governments as well as ordinary people. In this instance, human rights are as British as mom's apple pie.

Solving the moral contradiction that current anti-terrorist laws pose to the Government's assertion, as Falconer puts it, 'by public safety I mean the safety of each and every person in the UK' is beyond the wit of what pass for Labour's foremost minds these days. In the current climate, 'public safety' means protection from the Government as well as from terrorists. That's something Falconer wouldn't be able to admit even if his over-lunched mind had the capacity to form the thought. By definition, his claim to be defending 'each and every person in the UK' falls down whenever one of those persons in locked up without trial or shot in a bungled anti-terrorism raid. What Falconer should have said is 'by public safety I mean the safety of each and every predominantly white, middle class person in the UK'.

These conclusions, however, are for more compassionate minds to consider. Like Human Rights Watch who said this week of the British Government's conduct: 'If Britain continues down the present road [...] this will do lasting damage to its place in the world, to the global ban on torture, and to the values that help keep us safe.'

At this rate, our attitudes towards human rights are going to be about as British as Abu Hamza. As British as The Beatles, the Beeb and Bitter? To make them more like our bastardised regard for human rights, you wouldn't be surprised if the Government called for Mickey Dolenz from the Monkees to be retrospectively installed as the Beatles' drummer, for the BBC to outsource its impartiality to The Sun, and for pubs to start serving 568 millilitres of bitter. With a big eye-catching cocktail umbrella plonked on the top, obviously.

Comment on this article: letters@thefridaything.co.uk

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