Parliamentary Affairs 67(1) pp 209-231

This exploratory study examines issue salience and the discourse on human rights in the principal parties’ manifestos in UK state-wide Elections 1945–2010. Innovative aspects include the application of combined qualitative and quantitative techniques. These are used to test a series of hypotheses. The findings reveal the nature and extent of the party politicisation of human rights. Analysis confirms a Left–Right political cleavage. Left-of-centre parties attach greatest priority to promoting rights, and frame them in the context of political citizenship, democracy and good governance. On the other side of the spectrum it is over-simplistic to characterise the Conservative’s position as anti-human rights. Rather it reflects internal party tensions with the manifesto discourse simultaneously advocating the application of rights in foreign policy yet proposing replacement of the Human Rights Act in domestic law. Overall, the present study provides a template for future international comparative work on the political development of rights.