Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Bill of the Right

Cameron´s push for a British Bill of Rights can well be satirised (I particularly like Tim Dowling`s approach). But could there be any substance in the Conservative proposal? Could others make some substance from it. Could it make any sense to have one without a written constitution?

I asked Anthony Barnett, who kindly drew attention to a note by Matthew D´Ancona reminding Spectator readers that he, AB, argued long ago that the Tories would sooner or later embrace the cause of constitutional reform.

There is not too much in the note, but it does seem to correctly report that the British political class as a whole is deeply alarmed by the drainage of trust in its activities on the part of an increasingly abstaining electorate.

A longer interview with Renewal (Vol 14, No 2), which AB also kindly forwards, has more substance. It starts:
I find myself wanting to say there is a crisis in the way we are ruled. But oh no there isn´t. The crisis is that there is no crisis. A young woman gets a criminal record apparently under antiterror legislation because she stands in Whitehall and reads out the names of servicemen who have died in Iraq. She isn´t just asked to move on -- she is arrested. And nothing happens. The government makes a large deployment of British troops in southern Afghanistan, a deployment I might support if I knew what the mission was -- in effect another small war without parliamentary scrutiny, let alone a significant public debate -- which cannot be right. And nothing happens. John Scarlett was the head of the Joint Intelligence Agency and signed off on the dodgy and distorted dossier that alleged the case for war after the prime minister had decided long before that he would back President Bush. Soon afgter the prime minister appoints Scarlett to head MI6, flagrantly undermining its independence. And they get away with it.

What is happening here? Part of the answer is that there was once a system of checks and balances that at least moderated and sometimes prevented such outrages. These were informal, often secretive, and hardly democratic, but they did provide limits to the abuse of executive power. You may regret their passing -- I don´t. But now that they have gone they must be replaced by something better or we are exposed to the abuses of an unchecked executive inflamed by tabloid populism...

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