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These Early Days Have Shown a Recklessness From the Government When It Comes to Our Rights and Freedoms

09/08/2015 19:22 BST | Updated 09/08/2016 10:59 BST

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To mark 100 days of the first Conservative government in nearly 20 years, HuffPost UK is running 100 Days of Dave, a special series of blog posts from grassroots campaigners to government ministers, single parents to first-year students, reflecting on what's worked and what hasn't, whilst looking for solutions to the problems we still face.

Cast your mind back to Friday 8 May. The bookies made a killing, pollsters were left scratching their heads - and we at Liberty found ourselves facing one of the highest-stake battles in our eight-decade history. Because buried on page 60 of the Conservatives' manifesto was one short phrase with nuclear ramifications: "We will scrap the Human Rights Act".

Government wasted no time. Within days, sources were briefing that axing the HRA would be a first 100 days priority.

Yet the Queen's Speech came and went with mention only of 'proposals' - not a Bill - to scrap the Act. Wiser counsel (or panicked whips) prevailed, the Government paused for thought. But if time is the friend of freedom, complacency is its enemy. The Prime Minister apparently believes that scrapping the HRA will help boost his campaign for a Yes vote in the EU referendum. Linking the EU and the HRA must be a desperate measure for desperate times - the two have zero to do with each other.

And yet this same recklessness was on display in mid-June when the Prime Minister hijacked the 800th anniversary of Magna Carta to further trash the Act. Opinion pieces followed containing the same legally illiterate howlers repeal proponents have been recycling for years. The press even reported a rare outbreak of agreement between the Home Secretary and Lord Chancellor - both would support the UK leaving the European Convention on Human Rights. Never mind that it's the most successful system of human rights protection in human history.

The HRA enshrines into law a short but fundamental set of rights for which previous generations paid a heavy price, and for which others still fight. It has allowed countless ordinary people to achieve justice and hold the State to account - soldiers and journalists, bereaved families, survivors of rape, domestic violence and slavery. It's also increased British sovereignty: before the HRA, British courts had no say in applying the Convention and Brits had to take the long, costly road to the European Court of Human Rights.

A hundred days on, we're no nearer to knowing what the fabled British Bill will look like. What we have seen suggests an attack on the universality of human rights, a shrinking of protection for us all and a pick and mix approach to which, and whose, rights matter. The Government response to the refugee crisis in Calais gives a flavour of what happens when basic humanity is tossed aside for political expediency. HRA repeal and dehumanisation of the "swarm" are part of the same approach that is dangerously devoid of empathy and basic humanity.

Nevertheless a consultation will be published this autumn and a Bill to scrap the HRA is expected soon thereafter. But as Government digs in, consensus is emerging among the main Opposition parties and Conservative backbenchers to Save Our HRA. Add in the opposition of all the devolved administrations, some of our greatest legal minds and, most recently, a group of eminent South African anti-apartheid activists, politicians and artists and the momentum against repeal is formidable. Tory MP Edward Garnier recently warned ministers that they simply don't have a majority in the Commons for these plans - but are they listening?

Meanwhile another consensus is becoming increasingly difficult for the Home Secretary to ignore. Following revelations that GCHQ spied on internationally-respected human rights organisations and privileged lawyer-client communications - and with a draft Investigatory Powers Bill expected in the autumn - the voices joining Liberty in calling for an overhaul of State spying are growing in number and urgency.

In mid-June, Reviewer of Terrorism Legislation David Anderson published a major report condemning current surveillance laws as "undemocratic, unnecessary and - in the long run - intolerable". He advocated their replacement with a transparent new law, and recommended prior judicial authorisation for all interception warrants and some communications data requests.

Campaigners, watchdogs, MPs across the spectrum are all calling for judicial oversight and clearer safeguards - and in July the High Court added its weight. In a case brought by MPs David Davis and Tom Watson, represented by Liberty, the Court declared key parts of DRIPA - the spying law rushed through Parliament in a matter of days last year - unlawful because it fails to provide precise safeguards or independent authorisation. Now is surely the time for the Home Secretary to commit publicly to surveillance conducted with respect for privacy, democracy and the rule of law - not plough on blindly with more of the same.

Elsewhere, we've seen the already derisory support for asylum seekers quietly slashed and a Trade Union Bill worthy of the most vocal opposition. Government will try to label opponents of this Bill as partisan or self-interested, but that's political trickery. The human right to withdraw labour has transformed the lives of working people - weekends, lunch breaks, maternity leave, sick pay, paid holiday, safe working conditions, workplace pensions. Make no mistake the Bill and accompanying proposals are an affront to civil liberties and workers' rights.

Further down the track another Immigration Bill, a satire-worthy Extremism Bill and an official review of the Freedom of Information Act conducted by an MP recently caught out in a 'cash for access' sting. A trend seems to be developing. Like the HRA, the FOIA is designed to hold the powerful to account - they weaken it at our peril.

But we've had rare glints of light too. The Home Secretary has announced action on deaths in police custody and denied the Metropolitan Police permission to use water cannon. The Government has also dropped plans to build its "secure college" - a titan prison for children - which Liberty and a broad coalition of NGOs spent 18 months arguing against.

These early days show a recklessness from the Government when it comes to our rights and freedoms, systematically dismantling the tools which protect the ordinary and the vulnerable and re-writing the rule-book. But with a smaller Commons majority comes greater and better Executive scrutiny. There are many who see the hazards ahead - and they have the power to put the brakes on.

How do you think Britain has changed since 7 May? Join the @HuffPostUK conversation on Twitter with #100DaysOfDave