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Wednesday, 19 October 2011

Scottish Lib Dem leader's “links” to fundamentalist Christian group

Tom Gordon, in the Sunday Herald, reported that Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Willie Rennie “is receiving personal support from an evangelical Christian group which is opposed to...gay marriage”.

The first thing to point out is that the Sunday Herald does not seem to appreciate that using terms such as “gay marriage” is itself unhelpful and contributing to the polarisation of the debate on marriage equality. Like the many bishops who are keen to express their intolerance towards “gay marriage”, I too am happy to put on record my opposition to the term, although not for the same short-sighted reasons. I’m not asking for something different for gay people, but the basic equality for people of all orientations to be allowed to marry. Marriage is marriage is marriage – gay, bisexual, heterosexual – it’s all the same to me and the vast majority Scots seem to agree. What we want is marriage equality. Got it, Mr Gordon?

Mr Gordon’s piece revealed that Willie Rennie receives “help” from an organisation known as CARE (Christian Action,Research & Education). This “help” takes the form of Mr Rennie being provided with one of CARE’s interns who works in his office on a full-time basis. CARE effectively sponsor Mr Rennie, who has to declare his “benefit” in the Register of Interests.

What do we know about CARE? Unfortunately, quite a lot. CARE has a colourful if somewhat unenviable history. It was actively supportive of Brian Souter’s “Keep the Clause” campaign, when it targeted many pro-change campaigners. It remains, predictably, completely unrepentant of its role in the Section 28 debate and continues not only to oppose marriage equality but homosexuality itself. CARE is also opposed to the woman’s right to choose and, I’m led to believe, has been associated with groups who aim to “cure” gay people of their homosexuality. Particularly unhelpfully during the current debate and consultation on equal marriage, CARE have already made statements that government proposals are ““deeply flawed and socially corrosive”.

CARE has a history of sponsoring MPs by providing them with interns and researchers. The Independent, in 2008, noted that 12 MPs received “help” from CARE – most of these MPs were known to have strong religious views. As another Independent article explains, CARE aren’t offering “help” to parliamentarians out of the goodness of their heart. “The intern programme isn't only about rewarding friendly Christian parliamentarians, it's part of a plan to build a new generation of committed Christian politicians. The idea is that the interns will go on to become MPs furthering the Christian agenda ."

Curiously, CARE withdrew support for gay Christian Labour MP Ben Bradshaw when they discovered his sexuality. So, all in all, quite an unusual group for the Liberal Democrats to be associated with. Which makes me all the more concerned with Willie Rennie’s apparent willingness to be associated with them.

My friend, Caron, has blogged about this herself – in which she takes a different view, interpreting the Herald article as an attempt to suggest we should discriminate against people on the basis of their religion. Rennie’s willingness to accept support from CARE is, in her view, evidence of “the sort of openness and tolerance he talks about”. You can't have proper tolerance if you don't properly engage with people you disagree with”, she rightly adds

But it’s not engagement I have a problem with. I have no issue with Willie Rennie opening up dialogue with those who are diametrically opposed to our values and politics. As a pluralist, I welcome open debate and discussion. I’m not suggesting that we shouldn’t talk to CARE – just that we shouldn’t allow ourselves to be associated with them. Why any MSP – let alone the leader of a liberal party – would wish to be perceived as being supported by a fundamentalist religious group I honestly have no idea. Given Rennie’s conference speech in which he turned on the spiritual forces of reaction and intolerance, declaring the Catholic Church’s “threaten[ing] to invoke some sort of block vote” as “an affront to liberal democracy and one that we must challenge”, the revelation that he is being sponsored by CARE makes him look inconsistent, even hypocritical.

It’s hard enough to accept that CARE’s Scottish spokesman, Gordon MacDonald (a former Lib Dem parliamentary candidate, no less) believes that “marriage is a relationship between a man and a woman, not two people of the same sex” and that “the Scottish Government is making a grave mistake by seeking to redefine marriage”. That this kind of organisation is providing staff to our party’s leader undermines our firm commitment to marriage equality and is even tougher to accept.

As for the argument that this association is evidence of Rennie’s openness and tolerance, this doesn’t really ring true. I don’t doubt that Willie Rennie is indeed and incredibly tolerant person. But would we be making the same argument if, for example, overtly pro-life groups were providing interns to politicians? Or groups opposed to racial equality or women’s rights? I mean, would anyone seriously argue that an MP was simply embracing diversity by allowing the English Defence League to provide them with an intern? The association would be at the very least embarrassing, which is precisely how I view our leader's links with CARE.

