“Apart from the sanitation, education, wine, public order, irrigation, roads, the fresh water system and public health what have the Romans ever done for us?” The brilliance of Python, demonstrated in one of the best scenes in Life of Brian. It’s a steadfast rule that anyone explaining a joke is, in common terms, a twat, So consider my twat t-shirt proudly displayed and corresponding headgear also donned for this post.
The hilarity of that scene rests in the fact that everything listed are indeed things the Roman Empire brought to it’s subjects. Given the worthy reverence that Python gets, it’s small wonder their canon has been adopted and adapted to all manner of political causes and ideologies over the years. The latest arrived this week in the form of a Guardian video parodying the famous ‘what have the Romans ever done’ scene, asking ‘what has the European Convention on Human Rights ever done for us?’
Convinced of it’s cause, it cocks up right away, like a blind man believing he has regained his sight falling head first into a hole, by immediately conflating being a signatory to the European Convention of Human Rights (ECHR) with being a member of the EU. The ECHR was signed in 1950 by the 47 members (including 28 current EU members and 19 non-EU members) of the (non-EU) Council of Europe (not to be confused with the European Council, which is an EU body. Can you see why people struggle with political transparency on a European level now?)
It’s enforcement is enacted by the European Court of Human Rights, another non-EU body, not to be confused with the European Court of Justice, which implements EU law. Yeah I know, my head hurts too.
So, bottom line, being signatory to the ECHR has absolutely nothing to do with Britain’s EU membership, continued or otherwise. Despite this, Patrick Stewart playing the role of Bulldog-spirited PM (excellently I might add, the man is a genius) rants about Brussels bureaucrats taking our sovereignty. Technically true, but sweet FA to do with the ECHR.
In the spirit of Python it then lists the various things the ECHR has given us, only again it misses the whole point of the gag by not actually being accurate at all. It mentions the right to a fair trial (which we can attribute to Magna Carta), freedom from torture (the British Bill of Rights and more recently the Geneva Convention take care of that one), freedom of religion, free expression (the same thing those two, also taken care of by our good friend Mr Bill O’ Rights in 1689), freedom from slavery (outlawed in these fair isles nearly 70 years prior to the ECHR in 1883) and protection for domestic violence victims (that one covered by the Matrimonial Causes act in 1878 as well as all the usual criminal acts of rape, violence, harassment etc.) It then ridiculously suggests that war would immediately break out in Northern Ireland were it not for the ECHR,
It’s clear from both the timing of this video’s release and the false conflation of Brussels (the European Court of Human Rights is actually in Strasbourg) with the ECHR that this is a ham fisted argument for the Remain campaign, designed to make people think that our withdrawing from the EU means withdrawing from the ECHR and an impending abolition of all these rights, presumably by the champagne quaffing, baby-eating Tories. Like most of the arguments employed by those who’d rather we stayed in the EU though, it is in fact, complete bollocks,
So apologies for having to be that guy, arguing with a joke. I just figured some people may be confused and felt the need to point out the glaring errors in the video, given that it came from a respected (by some) newspaper rather than say, Russell Howard on BBC Three, and could potentially mislead people in the run up to one of the most important political decisions the British electorate has made in decades. Oh and as much as we all love Sir Pat Stew, he’s not the messiah…