We are excited to be publishing our new report on the current landscape of political opinion on human rights in the UK.
It seemed like a good time to take stock of current perceptions and gain an insight into how they might develop in the context of major political upheaval. So, we interviewed senior politicians, civil servants, and political influencers to gauge their attitudes about the politics of human rights.
Mapping political attitudes
In our analysis, we consider the positioning of each of our respondents, then segment these into three broad attitude groups, namely, ‘advocates’, the ‘disengaged majority’, and ‘antagonists’.
We then drill down further into these groups to explore the varied combinations of values and opinions found among high-profile political actors in relation to human rights.
Mapping political attitudes can of course help with the development of effective advocacy strategies to strengthen support for, or reduce opposition to, human rights campaigns or rights-based policymaking.
Human rights messaging
We found that most politicians and political influencers do not engage with the topic of human rights frequently or see it as a high priority.
The likelihood that a politician will engage with a rights-based campaign has a lot to do with how its objectives are framed. In other words, are human rights positioned as a means to an end, or an end in themselves?
Of the two, most politicians are far more likely to support human rights as a step towards another policy goal. This is also how they tend to frame human rights when referring to them in parliament or in their manifestos.
We’ve found in this and other research, that proponents of human rights ideals tend to be divided between those that see human rights in terms of the duties of the state, and those that see them in terms of individual freedom from the state. And we know that ‘ordinary voters’ are more likely to support human rights when they are described as a means of enhancing their freedom and security.
The future of human rights in the UK
The UK’s withdrawal from the EU could pose further challenges to domestic and international efforts to promote human rights; though our interviewees disagreed about whether and when a break from the European Court of Human Rights might come about.
But there is agreement that if human rights are to prosper, they need to be seen as a mainstream political issue. And advocates need to reach beyond their base to address the concerns of ordinary voters. This will be the only means of broadening and sustaining support for the cause.
One senior Labour figure captured the message precisely. Talking of the role of civil society groups on the human rights agenda, he concluded that they ‘need to pursue cases which are founded in a recognisable sense of British fairness’.
Written and researched by strategy consultants Will Tucker and Zander Woollcombe, and veteran senior civil servant Andrew Mcdonald, the report illustrates the potential, and the imperative, for civil society organisations to deepen support for the human rights agenda in the UK political mainstream.