The general opinion amongst those who know him is that John Howell, the MP for Henley, is a decent man. Although he has rarely rebelled against his party in Westminster, he appears to be at least one step removed from the right-wing ideologues who are currently the driving force in the Conservative Party.
Recently, we identified how the Conservative group on the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (of which he is a member) had decided to align itself with the waifs and strays of the extreme right in a grouping called the European Conservatives and Democratic Alliance (EC/DA).
Following this, Mr Howell wrote a well-reasoned piece outlining the achievements of the Council over the past 70 years to improve human rights across Europe.
He was completely right to do so. The council, whose best known body, the European Court of Human Rights, enforces the European Convention on Human Rights, has been nothing but a force for good.
Indeed, it seems quite remarkable that many within the Conservative Party would have the UK leave the ECHR and (as they say) ‘take back control’ through a British Bill of Rights. [As an aside, that would put us alongside Belarus as the only country in Europe not to be a member.]
However, it is informative to look at the achievements Mr Howell highlighted and see how they stack up with the views of their new friends:
“We could later shoot them all. That’s not at all the issue. Or, gassing, or whatever you want. It’s the same to me.”Christian Lüth
The council has led ‘in fighting racism and antisemitism’
- In 2010, Jesper Langballe, a spokesperson for the Danish People’s Party, reportedly lashed out at the laws banning racist speech after stating that another person “should not have written that “Muslim fathers rape their daughters”, when the truth seems to be that they only kill them (the so-called honour killings) – and turn a blind eye when uncles rape them.” 1
- No Party in the group is outwardly antisemitic as a matter of policy but Björn Höcke, the head of the Alternatif fur Deutschland in the state of Thuringia, referred to Berlin’s Holocaust memorial as a “monument of shame” and called on the country to stop atoning for its Nazi past. 2
The Council has led the way in gender equality
- In November last year the Vox Party in Spain refused to sign an all-party declaration condemning violence against women. 3
- In Poland the Law and Justice Party government has targeted women’s rights groups through raids and denial of funding, often with little warning and no clear rationale. 4
The Council covers key issues of importance such as the treatment of refugees
- Earlier this year, the Swedish Democrats leader, Jimmie Åkesson, travelled to refugee camps in Turkey to hand out leaflets that said “Sweden is full. Don’t come to us! We can’t give you more money or provide any housing.” 5 [Just for the record, Sweden is 46th out of 49 European countries in terms of population density, with an estimated 23 people per sq km. 6]
- Just last week, the AfD sacked its former spokesman, Christian Lüth, for saying that it was in the interest of the party that more migrants came to Germany because “the AfD does better.” He then added, “We could later shoot them all. That’s not at all the issue. Or, gassing, or whatever you want. It’s the same to me.” It seems that was too much even for AfD – although it has previously declined to take action against him when he was seen giving a Nazi salute. 7
In his latest article Mr Howell did not highlight LGBTQ issues but, in 2012 he wrote that “Gay Civil Marriage and its contribution to a tolerant society at ease with itself is something which all Conservatives should support.” Well said!
That message of tolerance does seem to chime with Giovanni De Paoli, who is a councillor for Lega Nord party, the third biggest of the EC/DA parties. In 2016 he pronounced that “If I had a homosexual child I would put him in a furnace and set fire to him.” 8
It also seems that Vox are even less keen on LGBTQ rights than there are women’s rights. In elections in 2019 they pledged to curtail gay pride parades, heaped ridicule on diversity lessons in schools and drew parallels between homosexuality and bestiality. 9
This list is by no means comprehensive. That would fill a small book, not an article.
Not for one moment, do we suggest that either Mr Howell, nor any of his colleagues, share or endorse such odious views. Which just raises the question “Why are the Conservatives happy to have these as bedfellows in Europe’s primary forum for the protection and advancement of human rights.”
It has been suggested that the reason may be to hold them closely to the centre and so temper their views as they realise how much is to be gained by joining the mainstream.
It is an argument that President Hindenburg could not have expressed better as he looked around for someone to appoint Chancellor of Germany in 1933.
Anyone who feels that may be taking it a step too far should follow this link showing a picture of the previously mentioned Björn Höcke https://www.dialoginternational.com/dialog_international/2017/01/afd-leader-bernd-h%C3%B6cke-channels-adolf-hitler.html. It is always unwise to jump to conclusions, but the chances are that Herr Höcke was not hailing a taxi.
Indeed, far from tempering their extremist views, they give those views, and those who hold them, credibility. They allow the parties to go back to their own electorate and say “Look, we are in the same grouping as the British Conservatives. The party of Thatcher and Churchill. Would they join with us if were right-wing extremists?”
By being part of the Conservative group, John Howell has done much good work in an organisation that has, itself, changed Europe for the better. But, by being the Treasurer for a wider EC/DA, he is placing his reputation alongside those who support everything he has been striving against his entire political career.
We call again on Mr Howell to do the sensible thing – to do the decent thing – and quit as the Treasurer of the EC/DA and then campaign for the Conservatives to return to their roots and join a grouping that more accurately reflects the views of the people of Henley who he represents.
The full list of EC/DA members can be found here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/European_Conservatives_Group_and_Democratic_Alliance
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