A manifesto for freedom, constitutional reform to undo the vandalism of New Labour and the ECHR, a five year plan for the restoration of liberty and justice… it sounds fantastic, but sadly these are the thoughts of a dreamer. Such a proposition is not going to be implemented in this country, for shame. A government would have to brave, bold and borderline revolutionary in its rolling back of the state and commitment to constitutional reform. I would argue that an essential part of a five year plan for a libertarian party would be the creation of a new bill of rights to revive British liberty and restore the freedoms that were bequeathed to us by our ancestors and stolen from us by knaves.
Remember when David Cameron used to throw red meat to his backbenchers with talk of a “British Bill of Rights”? Well, after many years of attempting to bury that idea there are pre-election whispers about it once again. Will Tory loyalists remember the old saying: ‘fool me once, shame on you, fool me twice, shame on me’?
The sacking of arch Europhile Dominic Grieve in the reshuffle has led to renewed speculation, no doubt encouraged by Tory propagandists, that there are plans afoot to change Britain’s relationship with the European Court of Human Rights and perhaps even repeal the 2008 Human Rights Act. There is no solid evidence that this is a serious pledge and the Prime Minister himself has certainly said nothing about it recently.
Nothing has been said by any minister to suggest this is a definite intention of a future Tory government. It does however make for great electioneering because it is a popular idea that will never have to be implemented, because there won’t be a future Tory government. I would be astonished if David Cameron, Blairite that he is, actually went through this, but the only way he will be Prime Minister post-2015 will be as part of a coalition, and the proposal will die on the vine.
When Cameron and others have previously declared “we need a British Bill of Rights” I have always wondered if they were aware of the 1689 English Bill of Rights which, though amended and supplemented, has not been repealed. I would not be at all surprised if Cameron (who didn’t even know the year that the Magna Carta, which he is now busy lauding from the roof tops, was written) is completely oblivious to its existence. I am sure that he has never taken the time to read it. It is an extremely important document which greatly advanced the constitutional liberty on which our freedom was built; creating our modern parliamentary documentary and restricting the power of the monarch and the state.
And that is the important point here for all genuine lovers of liberty. The English Bill of Rights beautifully exemplifies the traditional form of liberty nurtured on this island and exported to the free world. For how do you guarantee freedom? Not by a monarch or government declaring what our rights are through a list of flexible “rights” written in ambiguous language and issued from master to the subservient people. But by restricting the power of the state in unequivocal language and upholding the principle that everything is allowed unless explicitly stated otherwise in laws proposed and reviewed in parliament and bound to the will of the people. This great tradition of liberty was adopted in America when the 1789 US Bill of Rights, heavily based on the English equivalent, was written but it is readily being abandoned here.
There are several arguments against a “British Bill of Rights”. One that comes from the right wing is that there is no need for a new bill, that we should just abolish the Human Rights Act, leave the ECHR and leave it at that; ‘we got on fine for centuries without one’, they say. The Libertarian fringe may be tempted to say the less legislation the better.
The argument from the left is based on the Europhilic and conformist embrace of “Human Rights”, that great dogma of double speak and fluff, and rejects the English traditions of liberty all together for misguided ideological reasons.
An argument I would put forward myself is that I wouldn’t trust any of the parties to create a modern document worthy of its predecessors and unwavering in its commitment to freedom. A British Bill of Rights written by our current lot of MP’s will likely be very similar to the Human Rights Act, conditional freedoms, no guarantee of the right to trial by jury and the ability to remove all rights in the due to national security concerns. Such a bill would probably focus on things like preventing votes for prisoners and making it easier to deport hate mongering Islamists; important, i’m sure, but not my primary concern.
So, allow me to explain what a coalition of willing classical liberals, libertarians and true conservatives should do if they were to rise to power, form a government and implement their manifesto. Such a government should repeal New Labour’s 2008 Human Rights Act and leave the jurisdiction of the ECHR, but that does not go far enough. They should draft a modern British Bill of Rights based on the Anglo-American tradition of unambiguous restrictions on what the state may or may not do. Nothing more and nothing less. We need a modern declaration to pin the government down and remind the people of their rights.
The lack of political history in the education system leaves much of the population in total ignorance of their cultural inheritance and vulnerable to the manipulation of cynical politicians. Not enough people take notice of the constant breaches of our uncodified constitution and the power of judges to interpret human rights laws ideologically. The right to privacy suddenly becomes the right for censorship. The caveats to freedom (the trademark of human rights laws) allow easy suspension of Habeas Corpus, trial by jury and freedom of expression. Amidst a dogmatic devotion to “human rights” and a climate of fear in the “war on terror” we have become less free. We have been naïve and sluggish as the bonfire of liberties set alight before our eyes
We must cut through the naivety of devotion to the abstract notion of continental style human rights which are so contrary to proper British liberty. Human rights as proscribed by the ECHR have their roots in the French revolution and the “Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen”. It is a legacy of seemingly noble declarations that crumble under scrutiny rather than a clear binding of the state. Articles 10 and 11 of the “Declaration of Rights” are laughable in their malleable ambiguity, note my emphasis on the conditions attached to each right:
(10) No one shall be disquieted on account of his opinions, including his religious views, provided their manifestation does not disturb the public order established by law.
