Wednesday, 3 November 2010

Votes for prisoners: another string to the extremists' bow

Nottingham Prison: not cozy enough for you? How about a vote?
I'm not a person prone to melodrama, but the Government's decision today to bow to the European Court of Human Rights' (ECHR) ruling on votes for prisoners had me with my head in my hands. It's not that the thought of murderers, rapists and paedophiles deciding the Government of this country deeply offends me; nor that I felt nauseous watching a man convicted of hacking his landlady to death with an axe celebrating with 'champagne and a spliff.'

What concerns me the most is I believe I have just witnessed the final death of the British constitution. We English have always taken pride in bringing the rule of law to the world - the idea that no citizen, not even the legislators, of a nation are above the law. That any legislation passed must be in accordance with the constitution, which is protected from political interference by an independent judiciary. It is also a system based on negative, rather than positive law - i.e. only what you cannot do rather than abstract rights concerning what you can do.

In the United States, this concept was fine-tuned to near-inviolable perfection by the Founding Fathers. But while the Americans have a written, clear and concise constitution to refer to, in Britain we do not. As such, this makes it exceptionally easy to defile. It has become, in effect, become whatever Parliament declares it to be, which is about as far from the aforementioned principle as you can get.

A consequence of this is that Parliament has been free not only to allow laws from outside the United Kingdom to have jurisdiction here, but to actually give them supremacy over decisions made by British judges and politicians. There are those that argue this is technically treason. Indeed, the UK's accession to the Council of Europe in 1950 was the first time any foreign authority had jurisdiction over these shores since Henry VIII broke ties with Rome in 1534.

That decision laid the foundation for our whole concept of the nation state - that political decisions ought to be made by those elected by the British people and those alone; that no legislation contrary to the law of this land be passed and that this law be protected by an independent British judiciary.

Of course, this is anathema to the European Union, whose repeated promises never to infringe upon the rights and independence of nation states have been shown by the passage of time to be blatant lies. But the trouble is, this has nothing to do with the EU. The ECHR is an organ of the Council of Europe, which an entirely separate organisation and, unlike the EU, does not even have a Parliament by which the citizens of its constituent nations can voice their concerns.

This means the rage of both Labour and Conservative MPs, not the mention the British people, will go unheard and unheeded. Even the prime minister of this country has said the thought of giving murderers the vote makes him 'physically ill', yet we are told there is nothing we can do about it.

The politicians hate it, the lawyers hate it and the people hate it. But we are told that leaving the European Convention on Human Rights is impossible and that we shall just have to live with the fact that our Parliament and courts are completely impotent against this entirely unaccountable body.

What madness is this? Well, I worry it resembles very closely the madness seen in Europe during the interwar years. It was not long after the imposition of the Treaty of Versailles in 1919 that people began to realise they had made a mistake in shackling Germany to such punitive reparations and loss of sovereignty.

The Germans, naturally, hated it from the beginning - they rightly contested the absurdity that they should be held entirely responsible for the war, both in moral and monetary terms. They also opposed the limits on their armed forces as an infringement of their sovereignty and deeply hurtful to German national pride. The Treaty was very unpopular with British politicians and voters and, by the 1920s, the revanchist French were about the only people supporting it.

Despite this, the very simple solution of unilaterally abandoning a treaty that everybody believed to be punitive, unfair and self-defeating was seen as impossible. As it was beyond discussion and beyond negotiation, the cause was left to the lunatic fringe. As it turned out, repeal of the Treaty of Versailles became the Nazi party's most effective recruitment tool and vote winner.

The silencing of any debate on immigration and the EU are today what Versailles was in the 1920s. The BNP are entirely aware of this and will exploit it in every way possible to attain power. They will do so not to protect democracy, but to destroy it. If David Cameron is serious about democracy and popular sovereignty, his government will grow some balls, leave the European Convention on Human Rights and hold a referendum on Britain's continued membership of the EU. It troubles me to say this but I shan't be holding my breath.