Martin commented on one aspect, Dandelion another. As I wander through the blogsphere it seems many are waking up to faces of what our government has been up to. In New Labour we have a government of conviction. You can say that is no bad thing, but the problem with conviction is it rejects compromise. It knows better than convention and other wisdom and treads a path it knows is right. Sometimes that is necessary, only conviction can oppose conviction.
The problem is conviction doesn’t sit well with a modern democracy. Ours is a style of government based on checks and balances, on old old ways of doing things that ensure a middle road is walked, that safe routes are taken. It takes time, it compromises, it listens to opposing view points and incorporates bits and pieces. Both have their place. Conviction wrote the US constitution that is a thing of beauty. Compromise wrote the EU constitution that is a monster that destroys what it attempts to protect.
However, at the moment, we have had a government of conviction. It has alternatively tramped wholesale through opposition, then weddled and whined and spun to try to convince. It is a government that gets confused that “the people” don’t actually believe as it does, and as a result occasionally jerks in reaction to opinion with disastrous consequence.
One of the things that has scared me the most about our current government is its conviction that it has the mandate to change, well, anything. The British constitution, in a way completely different to the US one, is a thing of beauty. It is a combination of lore, precident, ancient and modern. It has given us centuries of stable safe government. It has enshrined the rights of the individual with balance and justice. Yet our current government believes it can change this constitution as it knows better.
Let me outline just a few of the changes this government has wrought:
- Acceptance of a charter of rights and freedoms that gives the power to an external appointed body to review and judge our laws. Like the EU Constitution, the EU Charter of Rights and Freedoms is a document of comprimse. It tries to enshrine things that have no right to be enshrined along with those that do. Worse, it hands over ultimate appeal to a body that is not part of our body of government, is outside our control.
- Implementation of a new Supreme Court. This is a radical change to our judiciary that seems to have gone completely unnoticed. It may be no bad thing, having the judiciary sit in the house of lords was an anocronism from older times. Yet… it worked, and worked well. There was no need to change it, and the debate was confined to a small portion of the political class with no real public notice. It is a fundamental change of our constitution, and it just happened because someone of conviction thought it aught.
- Multiple attempts at reform of the House of Lords. Now, personally I agree that heredity should not give an individual a superior and automatic position in our law making. But, our Parliament works, it generally provides a good set of checks and balances, and the House of Lords has been highly effective in ensuring law is well thought out and challenged before approval. Labour believes it has to change, but has neither consulted, nor presented a clearly constructed view of what it should be. If anything needed a referendum, reform of the House of Lords is one. Making it elected radically changes our law making, keeping it fully appointed needs a transparency there isn’t at the moment.
- Habeus Corpus has effectively been suspended. You can now be held in detention for 28 days without recourse. The government is trying to extend this. Brought in under terrorist legislation, and with some checks and balances, all that happens in secret and the “suspect” need not be informed. This is scary scary stuff, far more harsh than any of the other great democracies.
- The right to no further trials if aquited has been abandoned. If “new evidence” is unearthed you can be sent to trial a second time. The principle sounds fair, but the rule was there as one of the fundamental corner stones of personal freedom. The Damilola Taylor case is a prime example. Though the defendents might be guilty as charged, that have had a trial and where aquited. They’ve now been through multiple trials, all which have failed. It is a form of harasment, and the original law was there to protect us.
- The right of free association has effectively been suspended. You can not organise a public event without police involvement, and there are certain areas of our country (like outside parliament) where protest is disallowed.
- What constitutes a “hate crime” is being expanded and expanded. There is legislation going forward this parliament to include gays. Now, this is a really weird one, but again attacks a fundamental principle. If we are all equal under the law, then that is it. Everyone deserves the same protection as well as the same prosecution for wrong doing. That is not longer true, if you combine hate laws with the EU charter of rights and freedoms we are now an unequal society legally.
- There is a vast centralisation of personal data. This is a tricky one, as this is allowed by technology, and has not been foreseen by previous generations. Yet our unwritten constitution does provide us rights in this regard, as does the body of law. We “own” our own data, that is unquestioned. We must have a say in who it is given to our how it is used. Yet we don’t anymore. Centralisation allows abuse. This area covers a host of sin, the (mandatory) National Identification System, the (mandatory) NHS Health Database, the (mandatory) Central Revenue Database, the (almost mandatory) Police DNA database (if your DNA is collected for any reason it is added, law abiding or no), the (mandatory) centralisation of the Electoral Roll. This just names the well known ones, there are countless more In each case it allows the intimate details of our lives to be viewed and looked at by pretty well anyone. The laws around each of these allow pretty well every aspect of government the ability to look at anything. Quite seriously, local government officials can query just about any one of those databases for just about any reason.
So children, without quite realising, like the boiling of a frog, the body of law around us has radically changed. Radically. We have sleep walked into a state where what we believe to be our personal rights and freedoms are not really there any more. The term “Nanny State” is used humorously, but is none the less true. We do not have the control of our lives we thought we did.
Be afraid children, be very afraid. Conviction has brought us to a point where conviction may yet again have to rise to fight it. Freedom must be earned…