The Spectator's Notes

Charles Moore’s Notes: people who love making new laws like to present them as human rights

30 May 2015

9:00 AM

30 May 2015

9:00 AM

Amnesty International and others have placed a large newspaper advertisement telling Michael Gove ‘Don’t Scrap Our Human Rights’. The ad asserts that ‘A government cannot give human rights or take them away’, which, if true, makes one wonder how it can scrap them. Human rights are philosophically a confused idea; but their political power consists in the fact that anyone questioning them can be made to look nasty. People who love making new laws — particularly new laws that cost money — therefore like to present these laws as human rights. Article 29 of the EU’s Charter of Fundamental Rights, for example, says ‘Everyone has the right of access to a free placement service’. Such access may well be a good thing (though I confess to being vague about what a free placement service exactly is), but in what sense is it a human right? Whatever it is, it can only exist because governments legislate for it and pay for it. There is no state of nature in which people have the right to a free placement service. Rights, surely, have practical meaning only if they are justiciable. If they are justiciable, it is important under which jurisdiction justice should be done. Mr Gove, I think, would prefer British jurisdiction to a court in Strasbourg. No human right is ‘scrapped’ by taking this view.

Now that Ireland has voted Yes to same-sex marriage, it will be widely believed that this trend is unstoppable and those who oppose it will end up looking like people who supported the slave trade. It is possible. But in fact history has many examples of admired ideas which look like the future for a bit and then run out of steam — high-rise housing, nationalisation, asbestos, Esperanto, communism. The obsession with gay rights and identity, and especially with homosexual marriage, seems to be characteristic of societies with low birth rates and declining global importance. Rising societies with growing populations see marriage as the key to the future of humanity, so they think it must be between a man and a woman. Only when countries like India, Nigeria or Egypt introduce same-sex marriage will I retract the above.

Leon Brittan’s memorial service on Tuesday packed the West London Synagogue, but there were some notable absentees. We in the congregation were informed that the government was represented by Lord Howe (the Earl Howe, not Geoffrey). He is an estimable man, but well below Cabinet level. Since Brittan had been Home Secretary, it would normally be customary for the present holder of the office, Theresa May, to attend. Was she absent because of the accusations against Brittan, among others, about ‘establishment’ cover-ups of child abuse in the 1980s? If so, it was cowardly. Absolutely nothing has been proved. Unless it is, ministers should stand up for those who have served government in the past instead of running before the wind.


Against my will, I have read a great many British political memoirs. It is a pretty grim genre. The only important ones of the past 30 years are Nigel Lawson’s and — in an odd way — Tony Blair’s. Most of them should be subtitled ‘Why I was right’. So one about ‘Why I was wrong’ is very cheering. This could be the subtitle for William Waldegrave’s memoir, A Different Kind of Weather (Constable). The book is not a mea culpa about particular policies (though his chapter on the poll tax is very good). It is about the difference between the romantic idea of something and the reality. When Waldegrave was 15, his Eton division was asked to write out their ambitions. He wanted to be: Foreign Secretary in Iain Macleod’s administration, ‘swept to power as prime minister after touring the country in a red, white and blue Rolls-Royce’, a hero for saving Trafalgar Square from demolition, ‘And finally, after many years of triumph, a graceful retirement from politics to produce the definitive translation of Thucydides’. None accomplished (though I wouldn’t be surprised if he is secretly working on the last). In his Elegy, Thomas Gray wrote about unrealised potential — ‘hands that the rod of empire might have swayed’. Waldegrave does something similar, but whereas Gray was describing dead rustics, William is examining someone (himself) who longed to sway that rod and nearly did so, and yet, because of temperament and being born at the wrong time, did not. This sense of failure makes a far better book than those which boast.

The National Trust has bought Great Orme, above Llandudno. Much has been made of its bronze-age settlements and 18th-century copper mines, but many will remember it as the backdrop for ‘Kinnock: the Movie’, the celebrated 1987 party political broadcast in which the then Labour leader and his wife Glenys walked hand in hand on the cliff there as seagulls swooped overhead and Welsh voices acclaimed the man they hoped would soon become Prime Minister. The film was made by Hugh Hudson, of Chariots of Fire fame, and it left the poor Tories open-mouthed with admiration for its glamour. In the general election three weeks later, Mr Kinnock won his party 10,029,778 votes. Mrs Thatcher, who had never been filmed holding hands with Denis in Wales or anywhere else, won 13,763,066 votes — her largest total ever.

