The LDV debate: Is the Human Rights Act undemocratic and illiberal? – Part two – this time it’s Thai fish

summer extravaganza

The legendary Newbury & West Berkshire Liberal Democrat Summer Extravangaza, in idyllic surroundings, reaches its climax last Saturday with the drawing of the 200 club winners by local spokesperson Judith Bunting. But, beneath the genteel veneer, a member of the LDV team was disquietly seething with indignation over an assault on the credentials of the European Convention on Human Rights

We published an article by David Cooper on May 20th under by the title The Human Rights Act – undemocratic and illiberal.

There was an excellent debate in the comments thread underneath the article.

After being approached by David over Thai fish at the Newbury and West Berkshire Liberal Democrats Summer Extravaganza, I started the following correspondence on the matter, which David has given his permission for me to publish.

Paul Walter:

The ECHR is plainly not “immutable”, as you put it, since there is the protocol system. (But I know what you mean – it is difficult to change.) And the Human Rights Act is an Act of Parliament, which is one of the most democratic structures we have – and is subject to repeal (but I favour amendment ,if necessary). Are you saying the Human Rights Act wasn’t passed democratically? Was there a coup in the House of Commons and the House of Lords at the time it went through?

As for the example of Abu Hamza, which you cite, it seems to me that his case is a good example of how a person should be dealt with – humanely and justly – through our laws. He was charged and found guilty of charges here and served his sentence. Then he was extradited to the US. The ECHR temporarily delayed his extradition. – I see that as part of ensuring a just solution for individuals.

In the end the HRA will be subject to democratic review under this government – which I am comfortable with.

David Cooper:

Of course the HRA is democratic, since it is an act of parliament. But the ECHR to which it binds us has not amenable to democratic change (nor indeed is any treaty based human rights laws), hence my objection.

Regarding Abu Hamza, there are conflicting opinions on how he should have been treated. As you know, I think that his actions should have meant he forfeited any right to a duty of care by the British state, but this is a minority view in the party. However, the laws that determine the rights and wrongs should be subject to democratic change, which is not the case for ECHR.

Paul Walter:

Genuine question. Does not the ECHR protocol system allow for democratic change of the ECHR? If parliament wanted to make a change, it could sponsor a protocol which the UK signs and ratifies, could it not? It doesn’t need any or all of the other countries to sign such a protocol does it? And if they decide not to, via their democratic mechanisms, then that is their democratic right, presumably. Indeed, there have been numerous protocols and not all of them are ratified by the UK.

Also, surely when there is dialogue between our domestic courts and the European court of human rights, that is based on the will of parliament (because it is reflecting British law made in parliament) is it not?

David Cooper:

On your first question, the ECHR protocol system allows new protocols to be introduced, and allows interested countries to sign up to those protocols. For example protocol 6 (prohibition of death penalty) post-dates the 1953 ECHR. So in principle democratic countries could (and do) produce new protocols and clearly the process of signing up to these protocols would be the result of a democratic decision.

The problem arises once a protocol is in operation. Unless the protocol is drafted with infallible correctness, it may one day need to be changed. There is simply no process by which existing protocols can be changed, apart from unanimous agreement of signatory countries. Even if every signatory country was democratic, I don’t believe that a process requiring unanimous agreement can be regarded as democratic (is it democratic that Luxembourg, a democracy with a population smaller than Bristol, can veto changes to UK law?). Worse, by no stretch of the imagination is Russia a democracy, and the case of Turkey is marginal, but both are a signatories to ECHR.

Thus ECHR protocol does not allow for democratic change to existing protocols. If a country really needs to change an existing protocol, and cannot get unanimity, the only route is to withdraw from ECHR.

The alternative you seem to consider is that we could selectively withdraw from certain protocols, write new protocols to replace them, and sign up to these, along with like-minded countries. I guess this is technically possible, but of course would lead to a process of fragmentation which would invalidate the point of the ECHR. How would this be better than having national human rights laws?

Regarding your 2nd question, there is indeed an active dialogue between UK domestic courts and the European court of Human rights, and new case law is made as a result of this dialogue. So it is true that the underlying law evolves over time, even for existing protocols, but always within the constraints of the original wording of the protocol. I have no doubt that the European Court tries to take into account the will of the UK parliament during this dialogue, along with the will of other signatories to ECHR. But this is no substitute for the ability of parliament to democratically change laws when they are found to be wanting.

