Monday, February 20, 2006

I've been following the controversy over the serious threat that the Government is posing to civil liberties and parliamentary democracy in this country, mainly being hosted by MatGB. I share Nosemonkey's rage and have read with interest the ideas that Unity has been putting forward. I realise that this post might be slightly behind the argument, but I hope that I can contribute by coming at it from a slightly different angle.

First up, as it has already been pointed out, if we do manage to influence the electoral outcome and reverse New Labour's success, then what? It is one thing to create a coalition of all shades of political opinion, united in their hatred of New Labour's authoritarian policies, but another thing to craft a positive regime to replace them. I fear that Cameron has every look of being just as bad as Blair. I mean no disrespect to Tory bloggers, but it is quite clear that the leader of the Conservatives is as prepared as Blair ever was to subject principle to power. Thankfully, my mind has been somewhat put at rest by Unity's proposal to help libertarian candidates regardless of political shade against those displaying authoritarian traits.

My second problem is getting enough public support to provide momentum. This has already been covered by Curious Hamster. I cannot think of any cases in History where authoritarian governments have been prevented from bringing in legislation. It seems to me that action is usually reactionary as the public discover after the fact that their rights have been trampled when the chickens come home to roost and it affects those around them. At the moment, it is all to easy for a society more interested in the latest celebrity shag-fest to swallow the hook about evil terrorists, conveniently ignoring that effective legislation is already in place. Anyway, its never going to affect them, they're not muslim and at the last count they still had both hands and eyes. In fact, I fear that the only way to get Joe Public worked up to the point where they'll do anything would be for the Government to stick a penny on income tax, or torture cute puppies and sodomise kittens, or perhaps illegally detain Davina McCall, or Ant and Dec. Or the tipping point could come if they ban the offensive publication "Heat" on the grounds of glorifying the terror of celeb culture. But Something Must Be Done. We may risk the fate of Cassandra, but nothing ventured, nothing gained, and to stand aside in this situation would truly be criminal.

My biggest problem is that I'm not convinced that this is New Labour specific. The disillusionment with the political process that I would mainly attribute to the effective disenfranchisment of major parts of the voting population by the continuing iniquities of the FPTP system. Its an apathy that is being exploited by the Executive. They see that that there is no public resistance to them, and are encouraged by this. I know this will piss off the Tory bloggers, but I have to say that a PR voting system combined with a Bill of Rights is the basis for re-engaging Westminster with the electorate. We need a return to the moderating influence of consensus government. To put perspective on this, I think I can make the case that the rot set in a long time ago, which makes our task to challenge it all the more difficult. I've just finished reading Jeremy Paxman's "Friends in High Places: Who Runs Britain?" first published in 1990. The following excerpts might prove interesting reading:

"I set out to answer a simple question, Who Runs Britain? The experience of the eighties suggests that the only plausible answer is the Prime Minister. Scarcely any of the great institutions remained untouched by Thatcherism in its various manifestations, and when even museums and opera houses are talking the language of the marketplace, there can be no doubting the depth of its influence. The gradual emasculation of the cabinet and its transformation from a collection of equals into a series of isolated satrapies, the simple fact of the Prime Minister's longevity and her sheer public prominence, all increased the concentration of power in 10 Downing Street.

The accretion of authority within Downing Street was less a consequence of any fundamental shift in the essential style of British government - the creation of a "presidential" role - than the expression of the particular relationship between Margaret Thatcher and her party. When the Thatcher era is over, the balance of power will shift again, and the collegiate spirit in both major parties remains strong enough for the dominant role of Downing Street to be reduced.

But in the eighties, as the influence of Downing Street grew, so the standing of parliament diminished. The influence of the individual MP is directly related to the Whips' need of his vote: the series of thumping Tory majorities inevitably decreed that alternative points of view were scarcely considered. The increased size of the payroll vote meant that at any division in the House of Commons, processions of ambitious young MPs would line up meekly to be whipped through the Government lobby, their only ambition the hope of preferment at the next ministerial reshuffle. Dissent was largely confined to those whom infirmity, insouciance or incompetence rendered unsuitable for further ministerial office. Hardly surprising then, that politicians seem to be held in even lower esteem now than twenty years ago, with opinion polls showing them to be more distrusted even than estate agents and insurance salesmen."

I am not putting the case forward that Blair is a carbon copy of Thatcher, nor am I am Whig historian. In fact, it is my confidence that inevitability does not exist that leads me to support the efforts behind LibertyCentral. We need to realistically assess the situation that faces us and to borrow the Pentagon's latest catchphrase, prepare for "The Long War." We need to look to who our natural allies are in our struggle, make common cause, and co-ordinate our efforts to ensure the maximum impact with our limited resources. We should consider ourselves lucky, however, as Blair's radical authoritarianism has made conservatives of us all. Stand up and be counted, because this is a battle for our way of life.

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