Yasmin Alibhai-Brown: We must defend these laws which protect us all

The new Tories are charming and dangerously likeable. But they are the enemies of a more equal, just, fair and fulfillling society for everyone

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The Independent Online

Did you watch and listen to THAT woman, Theresa May, last week? I did, live at the Tory party conference in Manchester, while pressing my bitten nails into my hands and building up such fantasies of violence that they could imprison me for thought crimes under our anti-terrorism laws. As she stood up to speak you saw they didn't really like her much, because she wasn't Margaret Thatcher or the next best, Ann Widdecombe.

There wasn't much applause for the first part of her speech, so she threw them immigrants and asylum-seekers and then the Human Rights Act (HRA) to tear into. Members turned into noisy hounds and May was riding high. Until Ken Clarke pulled her off the horse. He is set to be punished by the PM who obviously backs May's inciting horn calls. (Here's a modest proposal – maybe they should use asylum-seekers instead of foxes for their hunts.)

Oh yes, May is a terrific rider, has a keen brain and cunning instincts, fine clothes and kittenish hair. Don't laugh. And don't be fooled either. She once opined that her party would not win until it lost its reputation for nastiness. So they did – underwent a makeover to appear such nice people. The cast was carefully chosen. No more Mr Nasties, like the crypto-eugenicist Keith Joseph, polecats like Norman Tebbit and John Redwood, the baleful Michael Howard, or the ruthless Michael Portillo before his own reinvention as a mellifluous broadcaster. It worked. The New Tories are perfectly charming and dangerously likeable.

I chaired a big meeting of women voters in Westminster before the election. On the panel was May, gracious and intelligent, who knew how to please that audience too. Sayeeda Warsi also woos people brilliantly and I admire that. Cameron himself is incredibly intelligent and impeccably polite. In spite of trying really hard, I couldn't see him as the enemy. But that is what he and his party are, enemies of principles and policies for a more equal, just, fair and fulfilling society for everyone, not only those born with share options lining the walls of well-appointed nurseries.

May and Cameron knew the cat story was tosh and still used it to excite raw opposition to the HRA which stops the state from deporting people without due care for their safety and rights. The right-wing journalist Peter Oborne who, with Tory MP Jesse Norman, wrote a pamphlet defending the Act, said in a column: "Myths abound about the Act. These start out as newspaper reports. Soon they enter the popular discourse. It is not long before they are used in speeches of politicians. And yet almost invariably they are fabrications or sometimes outright lies."

In 2009 the Director of Public Prosecutions, Keir Starmer, warned it would be to our "country's shame" if the HRA was rescinded. The Tories are committed to individual civil liberties but not wider protection.

To them, a man must be free to shoot dead a burglar or ban gay couples from his B&B, slaughter trees in his garden, employ only white, male workers, pay them pennies, sack whoever he damn well likes, and keep most of his money. The rights of the thief, the gay couple and all those other whiners, well that's political correctness and state oppression of the mighty individual.

The HRA gives everyone, be it a pauper, a prisoner, a priest or prince the right to family life, free expression, protection from torture, justice and much more. Our courts have been assiduous in the way they have interpreted the Act. But now even judges and magistrates are starting to respond to the fanatically hardline Tories. The sentences passed after the riots for the smallest of crimes shows a worrying swerve away from judicial temperance and fairness. In these times, some are entitled to rights and others forfeit them because they are considered undeserving or worthless.



The economic crisis has provided the Tories with the excuse to push through what they have always wanted – a deregulated economy with millions willing to work at any cost. The unions, they say, "have the right to strike" but are damned if they do. Workers can only take unfair dismissal cases to tribunal after two years and must cough up a deposit of £1,000. In the developed world, only the US has a worse labour rights record now than the UK.

Worse and worse. Theresa May vehemently opposed the Equalities Bill drafted by Harriet Harman because the Home Secretary believes inequality is caused by family dysfunction. The law came in anyway and outlaws discrimination against older people, expects companies to redress class inequalities and protects carers. So the Tories are doing all they can to keep the law deactivated.

What's more, they are determined to undermine the Equalities and Human Rights Commission set up to prevent discrimination against women, racial minorities and the disabled and aid those whose human rights have been violated. Changes to disability benefits add humiliation and genuine hardship to lives. Stuff and nonsense, says Tory Philip Davies, the disabled should offer to work for less than the minimum wage. Is this nice or nasty? You decide.

China does not recognise human rights and India ignores labour rights. Both countries tolerate appalling treatment of women, minorities, the poor, the socially and politically disenfranchised. The CBI and City firms admire and envy the voracious capitalism which is driving extraordinary economic growth in these nations. Their best friends, Cameron and Osborne, who are now in the saddle until 2015, will take us down this route and the Lib Dems will shut up and put up. Unfrock the new Tories and you see the ugliness. It's OK to totally loathe them once again. And boy does it feel good and right. For that I must thank Mrs May.



y.alibhai-brown@independent.co.uk

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