Frankie Boyle compares Michael Gove to a ‘tree frog trying to escape from a scrotum’

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Comedian goes on the offensive against new Lord Chancellor


Glaswegian comic Frankie Boyle is well known for his sharp tongue — and recently-installed Lord Chancellor Michael Gove is his latest victim.

In a blog on The Guardian newspaper’s website — titled “What if David Cameron is an evil genius?” — the controversial comedian described Gove as “looking like a tree frog trying to escape from a scrotum”.

The post — which appeared this morning — continued by comparing Chris Grayling’s successor to Batman’s caped companion, Robin.

“I’ve always thought that Batman hired Robin simply to draw fire: throwing a teenage boy a bright yellow cape and telling him to run through a darkened warehouse full of goons. There seems to be little difference in getting Michael Gove to dress up in a bib and plus fours and throwing him into a roomful of barristers.”

Clearly unhappy with Gove’s appointment the outspoken Scot described it as “somewhere between a sardonic trolling of the judiciary and simple misdirection”.

Continuing his rant, Boyle warned against Gove and the possible introduction of a ‘Bill of Rights’.

Comparing the possibility to Mel Brook’s 1967 film, The Producers, in which the characters attempt to make a quick buck by swindling investors into staging the world’s worst musical, Boyle goes on:

“It will be a Producers-style clusterfuck that draws attention away from all the real business of the government”.

Couldn’t have put it better ourselves, Frankie.


New Lord Chancellor Michael Gove quotes Lord Denning as he is sworn in at the RCJ [Legal Cheek]


Not Amused

Frankie Boyle is an entertainer. One I particularly like.

However we have a very British problem. Unlike America or France, where kids are taught in school about the constitution and have a basic grasp of law. Unlike those countries, we have uniquely decided to keep everyone ignorant of law.

I find the current situation to be frankly astonishing. It upsets me. I do not want to live in a world where everyone is so utterly ignorant of the law. Yet I do.

In response to that ignorance the issue of Human Rights reform is splitting solely along tribal party lines. I think that is unhealthy. Human rights reform is an important question. People I admire and respect take the opposite view to me – Dominic Grieve. But those are the informed people.

Does Frankie Boyle know anything about this issue? At all? Of course not. Is that his fault? Is he to blame? No we are. He is being tribal. He supports the red team; he hates the blue team. Is that helpful? Not obviously.

I am, for my sins better informed. So I think that human rights reform is not evil; I do not even mind if we pull out of the convention. I do mind about the issue fee in employment. I do mind about the removal of civil legal aid. I do mind about cuts to legal aid pay rates that I already considered low. I do mind about the £10,000 issue fee tax in civil cases.

I can take a nuanced view because I am well informed. Tribal views are not helpful. They demean people like Frankie who I enjoy. They are not really acceptable.

The objections to Grayling? Well, he was a bit of a git wasn’t he. But just assuming Gove is? That’s not really fair. Human rights reform is not obviously evil. Gove himself hasn’t done anything bad. Perhaps we could be more nuanced in these matters.



On what are you basing your view that people’s opinions are “tribal” or misinformed? I think people have enough to go on to criticise Gove if they want to: his non-lawyer status, his record as education secretary and reports (in the DT) that he is pushing against Cameron for British withdrawal from the ECHR. And given that Cameron has apparently had to pull back from his HR reform plans because of the danger of a Tory rebellion, this seems like an issue that actually doesn’t split people along party political lines.

Also, as someone who has spent a lot of time in the US, I would counsel against seeing it through rose-tinted glasses – the general level of legal and political engagement and understanding is really no different from over here.



In fact the US is a particularly appalling comparison given that the level of debate there pretty much comes down to state sponsored bribery, and there are entire swathes of people who truly believe that vaccines cause autism, abortion is murder, and the right to own a gun is god given and inherent…


Not Amused

“Everything America does is bad because some Americans are idiots”. I don’t think you thought your argument through.


Not Amused

Frankie Boyle is not one to hide his opinions under a bushel. He is quite vocal about hating Tories. He does not know the first thing about human rights laws or the case for reform. Ergo his opinion is tribal.