My problem isn’t with who Willie Rennie’s intern is. He’s entitled to employ who he likes, even if their views might not be those of the party as a whole. My issue is with CARE as an organisation, our leader’s political naivity and poor judgement in associating himself with them and the damage this could cause during the current political discussion on marriage equality - which is already being dominated by a fundamentalist lobby that compensates for its lack of arguments with its disproportionately loud voice. Accepting an intern is hardly a tacit acknowledgement of support for CARE, but it could be interpreted as such. The benefits Mr Rennie receives are far outweighed by the political risks of association with religious fundamentalism.

I have written to Mr Rennie on account of my concerns. I know he is a passionate advocate of LGBT rights and equal marriage. He could never be described as homophobic. But by accepting the intern he has opened himself up to the charge that he is either naive, hypocritical or both – a misunderstanding that could have been so easily avoided. The unfortunate truth is that this one decision could undermine a lot of the good work that he and the party have done on this issue

What I can’t quite understand is why Mr Rennie felt the need to accept an intern from any kind of organisation – religious or otherwise. I would imagine there would be a string of talented, suitably experienced people more than happy to work for the leader of the Liberal Democrats?

Friday, 14 October 2011

Liam Fox finally resigns

The seemingly inevitable resignation has finally been announced. Dr Liam Fox has resigned as defence secretary in the wake of a series of allegations and an investigation into his working relationship with former housemate Adam Werrity.

In one of the least unexpected resignation statements in political history, Dr Fox admitted he had “mistakenly allowed the distinction between personal interest and government activities to become blurred”. That certainly is one diplomatic way of admitting his guilt in allowing a friend and self-styled “advisor” to accompany him on at least 18 foreign trips. What it is not is an apology; nor does it answer crucial and necessary questions about Fox’s foreign policy towards Sri Lanka.

In recent days accusations of impropriety and inappropriate activity on the part of Mr Werrity have increased. Not only has this man clearly and dishonestly masqueraded as an official advisor to a cabinet minister, serious questions have been raised about those funding him and his links to party donors. Whatever Dr Fox’s role in this shambolic deception, there can be no denying that Werrity was never anything more than a friend of the defence secretary, and that his egomaniacal and vanity-feulled conduct essentially constitutes fraud. As The Sun’s Trevor Kavanagh observes, Werrity “had a role in the life of Dr Fox which was not appropriate for a serving secretary of state". It is hard to disagree.

At best, Dr Fox has been unwise in his choice of friends. In all likelihood, he is also guilty of breaking the ministerial code and being less than honest about his relationship with Mr Werrity and how it impacted on his decision-making. He may also be guilty of perjury. I am in agreement with Labour’s Jim Murphy MP who asserts that “this issue has centred solely on [Fox’s] judgment and his conduct in one of the most serious jobs in the country. With so much at stake for our forces the defence secretary must be focused solely on his public duties.”

Murphy is also within his rights to point out that the Prime Minster has visibly been attempting to keep Dr Fox in his job. There are a number of reasons why David Cameron has been keen to do this. Firstly, he had little wish to be forced into a cabinet reshuffle so soon; secondly, dismissing Fox could alienate the Tories’ right wingers who saw Fox as a champion of their rather narrow political perspectives; thirdly, and most crucially, Cameron had wanted to establish key facts via Gus O’Donnell’s investigation before making a judgment on Fox’s fitness for office. But his political judgement was appalling simply because he failed to appreciate that, with so many serious misjudgements and breaches of ministerial standards on Fox’s part, the end was never in doubt. The Prime Minister seemed to think that keeping Fox in office would alleviate the pressure on the defence secretary, when in actual fact more and more damaging allegations were appearing on a daily basis.

As the saga continued to dominate headlines and undermine both Dr Fox’s position and the government’s credibility, the resignation became not only inevitable but necessary. Strangely, aside from the Prime Minister many other Tories didn’t recognise this and have expressed disappointment at his departure. Louise Mensch, for example, used twitter to broadcast her view that “[Fox] was an outstanding Secretary of State for Defence and a completely dedicated minister” while Peter Bone argued that "it's typical of Liam to put the country first" by resigning. "I think it was largely a media-driven [story]. I didn't see the hanging offence, I'm afraid." I can only suppose that Peter Bone is either politically naive, wilfully blind or both.

