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September 19th, 2004


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04:27 pm - Convince me! Educate me! Beat me!
Hallo, all! Had a wonderful time in Boston with dezzikitty who I love even more than ever. I look forward to making a post about it. However, it will take a while to write, whether it is very long or merely highly edited, so I have been shying away from it a little and continue to do so. My life is happy at the moment, on balance, despite some massive (in several cases, some of the largest that can be imagined and considered realistic) challenges for me and the ones I care about deeply.

There was a worthwhile general knowledge quiz in The Times last week with a strong British cultural slant. The questions were frequently tricky or esoteric, but many of them were satisfyingly difficult while remaining just possible. In short, I considered it the most interesting such quiz that I have encountered for a while. I scored 22/75 - and even that was scoring one question correct for which I disagreed with the printed answer. (This score should be pretty easy to beat for folks in my Friends list, not least because you are - in the main - extremely knowledgeable.) Fans of the genre, particularly British ones, may well enjoy the questions, the answers and the commentary thereupon. Usual caveats for pages from The Times: the links are likely to expire on Wednesday, may require free subscription from within the UK and may require non-free subscription from without the UK.

So to the meat of the post. Some people who (and whose opinions) I respect greatly on my Friends list are posting strong attacks on George W. Bush based on his record and attitudes towards gay marriage, and that has got me thinking.

I consider myself a reasonable man. I consider myself neither conservative nor Conservative and will tend to vote for the Liberal Democrats, sometimes the Green Party, sometimes Labour. (I did vote for a now-deceased Conservative councillor once, but she proved herself a highly effective and obliging public servant in our one direct interaction with her.) Additionally, I like to consider myself open-minded and somewhat empathetic towards minority rights. I am (to some extent) able to recognise and despise bigoted and prejudiced behaviour, and I get upset when I recognise it within myself and seek to change it. To translate my experiences into a form with which most of my Friends list are familiar, my enjoyment of the UK game show fandom - probably my core fandom at heart - has been distinctly diminished by the fact that someone who has been accepted as a Big Name Fan is a comedian who has no compunction about cracking many jokes I consider distasteful and backing them up with attitudes and self-justifications I cannot accept.

All well, good and self-aggrandizing. Here's the crux of the matter.

Much as I have some understanding of some minority rights issues and support for some minority rights causes, I do not feel that human rights and civil liberties are by far and away the most important single issues in politics today. If it were to come down to it, I really would be prepared to overlook a political party's views on human rights if I were strongly in favour of their economic policies relative to the others on offer.

Indeed, I have a vague perception that in the relatively few occasions where charities have offended me with the message that they are trying to promote, they have been human rights and civil liberties ones. (This is so non-specific to be almost meaningless, I fear, but it's the way I feel.)

What am I missing? Why am I wrong? Why are human rights and civil liberties not just a reasonably important issue but by far and away the most important issues in politics today? What do I fail to understand? Why should I be an activist?

Challenge my assumptions! Convince me! Educate me, please!
Current Mood: hopefulopen-minded
Current Music: Something running through my head, haven't a clue what it is

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Comments:


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[User Picture]
From:klepsydra
Date:September 19th, 2004 09:33 am (UTC)
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I might be prepared to forgive Bush for his stance on human rights if it weren't for his trampling roughshod over every single environmental issue he can get his size-11s on the top of. At the end of the day a human life is one thing, the whole damn planet is every human and animal life ever.
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From:beingjdc
Date:September 19th, 2004 09:43 am (UTC)
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aol...
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From:jiggery_pokery
Date:September 19th, 2004 09:51 am (UTC)
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Oh dear. Given that you are about the only person who has been able to mention the existence of the Human Rights Act to me in a way that I could understand was clearly relevant to my situation, I was hoping that you would be able to help me understand here.
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From:thegraybook
Date:September 19th, 2004 09:48 am (UTC)
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If it were to come down to it, I really would be prepared to overlook a political party's views on human rights if I were strongly in favour of their economic policies relative to the others on offer.

Er. I think first we'd have to agree that there's a tipping point, right? If there's not, and a political party's views on human rights are always less important to you than their economic policies, then there's no reason not to vote for Hitler, is there? In fact, there's no reason not to vote for Hitler even if you're a Jew. I know I'm invoking Godwin's law here, but I'm just trying to point out that at some point human rights had better matter to you on the voting front.
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From:jiggery_pokery
Date:September 19th, 2004 09:57 am (UTC)
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at some point human rights had better matter to you on the voting front.