Wider tribalism is in the left branding the reform ideas “Gove’s plan” despite the fact it demonstrably is not Gove’s plan and existed long before he was appointed LC. The fact that every single left leaning commentator has been publishing endless tedious stories about this (which are often wrong). The fact that Lord Falconer made factually incorrect statements about both how human rights works now and the proposed reforms in the HoL and had to be corrected by Lord Mackay. If the former Labour LC doesn’t know what on earth he’s talking about then what hope do lefty celebrities have?

The entire reaction to human rights reforms has been tribal. Like the reaction to losing the election it has also been hysterical, childish and frequently dishonest. The fact that the rational people who are trying to reform human rights are possibly (it is only speculation) having discussions about how to best do it is to be expected and indeed is a good thing.

I don’t want more political engagement. I want citizens of a democratic country to stop being kept deliberately ignorant of their own law and legal system. America is not a paradise, but they do get that right. The current UK approach is wrong and dangerous – it also damns the response to complicated questions of legal reform to being tribal.



FB “does not know the first thing about human rights laws or the case for reform” – just stating this does not make it so! I have no idea how well informed he is – nor have you provided any basis for me to make a judgment on this.

If you don’t mind my saying, in your entire rant you provide two examples of misunderstanding: ‘left leaning commentators’ decrying hr reform plans as ‘Gove’s’ and lord falconer making a mistake (can’t find what you are referring to there). The rest is broad, unsubstantiated assertion.

As to people identifying hr reform with Gove – I’m not precisely sure what you’re talking about – I haven’t noticed examples of this myself (as an election pledge two times over I’d say hr reform has been identified as broadly Tory) but given that it’s been leaked that Cameron has essentially decided to pull back from grayling’s initial plan whereas gove is still behind it, and that any changes will presumably be instituted under gove’s auspices (and he’s a minister known for promoting his own conservative vision rather than the party’s) it’s not misplaced to talk about gove’s plans for hr.


Not Amused

If this were a school debate I’d cite sources. If I were inclined to be snide I’d link to ‘can I google that for you’ as you clearly haven’t bothered trying. The Falconer speech was on Monday in the HoL and widely followed by those interested in human rights reform.

Attempting to deny that reaction to this is tribal is utterly silly. You’d have to be the worst sort of po-faced Islingtonite to pretend otherwise. The sort of practiced liar who pretends the hunting ban was actually about protecting foxes rather than hurting a group of people the left hate.

However given that it is my opinion that it is tribal. All I need to do is to state my opinion. The fact I chose to cite some evidence is ultimately a kindness on my part. If you want to be a po-faced lunatic with no grounding in reality then by all means pretend that the left are taking a principled stance in defence of Strasbourg because … sorry … I couldn’t even bring myself to type it in jest there – what are the supposed virtues of that completely failed political institution again?

In the HoL, Falconer, like a lot of the lefty commentators, said things which are not true. Things like “the UK Courts are already the final voice”. The tribal reaction of the left is utterly clear once you scrape away the veneer – once you accept that no one is abolishing the concept of fundamental rights (as several commentators have wrongly suggested – see Keir Starmer) then you get to the truth – the proposed reform plans are entirely to do with the Strasbourg Court.

In order for anyone to seriously, rather than tribally, object to the reforms, they would need to come up with a defence of Strasbourg. I’ve certainly not seen one of those (although Adam Wagner, bless him, would no doubt claim he has tried that tangentially).



In a climate where the Conservatives like Theresa May and Chris Grayling have been lying – literally inventing fictitious cases to vilify the HRA – and where the right wing press have relentlesly distorted the truth in their pursuit to brand the HRA a despicable, authoritarian piece of legislation with no basis in reality, it is borderline deluded to suggest that the left are the ones primarily distorting this debate. Even Grieve and Clarke, both eminently well informed and capable Tories, have been viscerally disgusted by the dishonest behaviour of their former cabinet colleagues, and both were fired for having exposed the liars.

