indycoverWe probably shouldn’t be surprised at the news that the Permanent Secretary at the Foreign Office has declared that the ‘prosperity agenda’ is now more important than human rights in British foreign policy. We’re the country that hosts DSEI every year, after all, where it’s the weight of your wallet rather than your conscience that gets you attendance. Meanwhile, selling weapons to one of the world’s most repressive theocracies – a country actively encouraging wars in the Middle East – is worth more than a billion pounds a year, so we’re all somewhat aware that our supposedly ethical foreign policy is anything but.

It’s rare for someone – especially a higher-up in a department known for communicating through nuance – to be so blatant about admitting the truth, though. Our governments like to cling to the fig leaf that while we might be doing things that, when looked at from a certain angle, could appear to be somewhat bad, we’re doing them for entirely the right reasons and any negative side effects were regrettable but shouldn’t be allowed to distract from the useful process of engagement that these deals facilitated. The one restraint on the amorality of full-blown realpolitik was the need for it to be able to don a convincing human face afterwards to explain away its consequences.

But why should we be concerned with a little honesty about our foreign policy? It’s not as if Britain using military and diplomatic strength to secure dodgy trade deals is anything new, is it? Aren’t we just admitting the Augustinian nature – please make it ethical, just not yet – of our previous stances?

There are two problems with it. First, even if we never fulfilled our stated aims, I’d rather fail to reach a noble goal than not even attempt it and second, it shows just what contempt this government has for the concept of human rights. You can be sure that a civil servant wouldn’t be talking about their relative unimportance unless that was the signal being sent down from on high, but this government’s issue with human rights isn’t one of indifference, it’s active antipathy.

This is a government that’s talked about replacing international charters of rights with specifically British ones. The point of human rights is that they belong as of right to everyone, not just those who happen to be on a certain group of islands at a certain time, and replacing human rights with British rights abandons that, even before you consider that this is a government happy to strip people of citizenship and leave them stateless. Now, add to that the revelation that the Government considers the ‘prosperity agenda’ to be of much more importance than human rights, and you start to wonder just what their ‘British Bill of Rights’ might contain. If you can limit by geography and accident of birth, why not make everything conditional on not threatening anyone’s ‘prosperity’ too?

No, that would be entirely too ridiculous. It wouldn’t be anyone’s prosperity that would be protected, only those already doing well. After all, if trade is more important than human rights, maybe the only rights we’ll have will be the ones we can afford to buy? The quality of justice you receive is now determined by how much you’re able to pay for it, so the precedent’s there.

More and more, it feels like we’re living in the early days of a pariah nation. Worried yet?

(story and image via Barney Farmer on Twitter)


Worth Reading 134: Offences not specifically mentioned in this chapter

It’s federal election time! – Probably only of interest to Lib Dems, but Jennie Rigg will be doing questions for federal committee candidates again, and wants your input on what to ask them.
Utter scumbags – “What I cannot accept, however, is the properly grotesque argument which this contemptible, reckless, immoral and intellectually bust Conservative Party is running to justify and explain its human rights plans. In Grayling’s thumping rhetoric to the grinning faithful in Birmingham, you do not see a meaningful and serious-minded parliamentary deliberation on the contested understandings of human rights, but an abject and irresponsible failure to engage in any intellectual or morally credible way with fundamental rights ideas.”
So The Lib Dems Have A Glee Club Where They Sing A Rude Song About Tony Blair – Buzzfeed are, I think, the first media outlet to actually understand Glee Club, and not use it to prove some agenda or other is correct.
In Spain, Politics via Reddit – Interesting look at the way Podemos is using the internet to transition from movement to party.
Understanding UKIP: Identity, Social Change and the Left Behind – The authors of Revolt on the Right, Robert Ford and Matthew Goodwin have a new paper on UKIP’s voters and supporters.

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Worth reading 119: I came, I saw, I thought a lot about walls

Let’s see if I can get back to doing these regularly…

Human rights hostages – Isabella Sankey, Liberty’s Director of Policy on the quite chilling effect of the reshuffle on human rights.
The real scandal behind the sausage cartel – David Boyle on the importance of breaking up monopolies. This connects to the issues I talk about in my fourth Russell and liberalism post.
An Occasional Guide To Modern Politics: The Young Sellout – ‘There’s nothing, NOTHING more mortifying than watching a 15 year old come out with stuff like “what young people want is fiscal rectitude and a cut in Capital Gains Tax.”’
Why Metadata Matters – Explained by the Electronic Freedom Foundation.
The rise of data and the death of politics – How algorithmic regulation replaces politics with data management.

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Worth reading 66: Geoff Hurst takes an arrow to the eye

Wind turbine syndrome: a classic ‘communicated’ disease – I’m shocked – shocked, I tell you – to discover that something James Delingpole and other contrarian trolls believe in has no evidence to back it up.
10 myths of the UK’s far right – Daniel Trilling in the Guardian outlines some widely-repeated opinions about the BNP and their ilk that don’t stand up to much scrutiny.
Facebook friends network ‘quadruples voting behaviour’ – Interesting study in the US about different online prompts and how they increase the likelihood of someone voting – the original paper it’s based on is here.
English Baccalaureate – questions outstanding – Stephen Williams MP shows that not all Lib Dem MPs have drunk the Govite Kool-Aid.
The Myth of the European Court of Human Rights’ “War on Britain” – Very good piece by Alex Massie. Worth passing on to any nutters of your acquaintance (some of whom appear to be in the Cabinet, sadly) who advocate Britain withdrawing from/ignoring the ECHR

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Worth Reading 4: Great Justice!

Hello world! Here are things to interest you:

Beware those who sneer at ‘human rights imperialism’ – Comment is Free finally publishes a counter-argument to their worst article of 2010. Sohrab Ahmari makes some powerful points explaining just why universal rights are important.
Browne’s Gamble – Probably linked to and seen by a lot of you back in November, but I’ve only just discovered it. A rather depressing look at what the effects of the Browne Review will be on higher education.
The barren weeks, the amnesiac years – Excellent post by Phil Edwards at The Gaping Silence on some of the posturing going on around giving prisoners the right to vote.
Egypt’s Muslims attend Coptic Christmas Mass, serving as ‘human shields’ – When the world’s feeling pretty crappy, it’s always nice to have some good news of people doing decent things for each other
Tragedy in Tucson (about five miles from my house) – One of Gabrielle Gifford’s constituents talks about her shooting and the social climate in Arizona.

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