Oh, they do at some point, and it's definitely possible for some positions to be so egregious that voting for the parties involved is unconscionable.

As a practical British example: I would rule out voting for the BNP based on what I understand their human rights position to be; I wouldn't rule out voting for the Conservative Party based solely on what I understand their human rights policies to be, though I can't see myself voting for them based partly on what I understand their human rights position to be and rather more on what I understand their economic position to be.

However, human rights and civil liberties are not my #1 priority, and I don't feel I know either why they're not or why they should be.
(Deleted comment)
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From:missingdonut
Date:September 19th, 2004 09:51 am (UTC)
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The thing that you're missing is that civil rights issues are the most important issue that the two candidates don't materially agree on. Really, Kerry is not likely to do much that Bush wouldn't do on the "War on Iraq," and both candidates will fail to exercise any type of fiscal responsibility. So it comes down to the moderately-important civil rights, and we finally have a difference between the two.

Civil rights are more important than the economy -- realize that the President in the American political system has very little power over the economy. They can soften a blow (consequently, they can make it worse) and create policies that make the high points of the economy slightly higher, but the economic cycle is tough to regulate.
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From:jiggery_pokery
Date:September 19th, 2004 10:05 am (UTC)
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The thing that you're missing is that civil rights issues are the most important issue that the two candidates don't materially agree on.

Is this really felt to be identifiably true? If so, then I really was missing that point and thank you for bringing it to me.

However, perhaps I'm being really shallow here and I trust you to call me on it if I am, but I think it is important to a country to have a leader who can be respected abroad, and interpret this as a strike against Bush in the USA (and one against certain past unsuccessful Conservative party leaders in the UK). Not as important to me as eliminating some of the more egregious stances against civil rights George W. Bush has taken - another strike against the party - but definitely important to some extent.
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From:hermorrine
Date:September 19th, 2004 10:04 am (UTC)
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Okay, you asked for it. I'm going to assume that this post was prompted by a number of posts talking about Bush's stance on gay rights, so that's what I'm going to explain to you.

I want you to try to imagine that instead of being one half of a heterosexual couple who could marry someday, you were instead part of a gay couple and you're living in the US (this is because I'm not familiar enough with laws in the UK, although I think things are very similar). You love each other very much, live together, build lives together.

You decide together that you'd like to have a child. Unfortunately, no matter how it happens (one of you impregnates a friend, or you manage to adopt) only one of you can be that child's legal guardian. I hope you can see the problems inherent in that without me having to spell them out.

Another example: one of you becomes ill and has to go in the hospital, so ill that the person is unconscious and can't tell anyone what they want. You go to the hospital but because your partner cannot tell them and you are not considered family, you are not allowed in your partner's hospital room nor are you allowed to tell the doctors what sort of care your partner wants to receive. Your partner's niece shows up and, being actual family, is allowed to make these decisions and makes ones you know your partner does not want. There is nothing you can do.

Now I will state that some of the above can be mitigated by having special legal documents drawn up, but the point is, married people don't have to worry about these things. They automatically have these rights once they are married.

To me, these things are important enough that I really could not care less about economic policies or anything else (except abortion rights, but again, I'm completely opposite Bush on that, too). Economics, to me, are not something to even judge a candidate on because over the years of my life, with both Republicans and Democrats in office, there hasn't been a huge difference in how the country has done monetarily. In fact, I believe both of the recessions we've had that I can remember came under Republicans, so I can't see how anyone would think they were better on that. Maybe they talk about it better, but talk is cheap.

Did any of this help?
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From:jiggery_pokery
Date:September 19th, 2004 10:19 am (UTC)
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Thank you. That is spelling it out loud and clearly and definitely the sort of thing I'm after.

I'm not sure that I do draw the same conclusion (i.e., the first sentence of your second last paragraph) as you from the same information and I'm not even sure that getting to very closely befriend a person in either of the situations you mention would necessarily make it my #1 priority in deciding where my vote would go. I want to put a sentence justifying this, but find I can't think of one - and yet my opinion still holds, which is worrying.

