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The philosophy of Conservatism and a belief in human rights are closely linked. Conservatives typically believe in the principles of personal freedom and a government limited by the rule of law. There is a strong tradition of Conservative politicians championing the development and protection of human rights. The European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) was drafted and championed by Conservative politicians after World War Two. Indeed, it was actually a Conservative MP – Quintin Hogg – who first advocated a bill to incorporate the ECHR into UK law.

Yet, despite this philosophical link, Conservative policymakers and voters are often deemed to be sceptical of Britain’s human rights framework. This perceived scepticism has led to a promise by the Conservative Party, initially stated in their 2010 manifesto, and restated in 2015, to repeal the Human Rights Act and replace it with a British Bill of Rights and Responsibilities.

Today Bright Blue has published a new polling report, “Individual identity. Understanding how conservatives think about human rights and discrimination”, which unearths and analyses the nuance of what most Conservative voters actually think about human rights and discrimination

Broad attitudes to human rights

Our report reveals that Conservative voters strongly believe human rights exist. On a scale of one to ten, the extent to which Conservatives believe that human rights exist stands at 6.8; only slightly lower than Labour and Liberal Democrat supporters, and higher than UKIP voters.

There are more significant differences between voters on the inalienability of human rights. Conservatives are divided on the issue while Labour and the Liberal Democrat voters contend that human rights are inalienable and universal. With zero being “human rights should not be given to everyone all the time” and ten being “all people have human rights, simply because they are human”, Conservatives scored 4.9, compared to Labour voters’ 7.0 and Liberal Democrat supporters’ 7.2.

On this issue and on other matters, there are significant divisions within Conservatives. Younger Conservatives and Conservative ‘remainers’ are more likely to believe that human rights are inalienable. Compared to their counterparts who are either older or ‘leaves’, these Conservatives are also consistently more positive about human rights and concerned about discrimination.

Specific human rights

The three most important rights to Conservatives are the “right to a fair trial” (68%), the “prohibition of slavery and forced labour” (54%), and “freedom of thought, conscience and religion” (39%). Liberal Democrat and Labour voters prioritise similar rights.

The most significant disparity between parties on specific human rights, is that only 15% of Conservatives believed that the “prohibition of discrimination” was one of their four or five most important rights, compared to 29% and 28% of Labour and Liberal Democrat voters, respectively.

These results demonstrate a strong belief among Conservatives in the importance of individual liberty.

Human rights institutions and legislation

Conservatives mostly select traditional English common law (35%) as the piece of legislation that best protects human rights in the UK. The Human Rights Act and the Magna Carta trailed behind in second and third place at 14% and 7% respectively. The ECHR came in fifth at just 5%, as opposed to Labour voters for whom the ECHR was the most popular option at 22%.

Part of Conservative scepticism towards the ECHR can be explained by the fact that only 13% of Conservatives think international courts should be able to overturn domestic UK legislation, compared to a slim majority of both Labour and Liberal Democrat voters. Conservatives are slightly more supportive, but still sceptical, of British courts being allowed similar powers to overturn legislation set by the British government.


Our new report demonstrates a strong belief among Conservatives that human rights exist. It also demonstrates that there are groups of Conservatives, particularly younger Conservatives and remain voting Conservatives, who are consistently more positive about human rights.

Truthfully, however, the report does reveal some scepticism among Conservatives towards the use of, current legislation on, and the institutions related to human rights. Conservatives are especially sceptical of international legislation and institutions. Generally, Conservatives are more sceptical about the role of human rights than voters of more left-wing political parties.

Joel Collick is a research assistant at Bright Blue