Proper Gander: Right Whinger

If the Daily Mail made television programmes, they would probably look like BBC 2’s Rights Gone Wrong? This is a show designed to raise the collective blood pressure of that semi-fictitious breed of Little-Englander obsessed by ‘political correctness gone mad’. As its predictable title suggests, the show looks at whether our ‘human rights’ laws have become detached from the “decent mainstream majority”. Presenter Andrew Neil voices concerns that the European Convention on Human Rights is being used to take “away the rights of victims to protect the rights of people who don’t deserve them”.

Neil, with his permanent frown from years of indignation, tells us that the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) has drifted from its trusty British origins. He describes the instigator of the ECHR as “the greatest of great Britons”, “the man who saved Europe”: Winston Churchill. Ostensibly, these ‘human rights’ laws were first put together as a Europe-wide declaration against Nazism and the Soviet Union. But since then, according to Neil, they have been misused by distant judges and jobsworth lawyers. This yearning for the days when the ECHR was supposedly used responsibly goes hand-in-hand with being nostalgic for the days of routemaster buses and Magna Carta. Behind this dewy-eyed view often lurks xenophobia, which on this programme is directed towards European senior judges.

By describing the ‘human rights’ controversy as a conflict between Strasbourg diktats and ‘British common sense’, the programme misses the point. While it’s true that the controversy over ‘human rights’ legislation reflects the chasm between lawmakers and the general public, it also highlights how laws reinforce capitalist ideologies. But you wouldn’t find this interpretation in a show fronted by a right-wing whinger like Andrew Neil, the patron saint of patriots. Obviously Rights Gone Wrong? gives us little discussion of what we mean by ‘rights’, or the extent to which any ‘right’ is legitimate or really fulfilling within capitalism. Instead, Neil rhetorically asks if we want a new Human Rights Act “that is modern but quintessentially British – a sort of Kate Middleton or Daniel Craig of human rights laws”. Pitching the issue in this vacuous way is hardly likely to improve the debate.

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