I also hope you know that I do take gay rights very seriously, probably slightly more seriously than I take minority rights for many other minorities - for instance, I know I have much to learn about taking the rights of people with disabilities seriously - and that I take minority rights more seriously than other issues of human rights and civil liberties like the right to privacy and the right to freedom of speech.

Happily, I'm not - and wouldn't even if I could! - go voting for Bush in contrast to what you say, but our votes against what Bush stands for are for different reasons.
[User Picture]
From:imc
Date:September 19th, 2004 10:08 am (UTC)

may require free subscription

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To go off on another subject entirely, I wonder why it is that the Times Online's web site isn't willing to serve me any pages without cookies enabled, claiming I need them in order to register, when in fact I don't need to register at all if I let them set a cookie.
[User Picture]
From:jiggery_pokery
Date:September 19th, 2004 12:27 pm (UTC)

Re: may require free subscription

(Link)
I could claim this is why I used the word "may", but in truth it was simply because I couldn't remember whether it did or not.

Has an alternative to the much-missed bugmenot arisen yet? Oh, that's back up - I thought it had been taken down.
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From:catalana
Date:September 19th, 2004 10:20 am (UTC)
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It's also worth noting that it's not just *one* human rights issue he's trampling on. So it's not just gay marriage, it's also abortion rights, war in Iraq, freedom from insane Patriot Act infringements, and sex education issues. These are all rights issues that he is bad on. (Just off the top of my head and I agree with one of the other posters that, no, we won't talk about environmental stuff.)

Now, it's true that I can vote for people who I disagree with on human rights issues; I am in the somewhat tricky position of being fiscally conservative (although frankly that's changing these days - after watching our health care system fall apart, I'm a lot more interested in socialized health care than I once was) and socially liberal. So I've often voted for Republicans that I thought had good financial plans and somewhat iffy social plans. It's just a matter of prioritizing.

However, despite having voted for him last time, I'm definitely in the (almost) Anybody But Bush corner. I don't like Kerry, but Bush is much worse; I'm not sure if he has any policies that I agree with any more.

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From:jiggery_pokery
Date:September 19th, 2004 02:52 pm (UTC)
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I salute you for your honesty, when the audience is so polarised in one direction which doesn't coincide with yours, and for being open-minded enough to change your mind.

There are so many of my Friends you'd like, I'm convinced of it!
[User Picture]
From:imc
Date:September 19th, 2004 10:51 am (UTC)

OK, I did the quiz

(Link)
… and I, too, scored 22/75. Couple of lucky guesses and possibly also a couple of silly mistakes. Certainly my French painter and champion football team were picked almost at random and just happened to be the right ones, but I misread "in what century…" as "in what country…" and so was rather confused when I saw the official answer.
[User Picture]
From:jiggery_pokery
Date:September 19th, 2004 02:57 pm (UTC)

Re: OK, I did the quiz

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Good quiz, isn't it? I got a surprise plus on the French painter and a surprise minus on the resistance law question. Thought it was named after the wrong scientist for whom one of the units in question is named...
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From:zorac
Date:September 19th, 2004 11:06 am (UTC)
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Well, for starters, the economy is IMO a poor choice - both sides of the political spectrum have managed to bugger that up fairly thoroughly. In any case, it's an area where there are a large number of external factors - certainly the government can make things worse or better, but I'm sure it's only a matter of degrees between mainstream parties.

Human rights and civil liberties on the other hand, a government's policies can have vastly more direct and immediate effect upon. It's also an area where there's a slippery slope - say a party espoused disenfranhising women, recriminalising homosexuality or bringing back apartheid? Surely you wouldn't vote for such a party, no matter how good their economic policies. So where do you draw the line?

Big Brother Government would love to be able to watch what everyone is doing, every hour of every day. For our security, naturally. But as Benjamin Franklin said, "They who would give up an essential liberty for temporary security, deserve neither liberty or security."

Unscupulous politicians love to play the card of opressing an unpopular minority to increase their pupularity, and they must not be allowed to get away with it. But what might Bush's next step be? Might he plan some Final Solution to the Gay Problem?

You only need look at history to see the lengths that people are willing to go to - or have to go to - to improve human rights and civil liberties. The Suffragettes, Martin Luther King and Nelson Mandela to name but a few. When was the last time there was a martyr to the cause of changing economic policy?

