‘So I want a Bill of Rights that puts the protection of the environment at the very heart of Britain’s constitution. We should guarantee the right of every citizen to clean water, pure air and unpolluted land.’
– Ming Cambell
Sir Menzies Campbell’s leader’s speech to the Liberal Democrat conference reads far better than he delivered it. It reads rather passionate, but the delivery was lacklustre and while we know that big set piece speeches are written by a team, it’s still important that the leader makes them his or her own. Sadly Ming does come across as a rather kindly old uncle, who says interesting things from time to time but is largely ignored.
But the biggest grown over here came with the idea of incorporating environmental rights into a new Bill of Rights. As if we weren’t finding it hard enough to cling on to the rights enshrined in the Human Rights Act.
Bills of rights are privileges, often hard won, that a state grants its citizens to be upheld by the judiciary.
It already takes an exceptional set of circumstances to deny a British citizen access to clean water. A bill of rights would be no more effective at preventing extreme weather than a referendum against crime or poverty. We should only enshrine into our constitution rights that we can meaningfully deliver: anything else is futile gesture politics.
And it’s a King Canute style gesture at that. To enshrine a constitutional right to clean water, air and land is absurd as is it claims dominion over nature for the judiciary. Human activity almost certainly alters nature, but we’re long way from being able to control it and so dealing with climate change requires a far more intelligent approach.