NA, you are right that it is possible to make a coherent, sensible, and educated argument in favour of a British Bill of Rights. The fact is that no one in public life takes the argument any further than ‘the HRA is bad because brown people can’t be deported and all prisoners must be given the right to vote’. The fact that both of those statements are manifestly untrue has not stopped the right from peddling them again and again and again in a cynical attempt to sway the electorate against their own human rights.

For me, it is less the idea that a Bill of Rights in inherently a bad idea. There is a lot to be said for taking the ECHR rights and putting them more directly into English law. However, I do not trust the Conservative party, which on this issue has now created a record of systemic lying, to enact anything that adequately protects the rights Churchill had enshrined in the Convention. I expect to see a part that stipulates non-EU citizens (or non UK citizens even) to be excluded from human rights protection. Given the ‘no rights without responsibilities’ nonsense, I expect to see prisoners being excluded from protection of their human rights.

As a libertarian, you should be fundamentally distressed by Cameron’s statement that ‘for too long we have been saying to people “as long as you abide by the law we will leave you alone”‘. That is a horrifying proposition, and one that fills me with concern for the Tories’ actual intent in their attack on human rights. Do you really want that proposition to guide legislation protecting us from the excesses of government?


Not Amused

I see many of your points and you can imagine my grimace to that particular phrase.

But substantively, to defend the ECHR you have to justify Strasbourg. I’m not banging on about this because I feel happy about it. I came to the question of reform from an entirely neutral or probably ‘Grieve’like mind set. The problem is that the more I thought about it, the less I could actually justify Strasbourg to myself. So when I say it is indefensible I ought to add “believe me, I’ve tried”.

The reaction you have is an emotional, gut based, trust reaction. To be blunt, I don’t like that sort of reaction ever: I think it is humanity at our worst. But I know it is a problem of the post-Thatcher poisoning of the Tories as an entire brand. That also saddens me because I know so many kind and generous Tories who genuinely care for their country: they’re my friends. Just like some of my friends are the kind and generous lefties. Now I tease them for being wrong, but they’re still my friends.

I want people to be objective. So the first starting point is: can you come up with an argument to defend Strasbourg?



‘The reaction you have is an emotional, gut based, trust reaction.’

I completely reject that as a PIL specialist and former lawyer at the ECHR (with a background in commercial law), which you may say makes me biased, but nonetheless makes this phrase rather silly and insulting. I am unwilling to type out an entire defence of the Court while at work, but it would boil down to the following points:

1) The judges themselves are eminently qualified, contrary to the lies put about by the UK right wing press. Most were educated at Oxbridge and all are senior lawyers in their own countries.

2) The decisions of the Court are generally at least as well reasoned as the large majority of English court decisions and are worked on by specialists in the field for considerable time before being put out. They tend to be nuanced and sensible, only alleged not to be by their opponents.

3) The large majority of applications are ridiculous and treated as such by the registry – only those cases that are genuinely worthwhile ever make it anywhere near the Court itself, and of those only a small number end up before the Grand Chamber.

4) I do not accept that there is no such thing as international human rights standards, and believe that having the internaitonal lawyer of protection is valuable, if nothing else then in a diplomatic context. Further, I do not trust our government of the day not to arbitrarily decide that prisoners and immigrants are suddenly unworthy of human rights protections, and am glad that there is an international body to criticise them.

5) Our Supreme Court is one of the best in the world and has not remotely struggled with working in the current system of dual protection.

6) The fact that the opponents of the Court are forced to lie about judgments – for instance conveniently forgetting that Hirst v UK only said that a *blanket* ban on prisoner voting was inconsistent with human rights – suggests to me that there is a cynical and authoritarian motive behind the calls to leave the Court. The criticisms of judgments smack of sour grapes and should not be viewed any differently to criticisms of unpopular but well reasoned UK Supreme Court judgments.

That’s it in a nutshell I suppose. Feel free to disagree.



I’m not sure you have to defend Strasbourg in absolute terms. I think you simply have to show that it has a better record on human rights than this government.

Let’s be clear, this debate isn’t just about the good and bad of the HRA. It’s also about what may end up replacing it.


