Clegg attacks "myths" about human rights

Deputy Prime Minister defends Human Rights Act, following Cameron's pledge to re-examine the legisla

Nick Clegg has issued a strong defence of Human Rights law, indicating that his party will stand in the way of any Conservative attempts to water down the legislation.

Writing in the Guardian, Clegg stressed his common ground with David Cameron -- namely, over the misrepresentation of the Act -- but it is clear that his article is intended to refute claims made by the Prime Minister after the riots. Speaking in the aftermath of the disturbances, Cameron pledged to re-examine legislation, saying that he would not be restrained by "phoney human rights" concerns.

Let's compare and contrast some of the points they made.

On the overall impact of the Act, Clegg staunchly defends the legislation, which defends the most vulnerable:

I believe [incorporating the Human Rights Act into domestic law] was a hugely positive step which has done three things: it has ended the long delays people used to experience before they could get a hearing at Strasbourg, embedded the principles of the ECHR in our own courts, and sent a powerful message to the rest of the world about the value we place on human rights. So as we continue to promote human rights abroad, we must ensure we work to uphold them here at home. We have a proud record that we should never abandon.

Meanwhile, Cameron, in his post-riots speech, was careful to emphasise the "interpretation" of the Act, but remains overwhelmingly negative, lumping human rights laws together with health and safety culture:

The truth is, the interpretation of human rights legislation has exerted a chilling effect on public sector organisations, leading them to act in ways that fly in the face of common sense, offend our sense of right and wrong, and undermine responsibility.

Clegg also appears to implicitly criticise the harsh sentences handed out after the riots, and with those advocating a law and order crackdown:

This myth [that human rights are a foreign invention] panders to a view that no rights, not even the most basic, come without responsibilities; that criminals ought to forfeit their very humanity the moment they step out of line; and that the punishment of lawbreakers ought not to be restrained by due process.

Cameron, on the other hand, stood behind the legal response:

Last week we saw the criminal justice system deal with an unprecedented challenge: the courts sat through the night and dispensed swift, firm justice. We saw that the system was on the side of the law-abiding majority...

I am determined we sort it out and restore people's faith that if someone hurts our society, if they break the rules in our society, then society will punish them for it.

It is not the first time the two leaders have disagreed over human rights legislation (Clegg supports voting rights for prisoners, while Cameron does not), but Clegg's defence is a much-needed contribution to the pubic debate on the matter. Indeed, Ed Miliband might be wishing that he had written it.

Samira Shackle is a freelance journalist, who tweets @samirashackle. She was formerly a staff writer for the New Statesman.

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As the strangers approach the bed, I wonder if this could be a moment of great gentleness

I don’t know what to do. In my old T-shirt and M&S pants, I don’t know what to do.

It’s 1.13am on an autumn morning some time towards the end of the 20th century and I’m awake in a vast hotel bed in a small town in the east of England. The mysterious east, with its horizons that seem to stretch further than they should be allowed to stretch by law. I can’t sleep. My asthma is bad and I’m wheezing. The clock I bought for £3 many years earlier ticks my life away with its long, slow music. The street light outside makes the room glow and shimmer.

I can hear footsteps coming down the corridor – some returning drunks, I guess, wrecked on the reef of a night on the town. I gaze at the ceiling, waiting for the footsteps to pass.

They don’t pass. They stop outside my door. I can hear whispering and suppressed laughter. My clock ticks. I hear a key card being presented, then withdrawn. The door opens slowly, creaking like a door on a Radio 4 play might. The whispering susurrates like leaves on a tree.

It’s an odd intrusion, this, as though somebody is clambering into your shirt, taking their time. A hotel room is your space, your personal kingdom. I’ve thrown my socks on the floor and my toothbrush is almost bald in the bathroom even though there’s a new one in my bag because I thought I would be alone in my intimacy.

Two figures enter. A man and a woman make their way towards the bed. In the half-dark, I can recognise the man as the one who checked me in earlier. He says, “It’s all right, there’s nobody in here,” and the woman laughs like he has just told her a joke.

This is a moment. I feel like I’m in a film. It’s not like being burgled because this isn’t my house and I’m sure they don’t mean me any harm. In fact, they mean each other the opposite.

Surely they can hear my clock dripping seconds? Surely they can hear me wheezing?

They approach, closer and closer, towards the bed. The room isn’t huge but it seems to be taking them ages to cross it. I don’t know what to do. In my old T-shirt and M&S pants, I don’t know what to do. I should speak. I should say with authority, “Hey! What do you think you’re doing?” But I don’t.

I could just lie here, as still as a book, and let them get in. It could be a moment of great gentleness, a moment between strangers. I would be like a chubby, wheezing Yorkshire pillow between them. I could be a metaphor for something timeless and unspoken.

They get closer. The woman reaches her hand across the bed and she touches the man’s hand in a gesture of tenderness so fragile that it almost makes me sob.

I sit up and shout, “Bugger off!” and they turn and run, almost knocking my clock from the bedside table. The door crashes shut shakily and the room seems to reverberate.

This article first appeared in the 12 January 2017 issue of the New Statesman, Putin's revenge