How Inalienable Are Our Rights?

Some while ago, pre  Covid while in Edinburgh, we passed some EDL (English Defence League, for those readers who haven’t come across them who support a very narrow right wing xenophobic view of what it is to be English) people. If you wanted stereotypes there they were – shaven heads, aggressive tattoos, trainers, jeans and hoodies – two were even play wrestling in the street. Apparently they were from Sunderland. Why were they there? Did I really care? Nope. What was noticeable was that for the ten EDL members there were the same number of police. That is the price for hating what someone says but defending their right to say it.

Made me think about a history lesson years ago when we discussed Oswald Mosley and his black shirts and the introduction of the Public Order Acts in the 1930s resulting from his activities. How that must have jarred with the sense of freedom of expression that arose after the traumas of WW1. The fundamental right to protest was constrained because it was being violently tyi00abused. Let me quote here:

This Act created the offence of conduct conducive to breach of the peace. This section was repealed by the Public Order Act 1986. The offence under this section is replaced by the offence of fear or provocation of violence.

What’s wrong with this? The legislation also means political protests have to be approved by the police. No uniforms can be worn. On the face of it, having some controls to stop riots seems fair and thus far, with the possible exception of its use against some flying pickets in the 1970s and 80s, it doesn’t seem to cause much long term debate or  comment though it is always a subject that is ripe for debate. The recent overturning of convictions of those Extinction Rebellion supporters for blocking the Public highway is a case in point where the police’s application of its powers was criticised in the courts as effectively overzealous.

But the addition of conditions to widely drawn rights is something that generally disturbs me and is a hot topic: free speech and cancelling for one. I’m pro free speech and anti control speech. We need to offend, often. But we need to offend without seeking to cause violence. We need to tolerate more and respect less, perhaps.

Isn’t it odd (as in, it’s not odd at all) that once the changes are in place successive governments never repeal the laws that give government more control? 1986, the height of the Conservative’s power and they changed the law. Why? Because the 1936 Public Order Act wording was too vague to guarantee prosecution.

If you add conditions to an exiting position some future government, at the time of some unforeseen emergency, will be able to push the envelope further.  We’ve seen it with public right of protest, with habeas corpus (where recent governments, using the generalised fear of terrorism post 9/11 and 7/7 have sought longer and long periods to hold people without trial – A labour government proposed 90 days without charge which Parliament rejected albeit allowing 28 days which was bad enough -, the same government, incidentally, that supported the unconscionable incarcerations at Guantanamo, just to show it’s all about power and control and not about political persuasion – the left are capable of being as egregiously intolerant as the right), and with constant snipings at press freedom. On the other side there is the sanctity of life/assisted suicide debate, seeing to add conditions to free up a long held absolute restriction (and I accept some will argue that this is just as bad, given it opens the way to a future widening of the initially limited exceptions proposed).

I worry therefore about Covid laws. Will they go or be kept, just in case of another pandemic and used in unintended circumstances?

I accept nothing is inalienable.  Even the right to life where doctors can turn off machines that keep human husks alive  or deny possible medical treatments.

But hard won freedoms should be diluted little and with enormous care. It’s too easy to  slip into indifference and allow small erosions until it is too late.

Odd that those unappealing members of the community made me think about how their rights are curtailed and how we need to be very careful in how we justify that curtailment.

Odd too that it is a French man who nailed the basic concept when discussing free speech

‘Sir I disagree with what you say, but I shall defend your right to say it.’

About TanGental

My name is Geoff Le Pard. Once I was a lawyer; now I am a writer. I've published several books: a four book series following Harry Spittle as he grows from hapless student to hapless partner in a London law firm; four others in different genres; a book of poetry; four anthologies of short fiction; and a memoir of my mother. I have several more in the pipeline. I have been blogging regularly since 2014, on topic as diverse as: poetry based on famous poems; memories from my life; my garden; my dog; a whole variety of short fiction; my attempts at baking and food; travel and the consequent disasters; theatre, film and book reviews; and the occasional thought piece. Mostly it is whatever takes my fancy. I avoid politics, mostly, and religion, always. I don't mean to upset anyone but if I do, well, sorry and I suggest you go elsewhere. These are my thoughts and no one else is to blame. If you want to nab anything I post, please acknowledge where it came from.
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24 Responses to How Inalienable Are Our Rights?

  1. All saai.
    Once adopted, it never seems to be relinquished
    Witness the major piece of discussion in the TX voting bill: 24 hr drive in voting was enacted because of the pandemic and difficulties that it brought…now some feel like those 2 are mandates for ever.
    You have every right to be seriously concerned

    Liked by 2 people

    • TanGental says:

      I heard a story the other day. By the bedside of all royal men a bottle of scotch was placed. This practice started in thr 1920s with George V and continued through to thr 60s when Prince Philip asked why he’d been provide with scotch, it having been by his bed for 20 years. Because no one had bothered to question it. So many laws remain extant for the same reason: inertia. Like Mad Eye Moody we need constant vigilance!

      Liked by 2 people

  2. willowdot21 says:

    Yes Geoff you beat me to my favourite quote at the end there.
    I don’t profess to know the answer but I fear the minority of dingbats often get the most notice.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. noelleg44 says:

    I doubt the Covid rules will never be abandoned – wearing masks, vaccine passports (still to come), closures, distance learning etc. The people who wield the power to do these enforcements will be reluctant to let it go.

    Liked by 2 people

  4. To my mind the biggest problem with such justifiable demonstrations is the attraction they bear for rentaviolentcrowd infiltrators.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. JT Twissel says:

    Because the selfishness of so many has enabled viruses to mutate and evolve, yes I do believe covid rules will remain and those who don’t like it can move to southern Louisiana. No-one should have the right to endanger other people.

    Like

    • TanGental says:

      A point will come when Covid is endemic, like flu. At that point should we still have restrictions? Or should they, as in the Far East be matters of personal choice and culture? In my view the latter. But each to their own, of course. Thanks Jan for adding to the debate.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. I agree with you, on all. There is actually so much in change. Lets hope our politicans know what they are doing, and what can got lost forever. Thank you for mentioning this, Geoff! Have a nice rest of the week! xx Michael

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Widdershins says:

    Those ‘inalienable rights’ were never available to all, It always depended on your sex, class, skin colour, etc, and has merely ebbed and flowed within each era. What’s happening now is another iteration of those same biases, albeit twisted out of shape by the dual threats of Covid 19 and the climate crisis that’s having a devastating impact on a global scale now.
    I don’t think the next handful of decades are going to be fun, socially, or climatically.

    Liked by 1 person

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