Opinion: Conference season so far – and what’s with the Tories and Human Rights anyhow?

Normally, as you all know, Lib Dem conference comes before Labour and Tory conferences. But this year, due to the timing of the Scottish independence referendum, Lib Dem conference is the last one up.

This means that for those of us who luckily (or unluckily, depending on your point of view) form part of the travelling circus that does all three conferences each year, instead of turning up bright eyed and bushytailed at our conference we’ve already done Tory conference, usually a killer health wise. I myself already have a mild case of conference flu that I’ve taken to Glasgow with me.

The narrative of this conference season has already been largely written. Labour had a poor conference, flat as a pancake, while the Conservatives had an upbeat one, despite or perhaps weirdly even because of the Reckless defection. That is pretty much what I experienced on the ground myself. I guess that begs the question: how will Lib Dem conference fit into that story?

I’m slightly concerned that little of the commentariat has come to Glasgow, or at least less than we’ve had the previous few years. Many I spoke to at the other two said they wouldn’t be coming, which does have an effect whether we like it or not; of a sort of, ‘does the tree falling in the forest make a sound if no one’s there to hear it’ type thing.

Other than that, I feel fairly upbeat about conference. I think Tory conference, as good for them as it was, gave us plenty to play with. If you want to get into the whole differentiation thing, you could do worse than to start with Conservative Party apprehension towards the idea of Human Rights (caps intended). Cameron got a great cheer in his speech for announcing a Tory majority would pull out of the ECHR. Now, I know part of that is about Europe, about having foreign courts ruling on British matters, but if you listened to Theresa May amongst others there is definitely a sort of dislike about the whole idea of Human Rights as we as Lib Dems would see it. The concept many Tories believe in that these things only exist to help criminals and terrorists, and normal, law abiding citizens don’t need them.

What is really odd to me is that apart from all the other reasons human rights (all right, I’ll stop with the high concept caps) are important is that they exist as protection from the wills of an overweening state, something you’d think for all their small state rhetoric the Tories would embrace. I, for one, am proud of the party for having stood in the way of any Tory idea of revoking these rights during the course of this parliament. It’s something we should shout about more often.

* Nick Tyrone is a liberal writer. He blogs at nicktyrone.com and is an associate director at CentreForum.

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  • paul barker 6th Oct '14 - 2:37pm

    Watching/Reading online I get the impression that our Conference is by far the most positive. The Tories seemed divided & extreme, Labour divided & muddled.
    On the ground the old 2 & a bit Party system has already broken down, the big 2 Parties got less than half the vote in The Euros. The Tories have effectively split & Labour is awash with Coup Plots.
    Unity is our secret weapon.

  • Dave Page makes a good point but there are more than just two conferences.
    As Dave says there is the one that he attends as a party member. Then there is the second one that the commentariat , highly influenced by spin doctors of all parties as well as by the media moguls.

    But there is a third conference — the one which has been bought lock, stock and exhibition stand by corporate interests. Over the last twenty years there has been a growing presence of lobbyists and other representatives of big business using their millions to buy up Fringe Meetings, Exhibition Stands and exclusive “invitation only” receptions, which ordinary party members will not even know about. I have observed that those who spend too much their time in this third conference often forget all about the voters, the principles of the party or why they ever got involved in politics in the first place. They are happy to be wined and dined by the oligarchs and the lobbyists and they morph into representatives of the corporate world instead of representatives of Liberalism and the voters’ interests.

    One element of this third conference can be summed up in two words –HEATHROW EXPANSION.

  • It’s really very simple. The Tories simply do not believe rights should extend to plebs. They believe in property rights, land rights, the rights of business, the rights of shareholders, the rights of employers etc. They mostly do not support the rights of workers, They think Human Rights are form of communism that is robbing them of power

  • “One element of this third conference can be summed up in two words –HEATHROW EXPANSION.”

    I did note both the number and size of the ‘pro’ Heathrow expansion adverts (the LetBritainFly campaign ” is the campaign to expand airport capacity in London and the South East “) in the LibDem conference materials. Probably explains why we’ve had a couple of “woolly liberal” articles on LDV, where once you’ve removed the angst, contradictory statements and hand wringing justifications are simply promoting a new runway at Heathrow.

    Interestingly, given the LibDem interest in regulating lobbying of Westminster (but not in the EU), I suspect the party will not be discussing this form of lobbying, given that it helps fund the party conference…

    Another think I found telling was given this was the conference for the LibDem party of the UK, just how many motions were labelled as being applicable to England only, with no obvious justifiable reason: can any one explain why First Aid in Schools or Tackling Child Abuse for example are only applicable to England?

  • Stevan Rose 6th Oct '14 - 11:22pm

    Picking up on the human rights issue, the ECHR has been guilty of scope creep and I don’t think we should deny that it needs some boundaries and reform. Human rights are a balance not an absolute – enforcement of my rights cannot deprive or diminish your rights. The Tories are wrong to want to throw the baby out with the bath water but the ECHR is not perfect and it would do no harm to acknowledge that, and propose some reform.

  • >there is definitely a sort of dislike about the whole idea of Human Rights as we as Lib Dems would see it.

    I’m not so sure, according to an author on this site apparently you’re hosting a jazz band courtesy of the human-rights abusing Azerbaijani government at conference this year. Nobody seems bothered by this in the least bit, and only one member as far as I can see has raised it as an issue. It sounds like Lib Dems are becoming much less focused on human rights, so I can’t see that we’re greatly differentiated from the Tories in this area now.

    >Unity is our secret weapon.

    …and without a hint of irony!

  • Picking up on the human rights issue, the ECHR has been guilty of scope creep and I don’t think we should deny that it needs some boundaries and reform

    For instance, take a look at this:


    The ECHR was written to stop totalitarian dictatorships sending dissidents to gulags or putting them in psychiatric hospitals. Something has clearly gone wrong if it is being used by a middle-class woman who is slightly embarrassed that the local vicar got to hear about her bad parenting.

    This is a real problem because it trivialises the whole idea of human rights.

    It looks especially ludicrous when Russia, a totalitarian dictatorship where the government actually does lock up, and sometimes simply kills, political opponents, is happily signed up to the ECHR; while here in Britain it is used by anybody who has a trivial problem with the way government services are run (the elderly couple who used the HRA to get themselves put into a home together, for example).

    The Conservative plans may be incoherent and silly, but something needs to be done because this trivialising of the HRA is bringing the whole idea of Human Rights into disrepute.

  • Stevan Rose 7th Oct '14 - 10:44pm

    “the elderly couple who used the HRA to get themselves put into a home together, for example”

    That’s not trivial for the couple involved. They should have a right to be put in a home together. But it’s a domestic right, not something that should be within the remit of an international court.

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