On Facebook recently I saw someone post ‘Is it safe to come out yet, or is everyone still a politician?’ There has undoubtedly been an explosion of political discourse recently in the wake of some major political events. The UK’s In/Out referendum stirred up a lot of heated debate about some very emotive issues like immigration, NHS funding and sovereignty. So yeah, for a while Facebook did seem like it had become swamped with politicians. But you know what? In a democratic society we are all politicians. We should be engaged with these things, and we should be vocal about it because the issues at hand are big and hard to understand and we won’t get anywhere by politely keeping quiet about it all.
This week I read a book called Five Ideas To Fight For by Anthony Lester. The five ideas are Human Rights, Equality, Free Speech, Rule of Law and Privacy. Lester, a human rights lawyer and liberal democrat peer, goes over each of the five, giving a short historical account of the UK’s relationship with them and exploring the difficulties we seem to be having in maintaining them. Things that seem fundamental might be on shakier ground than we might think.
It’s not always easy to tell when change is for the better. Was the conservative policy of scrapping the European Courts Human Rights Act and replacing it with a British Bill of Rights an improvement or a dangerous slide away from the protection of those rights? Where do you draw the line between free speech and hate speech? Is government authorised invasion of privacy justified by security risks? It takes a lot of information to actually arrive at a well-formed opinion on these sorts of questions, and unfortunately well-formed opinions are not always easy to come by.
Five Ideas To Fight For wants to refocus our political discourse. We talk about border control but we should be talking about human rights. We talk about benefits but we should be talking about equality. Don’t lose the heart of the issue by surrendering to the details. Don’t act rashly and then realise the value of the things we just threw away. Especially when a lot of those things were so hard-won in the first place.
Even though Lester’s alignment with the Liberal Democrats is evident throughout one things shines clear through the book; the core ideals that form the bedrock of a civilised, free-thinking society are not the property of any of the political parties. They are the standards by which the actions of politicians should be judged, (and in a democratic society we are all politicians). The question of where we draw the lines is important because those lines are where our principles and our values lie. Fighting to keep them when it would be easier to let them go is what integrity is all about.
This book is absolutely worth reading.
Also, one of the nicest things to come out of what is often quite a bleak book is the small insight it offers into the House of Lords. Mostly the Lords are characterised as a bunch of unelected old men who sleep through the afternoon and get in the way of parliament. Anthony Lester offers a glimpse into a place where getting in the way of parliament is often a good thing, and being unelected actually has some valuable qualities to it.