I am as irked as the next person about Jeremy Bamber – who murdered his family for cash gain – bleating on about his human rights. OK, I’m not as irked as the next person if that person is Max Hastings, Jim Davidson or one of those Ukip candidates who wears a standard flag waistcoat on election night.
Not a jocund little liberal like myself. Don’t we adore human rights? Ah, the comforting Oxo whiff of the EU gravy-train speeding to help multiple killers Peter Moore or Douglas Vinter. Every strangler, rapist and child-killer given a solid hearing, room for a second chance, regular visiting sessions and the chance to bat things higher when things don’t go their way? We love this don’t we? Well, actually no. As a liberal I find it problematic and infuriating, but I’d still argue our necessity to be vigilant around human rights.
Yesterday’s verdict from the European Court of Human Rights, branding whole-life tariffs for murderers in British prisons “inhuman and degrading” certainly sticks in the throat, but I’m still grateful we Brits take time to question this.
Basic human rights are a buffer zone between inhumanity and the quiet savage lurking in all of us. If I was invited to take tea with the Taliban I doubt we’d find much common ground on gay marriage, atheism, arts-funding, abortion or feminist rights, but on subjects like nightclub bouncer Levi Bellfield – currently serving a life-meaning-life sentence for the murder of Milly Dowler – we’d possibly feel vaguely similar. I’d let him slowly rot in a dank cell with a variation of slop for meals twice daily.
But I live in Britain – not Dubai, not Hong Kong, not Moscow – and will never leave, and love my country, because at its heart it is civilised, fair and mindful about the concept of human rights. It does this on my behalf, even during the times I may feel wholly savage.
This week life-serving murderers were afforded the right to ask for parole. Not, importantly, the right to be granted parole. Merely to ask for it. They were allotted the right to a degree of hope. Do I want these men I’ve discussed to have hope? Not particularly, but I know that’s wholly uncivil.
Some experts argue that when prisoners have no hope they have nothing to lose and it makes them more dangerous to the guards, nurses, admin staff and therapists caring for them. If the ruling saves a few lives along the way, then it’s a fair outcome. Human rights are difficult, infuriating and divisive, but I’m grateful to live in a country where we take time for cogent debate. If Strasbourg each year has to field a number of British cases involving legal-aided appellants at a cost to the public purse then it’s a small price for civility.
As Strasbourg wrestles with an increasing glut of British human rights cases – criminal, employment-based, gender, freedom of speech – and the necessity of “rights” become a stickier more rage-making subject among the right-wingers, I often wonder why these furious types don’t simply admit defeat, sell up and go somewhere gorgeous, sunny and under-the-surface-barbaric like Dubai.
Surely this would be ideal? Tons of expats to carouse with about how the old country has “gone down the dumper”. A beautiful climate, y’know, just like Britain in the olden days when everything was simply more brilliant and sensible and unspoiled? None of your boozy youth taking over the high street. And more importantly, literally no human rights, in fact no philosophical discussion or empathic thought afforded to criminals at all. Or to migrant workers, gay people, women or literally any human being without the upper hand in anygiven dispute.
But gosh, don’t the buildings get hammered up quickly? I watched the case recently of those three young Britons held in Dubai for seven months without trial, before being jailed for four years for allegedly possessing synthetic cannabis. The boys claim to have been tortured by police in the desert and in hotel rooms, had electric shocks and guns held to their head. Now they stew in cells, their human rights are negligible.
There is, it feels, a wafer-thin thin line in the human condition between what makes us fair, civil, humane and decent and what makes us barbarians. Right now, I’m happy for Strasbourg to carry on patrolling these borders.
His quip about women is wrong in so many ways, but also right
As Prince Philip scales down public appearances, Boris Johnson has become my new favourite walking gaffe time-bomb. I rather like Boris. I also rather like how annoyed liking Boris makes people, so it’s a win-win for me.
The fact Boris once referred to having “a global itinerary of apology” after managing to offend all of Papua New Guinea will always, to me, be amusing. The fact he gave a reason to love the Olympics as “semi-naked women playing beach volleyball in the middle of the Horse Guards Parade immortalised by Canaletto… glistening like wet otters…” still makes me laugh. How about the time he described teetotalism as “one of the cruellest and most deceitful things you can do to your body”?
I may not agree with all of Boris Johnson’s politics but I like the way he blusters into situations thinking on his feet, emitting his own ideas of truth, being able to be invited anywhere twice, the second time typically to apologise. This week he attended the launch of the Islamic Economic Forum with Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak and managed to offend all of womenkind by jokingly suggesting that the reason 68 per cent of students were women was because “they’ve got to find men to marry.” As a feminist, I’d get more worked up about this flippant quip if it weren’t for the fact I observe thousands of graduate women every year exit the workplace, failing to achieving anything near their professional potential in the wake of marriage and babies. Right now universities are educating millions of women each year whose careers fizzle out on the first rungs of the ladder when offered the wonky notion of domestic bliss.
If Boris wants to imply some women treat university – without realising it – ultimately as a marriage agency, I hate to admit it but he’s right.
Time to put an end to this royal baby madness
Zara Phillips is pregnant. Just as we saw light at the end of the tunnel, another royal blessing is on its way. David Cameron is thrilled!
The newspapers are already concerned about Zara’s riding schedule. I mean, three months pregnant and still in the saddle? Is this responsible? I can’t sleep worrying,
And what about Will and Kate and their bundle of joy, will they feel overshadowed? And what about Mike Tindall’s comments on the baby not having his nose?
Does an unborn foetus need to pick up on a father’s body hang-ups and…and I’m having a diazepam now and getting into the airing cupboard with headphones on. Wake me up in 2014. And it better not be with news about Princess Beatrice’s womb.