So even if the ECHR had no discernible flaws, I would oppose it as being undemocratic. As it happens, I personally believe it has several severe flaws.

Paul Walter:

I accept your view is very sincerely held and based on great knowledge. You write:

“The alternative you seem to consider is that we could selectively withdraw from certain protocols, write new protocols to replace them, and sign up to these, along with like-minded countries. I guess this is technically possible, but of course would lead to a process of fragmentation which would invalidate the point of the ECHR. How would this be better than having national human rights laws?”

– On the one hand you say the ECHR is not democratically changeable but then, when I point out that it is, you say it would lead to “fragmentation” (but I would say it would just allow some flexibility to respond to democratic calls for amendment). You can’t have it both ways.

David Cooper:

ECHR protocols are international treaty documents. New protocols need to be ratified by several countries before coming into force. So the flexibility to change is very limited.

* Paul Walter is a Liberal Democrat activist and member of the Liberal Democrat Voice team. He blogs at Liberal Burblings.

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  • jedibeeftrix 9th Jun '15 - 10:55am

    Excellent discussion, my thanks for posting it.

    I note recent news that the government believes it is compelled to introduce (some form of), prisoner voting as a result of an echr judgement, regardless of the stated opposition of parliament with evident support for that position among the electorate.

    This being a prime example of judicial activism arising from a disregard for the principles of margin for appreciation and subsidiarity. Words I have yet to hear uttered on ldv from other than myself.

  • David Cooper 9th Jun '15 - 11:46am

    To do LDV justice, they have published my very critical article on ECHR (referenced above).
    Law making by judicial precedent would be an unsatisfactory substitute for democratic change, even if there is regard for subsidiarity. The ECHR process is the purest managerialism… placing higher trust in legal professionals than democratic politicians.

  • Douglas McLellan 9th Jun '15 - 1:37pm

    I wonder if David Cooper would accept that one of the functions of the ECHR is to be above (or at least exceptionally seperate from) national democratic structures?

    These are human rights we are talking about. We cannot, ever, say that one group of humans should have different rights from others. Going down that route leads to disasterous consequences. We need a system that looks beyond the ballot box and election cycle. By being critical of the current ECHR and saying that there are people who should not be protected by the same rights as others (Hamza, Immigrants, Assylum Seekers & Prisoners etc.) we are opening the door to treating them less than human. That is not a liberal position to take,

    How many dictatorships, how many hate laws, how many attacks on the rights of minorities happen in countries that are democratic? Why is it that democracy in and of itself is seen has trumping human rights?

  • David Cooper
    What you are arguing for doesn’t appear to be democracy but tyranny by a plurality, with human rights merely the gifts of some transient, poorly mandated political class. If you believe in human rights at all then you believe those rights to be universal and inalienable. It follows that such rights are best secured by transnational agreement. States that see themselves as the origin of rights and the sole authority over the definition and applicability of those rights are not democracies because nobody in such a state is really free.

  • David Cooper 9th Jun '15 - 2:20pm

    @Douglas McLellan “one of the functions of the ECHR is to be above …democratic structures”
    If your opinion of democracy is so low why invent the ECHR? I suggest you choose a religious text such as the Old Testamant or Koran both of which which clearly define rights and law, and have served for over a thousand years. For myself, democracy stands above laws, whether written by prophets, gods, or international human rights lawyers.

    @AndrewR “States that see themselves as the origin of rights …are not democracies ”
    You seem to want some all wise authority to tell poor fallible democrats how to live. Why not go with tradition, and choose the Koran or Old Testament?

  • “democracy stands above laws”

    I don’t find that an intelligible statement. Democracy is a legal creation and cannot possibly exist without laws and a legal, constitutional structure, both written and unwritten.

  • The Thai fish don’t enjoy much of any democratic legitimacy these days.

  • David Cooper 9th Jun '15 - 3:13pm

    Sorry for expressing myself in an unclear way. I’ll try again:-
    Unless there is a compelling reason for law to be made internationally (e.g. ships at high sea pass each other to the port side), the laws applicable with a democracy should be made within that democracy. In particular there is no reason for human rights laws to stand above democracy; the democracy should be able to change the law. Thus legal instruments such as ECHR are an affront to democracy.