‘The British ambassador’s armour-plated Jaguar had just turned out of the residency in a quiet Dublin suburb…when a 200lb IRA bomb hidden in the road exploded.’ Thus began the Times’s obituary this week of Sir Brian Cubbon, the former permanent under secretary at the Home Office (who was injured in the explosion). In last week’s Notes, I pointed out how Times obituaries are forgetting their purpose. They don’t benefit from aping Frederick Forsyth. The pleasure in them comes from their good judgment and accuracy — a context which makes flashes of wit effective but melodrama ridiculous. I knew Brian Cubbon, the most kindly and commonsensical of mandarins: the only consolation in reading this nonsense is thinking how he would have laughed if he had seen it.

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Show comments
  • Bill Chapman

    Don’t write of Esperanto, Charles. It’s true that Esperanto
    hasn’t yet gained the recognition it deserves. However, all things considered,
    it has actually done amazingly well. In 128 years, it has managed to grow from
    a drawing-board project with just one speaker in one country to a complete and
    living natural language with probably a couple of million speakers in over 120
    countries and a rich literature and cosmopolitan culture, with little or no
    official backing and even bouts of persecution.

    Next
    summer some 2,500 Esperanto speakers from 85 countries will come together in
    Lille, France in what might be seen as the parliament of a dispersed speaker
    population. I shall be one of them.

    • tjamesjones

      this would be a bit more impactful if you wrote it in esperanto, and we could read it.

      • Anna Lowenstein

        Of course Bill Chapman could write his comment in Esperanto if he wanted to, but you wouldn’t be able to read it. I suggest you take a course. There are plenty online.

      • Leftcadio

        Nu, bone, tjamesjones, vi deziras vidi komenton en Esperanto, do jen ekzemplo. Ĉar vi petis tion, mi supozas ke vi scipovas almenaŭ legi la lingvon. Aŭ ĉu vi pensas, ke oni povu kompreni ĝin sen ia ajn studado? Mi aldonu, ke la komento de Charles Moore, en kiu li komparas Esperanton kun asbesto, multetaĝaj loĝdomoj kaj komunismo, ja estas stranga kaj stulta! Sed nescio ofte rezultigas stultaĵojn.

    • Zogwa gogglewick yabbadabbadoo!

      • Leftcadio

        Your comment is just further proof that UKIP supporters belong to the age of the Flintstones!

        • Ha ha! You obviously don’t understand PURE Esperanto.

  • Sean Grainger

    BTW Mr Moore it is nice you’re back — the magazine wasn’t the same.

  • Damaris Tighe

    Anything called a ‘human right’ which has to be provided by someone else (like the absurd ‘right of access to a free placement service’) is not a right but a benefit. The only true human rights are those that are inherent in being human & being alive – the rights to life, liberty & the pursuit of happiness. They cannot be donated by the state because they are the essence of the human being.

    Anything else is leftist twaddle designed to cloak extending the boundaries of the state by so extending the definition of human rights that they become meaningless. As with marriage, if something can be anything, it’s nothing.

    • van Lomborg

      Correct, let us administer the same human ‘benefits’ to gay folk. Your concerns have been heard, noted and acted upon.

      • Damaris Tighe

        Thankfully, gay folk have the right to life. If you could really understand what I posted, you will see that gays’ – or any other group’s – right to liberty & the pursuit of happiness can’t involve a claim on other people’s institutions. They’re free to set up their own & to pursue their own happiness without interfering with others.

        • van Lomborg

          Marriage is not an invention of the churches. The do not own the terminology, the ritual, the socio-cultural implecations. We have been through this many times, to no further avail from your side.

          • dalai guevara

            We have indeed.

    • tjamesjones

      I agree: the useful distinction is between “positive” and “negative” human rights. The positive ones are these silly benefits which can add up to any level of obligations for governments. Negative human rights don’t cost anything, they’re the original ‘human rights’ that say that you shouldn’t be put in jail without cause, that the state shouldn’t confiscate your property, etc etc. We’re probably all fans of negative human rights here, and it was their glamour post WW2 that then sporned the industry of positive human rights, wherby lawyers discover our inviolable right to free placement services and other nonsense.

      • Damaris Tighe

        Yes, exactly, & there’s the parallel of negative & positive freedom. The classical liberal negative freedom is the space to live your life as you choose as long as you don’t infringe on the rights of others. Again, it’s inherent in being human. Positive freedom (so beloved of continental Hegelians) is about being ‘free from’ situations like unemployment or poverty.

        Now it may be right to protect people from the vicissitudes of life, but it shouldn’t be called ‘freedom’ – it’s a limit on freedom that communities may choose in order to protect themselves from misfortune, & of course it has a cost. Calling social security ‘freedom’ led to the Orwellian language of Marxist dictatorships.