If it was right for David Laws to have resigned in May 2010, then it was unquestionably right for Liam Fox to have resigned today. He had nowhere else to turn. Jim Murphy made a point of emphasising that he did not call for Fox’s resignation - but that must in part be due to the fact that he didn’t have to given the pressure from the media. Murphy also stated that he “feels sorry for Liam as a person”, which is more than I do. I feel little other than a sense that Fox has reaped what he has sown, as well as some relief that the most objectionable member of the cabinet apart from Teresa May will be finding a new home on the backbenches.

Jim Murphy is, however, absolutely right when he calls for answers. The resignation itself does not close the door on the affair. Questions must be asked about why and for how long the minister was able to behave like this. Fox’s activities in Sri Lanka and allegations of “maverick” foreign policy must also be made clear, as well as detailed information about who knew what – including the civil service. The establishment of truth is far more important that a high profile resignation.

What I would also say in response to Peter Bone is this: there is nothing typical about Fox putting the country first. It seems, if the allegations made contain even the smallest grain of truth, that he has put his own interests and those of his friend above those not only of the country but also those of parliament, his party and the cabinet. As for Louise Mensch’s assessment of his performance as “outstanding”, I beg to differ. This was a man who presided over a rushed and ill-conceived defence review, marked by short-termist decision making – somehow, I can’t see the personnel of RAF Leuchars and Lossiemouth or the people of Fife being quite so impressed by his uncompromising stance and poor strategy, which Menzies Campbell described as “wrong and inept”.

Can I allow Sir Ming to write Fox’s epitaph: “Liam Fox, wrong and inept”. It seems quite fitting in the circumstances...

Tuesday, 11 October 2011

A tribute to a great friend

My friend Bill Beaton would have been 100 years old today.

I call him my friend, and I count it a privilege to have known him as one. But the truth is that Bill was far more to me than that.

I was 16 years old when I first met Bill who, at the time, was a young 82. I was away from home for months at a time - such was the reality of living in the Hebrides and attending school in Oban. Spending so long away from family can be a difficult experience for many, but Bill was a valuable source of support for me and - at a time when family life at home was quite fraught and emotionally challenging - provided some much needed stability.

I came to regard Bill as my adoptive father, but he was, like all fathers, a counsellor, a guide, and an encourager. In fact, Bill's greatest contribution was to empower me to have some faith in my own abilities; a belief in myself was not something my volatile family life had done much to foster. He was also a sounding board for my anger, my many frustrations and sometimes quite frankly ridiculous worldviews.

I got to know Bill through the church. He had been a minister in the Church of the Nazarene and his brother was minister of Oban's liberal-leaning Congregational Church which did a significant amount of work with local youth. For cultural reasons Bill liked to attend the Wee Free as well, I think largely because of associations with his time in the Outer Hebrides. But he would have no truck with the puritanism of the Frees, their intolerance or their rigid interpretations of morality.

I found out that Bill had been a member of the Gay Christian Movement and had also been a passionate advocate of an inclusive church. His house was full of visitors from his previous church, many of whom were of LGBT orientations. His relaxed attitude and championing of LGBT rights, accompanied by his serious and scholarly take on "practical theology", enabled me to come to terms with my own developing sexuality while also allowing me the opportunity to see Christianity at its best - a million miles away from the inflexible and judgmental religion I had grown up with.

He also had an outrageous sense of humour, although as I found out that didn't extend to teenage jokes about women or semi-biographical "life stories" in which I ridiculed teachers and members of my family.

Bill had been a chef by profession and, prior to entering the ministry somewhat later in life, and worked in some of the most prestigious hotels in Europe and America. Before retiring he was chef to the British Embassy in Washington, and spoke with fond memories of serving various dignitaries and politicians. Politics was in fact an equally important part of Bill's personal identity: he was an affirmed liberal, a supporter of the Liberal Party and (later) the Liberal Democrats and a friend of the great Ray Michie, MP for Argyll & Bute, for whom he had nothing but praise.

Bill was a native Gaelic speaker and while I was unable to inherit his fluency in the language, his love for it transferred not only to myself but the many other people he came in contact with.

I have very many memories of Bill, most of them positive. Like all of us, he could at times be infuriating. His obsessions with snooker and tea-pot collecting I could never entirely comprehend. But the most striking thing about Bill was the ease with which he was able to mix and socialise with all types of people, to bridge generational and cultural gaps, to enthuse people with his infectious humanity.