(11) The free communication of ideas and opinions is one of the most precious of the rights of man. Every citizen may, accordingly, speak, write, and print with freedom, but shall be responsible for such abuses of this freedom as shall be defined by law.”
It is the horrible language of the vacuous idealist windbag. Articles 7, 8 and 9 that cover the rule of law and criminal justice led rapidly to the guillotine and heads being lopped off by the basketful. Articles 10 and 11 are so blatantly open to abuse that they are basically useless. The European Convention of Human Rights is its modern incarnation. Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights is purposely written in an abstract manner so as to be open to interpretation and wide open for the government to abuse, see through it for what it is:
1. Everyone has the right to freedom of expression. This right shall include freedom to hold opinions and to receive and impart information and ideas without interference by public authority and regardless of frontiers. This article shall not prevent States from requiring the licensing of broadcasting, television or cinema enterprises.
2. The exercise of these freedoms, since it carries with it duties and responsibilities, may be subject to such formalities, conditions, restrictions or penalties as are prescribed by law and are necessary in a democratic society, in the interests of national security, territorial integrity or public safety, for the prevention of disorder or crime, for the protection of health or morals, for the protection of the reputation or rights of others, for preventing the disclosure of information received in confidence, or for maintaining the authority and impartiality of the judiciary.
What is this ridiculous bilge? This bloated, wordy, nonsense? For the protection of “health or morals”? That could mean anything the judge or the state wants it to mean. National security? That allows the state to fear monger its way out of its constraints and oppress us. This is conditional freedom and nothing more. It allows for the arbitrary expansion of state power and the removal of these rights at any time the state sees fit to interpret the flatulent language in such a way. The whole document is in any case rendered worthless by article 15 of that allows the suspension of all rights when the government declares a state of emergency. “Emergency” being one of the state’s favourite words that was recently on the lips of our very own Prime Minister.
Genuine rights, real liberty; is not like this. Our charters do one simple thing to guarantee our rights- they tell the government what it cannot do. A modern bill of rights taking its inspiration from the Anglo-American tradition would restore the freedoms systematically taken away from us over the course of the last century.
The state began its great expansion during WWI and has grown ever more hungry for power. Leftist ideology leaked through the iron curtain during the cold war and socialistic political thought has changed the relationship between the citizen and the state.
The new Labour project, fervently implemented by former communists, Trotskyites and arch Europhiles, pillaged our constitutional liberty and now the Tory party continues its inglorious work.
We need a new charter to reverse the illiberal trend. Here are a few of my own suggestions, a simple list of declarations that could help undo the destruction:
(I) Parliament shall make no law abridging the freedom of speech, or the freedom of the press, or the freedom to exercise religion.
(II) It is the right of the British subject to petition the monarch and the government, and to peacefully assemble; all prosecutions for the exercise of these rights are illegal.
(III) The freedom of speech and debate in parliament cannot be impeached or questioned in any court outside of Parliament.
(IV) No person shall be subject to the same offence twice, nor be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against themselves, nor be deprived of liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation.
(V) The right of every subject to be secure in their person and property against unreasonable searches and seizures shall not be violated, and warrants issued, unless based upon probable cause, supported by documentation describing the place to be searched, and the person or things to be seized.
(VI) No free British subject can be imprisoned, or deprived of their private property, or liberty, without enjoying the right to a quick and public trial by an impartial jury of his Peers within the region in which the crime was committed, or by being informed of the nature and cause of the accusation, or without being confronted with the witnesses against them and allowed to obtain witnesses in defence, or having the assistance of Counsel for their defence.
(VII) The right of trial by jury shall be preserved for all criminal convictions in which the controversy exceeds the value of fifty pounds, and no fact tried by jury shall be re-examined in any court of the United Kingdom, or any court or place outside of the United Kingdom.
(VIII) Excessive bail ought not to be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted.
(IX) No soldier may be quartered in any house without the consent of the owner in a time of peace, nor in a time of war unless in a manner prescribed by law.
(X) The laws of the United Kingdom cannot be amended or repealed without consent of parliament.
The fact that this bill would be revolutionary only serves to show how far we have fallen from grace, and the extent to which we have tarnished the legacy of our forefathers. The sheer power of the bill, and the changes it would bring to our nation, reveals to us all the horrifying extent to which the government has exercised arbritray power and fundamentally altered its relationship with us.
A charter for freedom is a demand on the state, not the other way around. It tells the government that it cannot imprison us without trial, try us without a jury, search our homes without a warrant, impede freedom of expression, garrison soldiers in our homes, censor the media, or exercise arbitrary power without the consent of Parliament.
I submit this to you as the most powerful tool in the armoury of a liberty loving government. Just think of what it would mean. If such a Bill were written today it would abolish secret courts, open up the family courts, forbid the suspension of habeas corpus and guarantee us a fair trial by jury. It would kill off all attempts to regulate the press and abolish the increasing number of conditions placed on freedom of expression.
It would bring and end to the craze for arresting people for saying things deemed politically incorrect on the internet. It would prevent phone tapping and mass surveillance without warrant; it would stop any future attempts to issue us with ID cards. It would be an assertion of the liberty of the people over and above the state, and it is long overdue.