  • David Cooper
    If parliament passed a law on behalf of 51% of the population authorising them to kill the other 49% would that be okay in your book? You don’t seem have any grounds on which to object according to your rather idiosyncratic view of democracy.

  • David Cooper
    ” legal instruments such as ECHR are an affront to democracy”
    Where there is no democracy such legal instruments are entirely absent.

  • It depends on whether we accept there is such a thing as a natural right (sometimes called a negative right). A concept of natural rights is one that is independent of democratic process. My impression is that for David Cooper natural rights do not exist, only legal rights (positive rghts). However legal rights are a function of a controlling state and a denial of natural rights implies a supremacy of the state over individuals that Liberals do not accept.

  • David Cooper 9th Jun '15 - 4:11pm

    @AndrewR “If parliament passed a law on behalf of 51% of the population authorizing them to kill the other 49% would that be okay ?”
    No. Democracy would have failed in such a country, as has happened e.g. during the 1930s in Germany. Democracy relies on culture and belief far more than law.
    A question to you. If Germany in the 30s had been a signatory to the ECHR (or equivalent), would this have helped? Would stern international condemnation based on the provisions of the ECHR would have made Mr Hitler think twice? Throughout the existence of the Soviet Union, its constitution had very strong guarantees of human rights. Did this help the seven million or so who died under Stalin?

  • David Cooper
    No if ‘s about it, Germany in the 1930s would never have signed it.
    As regards the Soviet Union, collective social and economic rights were included in the Constitution but I can’t see a majority wanting to include the right to work in the current list of human rights in Europe. Of course the right to strike wasn’t included in the Soviet Constitution.

  • Manfarang 9th Jun ’15 – 4:05pm
    Surely if human right are absent where there is no democracy, that defeats your argument.

  • Douglas McLellan 9th Jun '15 - 5:22pm

    @David Cooper – religious texts will probably be worse than democratic processes but my point still stands. Democracy can easily lead to human rights of minority groups being abused and to hide behind the shield of democratic supremacy would solve nothing and can lead to harm. As others have noted, democracy is enshrised by laws. And thinking about it, isnt living in a democracy also a human right? Of course, given Lib Dem defence of the Bishops in the House of Lords (which is both undemocractic and allows for theocratic input into our legislative processes) we perhaps can return to your comments about some preferring religious texts over human rights.

    @CllrMarkWright – I am not a Lib Dem so perhaps have a different perspective. I would argue that there is a difference between local representation and decision making and global human rights. We have an international criminial court because we recognise that there are crimes that transcend devolution, localism, nations, countries, and subsidiarity. If there are crimes that require this international approach, why not human rights? Why, I ask again, should a human in one country have human rights denied to them that are available to humans in another? We cannot allow ourselves to look at other human beings as deserving of fewer human rights just because of the country they are in.

  • Manfarang 9th Jun ’15 – 4:05pm
    Actually you weren’t saying that at all, don’t I feel silly.

  • And did the Soviet Union have strong independent courts and the rule of law to make their protections of individual rights credible and respectable?

    My opinion remains that Mr Cooper proposes to throw a very important baby out with a fairly small volume of bathwater. While flaws exist within the structure of human rights legislation in Europe and the implementation of the ECHR, the proposed response is extreme. As is the justification that a plurality of votes constitutes some sort of grand revealed truth. Mr Cooper derides the status quo as being almost religious, but his own prophets bind him just as much.

    It is entirely reasonable and entirely liberal that the law should include certain constitutional principles that are in practice very difficult to change. The good sense of including countries that are only dubiously democratic at best is something we should discuss. As is the potential for moving away from a strictly intergovernmental oversight model to something more in line with democratic federalism.

    But I am very relaxed about having basic laws that are hard to change, and about having a certain degree of unanimity or secession as a requirement for change. The principles we’ve written into the human rights law are important enough that changing or abandoning them ought to be a Big Deal.

  • Adrian
    My argument is that human rights are integral to democracy and the ECHR upholds such democratic values.
    Clearly there is part of northern Iraq and eastern Syria where there are no human rights and certainly no democracy.
    It may come as a shock to you yes there are places where human rights are not recognised.It is of course a situation I hope will change one day.
    In East Germany the New Forum movement went on to found the Initiative for Peace and Human Rights,that was part and parcel of the establishment of true democracy in that country..

