The Election's Over - Now The Fight Is On To Keep Britain Kind

09/06/2017 17:07 BST | Updated 09/06/2017 17:07 BST
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Who saw that coming? Six weeks of slogans, scandals and squabbles - topped off by an open threat to tear up our human rights laws - culminated in a hectic night and a morning of uncertainty.

But now it's over, and it looks like we've got a minority Conservative Government - propped up by the DUP.

This has been my first general election as Liberty's director - but the 21st since our foundation way back in 1934.

Liberty was founded to protect the people's right to protest. We've been the watchdog for the people's rights in the UK ever since, taking action when the powerful overstep the mark - which the powerful often tend to do. As our ex-president EM Forster said, it's the fight that's never done.

Now here we are, 83 years later, with Theresa May in No 10. Just like we've done with everyone who's come before, we'll be watching her.

And we've a feeling we'll be needed more than ever in the months ahead.

In a week blighted by brutality as we mourn the lives lost near London Bridge, the Prime Minister responded with an apparent determination to do exactly what these violent murderers want: abandon everything that makes our country great and keeps us free.

She failed to do what we look to her to do: stick up for our freedom, democracy and rights. Instead, she announced the reintroduction of long-ago discredited control orders and extended pre-charge detention - unsafe and unfair measures abandoned by previous governments and campaigned against by Theresa May's Conservatives in opposition.

On Tuesday, for cheap political points and headlines, she announced she would rip up our Human Rights Act if it got in her way. In a few casual words, the abandonment of the law that embodies fairness, compassion and accountability, designed to keep us safe and free - the law that helped the Hillsborough families expose the truth.

She finished by saying: "If I am elected as Prime Minister on Thursday, I can tell you that this vital work begins on Friday."

Well, Liberty's work begins today too. And if she goes ahead with these dangerous plans, we'll make sure she doesn't succeed. There are many principled MPs - Conservatives among them - who will join that fight.

Sadly in recent years compassion, respect for people's dignity, fairness, basic decency have all been collateral damage in the desperate bid to look tough on immigration and strong on security, at any cost.

In the two seismic years since the 2015 election, we've seen politicians spread fear, hate and discrimination through their words and their laws.

Home Office tentacles have crept into every part of life. Schools are forced to build foreign children lists to aid deportation of families, doctors made to pass sensitive data to immigration officers and no longer able to promise confidentiality.

Landlords face jail if they let a home to the "wrong" person. Homelessness charities are being roped in to shop vulnerable rough sleepers. Police must now demand people's nationality on arrest and a new offence of "driving while illegal" seems sure to lead to racial profiling and discrimination - causing major damage to police-community relations.

Our Government has reacted disgracefully to the refugee crisis - shirking its responsibilities at every turn and shaming our proud history of offering sanctuary. Meanwhile, on our own soil more than 30,000 people are locked up indefinitely having committed no crime, hidden in immigration detention centres we rarely see.

I'm not going to sugar-coat it: the prospect of this nasty, divisive programme continuing feels grim. Already, the new Government's agenda is at bursting point - Brexit, counter-terrorism, creaking public services at home, humanitarian and diplomatic crises overseas.

And at Liberty we're re-reading the Conservative manifesto with a sinking feeling. A minority Government it may be, but there's still the sense that a perfect storm is brewing for human rights.

As Brexit negotiations kick off, our rights are on shaky ground. The Conservative manifesto talks a good game about securing the rights of EU citizens who've built their lives here and those of British people abroad - but it's hard to take their word for it when they've so far refused every opportunity to do just that.

They say our rights as workers and consumers will remain "at the point at which we leave the EU" - but promise nothing of the days, weeks and years afterwards.

Victims of crime are promised legal protections for the support they ought to expect. But with Theresa May's track record of arguing that police shouldn't have to investigate rape allegations, even those warm words ring hollow.

On top of all that, the Government trumpets plans to "review the international legal definitions of asylum and refugee status" - alongside attempts to reduce their numbers.

In short, our new leaders intend to turn their backs on the world's most vulnerable people, including thousands of lone children in the most desperate need.

This is more than a crisis of compassion, it's a loss of humanity. But it doesn't need to be this way.

What better day to say enough is enough? What better day to shout from the rooftops - 'not in my name'? What better day to begin the fight to take us down a different path?

Politicians, of all parties, work for us - and this isn't the kind of country we want to be. If you want things to change, now's the time to get practical.

For however long it takes, Liberty will work to dismantle laws that divide and discriminate, and campaign to block any plans that threaten our rights or attack vulnerable people - through the courts, in Parliament, and on the streets. And we need your help.

Our democracy gives us the tools to keep Britain kind, fair and free. By coming together, keeping watch and speaking out, we can use them to put compassion back into politics.