Not Amused

Well, I still think you’re emotional. But I do think you have the decency to be polite, so what I will do is just flag up to you the problems I had when I looked at these arguments:

1) I don’t think that just saying many of them are Oxbridge deals with the fundamental point. But on calibre of the judiciary I had the following problems:
– I looked at the list of Judges. I simply do not believe that the list of countries provided have the educational infrastructure to produce high calibre judges. I’m glad you are a PIL lawyer because you are more likely to see my point and not just think I’m a racist, I’ll put it like this “are there jurisdictions internationally that you wouldn’t want your cases heard in? Are any of those jurisdictions on this list?” because they are for me
– Civil law. I am not competent to practice in France. Or Italy. Or Spain. Or Germany. I am not trained in a codified civil law method. The common law/civil law gulf is a real thing and I do not see the argument for, let alone purported benefit of, having civil law judges hearing our cases.
– Putin. At least one judge in the ECHR is almost certainly a political appointment of a man I do not trust. AT LEAST ONE. Look at the list of countries again and tell me why this is better than just using the Supreme Court?
– Corruption. Like the Putin problem, I simply do not know the levels of corruption in these countries. Call my a cynic, but that worries me.

2) This is a political position. You are saying that only the opponents criticise the decisions of Strasbourg; I don’t understand the point. Strasbourg does make bad decisions. The Prisoner voting is a real problem for our jurisdiction. We have a system built on parliamentary sovereignty and that type of system is incompatible with Strasbourg’s approach to prisoner voting. Now you may not like parliamentary sovereignty, you may not care for democracy, but that is our system and when we signed up to the ECHR maybe this problem should have been foreseen, but it wasn’t and now it has arisen.
– as to opponents, I merely quote Lord Mackay “Difficulties with the Human Rights Act have been expressed in this House from more than one side.”

3) It takes what? 9 years to get to a judgement at Strasbourg? Procedurally it is a complete waste of space. It is a disgrace how bad the Strasbourg court is. That alone is a reason to leave.

4) The government would not decide. The Supreme Court would. What you mean is that you do not trust a Tory government. That is your choice, but when you lose an election you lose, you do not get to have quasi political socialist organisations undermining a democratically elected government.
– I have said previously that this selfish position is also short sighted. The political disgrace that is Strasbourg sides with your political view TODAY. There is absolutely no guarantee they will continue to do so. If Strasbourg switched to being predominantly right wing you would instantly see this problem – you are blind to it by selfish choice.

5) Our Supreme Court is the best in the world and should be Supreme. You have to argue against this to defend Strasbourg – that is another huge problem I had.

6) That particular example is not a lie. The position of Strasbourg on prisoner votes is the problem which has caused the current call for reform. What Strasbourg is doing is fine in a country without a concept of parliamentary sovereignty – it does not work here. If any pro-reformer does lie then obviously I would dislike that – but it would not change the substantive arguments.

Once you accept that the Supreme Court is the best place for human rights to be determined everything else falls away. You start to see Strasbourg for what it is – an expensive disgrace.

Here, I’ve dug out Lord Mackay’s speech. By all means read Charlie Falconer as well. He comes across as childish, his argument is persuasive, until you get to the realisation that he isn’t actually telling the truth (which Mackay points out).

There are serious and genuine concerns with Strasbourg and I have come to agree that it needs to go. I think that there is a lot of partisan selective blindness going on here.


Not Amused

For completeness I should add that I have a very real concern that the ECHR operates to legitimise oppressive and despotic regimes.

Russia’s record on gay rights makes me weep. By allowing them to join a human rights club, we stand next to them as our symbolic equals. They are not my equals. My country has an exemplary record on human rights; their record is an utter disgrace. I do not even need to single out Russia, several other members are dodgy as hell.

I know that idealists believe that somehow the ECHR is helping human rights in those countries. But looking at in in practice that is at best fanciful self delusion. I think we are legitimising regimes we ought to be condemning and letting their judges judge us.

I simply cannot see why, given a straight choice, not loaded with partisan beliefs, anyone sane would pick a Strasbourg Court structure over the Supreme Court of the UK.


Ollie Trumpington

If this was a debate I think the audience would have left by now.


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