  • Brian_Barker

    Bill Chapman is right about the success of Esperanto the international language. The World Esperanto Association now enjoys consultative relations with the United Nations.http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eR7vD9kChBA&feature=related

    has 125 000 hits per day and Esperanto Wikipedia enjoys 400 000 hits per day. That can’t be bad 🙂

    has 125 000 hits per day and Esperanto Wikipedia enjoys 400 000 hits per day. That can’t be bad :)http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=-8837438938991452670
    has 125 000 hits per day and Esperanto Wikipedia enjoys 400 000 hits per day. That can’t be bad 🙂
    has 125 000 hits per day and Esperanto Wikipedia enjoys 400 000 hits per day. That can’t be bad :)http://www.lernu.net has 125 000 hits per day and Esperanto Wikipedia enjoys 400 000 hits per day. That can’t be bad 🙂

  • GraveDave

    Leon Brittan’s memorial service on Tuesday packed the West London Synagogue, but there were some notable absentees.

    Did they bury ‘the papers’ with him?

    Top Tory Leon Brittan ‘photographed entering underage sex …

    http://www.mirror.co.uk › News › UK News › Leon Brittan

    24 Jan 2015 – Leon Brittan was photographed entering an underage sex den during a police investigation, it has been claimed. The Tory Lord, who died on …

    Leon Brittan ‘attended paedophile parties in notorious brothel’

    http://www.express.co.uk › News › UK

    25 Jan 2015 – FORMER Home Secretary Leon Brittan was one of a number of high-profile people who attended paedophile parties in a notorious gay brothel, …

    • alfredo

      Do you have a copy of this photograph?
      In our law and culture, you are innocent until proved guilty, beyond reasonable doubt, before a court of law. This not only protects the innocent; it protects the whole way in which we live together in a civilised society.

    • I’m all in favour of investigating and prosecuting paedophiles, but we need to observe the rule of law.

    • Terry Field

      What happened to due process, innocent until found guilty, the replacement of the mob with considered justice. I assume you go in for lynching people you do not like at the nearest oak tree.

  • Roger Hudson

    Wake up Charles, Westminster knew Brittan was a nonce for decades, were you asleep?

    • Mc

      I’m guessing you are making this unsubstantiated statement knowing that Brittan can’t sue you.

  • Gilbert White

    It is laughable a third world type comes here marries a lawyer and thrusts Descartes down our throats.

  • Andrew Smith

    If we all have a “right to a family life”, should not the legion of unhappily single people sue the government for not providing them with a partner and children? The lawyers and the dating agencies could make a killing.

  • mikewaller

    Of course “there is no state in nature” in which ours or any other species have rights. The notion of human rights is a product of human cognition; in the Western world at least, heavily influenced by Christ’s injunction to “Do unto others…….” Strange that an evolutionist like me should have to explain this to an avowed Catholic like him. As for objections to homosexual marriage being the hallmark of countries on the up, (a) did his classical education skip the ancient Greeks whose conquering of most of the then known world seems to have sat quite happily with intra-gender sexuality on a eye-watering scale; and (b) if the current social mores of India, Nigeria and Egypt represent the shape of things to come, God help us!

    More generally, I have to add my standard comment in respect of Moore’s efforts: could he not find someone intelligent to read them through before sending them to our Editor?

  • Terry Field

    Gay Marriage is as pointless as coating brass with tin; it adds nothing, soon tarnishes, and is less valuable and durable than the base alloy.

    Gay Marriage can produce no offspring.
    They need heterosexual sex for that, and the ripping of the child from the mother, with – one presumes – the deranged consent – of the ‘mother’, is, in my view, an act of equally deranged, and quite extreme immoral consumerism. Morally wrong, dangerous for the poor child, exploitative of the ‘donor’ (stupid untrue word, like ‘progressive’ stolen by the corrupt and dishonest ‘left’).
    I support their rights for equal treatment under the law.
    In like fashion, I also support my right to say what I think about it without the politicised and demonstrably very corrupted and clearly institutionally dishonest British Gauleiter Police system in ‘fingering’ me.
    The ‘left’ can shove their constraints on robust free speech where the sun does not shine.

  • justejudexultionis

    ‘People who want to enslave us to multinational corporations like to present it as the natural workings of the ‘free market”. Pure bourgeois hypocrisy from reactionary numptie, Moore.

  • Peppergrinder

    Charles Moore does Leon Brittan a huge disservice. By saying that the child abuse allegations against him are unproven, he implies there is a case to answer. As far as I am aware there is no credible evidence against him. The late Paul Foot – a left-wing journalist and fierce opponent of the Tories – invesitgated the allegations when they first appeared. He concluded that they were groundless – fabricated by anti-Zionists who disliked Brittan for being Jewish.

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