These issues are the most important ones in politics today because if we as voters don't have a zero-tolerance policy then our rights and freedoms will suffer the death of a thousand cuts until we are under continuous serveillence and anyone from any minority is a second-class citizen.
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From:jiggery_pokery
Date:September 19th, 2004 06:20 pm (UTC)
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I'm going to either confuse everyone or reveal complete ignorance by saying that while the Conservatives were in power, they were doing a very difficult job with the economy quite well under difficult conditions imposed upon them by external factors, and while Labour have been in power, I think that they have been doing a very difficult job with the economy quite well under difficult conditions imposed upon them by external factors. I guess I'm just a very soft touch, but I am squealing in joy about the massive increase in public spending (while having very little informed opinion about which party's policies would result in the same amount of money being spent more effectively).

(Taxation seems almost impossibly difficult to me: much as there are certain taxes I would like to increase, or certain aspects of society which I feel are not paying sufficient tax, I do not have a good solution to eliminate or reduce legitimate tax avoidance, such as people moving to another country with a lower tax burden.)

I don't like "slippery slope" arguments. (Yes, I occasionally do use them myself!) Admittedly sometimes they are well-founded, but often they are not; I fear I will need more convincing that (say) a few extra CCTV cameras here and a few more speeding cameras there will lead to extremities of authoritarianism. Personally I would welcome a few more cameras here and there and trust the abilities of the political system to examine whether we want to extend things further or put a stop to our expansion at every stage. (Is this naive?)

So where do you draw the line?

Well, in practice, the BNP have gone far enough to cross my line, so I agree that a line does exist for me and can be crossed.

I've heard the Benjamin Franklin quote and neither understand why it's true nor accept it as an article of faith. In short, I don't believe it. Anyone, please convince me: why should I believe it? (I know you won't assume that I believe the opposite is true.) I have admitted in the above that I am more interested in theoretical politics than concrete history, but this may be a case where a history lesson or two is worthwhile - an old saw about being doomed to repeat history is springing to mind at this point...
[User Picture]
From:karen2205
Date:September 19th, 2004 11:51 am (UTC)
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Poke me to come and say something about this at some point - too busy to do so right now.
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From:addedentry
Date:September 19th, 2004 12:18 pm (UTC)

Rights? Nonsense on stilts!

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Human rights and civil liberties are far from the most important issues in British politics today because we have so many rights and liberties. (One could draw a line from Magna Carta via the Great Reform Act, women's suffrage, Roy Jenkins' reforms in the 1960s to the Human Rights Act, but that would be naively Whiggish.)

They are loud and divisive issues, however. This is because they are absolutes. They are therefore easy to sloganeer about and, in a sense, simple to achieve: equalising the age of consent for gay sex took an Act of Parliament, but preventing gay children from being bullied in school is rather trickier, and taking children out of poverty harder still.

The language of rights has a middle-class skew to it. Rights tend to be abstract, one might even say 'costless' (right to due process of law, as Blunkett has denied under the Prevention of Terrorism Acts; freedom of assembly, as foxhunters seek to preserve; freedom of religion, as the French headscarf ban has threatened).

The European Convention on Human Rights does not include the right to work, the right to a home, or the right to medical treatment. Would you feel comfortable espousing these rights?

(Good quiz. 35/70, which disappointed me.)
[User Picture]
From:meggitymeg
Date:September 19th, 2004 02:10 pm (UTC)

Re: Rights? Nonsense on stilts!

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Human rights and civil liberties are far from the most important issues in British politics today because we have so many rights and liberties.

Exactly. And until we Americans can say the same, I'm certainly not going to be voting for *anyone* based on their economic views.
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From:elvie
Date:September 19th, 2004 02:23 pm (UTC)
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Just wanted to say I'm enjoying this thread a lot. It's rare someone admits they don't know EVERYTHING and asks for education - and asks intelligent questions which elicit intelligent answers.

Thanks for asking those questions :)
[User Picture]
From:jiggery_pokery
Date:September 19th, 2004 02:48 pm (UTC)
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Thank you, how kind! [1]

You and me both. I asked for edjumacation and I'm certainly getting it.

[1] resists gratuitous political namedrop
[User Picture]
From:bateleur
Date:September 20th, 2004 12:06 am (UTC)

A slightly different aspect...

