UK Liberty

What rights and responsibilities are we talking about?

Posted in Bill of Rights (and Responsibilities), politicians on liberty by ukliberty on April 9, 2008

[hat-tip Tim Worstall]

David Selbourne in the Guardian:

In the convergence of these positions, elementary truths have been forgotten. The largest one is that without the fulfilment of the citizen’s duties the free society cannot endure. Take away the sense of duty to community, environment, polity and nation, and collapse awaits.

Yet the notion that there should be some reciprocal relation between rights and duties is held by many to be wrong, an imposition, even described as an “impertinence” in a recent submission to the parliamentary committee on human rights.

Is Selbourne referring to Henry Porter, who wrote to the Committee that:

I want to say something about the phrase “rights and responsibilities” used by Jack Straw and Gordon Brown in respect of a new bill. This springs from the telling belief among ministers that rights are somehow in the gift of the government and that they are entitled to require people to sign up to a list of responsibilities in exchange. This is arrogant nonsense. The citizen’s responsibilities are defined by common, civil and criminal law, and ministers display a constitutional impertinence by suggesting otherwise.

Porter seems spot on.

Back to Selbourne:

To expect the fulfilment by the citizen of his or her duties is no impertinence. It is essential to liberal democracy. Indeed, government ministers today speak hesitantly of a need for “constitutional renewal” or for a more “contractual” relationship between citizen and state. Under it, the performance of civic duties would be made a condition for the gaining of rights, many of the latter now routinely and shamelessly exploited by rich and poor alike.

A major problem is that the Government hasn’t been at all clear about which civic duties we should perform or what responsibilities we have and the rights we’ll ‘gain’ in return for fulfilling those duties and responsibilities.

If for example David and the Government are saying that I should perform some community service or pay my tax on time and I will be ‘granted’ freedom of speech or the right to a fair trial, they can [expletive deleted] off.

If on the other hand my responsibility is to look for work while I’m on Jobseeker’s allowance, well that seems fair and surely that’s something we are already doing and enforcing.

The other problem is that you can get your hands off my rights and freedoms, they are not for you to grant but for me to decide what I am prepared to give up in return for cohabiting this island with the rest of you.


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