  • Little Jackie Paper 9th Jun '15 - 6:40pm

    I suspect that what we are talking about here is more symptom than cause. It seems to me that the ECHR has moved quite some way from the idea of a court that acts as a check on the most serious violations of justice. It’s got an enormous backlog and has become seen almost as something of a court of last resort. I doubt very much that the founders ever saw it as something that would, for example second guess immigration processes or decide who can cast votes. Certainly at the time of its establishment there were reservations about the possibility of expansionism.

    But then I would suggest that similar arguments could be made of many supranational institutions. I am open to the argument that the UK seems to have more problems with these institutions than other countries – there may well be something worth considering there. But then neofunctionalist spillover is plain, just people don’t buy it as inevitable, still less good.

    Whatever one thinks of the EU, it is now a very, very long way from what it was in the 1950s or 1970s. NATO seems to have morphed into something from an alliance to something that involves a large commitment to ever-increasing numbers, with no serious public input. The WTO expanded and grew, almost unnoticed. The UN now does some way beyond the blue helmet. Indeed, not that long ago there seemed to be a strain of argument that war in Iraq would have been OK if the UN said so – precisely why the UN’s say so made any difference wasn’t clear.

    I suspect that some of the reservations about TTIP are that the ISDS process looks exactly like the sort of thing that will be a source of legal activism and expansionism, just with a trade deal tacked on.

    The term, ‘policy laundering,’ has been coined about these supranational organisations and some in the UK political parties have been rather quick to dismiss the charge.

    The cause of what we are seeing is the tendency for governments to sign up to open-ended agreements wholly binding on future governments, likely for ever. Think Greece and the euro for just how these binding, open-ended agreements can end up. It is the open-ended nature of the deal that is the source of the problem, and the ECHR isn’t really any different.

  • jedibeeftrix 9th Jun '15 - 6:58pm

    @ LJP – “NATO seems to have morphed into something from an alliance to something that involves a large commitment to ever-increasing numbers”

    Would you expand on that, please? 🙂

  • Douglas McLellan 10th Jun '15 - 12:53am


    I think that it is a bad thing that even basic human rights can be subject to local variation determined by capricious theologians and bullyboy tactics at ballot boxes. Whilst cultures can and should be different if we cannot even step up and say that there are some things that are an inalienable right based on the simple fact that a human being should have some basic rights then we may as well give up any sense of being decent human beings. Why should we care that the LGBT community is under attack in Russia, why should we care that atheists are being whipped and jailed for blogging? If we say that is wrong are we only saying its wrong because it wouldn’t happen here (in our best disparaging of foreigners accents??). Or can we (don’t we actually?) say some things are wrong full stop, regardless of borders and jurisdictions? And if that is the case, then the claim against the ECHR and its lack of democratic control becomes less important.

  • @Mark Wright: “So if Sweden, because of the weather there, decides that having a roof over your head should be a fundamental human right; while Mexico decides that free healthcare should instead be a fundamental human right”

    It’s not a matter of Sweden or Mexico; the international community, including the UK (as one of the drafters) have already declared that housing and medical care are human rights:

    UDHR Article 25:
    Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care and necessary social services, and the right to security in the event of unemployment, sickness, disability, widowhood, old age or other lack of livelihood in circumstances beyond his control.

    Every liberal should be intimately familiar with the contents of the Declaration:

  • Douglas McLellan
    ” determined by capricious theologians ”
    Yes I am working on getting the churches in the UK to lend their support for the Human Rights Act
    and the freedom of religion it protects.

  • David Cooper 10th Jun '15 - 7:51am

    @T-J “But I am very relaxed about having basic laws that are hard to change”
    So am I. The US constitution is an example of where this is done within a democratic framework. There is no need to introduce a trans-national secular priesthood of diplomats and lawyers to oversee our freedoms.
    The prophets I try to follow are JS Mill and Winston Churchill, and the latter said “democ­racy is the worst form of Govern­ment except for all those other forms that have been tried from time to time”.

  • I have come to this discussion rather late but quoting Churchill in this context was indeed a bad idea.
    It is frankly weird to promote Churchill as “a prophet” of any kind of human rights — for all the reasons Paul Walter lists.
    Churchill was the man who wanted to bomb the Kurds with chemical weapons sixty years before Saddam took up his idea.
    Which human rights was Churchill defending when he relished the poctures of the carpet-bombing of Dresden? Bombing carried out for no military purpose whatsoever but as a series of “punishment” raids on German civilians, what we would nowadays call a war-crime.

