Labour is nothing if it does not stand up to attacks on our democracy
As we head towards general elections on both sides of the Atlantic, the battle to protect post-war democratic values is on.
Criminal indictments notwithstanding, the first far-right United States president is once more seeking the Republican nomination with perhaps an even more deeply disaffected base than before. If Donald Trump fails to secure the red ticket, eyes have lately turned to super-wealthy, anti-woke hedge-fund, tech-bro Vivek Ramaswamy. Sound familiar?
In the United Kingdom, the Sunak-Braverman “Stop the Boats” campaign may be a less charismatic version of this phenomenon, but it cuts and pastes from the same Bannonesque songbook that brought you “Take Back Control”, “Make America Great Again” and “Get Brexit Done”.
Far-right pretenders bet the house on a divide and conquer strategy of hatred as distraction from hardship and inequality
Leaving crises amongst both armed police officers and immigration and asylum operations at home, the Home Secretary – my fellow barrister and daughter of migrants – chose to fly stateside to start her UK and Conservative leadership campaigns with an attack upon a Refugee Convention born from the horrors of genocide.
How reduced are these two political cultures, long amusingly divided but now seemingly united by “a common language”. Just as Franklin Roosevelt and Winston Churchill once inspired with the Four Freedoms (of speech and worship and from want and fear), and the European Convention on Human Rights respectively, far-right pretenders bet the house on a divide and conquer strategy of hatred as distraction from hardship and inequality. They openly promote culture war.
In 1776, Thomas Jefferson famously began the preamble to the US Declaration of Independence with the words: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights…” For his website, Ramaswamy takes just the initial flourish (leaving out references to equality and to rights) and places it above his own Ten Truths. The first three of these are that “God is real”, “There are two genders” and “Human flourishing requires fossil fuels.”
Closer to home, the party once of Churchill and David Maxwell Fyfe (a Nuremberg prosecutor as well as lead ECHR drafter) threatens to pull out of the Convention, and therefore the Council of Europe from which Vladimir Putin’s Russia was expelled earlier in the year. The nominal reason for this threat is that the Strasbourg Court issued “interim measures” preventing the removal of desperate asylum seekers to Rwanda, pending final legal determination of their case. However, I am far from alone in suspecting that the present regime cares more about fomenting permanent rows with judges, lawyers, environmentalists, asylum seekers, trans people and any other group that it might scapegoat, than it does about stopping a single boat by way of transnational responsibility-sharing for both genuine refugee protection and enforcement against people traffickers.
This presents the Labour Party with stark choices around how to respond. The ECHR may have been a Conservative legacy, but its domestic incorporation via the 1998 Human Rights Act is a proud Labour one that cannot be separated from the hard-won Good Friday Agreement – so contingent upon the Convention rights being realised in Northern Ireland. Do we try and duck the issue or meet the obscenity of this extremist attack on democratic and rule-of-law values head on?
I say we should better explain and champion rights to asylum, life, against torture, slavery, arbitrary detention and unfair trials. We should be proud to be for privacy and family life, freedoms of conscience, speech and association, and against discrimination.
We should point to the numerous cases of victims of crime and other vulnerable people needing protection from state abuse or neglect by our defunded and crumbling infrastructure and institutions. And we should remind people of the dire consequences of hypocritical, corrupt and lawless government, whether in Washington or Westminster.
In the words of the late great Tom Bingham: “There may be those who would like to live in a country where these rights are not protected but I am not of their number.”
Baroness Chakrabarti, Labour peer
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