How Many People Have to be Following You for You Still to be Leading ?

24 Nov

(Prof) Gavin Phillipson contributes a rather depressed post to the UK Constitutional Law Group’s Blog. In short, the good Prof found BBC Question Time rather unhappy viewing for the coverage it gave (and didn’t) to the Abu Qatada affair. From the comments he cites – and experience teaches one to expect further comment from the good Prof himself – one can see why.

The writer ventures a few suggestions.

Firstly, that a certain amount of what was said was indeed ‘for the audience.’ However, that changes things rather than makes them better. If Harriet Harman’s comments are partly excused as ‘playing to the room,’ then what of Chris Grayling’s line – which was surely rather more measured than what had been (said to be) expected of him when he was appointed – that he would eat every Human Rights lawyer’s babies for breakfast ? (I exaggerate slightly) Was that show of relative moderation ‘just for the room’ ? Were the gloomy comments on his appointment likewise, for that matter ? Hmm…

Secondly, these are difficult cases, so it may be unfair to gauge popular views of Human Rights too much by these responses. The view a Human Rights lawyer may reach by subtle weighings of interests may be reached by a more average voter intuitively – and be the same. (It may have the same weight at an election, of course)

Thirdly, the difficulty may be one of too little time spent inculcating a ‘human rights culture’ amongst the voters at large – I say this with 20-20 hindsight. If they accept the general values of Human Rights – and the writer is not sure that they do not – then one would expect the ‘hard cases’ like Abu Qatada to be accepted eventually – with grumbling, yes – recall McCann & ‘Death on the Rock’ – but accepted all the same.

Of course, that acceptance is not going to happen if – if it has not yet happened or is not yet secure (the better view ?) – a chorus of ‘The horror ! The horror !’ on Question Time is as far as our leaders are prepared to go in explaining and communicating the values behind Human Rights rules to the people at large. At least to that extent, the good Prof’s depression can be shared. Perhaps more communication in the easy cases would help ?


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