Is Labour really the natural home for those concerned about human rights?

 

I read the report by Shami Chakrabarti into alleged racism in the Labour Party over the weekend.  It’s a good report and an interesting read for a number of reasons – but I was looking for lessons for our Party.

What particularly struck me was that right upfront she explains why she joined the Labour Party as soon as she was appointed to lead the Inquiry. She states that she has always supported and voted for the Labour Party but that her various jobs (Civil Servant and then Director of Liberty) required her to be non-Party political.  She goes on to say that Labour is however the natural home for anybody concerned about human rights, that all significant legislative improvements in human rights in this country have happened on Labour’s watch, and that Labour has consistently been the first Party to accommodate immigrant voices and to achieve significant support among successive waves of immigrants -whether they be Jewish, Irish, BAME.

Of course she also mentions some of the terrible legislation which was introduced by Labour Governments.

Yet according to the testimony received by my Inquiry and published by various contributors online, there have also been incidences of overt antisemitism, Islamophobia and other forms of racism in the Party over the years. There has been occasional resort to disparaging ethnic stereotyping (including but not exclusively of Jewish people) and even racially discriminatory legislation in the form of the Commonwealth Immigrants Act 1968 designed to prevent East African Asians from coming to the United Kingdom.

The years following the Twin Towers atrocity in New York in September 2001 and the London bombings of July 2005 saw the Labour Government’s support for the War on Terror at home and abroad. The Iraq War, punishment without charge or trial and the domestic extremism agenda left many British Muslims feeling suspect and alienated in their natural political home.

The only Home Secretary who I have ever admired in office was Roy Jenkins who produced a raft of liberal measures – at that time in the Labour Party but later in his more natural home as a Lib Dem.  James Callaghan was responsible for the above mentioned Commonwealth Immigrants Act, David Blunkett introduced some of the worst limitations on civil liberties when he was Home Secretary, and I remember Alan Johnson most for his determination to send an Asperger’s sufferer to the US to stand trial.  Going back to the 60’s, the failure of Wilson and Callaghan to recognise and deal with the discrimination against Catholics in Norther Ireland arguably led to the explosion of anger and the “troubles” that followed for nearly 30 years.

People with human rights concerns might feel that Labour has a better chance of being in government and so it is best to support them.  If Shami has chosen Labour for that reason then this is very disappointing for Liberal Democrats who admire her – we even voted for her as Liberal Voice of the year in 2007!

Anecdotally, I hear young people in particular saying that Labour is the natural home for people who are concerned about human rights at home and abroad.  During the 2015 General Election they deserted us – partly because of tuition fees but also because we had nothing really to say to them. My impression of new members in my local association, who have joined since Brexit, is that internationalism and human rights are high up their list of priorities.  The even greater flood of new members to the Labour Party appears to be in part influenced by similar concerns.

We have a Conservative government that shows careless regard for civil rights at home, that is only mildly critical of the human rights abuses of those to whom we sell arms – Israel, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain etc  –  and that is still leaving unaccompanied children in the Calais jungle in spite of Tim Farron’s best efforts.  We have a Labour Party in disarray and with a fairly bad track record on human rights issues at home and abroad.  This presents a real need and an opportunity for the Party that says the right things on most human rights issues – to be clearly and consistently out in front and in a joined up way.  Sadly that’s not the case at present and the upcoming Conference Agenda doesn’t really tackle human rights or internationalism at all.

* John Kelly is a member in Warwick District, Secretary of the Lib Dem Friends of Palestine, and a member of the Federal International Relations Committee.

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33 Comments

  • The report was supposed to about anti-Semitism. She managed to avoid the issue entirely by concluding; anti-Semistism, Islamophobia, it’s a wash! Hardly useful since it’s the Islamists and other ‘friends of Palestine’ that were supposed to be investigated for their overt anti-Semitism in the first place.

    But never mind, the wider problem is that Liberals will have to get to grips with the idea that they need to take votes from disaffected Tories as well as Labour. We won’t do that by following the Labour party down the pro-Islam, anti-Israel mire of hypocrisy.

