David Blackburn

Grieve tucks into May

Grieve tucks into May
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A fringe debate on the Human Rights Act hosted by the Tory Reform Group might not have been a crowd puller. But yesterday’s feline foul-up and the presence of Attorney General Dominic Grieve, a firm advocate of human rights, ensured the event was a sell-out.

If Grieve had been advised against deepening internal animosity on the 'cat flap' furore, he ignored the direction. The TRG’s Egremont blog quotes Grieve as saying:

"We need to have a rational debate. We must be more productive than just going for the ‘meow’ factor."

Then he added:

“The judicial interpretation and case workload of the European Court ought to be a concern for the UK and other European countries. If Britain wants a Bill of Rights we can have one, but we have to accept that the coalition circumscribes what we can do.”

Grieve’s comment about the interpretation and caseload of the ECHR illustrates that the supporters of the basic status quo are not unthinking. Few would argue that the ECHR works effectively and there is cause to check its growing activity. For example, the Court made just 837 judgments before it became a permanent establishment in 1998, and it has made more than 5,000 judgments since. But Grieve’s statement implies that it might be best to reform the court’s practices with the agreement of the Council of Europe rather than act unilaterally, especially when governing in coalition. Grieve and others will know the high price (in every sense of the term) that is attached to unilateral action. Perhaps this explains why the government wants to use its forthcoming chairmanship of the Council of Europe to drive reform. And officials are confident of some success; such is the alleged resentment for the court across Europe.

‘Cat flap’ has also provided an invaluable insight into Tory discipline. May’s backbench allies are aghast at Ken Clarke’s opportunism. “What’s he doing? What about collective responsibility?” One MP told Sky’s Sophy Ridge yesterday. While a Labour source describes it as “odd and unimpressive to have all this stuff playing out so messily during conference”. It’s hard to disagree. David Cameron will take to the stage this afternoon and promise to lead the country to a better future. The backdrop to that solemn vow will be a farce of May, moggies and no small amount of malice. It doesn't inspire confidence.