November 25th, 2010

djm4: (Default)
Thursday, November 25th, 2010 07:37 pm
Sometimes, messages from Lib Dem HQ have a timing that's ... unfortunate. For example, yesterday, I received an e-mail from Sarah Teather entitled 'Delivering a fair start for every child' at around the same time that I was reading tweets from Laurie Penny about the fair start the Met were giving to children in Whitehall.

Today, I received an e-mail imploring me to come and help in the Oldham East and Saddleworth by-election:

Dear David,

This Christmas, you can give Parliament a new Liberal Democrat MP.

Well, that does sound rather shiny, certainly, and I'm sure Parliament would appreciate a gift from Santa of this form. The MP in question would be Elwyn Watkins. During the election, Elwyn Watkins was reported (on and in the Saddleworth News) as saying that he'd be prepared to 'rip up' both the European Convention on Human Rights and the Geneva Convention (for clarity, that's the Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees, not any other Geneva Convention you might have heard of).

To quote from the first article:

Mr Woolas has dealt with these problems in government since October 2008 as immigration minister. He replied that, in his experience, the Human Rights Act was the biggest obstacle to removing failed asylum seekers.

"The biggest problem I have day in and day out is the representation from those who claim civil liberties on behalf of such people," he explained.

Mr Watkins replied: "So we need to change it." When asked by Mr Woolas whether he wanted to change the European Convention on Human Rights and the Geneva Convention, he added: "Sure, I'd rip it up."

Ripping up the either of those conventions is not exactly Lib Dem policy so, in fairness to Elwyn Watkins, I did e-mail him to see whether he could clarify this. Hot on the heels of the e-mail asking me to help in Oldham East and Saddleworth came Elwyn Watkins's reply, which I quote below in full:

Dear David
Thank you for getting in touch with me to ask my views on human rights issues.

As a Liberal Democrat, I am committed to fairness and justice at home and around the world. I find the last Labour Government’s record on these issues nothing less than shameful.

It was a disgrace that Labour knowingly allowed people to be handed over for torture. I don’t condone murder or torture, and never will. I was appalled that former Immigration Minister Phil Woolas allowed the detention of children, and am delighted that the Lib Dems in government are taking steps to end it.

On the specific issue you raised, it is right in my view that, in general, immigrants who abuse the system or commit serious crimes in this country can be deported, as the law currently allows.

Clearly there are other considerations in the case of people who have been granted asylum because it is likely their lives would be seriously endangered if they return to their home country.

Nonetheless, the position of the minority who abuse asylum is a genuine concern for local people, many of whom have raised it repeatedly with politicians of all parties.

It is not good enough to sweep these concerns under the carpet as Labour have done for 13 years. To not discuss these issues openly when they are of genuine concern to many local people allows extremist parties to get a foot in the door, and that’s something none of us want.

I welcome the coalition government’s commitment to a Commission to investigate a British Bill of Rights, with the express intention of clarifying how our commitment to the European Convention on Human Rights, the Geneva Convention and other international agreements best operate within British law and to ‘promote a better understanding of the scope of these obligations and liberties’.

This is a complex issue and I will fight for the right of everyone to have their views heard as well as, as a Liberal Democrat, for the rights of those individuals who are forced to flee their countries under threat of persecution.

For all of us Liberal Democrats, it is important to make sure that the kind of divisive election campaign run by Phil Woolas’ Labour Party in May is never repeated. For the Immigration Minister to knowingly stir up racial tensions, with a strategy his team described as a way to “get the white folk angry”, in a desperate attempt to hold his seat is a damning indictment. Only a Lib Dem win in Oldham East and Saddleworth will send that message.

I very much look forward to seeing you on the campaign trail over the next few weeks.

With best wishes

Elwyn Watkins

I'm ... not sure that's a retraction. Parts of it could be read to be incompatible with what he's claimed to have said at hustings, but threatening to tear up the European Convention on Human Rights and the Geneva Convention concerning refugees is such a big deal that I want a more definite explanation of his views.

So if, based on that, you think Elwyn Watkins would be a good Christmas present for Parliament, Elwyn Watkins of Oldham East and Saddleworth would very much like to hear from you.