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Bright Blue, the independent think tank for liberal conservatism and conservative modernisers, has published a new polling report showing that Conservative voters believe in the importance of individuals having a right to a fair trial and that discrimination is prevalent in modern Britain. Polling also shows that an overwhelming majority of Conservative voters believe that Britain should play a significant role in promoting human rights through its foreign policy.

A clear majority of all voters of all parties – including Conservative voters (68%) – believe that the most important human right is the “right to a fair trial”. Conservatives view traditional English common law as the legislation that best protects human rights.

An overwhelming majority of Conservatives believe that all types of discrimination and abuse – including gender, racial, sexual, disability and religious discrimination – exist. Under 3% of Conservatives believe that none of the discriminations exist at all. A majority of Conservatives report that a significant amount of all discriminations and abuse exist. Conservative believe racism is most prevalent: 95% believe it exists, 69% saying significantly so.

Most Conservative voters are opposed to quotas and tax incentives to improve the employment rate of certain minority groups, but only a minority are opposed to name-blind admissions (22%).

The polling shows that only a small minority (6%) of Conservatives believe human rights should not be promoted in British foreign policy. A clear majority of Conservatives (66%) support a ‘significant’ role for human rights in British foreign policy, believing it should should always be promoted or promoted in balance with other foreign policy objectives.

Nearly half (45%) of Conservatives believe Britain should never give aid to countries that have a poor record on human rights. A small minority (18%) believe Britain should never do trade deals with such countries. A majority of Conservatives (65%) think Britain should sometimes be prepared to do trade deals with such countries depending on “the importance of the trade deal and the severity of the human rights violation”.

Commenting, Ryan Shorthouse, Director of Bright Blue and co-author of the report, said:

“Afair trial for – and fair treatment of – all individuals are absolutely fundamental principles that need to be defended and strengthened. The Conservative Party, with its long history of defending individual freedom, should ensure that all of us have adequate protection and redress from the abuse of power.

“Discrimination is, like the abuse of human rights, an unjustified barrier to individual freedom and flourishing. A clear majority of voters, including Conservative voters, believe a significant amount of different forms of discrimination exist. Tackling discrimination should be comfortable and prime territory for the Conservative Government. As a first step, it should extend name-blind admissions for all jobs in all civil service departments and public sector agencies.

“Britain is the home of human rights. After Brexit, the UK Government should not just be a global leader in free trade, but human rights too. Britain should remain a proud signatory of the European Convention on Human Rights, which originally exported English common law to the rest of the continent. The Government should ensure that trade deals, where possible, include obligations to improve human rights in the partner countries. And human rights should be a priority for British aid.”

Commenting on the polling, the Rt Hon Dominic Grieve QC MP said:

“The survey shows that far from people being uninterested in human rights in the United Kingdom, they have a strong sense of what rights are about. Not surprisingly, they identify them in traditional terms, but that is a very good springboard for developing and protecting rights for our future. Human rights are entirely in keeping with the conservative philosophical tradition.”

Commenting, George Freeman MP said:

“As we begin to craft a new post EU foreign policy, it is vital that we continue our commitment to extending universal human rights – in the Tory tradition of Shaftesbury, Churchill and One Nation Conservatism. The best way to enshrine human rights is through supporting free enterprise liberal democracy through our global aid, trade and security work. Championing human rights is the best form of soft power we have.”

The report reveals that:

  1. Conservatives believe the most important human right is the right to a fair trial. Conservatives’ views on this are very similar to voters of all political parties who identify the same top three rights as the most important human rights. 68% of Conservatives regarded the “right to a fair trial” as one of the four or five most important human rights, followed by the “prohibition of slavery and forced labour” at 54%, and “freedom of thought, conscience and religion”, which was chosen by 39%.

  2. Conservatives view traditional English common law as the legislation that best protects human rights. 35% of Conservative respondents selecting this option. The HRA and the Magna Carta are the second and third most popular choices, with 14% and 7% respectively. International sources of human rights protection, for example the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), are regarded as less effective. Only 5% of Conservatives, for example, believe the ECHR best protects human rights. For Labour voters, the most popular choices are distinctively different: the ECHR was the most popular option with 22% of respondents citing it.