  • The lib Dems had/have their own problem with anti Semitism and really in both cases it’s more down to the Palestine situation mingling with unhealthy rhetoric about Zionism. A lot of this also mingles with identity politics which has a kind of top trumps ordering of victimhood that sometimes means very illiberal groups are able to get a platform within the progressive fold.

  • @ Glenn It is not anti-semitic to be concerned about the Palestine situation.

    Perhaps you’d like to tell us what your stance is on the issue ?

  • I never said it was, but I it it can lead to excusing clearly ant-Semitic groups like Hamas . Jenny Tonge being a prime example.
    I support a separate Palestinian state and the right of Israel to exist. I do not support and will not excuse violently racist, sectarian, anti-woman. anti-gay, anti- democratic, theocratic groups. I believe they should have no voice in progressive politics.
    So that’s my stance made very simple.

  • I’m not sure of the relevance of some of the earlier posts to the thrust of my post which is about how the Party might grasp the mantle of being the Party of human rights which seems to be assumed by so many to held by the Labour Party – and which surely doesn’t deserve to.

  • John.
    I apologise.
    I think the problem is that the Lib Dems are down to so few seats it makes more sense to some to back Labour as the most powerful force against an authoritarian Conservative Party.. Really, it’s going be a slog based on slowly regaining local support.

  • Richard Underhill 22nd Aug '16 - 5:48pm

    This is the wrong question. Human rights are universal and need support everywhere, including all the levels of government in the UK. Think of US First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt.
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eleanor_Roosevelt.
    Think also of indirect actions such as shooting almost all of the Plains buffalo in order to deprive Plains Indians of food, or of Stalin exporting the Ukrainian wheat harvest for cash while causing a famine inn the Ukraine in 1928.

  • I’ve had a strong interest in human rights issues for a very long time, and the Lib Dems were the obvious political home for me. Labour lost all credibility for me when they tried to force ID cards on us.

  • Mick Taylor 22nd Aug '16 - 8:59pm

    Those of us who have had to contend with Labour in the big cities know that they are most certainly not the party of Human Rights or civil liberties. They ruthlessly bully and ultimately expel Councillors who dare to disagree with the group line. They lie and cheat in elections and their idea of working together is that their partners should simply follow the Labour line. They also turn a blind eye to flagrant breeches of electoral law, particularly those committed by minority communities, when they are to Labour’s benefit.

    It is especially sad that Shami Chakrabati has been taken in and that her natural tendency to stand up for oppressed people has been abandoned for a place in the Lords.

  • it is sad that shami chakrabarti has been diminished in this way, and sadder still that she didn’t conclude that her natural
    home was in the lib dems.

  • “She states that she has always supported and voted for the Labour Party”. If that is in her report, she is lying. She was an active member of the SDP in the mid 80’s. We were both opponents of Danny Finkelstein in the election for the YSD place on the SDP National Committee in 1986.

  • Jonathan Brown 22nd Aug '16 - 10:57pm

    Good post John.

    Certainly one area I think we could learn from some is Labour being “the first Party to accommodate immigrant voices and to achieve significant support among successive waves of immigrants -whether they be Jewish, Irish, BAME.”

    Labour have certainly done things I don’t approve of in their internal conduct and policy-wise in office, but they have been much more effective at giving not just a platform but power to a much more diverse range of people than we have managed so far.

    Part of that is down to being a bigger and better-resourced party, and the advantages of momentum and critical mass. But not all of it.

    Certainly it was a committment to human rights and liberty that were major draws to me to the Lib Dems (things I didn’t see much of from Labour in office), and I am hurt by Shami’s decision to join Labour rather than ourselves.

    But the answer is to do and be better, not to criticise her.

  • Mark Goodrich 23rd Aug '16 - 7:40am

    Um – I fear that Shami Chakrabarti’s credibility has been completely shot by the anti-Semitism report circumstances. Joining Labour to prepare an “independent” report was odd enough but then to accept Corbyn’s only elevation to the House of Lords (which involved him breaking a pledge) shortly afterwards was truly awful. Whether or not she knew she was in line for the honour when preparing the report is unlikely to become clear but anyone with an ounce of perception would have made it clear to Corbyn that she couldn’t accept elevation to the Lords in those circumstances.

