Farron slams Fallon’s human rights comments: “We do not win by joining terrorists in the gutter”

Strong words from Tim Farron, but the occasion warranted them.

The Tories’ cavalier attitude to our human rights laws has long been a worry. Now that they are in power on their own, unmoderated by Liberal Democrats, it’s a problem. Those human rights laws protect all of us from the abuse of power by governments, local authorities and anyone else with significant influence over our lives. Look at this 50 page document for professionals dealing with older people and you’ll see the huge array of protections that our parents and grandparents have.

The Tories would dearly love to get rid of these protections so they try to do it by arguing that they make troops less effective. The Telegraph reports the Defence Secretary Michael Fallon as saying:

We don’t need these ambulance-chasing British law firms,” he told The Sunday Telegraph. “It is not only extremely expensive but it inhibits the operational effectiveness of our troops because they start to worry about whether they will end up in a court or not.

This is nonsense for many, many reasons. Apart from anything else, being seen to be upholding the highest standards of human rights is a very, very good thing for our international reputation. It’s also not as if individual soldiers end up in court. That’s deliberately worded to make it sound like individual troops are going to end up in the dock under human rights legislation when in fact it’s the Ministry of Defence who would be sued in a civil court. Basically, Fallon doesn’t want to spend the money defending human rights cases. We need to be careful of that kind of logic. Elections are quite expensive things as well but they are a critical and essential part of our democracy. I’m very happy to pay for all citizens to have their human rights protected. The actual cost to each of us will be so tiny as to be inconsequential and is well worth paying. 

It’s a bit like David Cameron saying last week that we need to give armed police greater protection from being prosecuted when in fact there are very few prosecutions of police officers in these circumstances.

We can’t let the Tories undermine our basic rights like this. Tim Farron’s certainly determined to ride a coach and horses through their arguments, saying of Fallon’s comments:

Our armed forces are true heroes. These comments are amongst the worst kind of jingoistic rubbish I have ever heard.

Our soldiers are currently fighting extremism to protect values like freedom, democracy and civil liberties – the very human rights that others seek to extinguish. We do not win by joining such terrorists in the gutter by diminishing our own commitment to human rights. We win by being more tolerant, open and decent.

Our soldiers fought to protect our liberties, now some politicians are trying to hide behind them to strip us of our human rights.

This is absolutely what he should be saying. Any liberal is going to find the Tories’ attitude abhorrent, but we also need to reach out to those people who are going to be taken in by this nonsense and outline in very practical terms what suspension of our membership of the European Convention on Human Rights – because it’s not just dumping the Human Rights Act that Fallon is talking about – would mean for ordinary people in this country as well as the damage it would cause to our international reputation.

* Caron Lindsay is Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice and blogs at Caron's Musings

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19 Comments

  • Yes we should be saying this, but I wish we could cut out some of the aggressive rhetoric.

  • Maybe we should start upping the attack. Put it in simple terms. “The Tories want to remove your rights” and point out that for a party that claims to be claims to putting Britain first, they don’t actually seem to like the British people or British institutions like the NHS or the other nations that make up the UK. For that matter point out their main plan for protecting British troops appears to be making them redundant and embroiling the reduced number left in half baked military conflicts they can’t afford because of their incompetent chancellor.

  • On a national level we have become an irrelevance….David Milliband (remember him) gets more media attention than Tim Farron….
    The only chance of having any impact is to the constant anti-Labour/Corbyn rhetoric and look for common ground…..Vince Cable spoke on BBC’s Daily Politics last week and discussed, with Chris Mullin, the possibility of an anti-Tory political pact…Both participants spoke seriously about finding ‘common ground’ to defeat Tory policies…Both spoke against ‘tribal restrictions’ preventing agreements…Coverage on LDV…ZERO….

    .LDV seem, mainly, to have forgotten that there is an extreme right wing Tory government hell bent on destroying “liberal Britain”…

    BTW..John Marriott’s..”To make an impact, why not concentrate on trying to save local government, or doesn’t that lend itself to extravagant slogans?” is spot on…(I’ve been saying the same thing in umpteen posts)…

  • Thomas Shakespeare 27th Dec '15 - 11:51am

    @expats. We can do both. Local government impact & nationwide liberal messages are not mutually exclusive!

  • Eddie Sammon 27th Dec '15 - 6:25pm

    I’m immediately sympathetic to Michael Fallon’s accusation of “ambulance chasing law firms” in the area of human rights. I think he goes too far in calling for a temporary suspension of European Human Rights, but when you get people saying it is illegal to ban ISIS fighters from re-entering the country for two years then it seems you can’t touch a terrorist without some group saying it is illegal and trying to take you to court. We even have the Green Party trying to take Cameron to court.