  3. A majority of Conservatives believe a significant amount of different types of discrimination and abuse exists.  A firm majority of Conservatives believe that racism, homophobia and transphobia, discrimination against religious people, sexism and discrimination against disabled people currently exist in Britain.Less than 3% of Conservatives believe that none of the discriminations ‘exist’ at all. The type of discrimination or abuse that is regarded by Conservatives as most prevalent is racism, with 95% of Conservatives believing that it exists, while 69% report a significant amount of it exists. In fact, a majority of Conservatives believe a significant amount of different types of discrimination exists.

  4. A minority of Conservatives have actually experienced different types of discrimination and abuse. Only 28% of Conservatives report they have experienced racism compared to 95% of Conservatives who believe that racism exists. A notably smaller proportion of Conservatives have experienced a ‘significant’ amount of all forms of discrimination. For example, Conservatives are most likely to have experienced sexism (40%), but only 14% of Conservatives have experienced a significant amount of it.Labour voters are more likely to report having experienced a significant amount of all the types of discrimination we surveyed. 16% of Labour voters reported they had experienced a significant amount of racism and 28% reported this about sexism, exactly double the percentage of Conservatives that reported the same for both types of discrimination and abuse.

  5. All Conservatives that belong to social groups that are likely to be disproportionately affected by a particular type of discrimination are more likely to believe that it is significantly prevalent and to have significantly experienced it. This was particularly true for homosexual or transsexual Conservatives.57% of heterosexual Conservatives believe that there is significant amount of homophobia or transphobia, compared to 80% of gay or lesbian Conservatives. 3% of heterosexual Conservatives have experienced a significant amount of homophobia or transphobia, compared to 33% of gay or lesbian Conservatives.

  6. Name-blind admissions is the only measure that is not opposed by a majority of Conservative voters to tackle the lower employment rates of certain minority groups. Just 8% of Conservatives support the introduction of “quotas for certain minority groups”, and only 7% support “tax incentives for recruiting certain minority groups”. Labour voters are more than twice as likely to support both. But it is still the case that only 20% of Labour voters support quotas, and only 17% support tax incentives.Conservatives, nevertheless, are generally supportive of name-blind admissions with just 22% of Conservatives opposing “name blind admissions or applications”. This policy enjoys support across the political spectrum.

  7. The overwhelming majority of Conservatives believe that Britain should promote human rights through its foreign policy. Only 6% state that “Britain should not promote human rights”.33% of Conservatives think that Britain should always promote human rights, irrespective of other foreign policy objectives. Another 33% think that Britain should promote human rights, but balanced with other foreign policy objectives. Approximately two thirds of Conservatives, therefore, support what we deem to be a ‘significant’ role for human rights in British foreign policy. Only 15% believe that human rights should be promoted “but only if it does not ever compromise other foreign policy objectives such as trade or aid”.

  8. Conservatives believe human rights should be considered in trade deals. The overwhelming majority of Conservatives, 65%, think that Britain should sometimes be prepared to do trade deals with countries that have a poor record on human rights depending on “the importance of the trade deal and the severity of the human rights violation”. Only 18% of Conservatives believe Britain should never do trade deals with such countries, a smaller proportion than Labour voters (43%), Liberal Democrats (37%) or UKIP voters (21%).

  9. Conservatives were much more likely to believe the granting of aid, as opposed to doing trade, should be contingent on the human rights record of the country.Nearly half (45%) of Conservatives believe that Britain should never give aid to countries that have a poor record on human rights. Only 29% of Labour voters and 28% of Liberal Democrats believed this. Only a small proportion of Conservatives (4%) believed that Britain should always be prepared to give aid to such countries. Overall, in fact, only 7% of voters of all parties believe aid should be given regardless of human rights failings.

  10. Younger Conservatives and Conservatives who voted Remain in the EU referendum are more likely to believe there should be a ‘significant’ role for human rights in British foreign policy. 76% of Conservative remainers wanted a ‘significant’ role for human rights in British foreign policy, compared to 62% of Conservative leavers. 77% percent of 18-24 year old Conservatives believe there should be a significant role for human rights, compared to 63% of Conservatives aged over 65.