I was disappointed, when listening to the Today Programme this morning, to discover that a leading member of my profession had descended as low as Sir Keir Starmer did. One somehow, no doubt foolishly, expects members of the Bar to listen to questions and answer them (we get into awful trouble in court if we dodge questions from the bench). But Sir Keir, not just a barrister but a former Director of Public Prosecutions, refused point blank to answer the questions John Humphries was putting to him.
The sad thing is that there were answers he could have given, but he reckoned they might not go down well with the electorate, so he decided to talk a lot of drivel instead.
The question was a simple one. Did Sir Keir agree with the Prime Minister that, if human rights laws were preventing us from dealing properly with terrorism, we should amend those human rights laws?
Sir Keir’s entire career has been built on his belief that human rights laws are vastly superior to the common law of England. We all knew that he would rather die than say there was anything wrong with modern human rights laws. If he had been inclined to honesty he could have said, as he believes, that the rights of suspected foreign terrorists were desperately important and often trumped the right of the rest of us not to be subjected to the possibility of terrorist attacks. But, now he has become a politician, he worked out that that would probably not go down well with the voters (whom he almost certainly despises with the venom which only North London Socialists can manage). So he decided not to answer the question.
Instead, Sir Keir told us that he had once been a frightfully important chap who prosecuted terrorists to conviction. Human rights laws had not prevented him from doing so. No one, of course, has suggested that human rights laws prevent criminals from being prosecuted. Humphries, who performed remarkably well, pressed Sir Keir. He pointed out that the question had not been answered. The problem Mrs May had identified, he said, was that people who were a danger to us could often not be deported to their own countries because judges, applying modern human rights laws, were forced to conclude that deportation would breach the rights of the potential terrorists. Seriously dangerous foreign Islamist extremists were being allowed to stay in the UK because of their right to family life, or because their own countries might not be very nice to them if they were returned.
Sir Keir persisted in his refusal to give the answer which we know he believed to be true (that the right to family life and the right not to be mistreated by your own country were more important than the right of British citizens not to be subjected to the possibility of terrorist attacks). Instead he said he believed in the rule of law. As Humphries pointed out, Mrs May was not opposed to the rule of law. She was not suggesting that the law should be broken. All she was suggesting was that it should be changed. Sir Keir just reverted to his irrelevant point that human rights laws did not prevent prosecutions.
I honestly did think Sir Keir’s performance was seriously disappointing. I have not, for obvious reasons, formulated the case he could have made in a very attractive way. But he could have done the job if he had wanted to. Sadly, he didn’t want to. He preferred to behave like the most despicable hack politician.
I do hope Labour remains in opposition.