    So, I am afraid that I regard the suggestion in her report that the Labour party as the home of people concerned about human rights as special pleading of the worst sort.

    That said, the post does demonstrate the necessity of continually having to stake our position as the natural home of those concerned about human rights. To most Lib Dems, that is self-evident but it isn’t always to those in the wider world.

  • Jayne Mansfield 23rd Aug '16 - 8:25am

    @ Tim Hill,
    I read a newspaper report recently where she states that she has always had left wing leanings and that she said that she had been a member of the SDP.

    I believe that she s a remarkable, courageous woman, who is unwavering in her commitment to human rights whatever the personal cost.

  • Mark Goodrich 23rd Aug ’16 – 7:40am….So, I am afraid that I regard the suggestion in her report that the Labour party as the home of people concerned about human rights as special pleading of the worst sort. That said, the post does demonstrate the necessity of continually having to stake our position as the natural home of those concerned about human rights. To most Lib Dems, that is self-evident but it isn’t always to those in the wider world.

    The ‘natural home of those concerned about human rights’; really? Why then did all but 7* of our 57 MPs vote FOR secret courts without safeguards?….

    In LDV (March 2013) Stephen Tall wrote…”MPs from all sides had tried to press for so-called secret courts to be used only as a last resort. But the government successfully saw off the challenge. … Two Labour amendments, which attempted to introduce extra safeguards, were defeated by 297 to 226 and by 298 to 225 – government majorities of 71 and 73 respectively”. …

    Those 7 were…
    Mike Crockart
    Tim Farron
    John Hemming
    Simon Hughes
    Julian Huppert
    Greg Mulholland
    Sarah Teather

  • Mark Goodrich – “That said, the post does demonstrate the necessity of continually having to stake our position as the natural home of those concerned about human rights. To most Lib Dems, that is self-evident but it isn’t always to those in the wider world.”
    This seems to me to be our problem. What can we do to change it?

  • The Liberal Democrats will gain nothing by being precious about Shami. Being Holier than thou will win no converts. Shami is a person of great courage and thoughtfulness and has every right to choose to sit on the Labour benches if she thinks that’s right.

    What would be more sensible would be to work with her on the merits of issues as they come up.

  • Jayne Mansfield 23rd Aug '16 - 9:27am

    @ Expats,
    The Guardian ran a piece headlined, ‘ Lib Dem conference blocks Shami Chakrabati from secret courts debate’.

    Sorry Expats, I have never been a member of a political party, but I’m probably going to join the Labour party too. We need a proper opposition to the Tory party including any attempt by Liz Truss to introduce a Bill of Rights in place of universal human rights.

    I have been reading posts on Lib Dem Voice since 2015 and they have been very revealing.

    Best wishes to you and others who remind me of why I was still voting Lib Dem in 2010..

  • Jayne Mansfield, …Thatcher boasted that her greatest achievement was New Labour…

    The Labour party is tearing itself apart in the membership trying to ditch ‘New Labour’ policies…

    The near demise of this party showed the folly of being too close to Thatcher’s heirs…Sadly those who seem to still support such policies show no sign of going anywhere; if anything their views are more openly expressed…

    Like you, I have watched this party move away from it’s core values…To paraphrase Maggie Holland’s ‘A Place Called England’….

    “So here’s two cheers for a once great party, sore abused but not yet dead;
    A Mr Harding sort of party hanging in there by a thread…..

    Whether “OUR hour will come around again”, I don’t know

  • @ Jayne & Expats I hadn’t realised that Shami had been banned from our Conference in 2012 – under the surgeon’s knife at the time. Absolutely shameful and a disgrace. Now we have a self-righteous article attacking her on LDV . Shame.

    You’ve confirmed my fears about what used to be a great party. If it can’t regain it’s radical soul then it’s doomed to be an annex to the Tory Party and some of us will just stop caring.