  • @Eddie Sammon – who exactly is saying you can’t touch a terrorist? If anyone is convicted of terrorism-related offences then no one is stopping the judicial system from putting them in prison for their crimes.

    So, by “terrorist” do you mean someone that the Government (or Daily Mail) doesn’t like, but hasn’t actually been convicted of any crime?

    Or are you referring to not being able to deport people to countries where torture in commonplace?

  • Eddie Sammon 27th Dec '15 - 8:49pm

    Hi Nick, I’m specifically referring to lawyers who think banning British ISIS fighters from returning to the UK makes them stateless so is illegal:

    http://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2014/nov/14/uk-jihadists-citizenship-laws-human-rights

    A well known Scottish lawyer here made a similar argument, but didn’t quite say it was illegal:

    http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/home-news/un-sanctions-on-british-isis-members-family-of-aqsa-mahmood-describe-governments-move-as-useless-a6672616.html

    I think the whole area of human rights needs reform. Too much has become about the rights of either criminals or suspected criminals. When we are dealing with terrifying British soldiers with long prison sentences then it becomes very clear that it is a life and death situation and human rights should be for everyone, not mainly for criminals and suspects.

  • Eddie, the Guardian article sums it up nicely in the very first sentence. The Government wants to ban SUSPECTED jihadis from entering the country, and therefore making them stateless. This is not about banning proven or convicted terrorists. If there was evidence that they had committed crimes then they could be tried, convicted and locked up.

    Suspects have exactly the same rights as you and me, because they are innocent until proven guilty. This principle should be the cornerstone of any liberal democracy. To start banning, locking up, or even assasinating (as the UK Government has done this year) someone who is suspected of crimes, without trial, is very slippery slope……..

  • Eddie Sammon 27th Dec '15 - 10:38pm

    Nick Baird, very well put on innocent until proven guilty, but a way needs to be found of making the public feel safe when arrest isn’t possible.

  • Eddie, the way to make the public feel safer is for the Government to stop trying to whip up fear of terrorism at every opportunity. Honestly, how many people have been killed by terrorists in the UK in the last 10 years? Maybe 2, depending on your definition of terrorism.

    Did you know that more people in the UK are killed every year by bees and wasps than terrorists. Shall we ban and deport them too? And over 6000 people commit suicide, so we kill ourselves at a far higher rate.

    Fear of terrorism is overblown, and then used to justify all sorts of intrusive and illiberal laws.

  • Paris style attacks are unlikely in the Uk because of the scarcity of automatic weapons…Far more likely are 7/7 bomb attacks….Armed police will not stop such attacks…
    Even if a Paris attack took place what would be the effective armed response time…All Gendarmes are armed, and still 89 were killed in the Bataclan theatre….
    UK specialist Armed Response Units consist of three officers (three pistols and two carbines)….Any group of armed terrorists could easily wreak the same sort of mayhem before effective action was taken against them….

    We are dealing with people who are not just prepared to die but welcome death….Intelligence and prevention is the best and only real defence…

  • One answer to making people feel safe, Eddie. That is responsible reporting, with proper caveats built into fear-mongering. Or better still no unjustified fear mongering!

  • @Nick Baird
    “Honestly, how many people have been killed by terrorists in the UK in the last 10 years? Maybe 2, depending on your definition of terrorism.”

    And how many terror attacks have been foiled by the UK police in the last 10 years? About 50. Other countries with less effective security services have, unsurprisingly enough, seen far more people killed. The only reason you can be so blasé about the risk here in the UK is that we have been well protected, in some cases by laws that have been attacked by the same Liberals who tell us there’s nothing to worry about.

  • @Stuart
    I’m not denying that there is a risk, or that the police do excellent work in preventing attacks.

    I was taking issue with previous postings suggesting that we should water down the important and long held principle that people are innocent until proven guilty, in this case by banning British citizens from entry to this country and taking their passport because they are SUSPECTED of being a terrorist (rather than actually being convicted of being one).

    It remains the case that in this country we are very, very unlikely to be killed by terrorists, even with the “inconvenience” of the Human Rights Act. Throwing away such basic principles of our justice system are unlikely to make this low risk much lower.

  • Denis Loretto 29th Dec '15 - 10:56am

    Coming from Northern Ireland, I know that it is never easy to defend human rights legislation especially in times when people feel under threat from terrorism but there are few campaigns more important for Liberal Democrats to pursue.
    The day may well come when it is you or your friends or family who need the protection of our Human Rights Act. It may be clichéd but there is still great truth in Martin Niemöller’s powerful statement starting “First they came for the ……”

  • Joyce Onstad 20th Jan '16 - 5:54pm

    If there is one thing that the Liberal Democrats should exist for, and be known for, it is the defense of Human Rights!

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