    I realise that in today’s context some people have found the Churchill connection a convenient stick with which to beat Cameron’s ludicrous Conservative government proposals on human rights legislation and international treaties. Liberal Democrats when doing so should not fall into the trap of believing that Churchill was a “good guy”, he was not.

    Churchill in the 1940s was merely an upper class, Conservative poser with a far worse drink problem than any recent politicians have suffered. He has been built up as some sort of hero (and now apparently prophet) by conservatives in all parties, but the record shows otherwise.

  • I do find some of this strand very worrying. Maybe too many people have listened to the Daily Mail?

  • @John Tilley “Which human rights was Churchill defending when he relished the poctures of the carpet-bombing of Dresden? Bombing carried out for no military purpose whatsoever but as a series of “punishment” raids on German civilians, what we would nowadays call a war-crime.”

    This “bombing of Dresden had no military purpose” is a myth. At the time of the bombing, in February 1945, Dresden was a major rail nexus for the Eastern Front. It was a transit point for soldiers moving around that front and was full of soldiers (and civilians) and the attack was partially at the request of the Soviets to aid the disruption behind their advancing front.

    Area Bombing as a policy was sanctioned by Churchill in 1942 because the RAF, flying at night and with very primitive guidance technology, could at that time only land 1 bomb in 5 within 6 miles of a target (Butt Report 1941), so turned a necessity into a virtue. German cities were bombed systematically as technology, tactics and the strategic situation permitted. In February 1945 Dresden (which was the size of Manchester) was the only major city that had not until that point been attacked. That fact, combined with the more or less complete destruction of the German air defence capability and the perfection over 3 years of the RAF’s ability to set fire to cities caused a “perfect firestorm” which was in any case backed up by attacks form the USAF.

    This was only the second time that the RAF managed destruction of such magnitude. The other was in July 1943 in Hamburg.

    By all means criticise Area Bombing as a policy (and many have), but to single out Dresden as being somehow different makes no logical sense.

    Perhaps the last word should go to Harris, who had to bear the brunt of post-war criticism for Area Bombing; something that Churchill (who authorised the policy) successfully dodged. In March 1945 he wrote:

    “I … assume that the view under consideration is something like this: no doubt in the past we were justified in attacking German cities. But to do so was always repugnant and now that the Germans are beaten anyway we can properly abstain from proceeding with these attacks. This is a doctrine to which I could never subscribe. Attacks on cities like any other act of war are intolerable unless they are strategically justified. But they are strategically justified in so far as they tend to shorten the war and preserve the lives of Allied soldiers. To my mind we have absolutely no right to give them up unless it is certain that they will not have this effect. I do not personally regard the whole of the remaining cities of Germany as worth the bones of one British Grenadier.
    The feeling, such as there is, over Dresden, could be easily explained by any psychiatrist. It is connected with German bands and Dresden shepherdesses. Actually Dresden was a mass of munitions works, an intact government centre, and a key transportation point to the East. It is now none of these things.”

  • Cllr Mark Wright 10th Jun ’15 – 10:20am

    Mark Wright you should check the facts –
    I recommend this brief account of Churchill’s luke-warm response to the Beveridge proposals for a Welfare State.
    See in particular the contents of Churchill’s Cabinet note from February 1943.

    See also the record of The Liberal Party and it’s “Back Beveridge” campaign.
    The Welfare State came into being despite Churchill and because Churchill was ousted from office.
    These are inconvenient facts for people who promote the myth of Churchill.

  • jedibeeftrix 10th Jun '15 - 12:07pm

    @ Sadie – “I do find some of this strand very worrying. Maybe too many people have listened to the Daily Mail?”

    I do not read, nor listen to, the daily mail.

  • TCO 
    I assume you will believe this, it comes from The Daily Telegraph –

    “…Dresden was a civilian town without military significance. It had no material role of any sort to play in the closing months of the war. So, what strategic purpose did burning its men, women, old people, and children serve? Churchill himself later wrote that “the destruction of Dresden remains a serious query against the conduct of Allied bombing”.
    Seventy years on, fewer people ask precisely which military objective justified the hell unleashed on Dresden. If there was no good strategic reason for it, then not even the passage of time can make it right, and the questions it poses remain as difficult as ever in a world in which civilians have continued to suffer unspeakably in the wars of their autocratic leaders.”