Simply knowing Bill in the way I did made a huge impact on my life. He was the kind of person who once met was never forgotten. It was almost impossible to spend any time with him and not be changed by the experience. Certainly his influence, friendship and belief in me have helped create the person I am today.

Bill died in his 94th year, shortly after his brother Donald who lived to 98. I would have loved Bill to have survived until his hundredth birthday and received his telegram from the Queen - unlike myself Bill had great respect for Her Majesty. Unfortunately he left us over five years ago and will not be with his friends as we celebrate his remarkable life. What is inescapably true however, is that his memory will continue to inspire, encourage and entertain us.

Monday, 10 October 2011

Do something positive for World Mental Health Day...

...tell the Scottish government how to improve mental health services!

You might not know, but currently the Scottish government is involved a consultation exercise to establish the views Scottish people have on an issue vital to facilitating tolerance, understanding, diversity and societal well-being.

And I'm not talking about the not-very controversial consultation on marriage equality that most Scots are not only aware of but feel positively towards. Instead I'm referring to an equally, possibly more, important consultation being conducted on the future of mental health provision in Scotland.

The SNP government are quite rightly looking to promote "a new national mental health strategy bringing together work to improve mental health services and mental health improvement". This is the kind of thing that I imagine should receive cross-party support and, while I have some very minor concerns about the operational detail, it should be welcomed as a very positive step forward with the potential to facilitate a huge cultural shift not only in the way people with mental health problems are treated but also how mental ill-health itself is perceived.

Particularly welcome is the overdue priority given to widening access to talking therapies and implementing a National Dementia Strategy with additional support for carers. I am also pleased that the government is actively reviewing the relationship between community services and inpatient provision because, as someone who works within adult mental health, I appreciate that so often the interface between services is not what it perhaps should be and community services are often not sufficiently responsive to local need. There is a great deal more that can and should be done to improve community mental health services (especially crisis intervention) in a way that reflects local health priorities rather than centrally-driven targets. One of the highlights of my parliamentary election campaign was meeting a group of local mental health service users and finding how much agreement there was between their own concerns for the future of mental health provision and mine; I am immensely pleased that many of the recommendations of this group and others are now being advocated by the government.

But the most positive aspect of the government's stated new strategy is its admission that it does "not yet know what changes would deliver better outcomes" and therefore is seeking "to develop a better understanding of what changes would deliver better outcomes". This suggests a willingness to listen to those directly affected by mental ill-health or who have experience of using existing services. Inevitably this is how governments often talk during consultation but I sense there is a genuine desire by the SNP government to work with people rather than for them - and to deliver a strategy for mental health that not only effectively tackles discrimination and stigma but can significantly improve upon current mental health outcomes.

Today is Mental Health Day. Improving mental health is something I passionately believe in - not only do I currently work in mental health services but have in the past used them. I could have written about the requirement to champion preventative approaches rather than reactive ones; about progress being made in delivering psychological therapies; about how to more effectively tackle stigma or the need to adopt with urgency the recovery-focused model for mental health improvement. All these are important. But, in the end, I decided to leave the talking to you. If you're a Scot - and you care about mental health - tell the government what you think they should be doing to improve mental health services. You have a rare opportunity to shape the future of the nation's mental well-being - please make your voice count! You can have a look at the various consultation documents and respond here.

However, if you're not sufficiently fortunate to be a Scot, why not contact your MP and make your own suggestions for delivering modern, fit-for-purpose and effective local mental health services?

Taking a photo of your wee girl? That's terrorism, sir!

Featured on Liberal Democrat Voice

In the news today is the scarcely believable but sadly very true story of the father prevented from taking photographs of his daughter eating an ice cream in Braehead Shopping Centre.

The basic fact is that a 45 year old man was innocently taking pictures of his young girl on his mobile before being approached by security personnel and police officers who advised him that his activities were illegal and that his mobile phone could be confiscated under the terms of the Prevention of Terrorism Act.

Braehead has issued a rather patronising and contradictory statement in which it argued that "Retail staff at an ice cream stall in Braehead became suspicious after they saw a male shopper taking photographs of a child sitting at their counter. The staff thought the man had also been taking photographs of them and they alerted one of the centre’s security staff...Like most shopping centres, we have a ‘no photography’ policy in the mall for two reasons: to protect the privacy of staff and shoppers and [because] we live in a world of potential threats from terrorists and everyone is being urged by the police to be vigilant at all times. However, it is not our intention to - and we do not - stop innocent family members taking pictures."