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Lots of good analysis from others already, but here's a quick side-issue which makes a big difference to me personally:

In the sphere of politics, I think people are much too quick to accept the idea that all political parties who work within the law have positions that are somehow acceptable opinions. In civilized society, we debate political issues hotly, but always with a certain air of politeness that says "Of course, sir, I understand your views. Wrong as you are, I respect your right to hold them !".

However, we don't have to look back far into history to see things that don't fit this pattern. In restrospect, we are quite good at pointing to things and saying: That is not merely a poor strategy, it is immoral, unjust, evil, unacceptable.

Because of the nature of democracy, I think we lose sight of that a bit.

But I still draw a distinction. I look at something like the Poll Tax or the privatization of the railways and shake my head sadly, thinking "Silly, silly conservatives !". But where some human rights issues are concerned, I sometimes look at things a different way. Some rights are not political fair game. In effect, the coarse, clumsy nature of the voting system enables people to cast what appears to be a fair and rational vote for a democratic party whilst actually supporting thoroughly antisocial ideals. When this happens, it is bad and I resent the way that this behaviour is given a kind of legitimacy by its political context.
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From:meggitymeg
Date:September 20th, 2004 08:38 am (UTC)

Re: A slightly different aspect...

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Some rights are not political fair game.

This is *exactly* what I mean. In a country founded in large part on freedom of religion (which should include "freedom *from* religion") and the separation of church and state, subjecting the right of all Americans to participate in civil unions based on a personal religious belief is just not *right*. I don't recall ever seeing any legislation that says a church or religious group has to recognize a gay marriage, or that gay couples have to have a church wedding. So why do anti-gay-marriage legislators refuse to allow gay couples the same *civil* rights as are legally afforded to straight couples? It's not like the majority of anti-gay-marriage people are supportive of civil unions, either. It's all or nothing to these idiots.
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From:ewx
Date:September 20th, 2004 10:27 am (UTC)
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Do you think anything at all is by far and away the most important single issue in politics?
[User Picture]
From:jiggery_pokery
Date:September 20th, 2004 10:56 am (UTC)
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By far and away the most important? Probably not for me, but it does seem to be the case for many.

If I have to pick a single issue, I pick the one that can't be in any of the manifestos: whether you trust the party in question to respond well to events outside their control but which nevertheless affect the UK strongly that develop over their term.
From:daweaver
Date:September 20th, 2004 10:54 am (UTC)

Response 1/3

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That Times quiz. Much as I hate to give praise to a Murdoch organ, they do know how to write a challenging set of questions. Those nice* people at Century Quiz could learn a hell of a lot. (I'll keep the questions and answers saved locally for a few weeks, if anyone misses / missed them.)

That GS fan. From my point of view, I distinguish between those who say a lot, and those who say something worth listening to, and do my damndest to fall into the latter category. These are often, but not always, divergent sets. Those people who seem to be accepted members of the group may actually be tolerated-to-ignored.

I'm loosely tempted to say that if you want to challenge him in public, go ahead; however, I know from experience that these things can degenerate into flame wars very quickly, and I may not be able to add support in an appropriately timely manner. As you may know, my response tends to be a little slower, a little more carefully thought-out. A subject I've banged on about, and that I'll be returning to in the next Week, is that the best situation game shows reflect and encourage the diversity of society, and quietly preach a tolerant message. Look for beauty and you will find it.

The politics stuff. Again, I can see where you're coming from here. Off the top of my head, the biggest things that will influence my vote next year are:
1) Global warming (against it);
2) Pension reform (for it, but not for our parents' generation passing the buck to us);
3) A broad range of poverty and immigration matters under the broad heading of Social justice (this includes the identity database);
4) European integration (for it, probably more than any party on the ballot will be);
5) An avowedly anti-car transport policy.

Where do human rights fall into this? Not very far - last week's CRISIS COMMAND suggested that global warming could impinge on all the rights, and the other matters impinge on civil liberties. In this discussion, I'll lump civil liberties in with human rights. It's emotive, but distinguishing them is more hassle than this discussion's worth.

Let me bring back Laslow's hierarchy of human needs. First comes life, then shelter, food, water. Then family, work, peaceful living; only right at the apex of the pyramid do we get to the matters on my list above. Human rights guarantee the basic needs, the things that people need to function as individuals, and for a basic society to work. I can concentrate on these higher preferences because I feel secure that the lower needs are going to be met in full.

