As Hung Parliament Looms, This Was a Bad Election for Human Rights

7.5.10

With 649 out of 650 results declared in the 2010 General Election, it is now confirmed that no party has an outright majority. The Tories won 306 seats (20 short of a majority), Labour won 258, the Liberal Democrats won 57 and other parties won 28.

For those who hoped that electoral reform would be significant in this election, in light of the promising response to Nick Clegg during the televised debates, the results have been disappointing, as the anticipated spike in support for the Liberal Democrats was not reflected on polling day.

However, in a hung parliament, electoral reform remains high on the agenda. Both David Cameron and Gordon Brown must try to woo Clegg to form a workable coalition, and it must surely be unthinkable that Clegg would enter into any relationship without the promise of genuine electoral reform. For those, like myself, who have become thoroughly disillusioned over the years with Britain’s unfair “First Past the Post” system, this is as it should be, and the results speak for themselves. The Tories took 36 percent of the vote to secure 307 seats, while Labour and the Liberal Democrats took 52 percent of the vote to secure 315 seats.

For the Lib Dems, the injustice of the system is even more apparent, as it has been throughout the party’s history. This time around, for example, each Tory seat represented just under 35,000 voters (10.7 million voters divided by 307), each Labour seat represented just over 33,000 voters (8.6 million divided by 258), while each Lib Dem seat represented nearly 120,000 voters (6.8 million divided by 57).

As the haggling for power begins, other results are noteworthy. In Brighton Pavillion, Caroline Lucas won the Green Party’s first ever seat in parliament (and there would, no doubt, be many more if PR were introduced), and there were a few notable scalps: in particular, two former Home Secretaries, Charles Clarke and Jacqui Smith. For those of us concerned about the erosion of civil liberties under the Labour government, and its paranoid and draconian approach to human rights — involving complicity in torture abroad and the imprisonment of terror suspects in the UK without charge or trial, on the basis of secret evidence — neither will be missed, but other casualties of the swing to the Conservatives (around 5 percent overall) are MPs who, as I pointed out in an article before the election, had confronted the government on these very issues by signing two particular Early Day Motions in the last 12 months.

The first is Diane Abbott’s EDM 1308 (signed by 93 MPs), opposing the use of secret evidence in UK courts, which has been used, in particular, in the cases of terror suspects (both British and foreign nationals), as a pretext to hold them under control orders (a form of house arrest) or in prison pending deportation, or on deportation bail (again, a form of house arrest), without them being formally charged or tried.

The second is Martin Linton’s EDM 547 (signed by 101 MPs), calling for the release of Shaker Aamer, the last British resident in Guantánamo, who was cleared for release by the US authorities in 2007, but has still not been reunited with his British wife and four British children, despite claims by the government that it has been doing all in its power to secure his release since August 2007.

In the election, I’m sorry to note, 21 MPs who had signed up to one — or both — of these EDMs lost their seats. None of them were Tories, primarily because, of the 149 MPs who signed up to the EDMs, just three were Tories (2 percent of the total number of Tory MPs), compared to 89 Labour MPs (26 percent of the total), 43 Liberal Democrat MPs (70 percent of the total), and 14 others. From these figures, I have no hesitation in stating that a Conservative government would, in all likelihood, be disastrous for those who care about human rights both at home and abroad.

Those who lost their seats are: ten Labour MPs, including Martin Linton, who had campaigned regularly for Shaker Aamer in recent months, and Andrew Dismore, the Chair of the Joint Committee on Human Rights, which recently heard — and was clearly sympathetic to — compelling testimony from lawyers and special advocates regarding the injustice of the government’s control order regime; six Liberal Democrat MPs, including Susan Kramer, who had signed up to both EDMs; three Independents; John Mason of the SNP; and George Galloway of Respect. I’m also including a 22nd MP, Evan Harris of the Liberal Democrats, who did not sign up for either of the EDMs, but was a member of the Joint Committee on Human Rights.

The full list is below, and I encourage readers who care about these issues to write to the new MPs as soon as possible, to ask them to show the same interest in human rights as their predecessors, and, frankly, to harangue them if they refuse. This can be done via TheyWorkForYou. Please also note that “SA” and “SE” refer, respectively, to the Shaker Aamer EDM and the secret evidence EDM.

