Tuesday, 4 October 2011

Cat-call politics is back

Every so often, a generation of politicians becomes afflicted by a rapidly setting form of collective amnesia, as they forget why a key piece of legislation exists in the first place. The Human Rights Act is one example. It’s not yet clear what its fate will be, but it’s another excuse to talk about immigration.

There’s something about discussing immigration in the UK which does more to uphold the image of the British as a nation of eccentrics than an episode of Monty Python’s Flying Circus. Something about it touches a nerve so that it becomes responsible for much unhinged ‘debate’. The Home Secretary delivered another of these crazy interludes when she claimed, while making her case against the Act, that an illegal immigrant could not be deported “because he had a pet cat”.

The tradition of Britain standing up for human rights goes back at least to the Second World War - during which fascism and communism had been responsible for some of the twentieth century’s worst atrocities. Hats off to the relative sanity of Justice Secretary, Ken Clarke, who responded by wagering a bet with May that nothing of the sort ever happened. Recalling how Britain led the way in drawing up the European Convention on Human Rights, Clarke echoed a more serious politics.

I’ve a feeling that the abolition of the Human Rights Act is just mood music to placate rowdy Tory backbenchers, frothing at the mouth at perceived concessions to Liberal Democrats. We are still in conference season. Ideas are floated, dismissed, chewed over. David Cameron knows that any real attempt to rip this particular statute would be terminal for the Coalition, and worse, the prospect of minority government. Like other things which this government has told us it is against, the intention to do so something does not necessarily mean it will happen while it relies on Liberal Democrat votes.

Even May’s own department claimed that the pet defence did not have a role to play in the decision not to deport the man in question.
So, don’t bet on it becoming a common factor in immigrants pleading with the UK Borders Agency in future. Aside from the odd parrot or two, how many innocent cats, dogs, guinea pigs or hamsters could we really expect to construct a defence of their owner’s right to stay in the UK? That’s cat-call politics for you.

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