If there is one thing more damaging for human rights than being widely represented as nothing more than a regulatory infringement on government's democratically-granted duty to punish, it's to have them adopted by David Cameron and his postmodern, playschool approach to politics. His Bill of Rights nonsense is the equivalent of placing fresh fruit and vedge near the entrance of a supermarket, as a way of lulling shoppers into forgetting that the place is full of manufactured crap. It was one thing for consumer capitalism to develop a pastiche of Leftist political rhetoric (as in 'the conquest of cool'), but another for politics itself to do so. Say what you like about Blair, but at least he never went as far as pretending to be a liberal.
So now that the language of rights is banned by one side and pastiched on the other, perhaps we can only talk about them negatively: while we may not believe in human rights, judicial neutrality or, for that matter, anything very much, perhaps we can at least admit that politics without rights amounts to nothing more than strategies for getting people to do things they don't want to. Such strategies can be dressed up in utilitarianism or communitarianism, often very handsomely, but neither can claim to say anything about why humanity might be worth saving in the first place. This negative definition of rights was actually there in the beginning, when Kant stated that people "never be treated as a means only", on the metaphysical basis that there is something about people that we can't fully know. The sanctity of a human being is not defined positively or theologically, but negatively, and so politics transcends mere bullying when it recognises that there is more to life than the efficacy of policies and strategies.
The nihilism of post-liberal politics is revealed every day in Iraq, as another 20 or 30 people are blown up for no reason at all, but perhaps the very same phenomenon is present in this recent policy initiative picked up by Kevin Harris: anti-social behaviour "mission squads". Surely the (laudable) goals of the government's Respect agenda cannot survive this reduction of politics to pest control. Defeatist as it may sound, those who believe in human rights may now be better off not talking about them, leaving them as something un-named, but requiring us simply to oppose nihilistic, bald coercion.