I must admit that the first arts event in which I participated on arriving in Australia was entirely by chance. Sitting in the sun on the restaurant terrace of the Museum of Contemporary Art in Sydney, looking at the ferries bustling in and out of Circular Quay, I picked up a small printed notice that had been placed on my table. It told me that, as part of the current city-wide contemporary art show, the chair in which I would normally have been sitting had been swapped with one from a café in Hanoi.
The Human Rights Act has seemed to many to be an innocent adaptation of principles already contained within our common law, and indeed affirmed by statute once before, in the Bill of Rights of 1689. Seen in this way, the Act is no more than an affirmation of an ancient principle of our jurisdiction, which is that the law exists to protect the individual from oppression, whether that oppression be exerted by criminals, by neighbours or by those in authority.
Earlier this month Turkey’s bid to join the European Union crept past the tipping point from possibility to probability. The European Commission recommended that accession negotiations be opened with Ankara, and the outgoing enlargement commissioner Günter Verheugen announced that ‘no further obstacles remain’ on Turkey’s path. The news sent the Turkish press into frenzies of enthusiasm, with headlines screaming, ‘Europe, here we come!’, as though egging on the national sports team in the Euro championships, or a conquering Turkish army on its way to, say, Vienna.
If there was one reason above any other for the British electorate’s flight to socialism in 1945, it was surely the means test. In some ways the national government’s grudging state charity of the Depression years was worse than nothing. For his ha’p’orth of black pudding, the 1930s welfare claimant had first to surrender his dignity, his privacy and in some cases his home. A claimant for the dole or the old age pension had to submit to inspection by the means test man, who had the power to enter his home and order him to dispose of every last luxury before money would be paid.