  • David Raw, if it is true about the banning of Shami from being heard at our conference, then I agree it is shameful. Maybe it was one of the many Guardian articles in the period of the Coalition that was grossly exaggerated and simplistic ?
    I cannot agree that this LDV article is self-righteous; it is perfectly proper to air the view that Shami makes a misjudgment in saying the Labour party is a natural home for human rights campaigners. As stated above, David Blunkett and others in New Labour did not uphold human rights and Corbyn has already shown typical left Labour attitudes demanding absolute conformity to party dogma as understood by the leadership, including top-down state rule.
    It is part of our beliefs that no one should be enslaved by conformity and as on LDV people will rightly see a variety of views openly expressed within our party. However, we need to be careful how this is managed. A disunited party does not appeal; look how often we have been accused by our opponents of saying different things to different people in different places. The key is to ensure that the party does not encourage people who propose policies which seek to impose unnecessary conformity on individuals. That means on human and civil rights we can be united and strong on policies in a way that is distinctive from Labour as well as from Conservatives.

  • Jonathan Brown
    One of our key problems is this (whether related to size?):
    Many people talk about our party being “like a big family”, citing that as an advantage. Unfortunately, outside that is often perceived as cliqueishness. This tendency has been very powerful in keeping people excluded.

  • Nigel Jones 23rd Aug ’16 – 11:33am……..

    Sadly, an all too typical LDV post…
    The ‘fact’ that Shami Chakrabati was banned from LD Conference is undermined with, “Maybe it was one of the many Guardian articles in the period of the Coalition that was grossly exaggerated and simplistic?”
    Whereas statements like….Corbyn has already shown typical left Labour attitudes demanding absolute conformity to party dogma” is not “grossly exaggerated and simplistic”.
    And we accuse Labour of being ‘Tribal’?

  • She was not “banned from conference”. She asked (as a non-member) to speak in a debate at conference – not a fringe meeting – a plenary policy debate. The Conference Committee declined the request. At the time Liberty actually said that they understood the refusal and that the debate was primarily for members.
    Which seems reasonable, especially for the party members whose contributions to the debate would have been excised to allow a non-member to speak.

  • Sue Sutherland 23rd Aug '16 - 1:24pm

    Labour was responsible for some good and effective legislation on equal rights and racism in the 1970s. However, it will always be a party that supports large interest groups (the workers) against other large interest groups ( the owners). As a young woman I used to wonder why Labour were always talking about Yorkshire and Welsh miners, while Somerset miners and Cornish tin miners seemed to have no voice. It was David Penhaligon who gave the latter a voice.
    I’m not surprised that Shami chose the Labour Party. If you feel passionately about human rights do you choose a party with only a handful of MPs as a platform or one which is most likely to come into power so you can introduce measures to defend those rights?
    I am more concerned that Jayne Mansfield is thinking of joining Labour and her reasons for doing so. She has been commenting on LDV for years so what have we done to turn her away? I would really like to hear her perspective on us and why a divided Labour Party in the middle of its worst ever power struggle is more attractive. I don’t even know if they have an equivalent to LDV so that she has been able to compare us.

  • “Is Labour really the natural home for those concerned about human rights?”

    No.

    Mark Goodrich

    “I fear that Shami Chakrabarti’s credibility has been completely shot by the anti-Semitism report circumstances”

    Well certainly severely damaged, I suspect we are looking at perception being worse than the reality but the impression is pretty bad.

    Ultimately the issue is though the impression of the LibDems and of the errors in coalition I can understand many of the mistakes made but the civil liberties ones seem to make no sense and goes beyond the secret courts but they are an easily identifiable umbrella for them.

  • Dave Orbison 23rd Aug '16 - 1:33pm

    I don’t think human rights are the preserve of any one political party. But I certainly recognise that the LibDems have always been strong supporters in this area.
    When I voted LibDem in 2010 it certainly was a factor that was a big plus. Of course my support didn’t last long given the Coalition and the embrace of an authoritarian Tory Govt.