  • David Cooper 10th Jun '15 - 12:27pm

    @Cllr Mark Wright “maligning the man who helped create the welfare state and did more than any other individual in Europe to defeat Naziism”

    Thanks. My thoughts exactly.

  • Simon McGrath 10th Jun '15 - 12:41pm

    @John Tilley “Churchill in the 1940s was merely an upper class, Conservative poser with a far worse drink problem than any recent politicians have suffered. He has been built up as some sort of hero (and now apparently prophet) by conservatives in all parties, but the record shows otherwise.”

    All true. Indeed the man was a total failure. Apart from saving the world from Nazism of course.

  • Simon McGrath

    Saving the world from Nazism was achieved by the people of the UK, the USA and the USSR along with the resistance fighters of occupied Europe. Indeed a statement along these lines appears in The Liberal Party Manifesto of 1945.

    I know what my parents and others of their generation did in that effort because it is a matter of fact. The role of Churchill is mainly a matter of myth created during the war itself and then hugely embellished afterwards.

    You may have noticed the result of the 1945 general election when the voters who served in the armed forces and in the factories and fields between 1939 and 1945 were not that impressed by the myth that it was just Churchill that won the war. They knew the truth.

  • @John Tilley “I assume you will believe this, it comes from The Daily Telegraph”

    The author of that piece, Dominic Selwood, is a barrister and journalist, with a PhD in the Knight’s Templars. His article is unsourced.

    I, on the other hand, wrote a PhD on the RAF’s bombing campaign during WW2. So I know who I believe.

    Regardless – Churchill sanctioned the policy of area bombing of cities in 1942. He did it for several reasons:

    – the RAF had no means of precision bombing at the time
    – he wanted a means to take the fight back to Germany when everywhere else it was victorious
    – he wanted to tie up German resources, damage its industry, and kill and otherwise demoralise its population

    There are arguments for and against this policy as a whole, but to single out Dresden is not credible. The only reason Dresden is any different to any other city attack is (i) because it came only 3 months before the end of the war (but that’s a post-hoc rationalisation; the combatants had no idea military collapse would occur at the end of April when the decision was taken) and (ii) it succeeded rather better in its execution than the majority of other attacks, the exception being Hamburg in 1943.

  • @John Tilley and as if further evidence were needed of the author’s credentials, or lack of them, see this:

    “It was not the first time a German city had been firebombed. “Operation Gomorrah” had seen Hamburg torched on 25 July the previous year”

    For starters Hamburg was bombed in 1943, not “the previous year”. And the aim of every RAF attack was to create a firestorm. So pretty much every raid was a fire-bombing raid; most were not successful at creating a firestorm because particular conditions were needed.

    RAF bomb loads consisted of 4000lb “cookie” blast-bombs which were designed to take the roofs of houses, and 25lb incendiaries were designed to drop into the roofless houses and set them alight. Most German cities had an “Aldstadt” which was primarily made of tightly packed wooden houses. Dresden’s was untouched and a better than usual concentration of bombing was achieved – mainly due to the collapse of the German air-defence system – and this is what led to the firestorm in Dresden, not some one-off attempt at terror.

  • “’You are drunk Sir Winston, you are disgustingly drunk. ‘Yes, Mrs. Braddock, I am drunk. But you, Mrs. Braddock are ugly, and disgustingly fat. But, tomorrow morning, I, Winston Churchill will be sober.”

    “I now sum up the propositions which are before you. Our constant aim must be to build and fortify the United Nations Organisation. Under and within that world concept we must re-create the European family in a regional structure called, it may be, the United States of Europe, and the first practical step will be to form a Council of Europe. If at first all the States of Europe are not willing or able to join a union we must nevertheless proceed to assemble and combine those who will and who can. ”
    Churchill’s speech at the University of Zurich 1946

  • @Cllr Mark Wright “It seems we cant see how flowing so counter to mainstream sentiment in this country is harmful to liberal causes and casts us as out of touch.”

    There are sections in the party who see being counter to mainstream sentiment in all cases, and anti-Conservative in particular, as an end in itself.

