THE BLOG

Labour Will Defend the Public's Right to Stand Up to the Powerful and Protect Human Rights Legislation

01/05/2015 17:37 BST | Updated 01/05/2016 10:12 BST

Standing up for human rights is about tackling injustice and righting wrongs. It means protecting the right to a fair trial and defending free speech. And it's about fighting for the rights of victims of crime and standing up for the dignity of the sick and the elderly.

What makes me proud to be a Labour member is that we are a party that has, time and again, championed people's basic rights. Taking on discrimination and defending the vulnerable is core to our beliefs.

I'm proud that it was a Labour government that ratified the European Convention on Human Rights, and it was a Labour government that brought in the Human Rights Act.

One of the great things about our country is our global reputation for defending the rule of law and protecting the rights of our citizens. This best in class record gives us the moral leverage on the world stage to press those countries with worse human rights records. Yet this standing is under threat.

Last week's Guardian editorial warned that if the Tories have their way, our human rights framework is at risk. They're not wrong. A read of the Tory manifesto reveals their intentions. They want to rip up the Human Rights Act. And turn their backs on the European Convention.

If we have another Tory Government, millions of people would see protection for their basic rights weakened or removed altogether. It would be Tory ministers deciding who deserves to have their rights protected, and which rights are no longer worthy of protection.

Imagine that - the likes of Chris Grayling, Iain Duncan Smith and Theresa May, with their records - judge and jury on right to privacy, right to a fair trial and freedom of speech. That prospect fills me with dread.

The Tory plans are a massive grab for power by Ministers. This would insulate their bad decision-making and even illegal actions from challenge. And fly in the face of why we have human rights laws in the first place.

What makes human rights so special is that they are for each and every person. This is regardless of gender, sexuality, race or ability. They are designed to protect citizens against powerful governments whose power isn't always put to good use. And that it is often those least able to fight back such as the elderly, the sick and the disabled who are trampled on.

But it could as easily be me, you, your friends or your family. Our enlightened ancestors got this. In the aftermath of the atrocities of the 1930s and 1940s, they had the vision to see that we needed to protect people against future abuses. It would be catastrophic if we junked a system that has served us and the continent of Europe so well for seven decades.

Ed Miliband was right to warn that the Tory's small-minded isolationism is damaging British influence. Fuelled by Chris Grayling and Theresa May's frenzied attacks on human rights, and the sacking of enlightened Tories like Dominic Grieve and Ken Clarke, this is more and more of a reality.

We are an outward facing country, which has always played an important role in the world, not shrunk away. Weakening protections for human rights at home, and walking away from the European Convention would weaken our international standing. Instead of being embarrassed, we should be proud of our record on human rights, and proud of the role we have played in promoting liberty and protecting the rights of millions of people across the world.

I'm afraid that this assault on people's basic rights is part of a pattern we've seen from the Tories. With their attacks on access to justice, curtailing of judicial review and gagging of charities, they've stifled genuine democratic debate and made it harder to hold them to account for their actions and their failings. This is a recipe for bad government and is a serious weakening of crucial constitutional checks and balances.

And in this erosion of civil liberties, as on so many other issues, the Liberal Democrats have proved themselves to be happy bed-fellows with the Tories. Claims that they provided the 'conscience' to the coalition just don't stack up. It is Lib Dem votes that decimated legal aid, undermined judicial review and gagged charities. No longer can they take the moral high ground on civil liberties and human rights.

So at the election, the choice is clear. The Liberal Democrats on liberty and rights are discredited. With the Tories, our basic rights are under threat. People whose dignity and liberties are infringed will find it harder to hold those in power to account. Governments will become even more powerful and unresponsive. Tory Ministers will find it easier to ignore the public's basic rights free from the fear of consequence.

Labour will defend the public's right to stand up to the powerful. We'll protect our human rights legislation. We'll restore judicial review to its rightful constitutional position. Charities will be released from the undemocratic shackles of the Lobbying Act. And we'll widen access to justice, to ensure that everyone has access to legal representation regardless of personal wealth.

Instead of doing down human rights, a Labour government will shout from the rooftops about just how important they are, both here and abroad.

Sadiq Khan is the Labour Parliamentary Candidate for Tooting and the Shadow Secretary of State for Justice