Even burglars have human rights

Cameron has lapsed into cheap populism.

The Tories have made it clear for some time that they hope to change the law on household defence, but David Cameron's comments today go well beyond existing party policy.

Here's what he told the Politics Show:

The moment a burglar steps over your threshold, and invades your property, with all the threat that gives to you, your family and your livelihood, I think they leave their human rights outside.

The Tory shadow home secretary, Chris Grayling, had previously denied that a Tory government would provide householders with a "licence to kill". Yet Cameron's words appear to promise just that.

The principled case against this position is that it would, in theory, allow householders to murder and torture burglars and thus endorse mob rule. The pragmatic case against it is that it could actually increase the danger to the public. As Jenni Russell recently argued in the Sunday Times, burglars who are aware that any break-in could result in their death are far more likely to come armed with guns or knives and be prepared to use them first.

It is simply dishonest for large sections of the right to continue to claim that the existing law does not provide individuals with a decent right to self-defence. The law recognises that householders may, in extremis, use what appears to be excessive force. What is needed is more sensible application of the current provisions (Munir Hussain should have received a suspended sentence), rather than a dangerous new law.

In declaring that burglars "leave their human rights outside", Cameron, a supposedly "liberal Conservative", has adopted the language of the demagogue and the populist. He should retract his comments immediately.

PS: It's good to see that Sally Bercow has not been cowed by those chauvinists who deny her right to political independence. She tweets: "So burglars don't have any human rights? Definitely #brokenbritain."


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George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

How Jim Murphy's mistake cost Labour - and helped make Ruth Davidson

Scottish Labour's former leader's great mistake was to run away from Labour's Scottish referendum, not on it.

The strange revival of Conservative Scotland? Another poll from north of the border, this time from the Times and YouGov, shows the Tories experiencing a revival in Scotland, up to 28 per cent of the vote, enough to net seven extra seats from the SNP.

Adding to the Nationalists’ misery, according to the same poll, they would lose East Dunbartonshire to the Liberal Democrats, reducing their strength in the Commons to a still-formidable 47 seats.

It could be worse than the polls suggest, however. In the elections to the Scottish Parliament last year, parties which backed a No vote in the referendum did better in the first-past-the-post seats than the polls would have suggested – thanks to tactical voting by No voters, who backed whichever party had the best chance of beating the SNP.

The strategic insight of Ruth Davidson, the Conservative leader in Scotland, was to to recast her party as the loudest defender of the Union between Scotland and the rest of the United Kingdom. She has absorbed large chunks of that vote from the Liberal Democrats and Labour, but, paradoxically, at the Holyrood elections at least, the “Unionist coalition” she assembled helped those parties even though it cost the vote share.

The big thing to watch is not just where the parties of the Union make gains, but where they successfully form strong second-places against whoever the strongest pro-Union party is.

Davidson’s popularity and eye for a good photo opportunity – which came first is an interesting question – mean that the natural benefactor in most places will likely be the Tories.

But it could have been very different. The first politician to hit successfully upon the “last defender of the Union” routine was Ian Murray, the last Labour MP in Scotland, who squeezed both the  Liberal Democrat and Conservative vote in his seat of Edinburgh South.

His then-leader in Scotland, Jim Murphy, had a different idea. He fought the election in 2015 to the SNP’s left, with the slogan of “Whether you’re Yes, or No, the Tories have got to go”.  There were a couple of problems with that approach, as one  former staffer put it: “Firstly, the SNP weren’t going to put the Tories in, and everyone knew it. Secondly, no-one but us wanted to move on [from the referendum]”.

Then again under different leadership, this time under Kezia Dugdale, Scottish Labour once again fought a campaign explicitly to the left of the SNP, promising to increase taxation to blunt cuts devolved from Westminster, and an agnostic position on the referendum. Dugdale said she’d be open to voting to leave the United Kingdom if Britain left the European Union. Senior Scottish Labour figures flirted with the idea that the party might be neutral in a forthcoming election. Once again, the party tried to move on – but no-one else wanted to move on.

How different things might be if instead of running away from their referendum campaign, Jim Murphy had run towards it in 2015. 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to British politics.

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