I am a professional photographer. I often take photographs in public places. Last year I snapped some rather inventive images of Glasgow's Sauchiehall Street, capturing the vibrancy and energy of the place throughout the course of a day. Obviously it would have been very difficult to request permissions from each of the persons who happened to appear in the pictures, and taking this kind of photograph without the public being featured within them would have been both impossible and defeating the purpose of my project. Similarly I took several pictures at the recent Lib Dem conference in which many ordinary delegates may have been inadvertently snapped. I've heard this argument time and again; that it should be illegal to take photographs in a public place. But the truth is that it isn't - and so long as no improper pictures are being taken there really shouldn't be an issue. If taking photographs in public places was a crime the fascinating art of lomography, not to mention the city scenes and event photography so vital to maintaining a photographic history of our proud nation, would be lost to future generations.

As the law stands, "there are no legal restrictions on photography in a public place and no presumption of privacy for individuals in a public place" (House of Lords, 16th July 2008). The Bureau of Freelance Photographers also confirms that "individuals do not have a legal right to stop a photographer from [taking] photographs in a public place."

Braehead may claim that initially they thought that the man at the centre of this - Chris White - was acting "suspiciously" and may have been taking pictures of staff. In fact, the pictures he took of his daughter (which can be seen here) did not feature anyone else - either staff or customers of the shopping centre. A polite request to have a look at the pictures would have surely been enough to dispel any such suspicion.

Of course, Braehead point to the fact that there are signs up prohibiting photography within the shopping centre. Legally speaking, as the centre is private property they can request this although I suspect it would be rather difficult enforcing a conviction and it seemed unnecessary to involve the police. What they can not do is threaten to confiscate photographic equipment. Braehead also admits in its statement that "it is not our intention to - and we do not - stop innocent family members taking pictures." But they did. And they have since been utterly unapologetic.

After unnecessary and apparently intense interrogation Mr White was ordered by security staff to leave Braehead and is now barred from the premises. Braehead should admit that they were wrong to have taken the actions they did against Mr White. His treatment was deplorable and the claim that he was dealt with in this way due to a suspected terrorist risk is so facile as to be laughable. If it's got to the stage that a father can't take a photograph of his daughter eating an ice cream without anti-terrorist measures being employed then the terrorists really have won.

I have been in conversation on twitter with some people who felt that the staff reporting Mr White to security services were only doing their job. Perhaps; I certainly have some sympathy for them. But they might have been doing a more effective job in serving the public if they had politely asked to see Mr White's photographs to ensure their suspicions were groundless while reminding him of the no photography policy. I suspect there was nothing in their job descriptions requiring them to turn a trivial event into a national incident. The fact that the staff initially made a poor judgement is understandable and forgivable. The authoritarian response that followed in combination with what passes for public relations from Braehead are definitely not.

Mr White has written a letter to the Evening Times describing what was obviously a personal ordeal for both himself and his daughter. As Scott Douglas, writing for CIPR, observes: "First he was detained by security staff and made to feel like a pervert. Next he was questioned by police and made to feel like a terrorist. Thirdly he was interviewed by traditional media and portrayed as a victim. Now he is being championed by social media and becoming a cause celebre."

All this could have been preventable. Braehead must offer a sincere apology to Mr White and review the ban on photography which, according to their own statement, is clearly unworkable and not enforced in most cases. Braehead also must recognise the reality that for many people, especially families, visiting shopping centres can be in itself a social activity which they may want to capture with images to upload to facebook, twitter and so on. In fact it must embrace new consumer habits rather than show utter contempt for those who are enjoying the freedoms modern technologies bring. People want to use their mobile phones and other basic equipment to take quick snaps. The plain truth is that this situation was a product of Braehead's mistaken and dangerous assumption that photography is by nature intrusive and objectionable (except where staff choose to use "discretion"). This is the wrong way to look at the situation: Braehead should adopt a new policy whereby people are not deterred from taking photographs while allowing staff to use their discretion to deal with genuinely suspicious behaviour in an appropriate way.

There was no need for Braehead to act in such an overbearing and authoritarian way - either towards Mr White or the facebook users whose furious comments were apparently deleted in an act of almost Stalinesque censorship. Braehead should firstly apologise. Secondly, it should reconsider its photographic ban in light of changing consumer habits (and the law) and, thirdly, bring its PR department kicking and screaming into the 21st century.

Tuesday, 4 October 2011

Teresa May sets cat among the pigeons

How can anyone take Home Secretary Teresa May seriously?