    Yes, Labour have many issues to address but at least under Corbyn I can see a new direction that it may be heading in and one I very much one I support.

    I remain baffled by the current LibDem approach towards Corbyn as seen in this article. There seems no coherent direction. There’s plenty of opportunist attacks on Corbyn and much derision at the prospect of him gaining any electoral success. Yet by any stretch of the imagination he is in words and deeds a strong supporter of human rights and always has been. This in contrast to the authoritarian wing of the PLP.

    As for prospects of electoral success? Let’s face it there is unlikely to be a LibDem Govt in the next 100 years. But that does not of course, and nor should it, stop LibDems campaigning on this issue.

    So which way for the LibDems – work with Corbyn where policies overlap or simply adopt an anti-Corbyn stance come-what-may? Cos- up to the undemocratic malcontents of the Blair and Brown era within the PLP and for what? A cheap dig at Labour?

    Accepting that the LibDems are unlikely to form a Government they can either opt to sit on their own and fight every issue on a LibDem-only basis, a sort of we own this ‘issue’ and so if you agree you should join the LibDems, or decide that there are issues when they could join a platform with other parties.

    This challenge equally applies to Labour and other parties too. If the LibDems opt for the later, and I hope they do, they need a clear approach re Labour – work with Corbyn in areas of common ground or court the authoritarian PLP. OK, no prizes for guessing where I stand.

    But where oh where do the LibDems stand?

  • @Jayne – we’re all very used to the deliberately misleading headlines in the Guardian!

  • crewegwyn 23rd Aug ’16 – 1:07pm…………Which seems reasonable, especially for the party members whose contributions to the debate would have been excised to allow a non-member to speak……….

    Whereas, after the conference “voted overwhelmingly against” part the ‘justice and security bill’, LibDem MPS went and “voted overwhelmingly in favour” of the bill….

  • @ Nigel Jones, “Maybe it was one of the many Guardian articles in the period of the Coalition that was grossly exaggerated and simplistic ?”

    Sorry, Nigel, but with respect if you actually read the article there was nothing grossly exaggerated or simplistic about it. It speaks volumes that you should suggest that it did. Expats is right……. See the link below.

    Lib Dem conference blocks Shami Chakrabarti from secret courts …
    http://www.theguardian.com › Law › Justice and security act.

    It’s also interesting that in a post about civil liberties and free speech my post was not published before it was vetted. The Coalition apologists are still alive and kicking.

  • The European Convention of Human Rights is written into the Scotland Act which is the nearest thing Scotland has to a constitution. Westminster Tory plans to repeal human rights would require it to try to amend the Scotland Act against the will of the Scottish Parliament. If Westminster were to seek to do this, for many liberally minded people, it would be the last straw as far as the UK union is concerned. It would show that only independence and membership of the EU can safeguard human rights in Scotland.

    The Scottish Government has itself, on occasion, been on the wrong side of human rights rulings, just as any other government has, but where other governments have reacted to such reversals by seeking to dilute or revoke human rights when it suits them, the Scottish Government’s support for human rights, the European Convention and the Human Rights Act remains undimmed as this article by Liberty describes…
    https://www.liberty-human-rights.org.uk/news/blog/nicola-sturgeon-scottish-government-will-defend-human-rights-act-all

  • Simon Banks 23rd Aug '16 - 3:31pm

    Labour is not the natural home for people concerned about human rights. We are. However, there is nothing dishonourable for someone like Shami Chakrabarti deciding to join the party which, of the two big parties, is less anti-civil-liberty rather than a party on eight MPs. Politics requires all sorts of compromises and second bests. Moreover, the Labour government least sympathetic to civil liberties (taking into account the historical environment) was Blairite. Blairites are instinctively controlling and managerial. However, she ignores both the totalitarianism of the hard left (plenty in evidence at the local level) and the fact that Labour has to pander to a large segment of its vote which is for redistribution of income and/but deeply intolerant, anti-immigrant, anti-anything-different. We need to keep hammering on this divide.

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