  • I remember talking to my father (a Lifelong and active Liberal through many years of electoral failure) about Dresden.

    He said “with hindsight it was wrong but at the time I was in favour of bombing German cities”. He was honest about it…

    The corollary of Dresden was that we were so ashamed about it that for about 60 years we never erected a memorial to the thousands of airmen who lost their lives flying in bombers. That was very wrong; disrespectful to people who put their lives in great danger for their country.

    I think it is high time to stop this discussion of Churchill before it gets well out of hand! He was an inspirational wartime leader (very ruthless actually, as he needed to be) . But he was not a major architect of the welfare state… And the 1945 election was not a referendum on his conduct of the war.

  • Winston Churchill was in many ways an odious, insufferable man: short-sighted, arrogant, aristocratic, racist, Imperialist, and keen on solving all sorts of problems with hasty, ill-considered uses of violence. By the 1930s he was persona non grata with all parties including his own (despite a previously stellar political career on both Liberal and Conservative benches).

    It was also in the 1930s that he began championing the anti-Nazi cause, something which at first must have seemed to his colleagues to be vulgar, prejudiced, and retrograde (all qualities which Churchill possessed in bulk). “Let the Germans handle their own affairs; they were unfairly punished after the War, and they deserve redress.”

    In his own mind, Churchill seems to have imagined Hitler as a combination of the Kaiser, Napoleon, and Louis XIV (his ancestor’s nemesis); an opponent worth fighting, as well as a bugbear to hang about the necks of his political enemies, the “Guilty Men.”

    There are prizes — well-deserved prizes, too — in history for those who happen to have been right, even if the process by which they achieved rightness will not bear scrutiny. There are also well-deserved punishments for those who happen to have been wrong, even if they can justify every degree of their ratiocinations. This is something the latter-day rehabilitators of failed policies and failed politicians ought to keep in mind.

  • @Andrew “He said “with hindsight it was wrong but at the time I was in favour of bombing German cities”. He was honest about it”

    Hindsight is a dangerous thing in trying to understand historical decisions. In the winter of 1941/2, Germany’s reach stretched from the Bay of Biscay to Moscow, and from Nordkap to Libya. Japan had seized most of South East Asia in a matter of weeks. The Russians looked to be out for the count, and America was weak and untested.

    You are given an option to hit back at Nazi Germany – which is to bomb its cities indiscriminately. Civilians will be killed; but you don’t know how many, and in any case you’ve just been on the receiving end of he same treatment.

    You don’t know how it will all end in 3 year’s time.

    You’re not sitting 70 years in he future after an unprecedented period of peace an prosperity.

    We don’t have the right to make moral judgements about decisions taken in those circumstances.

  • David-1

    Yes you are correct. This is what Churchill College Cambridge says on the subject –

    No doubt some of the people contributing to this thread will be demanding a retraction from the college that has Churchill’s name and demanding that they rewrite history to read more like something from the BBC’s Dumbing Down Department, something more fitting to the world of light entertainment.

  • Ruth Bright 10th Jun '15 - 9:36pm

    It is interesting that it is rarely mentioned that the bombing of Dresden saved many Jewish lives.

    In the introduction to his translation of the Victor Klemperer diaries the late Martin Chalmers says the following:

    “Finally, on February 12 1945, the waiting appears to be over. Most of the remaining Jews, whether in mixed marriages or ‘privileged’, are to be ordered to report for labour duty on 15 February. In all likelihood they would have been deported to Theresienstadt; among those summoned for forced labour were those under the age of ten… Now there is no one who does not believe that this summons means certain death.

    Then on the night of February 13 another long-anticipated event comes to pass: the Anglo-American air raid which reduces the historic centre of Dresden to rubble. Almost all the Jews survive the attack, and during the raid or its aftermath they remove their yellow stars and destroy or hide the documents which identify them as Jews.”

  • Eddie Sammon 10th Jun '15 - 9:53pm

    Interesting point about Dresden, Ruth.

    I like human rights, but I don’t really care whether they are British or European. Although I don’t trust the Tories to produce a good human rights bill.

  • John Broggio 11th Jun '15 - 12:20am

    Odd. The statistics clearly suggest the man who did most to rid Europe of Nazism was Stalin. The second most influential was arguably Hirohito. I wouldn’t hold either up as a role model mind.

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