Monday, October 11, 2010

Capital connections

There's a long and fairly dishonourable tradition in political rhetoric of making connections that are tenuous at best, and then brazenly putting them forward as if they were utterly self-evident. Classic examples are the right-wing blogosphere's insistence that the BNP are left-wing because they are a bit "statist" (don't bother pointing out that Hitler was statist as well, because he was apparently a leftie as well), and Mrs Thatcher's extraordinary claim to be a "devolutionist", because she believed in "real" devolution - to the individual.

I think I spot a whiff of something similar over at the Party Lines blog today, in Jon Stone's post about the Westminster government's encouragingly strong stance on the use of the death penalty abroad. Instead of making an honest case for why he believes that this stance is wrong or should not be a priority, Stone instead tries to undermine Tory support for it by artfully suggesting that it represents a degree of continuity from the Blairite policy of "liberal interventionism". In the eyes of the average Tory, could there be a more damning indictment?

Except that it is, of course, garbage. If only Blair had been an evangelist for the abolition of capital punishment, but I noticed precious little of that in his dealings with the US (or with countries like Saudi Arabia, for that matter). And as for the most famous example of 'liberal intervention' - the war in Iraq - well, did Blair use his fabled "influence" on the Americans to insist that the new democratic Iraq must have no place for the death penalty? The fact that Saddam Hussein is long dead gives you your answer on that one.

In truth, it's utterly routine for western democracies to raise the issue of human rights in other countries, at least to some degree - the European Union collectively does so for prospective new member states, for instance. Stone would have a tough sell convincing anyone that the Cameron government's continued support for that process is another example of their liberal interventionism, but by his own logic the conclusion is inescapable. If what he actually means - as I suspect he does - is that the death penalty is not an important enough aspect of human rights to be made such a priority, he ought to be arguing that case directly, instead of resorting to rhetorical sleights-of-hand.

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