Peter Oborne argues Cameron’s Tories, instead of repealing New Labour’s signature piece of legislation, should embrace it because it fits in with their traditions and ethos:
The rights set out in the act are taken directly from the European convention on human rights, which was signed by the UK in 1951. They were inspired by a Conservative politician, Sir Winston Churchill, and drafted under the guidance of another one, David Maxwell-Fyfe (later Lord Chancellor Kilmuir) in the face of considerable opposition from the Attlee government. The act should thus be regarded as the creation not of New Labour, but of the Conservative party.
Moreover, Conservative critics are wrong to say that the rights of the act are in general socioeconomic entitlements. In fact, they are absolutely fundamental to the British common law tradition. They include the right to life; the prohibition of torture, first enacted by the Long Parliament in 1640; rights to liberty and security of person; the right to a fair trial, which dates back to Magna Carta; the right to respect for private and family life; rights to freedom of expression and religion; and the right to freedom of association. These rights are not radical: they are deeply Conservative.
And finally, the act itself operates in a peculiarly Conservative way. It confers no new right that has not already been long recognised in common law, or to which parliament has not already long committed the UK. Its rights are not inviolable, but can be set aside at will. Where there is an inconsistency of law, it leaves it to parliament to decide how to resolve that inconsistency, and only if it chooses. A more Conservative approach could hardly be conceived.
Jack Straw may have tacked rightwards since the 1998 Act, but the fact remains that the European Convention on Human Rights is enshrined in British law. Repealing it wouldn’t end the ECHR, nor would it end Britain’s human rights obligations under the Convention, but it would mean countless people once again being unable to afford to access their rights. There is no need to repeal the act; the only point of creating a British-only document to replace it would be to restrict human rights on nationalistic grounds. We should all be terrified of the prospect.
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