Leading article: Mr Cameron's act of folly

Click to follow

Since he became Conservative leader, David Cameron has - wisely - distanced himself from much of the disastrous manifesto on which his party fought the last general election. But in an interview yesterday, he seemed to recommit himself to one of its most absurd promises.

The Tory leader claims that if the Conservatives were elected, they would consider getting rid of the Human Rights Act. According to Mr Cameron, the Act has hindered the fight against crime and terrorism, in particular by preventing the deportation of foreign terror suspects.

Such talk has a weary familiarity. The Government has been criticising the Act for the very same reasons of late. Tony Blair has indicated that he is prepared to pass new laws to prevent the legislation being used by the courts to overrule the Government. Naturally, Mr Cameron has attempted to present some differences between his own thoughts and those of the Prime Minister. Mr Blair has not yet suggested a "British Bill of Rights" to replace the Act. Mr Cameron is also clearly worried about sounding too extreme. He stresses that he is not proposing to withdraw Britain from the European Convention on Human Rights (which the Human Rights Act incorporated into UK law), or to prevent people pursuing individual cases at the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg. But the depressing truth is that both the Government and the Opposition are now clearly sharpening their knives for the Act.

This is disappointing, especially from the Conservatives. The natural instinct of the Tories surely ought to be to stand up for the individual against the state, something that the Human Rights Act encourages. Mr Cameron's suggestion for a new Bill of Rights also makes little sense. It is hard to conceive of anything that Mr Cameron's "panel of eminent lawyers and constitutional experts" could draw up that would look substantially different from the existing Convention on Human Rights. And if the Conservatives stopped short of withdrawing from the Convention, the European code will still ultimately override domestic British legislation. Contentious cases such as those of foreign terror suspects under threat of deportation would still end up being decided in Strasbourg. If the Tory leader regards the present legal situation as an impediment to the proper functioning of the criminal justice system, it is hard to see how anything he is proposing would make much difference.

By attacking the Human Rights Act, Mr Cameron is not only blurring the signal that the Tories have changed, he is helping Mr Blair to make the Act into a scapegoat for the failings of the Government. It is impossible to see how either is in his interests.