Labour losses

Battersea: Martin Linton (SA) lost to Jane Ellison (Con)
Bedford: Patrick Hall (SE) lost to Richard Fuller (Con)
Cardiff North: Julie Morgan (SE) lost to Jonathan Evans (Con)
Cleethorpes: Shona McIsaac (SA) lost to Martin Vickers (Con)
Dover: Gwyn Prosser (SA) lost to Charlie Elphicke (Con)
Great Yarmouth: Anthony D Wright (SA) lost to Brandon Lewis (Con)
Hendon: Andrew Dismore (SA, SE) lost to Matthew Offord (Con)
Hove: Celia Barlow (SA) lost to Mike Weatherley (Con)
Kingswood: Roger Berry (SA) lost to Chris Skidmore (Con)
Stroud: David Drew (SA, SE) lost to Neil Carmichael (Con)

Liberal Democrat losses

Camborne & Redruth: Julia Goldsworthy (SE) lost to George Eustice (Con)
Chesterfield: Paul Holmes (SA, SE) lost to Toby Perkins (Lab)
Dunfermline & West Fife: Willie Rennie (SA, SE) lost to Thomas Docherty (Lab)
Montgomeryshire: Lembit Opik (SA) lost to Glyn Davies (Con)
Oxford West & Abingdon: Evan Harris lost to Nicola Blackwood (Con)
Richmond Park: Susan Kramer (SA, SE) lost to Zac Goldsmith (Con)
Romsey & Southampton North: Sandra Gidley (SA) lost to Caroline Nokes (Con)

Independent losses

Blaenau Gwent: Dai Davies (SA, SE) lost to Nick Smith (Lab)
Croydon Central: Andrew Pelling (SA) lost to Gavin Barwell (Con)
Wyre Forest: Richard Taylor (SE) lost to Mark Garnier (Con)

Respect loss

Poplar & Limehouse: George Galloway  (SA, SE), previously MP for Bethnal Green & Bow, lost to Jim Fitzpatrick (Lab)

Scottish National Party loss

Glasgow East: John Mason (SE) lost to Margaret Curran (Lab)

Please feel free to contact me if you come across anyone I have missed, and please also note that, in the coming weeks, I will be preparing an updated list of all MPs interested in human rights — and specifically, in the defence of human rights while countering terrorism — to mobilize support for renewed campaigns against Britain’s anti-terror laws, and also to secure the release of Shaker Aamer (and the resettlement of other cleared Guantanamo prisoners in the UK, including Ahmed Belbacha).

(‘DiggThis’)

Andy Worthington is the author of The Guantánamo Files: The Stories of the 774 Detainees in America’s Illegal Prison (published by Pluto Press, distributed by Macmillan in the US, and available from Amazon — click on the following for the US and the UK). To receive new articles in your inbox, please subscribe to my RSS feed (and I can also be found on Facebook and Twitter). Also see my definitive Guantánamo prisoner list, updated in January 2010, details about the new documentary film, “Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo” (co-directed by Polly Nash and Andy Worthington, and currently on tour in the UK), and, if you appreciate my work, feel free to make a donation.

4 Responses

  1. Andy Worthington says...

    Over on Facebook, Willy Bach wrote:

    Andy, this is the problem with elections and the public whim — you never know what you are going to get.

    I am not sure if there was a wave of antipathy in Britain, but I am very sorry to lose many of the MPs we would have wanted to keep.

    It wasn’t good before the election with a stone-deaf Gordon Brown government. But you may now get a predominantly Conservative government that doesn’t want to do anything. So, the negotiating may get more complex yet.

    I would try talking to Caroline Lucas, as an ally and talking to Nick Clegg’s people to get things done.

  2. Andy Worthington says...

    This was my reply:

    Thanks for the comments, Willy. The human rights community will certainly be talking to Caroline, and also hoping that we can get electoral reform, so the Greens can have many more seats. Talking to the Lib Dems is also important , of course, but first they have to work out what they’re going to do! Surely a deal with the Tories is unworkable?

  3. Andy Worthington says...

    And this was Willy’s reply:

    Andy, surely, as you say, the relationship with the Tories is unworkable — and the Lib Dem rank and file would probably be throwing up breakfast, just about. But Nick Clegg’s remarks about Israel would probably mean he could not work with the Tories. Haaretz report his critical stance: http://www.haaretz.com/news/diplomacy-defense/nick-clegg-to-haaretz-i-admire-israel-but-won-t-stop-criticizing-its-government-1.288522

  4. Andy Worthington says...

    And my reply:

    I hope so, Willy, but sadly you never know what happens to people when some sort of power looks like it’s within reach.

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