UK Liberty

Denis Macshane’s dimwitted rhetoric

Posted in database state, ID Cards, politicians on liberty, surveillance society by ukliberty on July 8, 2008

Denis MacShane spoke in a recent Guardian/Observer debate on civil liberties.

Lots of things were wrong with his speech but two things particularly stood out.

My first problem with him was his use of the “victim as expert” logical fallacy – more broadly, an “appeal to (a false) authority” – if he is mugged, he is an authority on mugging; if she is raped, she is an expert on rape.

You see a lot of this in terrorism discussions too: e.g. tube bomb survivor says ‘terrorist suspects’ should be locked up for 90 days.

MacShane’s authority on muggings and CCTV stems from his son:

Actually, I’m not too worried about CCTV cameras. why? Because my son, 13 years old, was badly mugged a month ago, and thanks to CCTV the people who mugged him will now appear in court next month.

Obviously that should get rid of all our concerns.  Somehow it doesn’t.

My second problem with him was his next sentence:

There’s a balance of liberty: their right to mug my son in freedom, or their right to face surveillance and be caught.

It’s dimwitted rhetoric and empty populism to speak of freedoms and rights in that way, and there is no balance of liberty there at all in reality.

If he isn’t being stupid he is playing to the crowd.

No-one has the “right to mug his son in freedom”, or indeed “the right to face surveillance and be caught”. No-one has “the right not to be mugged”, or the “right not to be blown up”, or a “liberty not to be blown up, as MacShane put it, or indeed his “liberty of the citizen not to face potential explosions in the tube or elsewhere”.

Apologists for the Brown regime should really stop talking as if supporters of civil liberties think people should have such rights.

No wonder MacShane’s whole speech was incisively summed up by Henry Porter with, “there you have it – that’s why we’re in such a mess.”


4 Responses

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  1. shadowfirebird said, on July 8, 2008 at 8:03 pm

    While I do agree with you, I think I do have the right not to be blown up.

    Article three of the declaration of human rights: “Everyone has the right to live, have liberty, and security of person”.

    Also article two of the European Convention.

    Sorry to be picky.

  2. ukliberty said, on July 9, 2008 at 1:18 pm


    I think that saying “we have a right not to be blown up” confuses and degrades already complicated philosophies and principles.

    Saying that we have a right to life seems to be a truism – I can’t really see the point of it, myself, but to say further that we have a right not to be blown up seems banal and empty populism.

    I guess it comes down to a question of language preferences and how freedoms, rights (and their reciprocal duties) play off each other.

    Fundamentally we have a freedom from (unlawful) interference and a reciprocal duty not to interfere with others – most if not all of our rights boil down to that (although that’s not how they evolved).

    You may not kill me – it is not that I have a right to life but you do not have the right or freedom to interfere with me (indeed you have a duty not to interfere with me). Do you see what I mean?

    By the way, one of my problems with the European Convention on Human Rights is that we have a right to do something and then there are these broad caveats that in fact we don’t if there is a law against it. The USA’s Bill of Rights seems much ‘nicer’ from this point of view – it is about the restrictions on government, as well as the rights of the citizen (the presumptions seem different, it is a product of its time). What do you think about that?

  3. shadowfirebird said, on July 9, 2008 at 2:04 pm

    I’m not an expert but I think you’re probably right. The ECHR is tacked onto UK law in a way that I think we will find is still having domino effects for years to come. I’m still not straight in my head as to what bits of it don’t apply to me. Which is not to say that it’s a bad thing, of course.

    The US bill appears to be a genuine set of meta-laws, explaining what laws can and can’t set out in the US. And of course they have the apparatus to enforce it. A better law for a simpler time; I wonder what the US bill of rights would look like if it were drafted in the US today?

  4. ukliberty said, on July 9, 2008 at 2:56 pm

    The US bill appears to be a genuine set of meta-laws, explaining what laws can and can’t set out in the US. And of course they have the apparatus to enforce it.

    Indeed, two excellent points there. I don’t recall discussing that on this blog.

    Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

    That is not to say Congress never try to do that, or that there is never an argument – but there is already a presumption / influence that they must not.

    The European Convention, and Human Rights Act, offer no such presumption.

    The US Supreme Court can strike out an offending law (sometimes they delay, I think, for a reasonable alternative to be passed) – our courts cannot.

    Our Government merely declares that they believe an Act is compatible with the Human Rights Act and years down the line an aggrieved person manages to persuade a court that the Government was wrong (a “declaration of incompatibility”). The Government is only politically, not legally, obliged to think again.

    It seems inadequate in comparison.

    I’m not sure the Bill of Rights was drafted at a simpler time – but a country was being born and its parents were more concerned about liberty than many of our politicians today, I think.

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