The August Riots in England will of course provide fertile ground for a lot of commentary. Perhaps some commentary will point to a degrading ‘Broken Britain’ as a consequence of 30 years of individualism and profit seeking that has made poverty commonplace yet dishonourable.
This comment is aimed however at more immediate concerns. It has been said that a good crisis should not go to waste. Our government has proved adept in making the best use of crises so far to pursue its ideological agenda. It should however be prevented from capturing the debate relating to the riots.
The Conservative party has a stated desire to ‘amend’ the Human Rights Act. Based partly on misunderstanding and partly on covert strategy, it sees human rights as an impediment to effective social control. In an ironic way this mirrors the behaviour of New Labour that preached human rights while at the same time significantly undermined civil liberties.
The replacement of the Human Rights Act with a charter of rights and responsibilities will be a massive retrograde step for Britain on two fronts. First, human rights are an anti-state discourse whereby the rights of the individual are asserted against intrusion by the state. This is incompatible with the idea of ‘responsibilities’ as hinted by the government. Secondly, amending the enabling legislation of the European Convention of Human Rights is likely to cause significant constitutional problems, considering that the ECHR is a matter of domestic law via EU law, as well as a matter of international law.
Dreadful examples of social disintegration like the August riots need to be met by improving standards of human decency and civil cooperation. Allowing an anti-libertarian agenda to benefit from the thoughtless works of bands of criminals will do as much to prevent fixing ‘Broken Britain’ as the acts of vandalism themselves.
Dr. Ioannis Glinavos
Associate Lecturer, The Open University