The Spectator

Letters: it would be the height of stupidity to ditch the ECHR

The sanctity of the ECHR

Sir: Jonathan Sumption’s criticisms of the European Convention on Human Rights (‘Ruled out’, 30 September) are as lucid and as logical as one would expect from such an admired jurist. He provides a persuasive case as to why the UK could withdraw from the ECHR while preserving all the basic rights that we value and which are enshrined by the Convention. 

Uncharacteristically, however, he fails to mention the single most important reason why the UK was at the forefront of the creation of the Convention – and the accompanying court – in 1949.  

It was not to ensure that basic human rights were enjoyed in the United Kingdom or in other stable democracies which already enjoyed the rule of law and personal freedom. To quote Sir David Maxwell Fyfe, one of the prime authors of the Convention (who became lord chancellor), it was to get a list of ‘basic personal rights to be acknowledged by all governments and a minimum standard of democratic conduct for all members’.

Germany had just emerged from Nazism, Italy from fascism and many other European countries had suffered from dictatorship and autocracy. The UK was leading the successful efforts to entrench democracy and human rights throughout western Europe.

Russia is the only country to have left the European Convention. It was expelled after its invasion of Ukraine. Do we really want to join Putin by abandoning one of the cornerstones of the rule of law in Europe?

The rule of law and democratic values are already under attack by political extremists of right and left in various parts of Europe. The European Convention remains a vital bulwark to protect personal freedom. It would be the height of stupidity and irresponsibility for the UK to throw the baby out with the bathwater because of the current dispute about the lawfulness of transporting illegal migrants to Rwanda.

Sir Malcolm Rifkind


French letters

Sir: In his review of Sarah Ogilvie’s book on the Oxford English Dictionary (Books, 23 September), Henry Hitchings refers to an eye surgeon, James Dixon, having the condom in mind when in 1888 he wrote: ‘Everything obscene comes from France.’ One of the stories about the origin of the word is that it derives from the town of Condom in Gascony where, it is said, there was once, a long time ago, a factory which made prophylactics out of lamb intestines. A past mayor is on record as saying, however, that the town’s connection with condoms is misconceived. Incidentally, the town lies on the River Baise, which has always caused some amusement, the verb baiser being a word for the activity for which condoms are intended.  

Richard Symington

London SW17

We need HS2

Sir: Better to call a halt to the whole HS2 fiasco, says Martin Vander Meyer (‘Any other business’, 30 September). In January 2012, I made a written plea that the Conservative government take the advice of the Commons Transport Select Committee when it called in a report for the justification for the particular route for HS2 being proposed.

The government did just that and identified a lack of rail infrastructure in the north, bad connections and infrequent services. The HS2 bill went through parliament with a focus on the route and compensation for those affected, but hardly any focus on costs and the difficulties of a high-speed line with trains travelling 100km faster than HS1 and most comparable services in Europe. It was clear then that costs were going to balloon, because so many mistakes were made in the original design of HS2.

However, it would be a colossal mistake to cut future development in the north, the one place where it is really needed. To end up with a service only from London (and not even London but Old Oak Common) to Birmingham (and there, too, a station outside the city centre) would be the worst of all worlds. To be a success the line must connect to Manchester and eventually on to Leeds. It will cost millions to finish but otherwise millions will have been needlessly wasted.

William Astor

London SW1


Sir: Lucretia Denny (Letters, 23 September) suggests that Rod Liddle (Letters, 9 September) has misunderstood Hamlet’s enigmatic line about knowing ‘a hawk from a handsaw’. Although in Shakespeare’s day a ‘hawk’ could indeed refer to a plasterer’s tool, it more commonly meant what it does today, a bird of prey. The consensus nowadays is that Hamlet is using the metaphor of two birds with contrasting natures – a hawk, a hunter and a handsaw, aka hernshaw or hansa, a dialect term for a heron, used also by Chaucer.

In the context of Hamlet’s situation, he is revealing that he is merely assuming a play of madness but can in fact with the light of reason (‘when the wind is southerly’) perfectly discern the difference between hunter and hunted – Claudius and his lackeys Rosencrantz and Guildenstern being the hunters or hawks, and he himself currently being their prey. 

Salley Vickers

London W11

Never say die

Sir: I was intrigued to read Dear Mary’s response (September 30) to a correspondent worried at the likely eulogies at their funeral. If it is any help, I have already written mine, and it is contained in the order of service, from the first hymn to the final Amen. The eulogy itself is briefly about me, and mainly about the Resurrection, not only of Jesus Christ, but all of us; I have sent a copy to my lawyer, and I have no intention of dying in the foreseeable future.

Penelope Wade