Let’s not protest too much at Tory rhetoric

Most Liberal Democrats, I suspect, felt slightly queasy, in the aftermath of the recent riots, at some of the very Tory rhetoric used (particularly) by the prime minister. In fact, I know many Liberal Democrats felt a little more than queasy from seeing their blogs and tweets.

At the time, though, I struggled slightly to get quite as worked up as others, and I found myself in the same position over the weekend when Theresa May, the home secretary, started mouthing off about how awful the Human Rights Act is.

The reason is this: these words, this excessive rhetoric, doesn’t amount to anything. It is posturing, pure and simple. After the riots, the prime minister latched onto the anger felt by those who’d been afflicted and promised all sorts of things to show he was “on their side”.

But what did all that talk amount to? We still have a liberal justice secretary, a Liberal Democrat deputy PM chairing the Home Affairs Cabinet Committee and a government with an ambitious programme to reform the failed criminal justice system of the past few decades. David Cameron’s talk changed nothing.

And this weekend, it was Tory members who needed mollifying. And if Tory members are able to work themselves up into a state of excitement because of a (well-spun) interview with the home secretary, it’s fine by me.

Because next Monday, David Cameron will go back to Number 10, Nick Clegg will be at his desk in the Cabinet Office, and the programme for government will still commit this government to strengthening, not diminishing, human rights. Ken Clarke will still be justice secretary, Chris Huhne will be continuing his green revolution, and Britain will still be an active member of the European Union.

And Tory members will go home with a warm feeling inside their stomachs. And then they will remember that, actually, their party didn’t win the election, it is 2011 not 1950 and they’ll realise that human rights and the EU are here to stay. And they’ll get angrier and angrier about all of that until next September, when Theresa May will be interviewed by The Daily Telegraph.

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