It's hard enough to accept that the Home Secretary appears to have declared war on the Human Rights Act. Worse still, she appears to have fallen into the same trap as the Daily Mail and The Sun in associating the Human Rights Act with a supposed myriads of illegal immigrants who have misused it to extend their stay in the UK.

Ms May says the Human Rights Act "needs to go". Well, something certainly does. I'm just not in agreement with her that it's the legislation.

Addressing the Conservative Party Conference today Ms May took the predictable populist and right-wing approach, blaming the Human Rights Act for the non-removal of immigrants and vowing to amend immigration law to ensure that "misinterpretation" of the right to family life didn't result in illegal immigrants outstaying their welcome. Why it was necessary to remove the protections enshrined within the Human Rights Act (which can not actually be done without negating Britain's obligation to incorporate the European Convention of Human Rights into UK law) in addition to adapting immigration policy Ms May didn't say. It didn't seem to matter to the party faithful in any case.

Neither did Ms May reveal that only a tiny number - a little over 100 - illegal immigrants have used the Human Rights Act to remain in the UK. Many of these are people who genuinely have either strong family connections here or face potential persecution if they return home. But the Home Secretary did draw our attention to the curious case of Maya the cat which she cited as merely one example of the ridiculous unintended consequences of Human Rights legislation.

"We all know the stories about the Human Rights Act... about the illegal immigrant who cannot be deported because, and I am not making this up, he had a pet cat." Yes, we all know stories - many of them fabricated or fantasy. Just like this one. Unfortunately, in spite of her protestations to the contrary, it seems that Ms May was, in fact, making it up. Within minutes the UK's best investigative journalists were able to establish that the decision made in this case by the Royal Courts of Justice had absolutely nothing to do with a cat and everything to do with the Home Office's inability to follow its own rules in relation to unmarried couples.

I can only imagine why someone of Ms May's supposed experience and expertise thinks that relationships with pets should have some bearing on immigration status. I should state here that my pet cat is a Bengal...perhaps that entitles me to an Indian passport?

Fortunately, not only journalists have been on hand to ridicule the Home Secretary's unwise intervention. Justice Secretary Ken Clarke bluntly admitted that "I cannot believe anyone was refused deportation just because they owned a cat". He also added that "this certainly has nothing to do with the Human Rights Act and nothing to do with the European Convention on Human Rights...I think it is a good idea that we remain adhering to the Convention on Human Rights and the cases are heard here by British judges." Tellingly he advised the BBC that Ms May had not in fact discussed any potential change to immigration law with him and that under existing arrangements any claim made to avoid deportation must be "extremely compelling".

Amnesty International have also hit out, branding Ms May "misinformed" and arguing her speech fuelled "myths and misconceptions". The Cat Society of Great Britain has yet to comment but as a lover of our feline friends I am personally outraged that cats are the latest in a long line of innocents to be blamed for the state of the country. It is a ludicrous situation that someone as senior as the Home Secretary can make such a mockery of her own position and the status of her office with a fabricated story about a cat. Firstly, the poor cat deserves better than to be the object of derision at Tory Party conference. Secondly, Ms May's researchers should be given their P45s.

This threatens to undermine David Cameron's attempts to portray his party and modernising and progressive, while reinforcing May's own assessment of the Conservatives as "the nasty party". Quite frankly, May looks ridiculous and so does her party.

However, this episode demonstrates there is a clear need for Liberal Democrats and other progressively minded politicians to both challenge the Tories' negative and misinformed opposition to the Human Rights Act while actively championing the principles enshrined within it. There is a great deal of public ignorance about both immigration and the impact of human rights legislation which, it seems, includes the Home Secretary. What is needed is a drive to promote the Human Rights Act, explaining its importance as a cornerstone of a tolerant, non-discriminatory society in which human rights apply to everyone equally.

We can laugh at Teresa May. Personally, I pity her: it must be difficult to sustain such an illogical worldview. However, the stark reality is that there are many people who believe the very myths she herself has perpetuated and reinforced - myths that must be broken and shattered if we are to move towards a more inclusive Britain.

Defending the Human Rights Act is the responsibility of all of us who care deeply and passionately about basic freedoms. However, while Ken Clarke's and Amnesty International's responses to Ms May's comments have injected some sanity into the conversation, there can be no escaping that senior Liberal Democrats, especially Nick Clegg and Danny Alexander, must become more adept at challenging illiberal and thoughtless proposals from their Tory counterparts.