Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Back home and that elephant

It is difficult to pay attention to anything at the moment outside the Caucasus and Russia making fools out of Western politicians, who have had plenty of warnings that this would happen. Nevertheless, other matters to obtrude.

For instance, there was a certain amount of excitement about MPs demanding that Britain should have a Bill of Rights. Well, of course, Britain does have a Bill of Rights and it predates everybody else’s, as it became law in 1689. The trouble is that many of its provisions have been abolished by succeeding Parliaments, especially some of the most recent ones.

This Bill of Rights will be different because it will not simply enumerate the rights people have and the government cannot take away, such as the original 1689 one and the first ten Amendments to the American Constitution are, this one will specify what rights they are to be given by the benevolent government.

The Guardian, for example, says:
"A UK bill of rights and freedoms would be a constitutional landmark. It would provide a framework both for protecting the liberty of the individual against the intrusion of state power, and for protecting the 'little person' against powerful interests," the committee's chairman, Andrew Dismore MP, explained yesterday.

Such a move could open up the gradual prospect of individuals - especially the "vulnerable and marginalised" - being able to go to court to enforce the right to decent housing, healthcare or education for a child with special needs.

It might also prevent failed asylum seekers being denied benefits as is currently official policy, the joint Lords-Commons committee on human rights (JCHR) says in a new report. Such changes might help offset "the popular misconception that human rights are a charter for criminals and terrorism".
Of course, special rights for special groups is not precisely what a Bill of Rights should be about. The real Bill of Rights was about rights for all. With this lot one has to ask what about our rights not to be taxes till the pips squeak in order to provide failed asylum seekers benefits that even our own citizens probably should not have.

We are no longer talking about rights as something inherent but as something decided on and imposed by the state – the exact opposite of what a Bill of Rights ought to be.

However, there is another problem here. It is our old friend, the elephant in the room. Do these MPs not know that the Constitutional Reform Lisbon Treaty, which this country has already ratified, includes a Charter of Fundamental Rights? That is the one this country’s population, both resident and transient will be governed by and MPs can say whatever they like. They will not be heeded.

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