In some countries - parts of the Sudan, for example - these basic needs are not met. In others - Burma, North Korea - the basic survival is assured, but there are none of the freedoms we value - the higher wants are not being addressed.

It's a fact that Mr Bush's country would not meet the standards required for admission to the European Union, as it still executes criminals. One could argue, and many learned scholars took just this position in the 1950s, that killing people through the judicial process denies the fundamental right to life.

Why are human rights and civil liberties not just a reasonably important issue but by far and away the most important issues in politics today? What do I fail to understand?

Even in the Kerry-X campaign, human rights do not seem to be the most important matter on the table. There's the pisspoor economic record of the Republicans, there's the matter of trust over the whole Iraq affair, the spectre of global warming, and that's just for starters. Homosexual marriage is a red herring, a distraction from the main matter at hand.

On a point of elucidation regarding hermorrine's comment above, the Civil Partnerships bill - currently caught in legislative limbo between the Commons and Lords - would bring these rights to any couple in a stable same-sex relationship who asked for them. The dispute between the two chambers is whether these rights should be available to any couple of the same sex. My gut feeling is that the Lords will allow the bill to pass in the Commons' preferred form; this may not happen before the next election. [ctd]
From:daweaver
Date:September 20th, 2004 10:55 am (UTC)

Re: Response 2/3

(Link)
Why do I feel like M Fermat, for whom the comment boxes of the Principia were never wide enough?

don't really know what the disadvantages would be in practice of (say) any of the forms closer to PR promoted by the Electoral Reform Society.

That, I suggest, would be a whole other volume in and of itself. When I start channelling the spirit of Bob MacKenzie, I'll look into this further.

a National Health Service to the extent that we have in the UK could be put in place without a tax (or more to the point, tax and National Insurance) burden

Or, to be strictly accurante, a general tax and hypothecated tax. National Insurance is a tax, at least notionally for health and pensions.

I've been looking for details of relative tax-to-income proportions in different countries - calculation of the day of the year when theoretically you stop earning money for the government and start earning for yourself - but can't find the snappy title that I know exists.

The low-tax Tax Foundation declares "Tax Freedom Day." According to their calculations, this date fell on 11 April 2004, compared with a historic high of 2 May 2000. The organisation's website contains a forty year graphic; eyeballing that graph suggests the "natural" date moved from around April 18 to April 21 during the Reagan administration of vast government growth. I also note that the organisation suggests tax take tended to fall during recessions, which makes me suspicious that they're measuring the right variables.

The corresponding UK figure - compiled by the Adam Smith Institute - is 30 May 2004; the latest since ejection from the ERM was 3 June in 1999 and 2001, the earliest 21 May 1993. Current spending patterns date back to the oil shock in 1973, since when the date has varied in a fairly narrow band around 1 June.

On some of Mr addedentry's points:

Magna Carta Large document signed by King John at Runnymede, 1215, after losing a heated game of Ludo to Guy of Gisbourne. Important because it put the King below the Law. Not as important as it might be because later monarchs - at least until the Reformation, perhaps until the Glorious Revolution, or even the accession of George I - tended to act as though they weren't actually above the law. Indeed, the Burrell trial of 2002 was a precedent for the current monarch to act as if she's above the law.

Great Reform Act 1832. Drew sensible constituency boundaries for the time. Paved the way for later introduction of the secret ballot, and the franchise extension from landowners to all men in the (Not-quite-so-great because the basic principles had been established in the 30s) Reform Act of 1867.

women's suffrage Extension of the above, 1918-30.

Roy Jenkins' reforms in the 1960s Allowing no-fault divorce, abortion, legalising male homosexual relationships, reducing censorship in public life. These were fiercely-contested matters at the time, but had become such a part of the social fabric that the Heath government of 1970 made no attempt to reverse them.

naively Whiggish Not sure about this one - "Whig" seems to be a term synonymous with a progressive / reformist policy and the protection of civil liberties.

Rights tend to be abstract, one might even say 'costless'

In another place, I've half-argued that the ECHR has effectively become part of the UK constitution, and one of the very few written parts. While the rights themselves are abstract, their expression into law is concrete. Had the ECHR been incorporated during (say) the Wilson government, I suspect that it would have become as firmly entrenched as the other 60s reforms, and Plunkett would not have dared suspend its provisions for his own ends. [there's more!]

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