August 28, 2000
Over the next few weeks, Emmanuel Goldstein will be conducting a survey on Britain's diminishing liberty under Tony Blair.
Before I start my main piece, I want to give you a quick political quiz. It is from an article I will cite later by Robert Henderson (so no looking). It intersperses quotes from the leader of the British Union of Fascists and first major British pro-European politician, Oswald Moseley and Tony Blair, the British Prime Minister. Can you tell who said what (answers at the bottom)?
a) I believe we have broken through the traditional barriers of right and left; that we are developing a new and radical economic approach for the left and centre
b) Above all it is a realistic creed. It has no use for immortal principles in relation to the facts of bread-and-butter; and it despises the windy rhetoric which ascribes importance to mere formula.
d) It must be absolutely clear to the British people that we are a political arm of no one other than the British people themselves.
e) We need a new social morality.
f) We seek to establish a new ideal of public service, and a new authority based on merit.
g) The case advanced in these pages covers, not only a new political policy, but also a new conception of life. In our view, these purposes can only be achieved by the creation of a modern movement invading every sphere of national life.
h) The new establishment is not a meritocracy, but a power elite of money-shifters, middle men and speculators... people whose self-interest will always come before the national or the public interest.
Two things occurred when Tony Blair and his entourage processed into government in 1997. The first was the abdication of day to day control of the interest rates from the Government to the Central Bank. This was, in my opinion "A Good Thing", although hardly the sort of thing one would expect from a government that spent its time attacking the Conservative's lack of enthusiasm towards the state sector of the economy. The other and under reported change was the restriction of Prime Minister's Questions from one day a week to two. This was an ominous portent.
Prime Minister's Question time is commonly lampooned in America. "You have these two guys, one the most powerful in the land, who trade personal abuse and have background noise unworthy of a farmyard produced by 633 of the rest of the most powerful people in the land. And you say that proves how good your democracy is?" Well yes it does. In the absence of separated powers and elected executives, the British people need some way of holding their executive to account. And PMQ's are an excellent way of doing this precisely because they make good TV. They are more informative than Jerry Springer and more interesting than the State of the Union. Yes, they are partisan, point scoring and adversary but they bring out the best or worst in a Prime Minister and the desire to control them shows a contempt for Parliament, and hence for democracy itself. And all to cover up one man's weakness.
Surely, Tony Blair has nothing to fear? He is popular beyond a politician's wildest dreams and he has an impregnable majority in parliament behind him. This analysis misses out that Tony Blair has always been a privileged dullard, who relies on a private education and good connections to make up for a very average intelligence. In the best psychological profile of Tony Blair to date, political writer Robert Henderson pinpoints an essential weakness as the source of Blair's sometimes all consuming urge to control. Tony Blair is very scared that his limited abilities will be put on display. One way in which this essential insecurity reveals itself is the way in which instead of trying to persuade the people that they may not like what he is doing but he is right, he shifts his position. Margaret Thatcher was not cut of the same cloth, as her very public efforts to forestall national bankruptcy and curtail the Trade Unions tell. As an actor the man rates well, but as a man on his own account, he falls down. The public can not see this.
Ronald Reagan, whom Mr. Blair imperfectly copies, was often accused of successfully appealing to the American People over the head of Congress. There are arguments both ways on the desirability of this, and the American columnists on antiwar.com probably hated this aspect of the "Imperial Presidency." Whatever the constitutional damage this may have done, the fact cannot be denied that Reagan needed to do this, to get past a House of Representatives dominated by his political opponents. What is odd about Blair, no what is downright creepy, is that he does not need to do this. But he does it anyway. Government announcements are made to the press before Parliament. European laws are rarely even referred to Parliament before they become law through executive decree. Opponents are seduced to muffle criticism and are demonised if they don't succumb. Close personal friends are routinely appointed to high office. Parliament is sent away for three and a half month holidays. Even the position of Speaker of the House of Commons in Britain a non-partisan role representing the general interests of Parliament now seems to be going to one of his friends.
One of the most telling facts has been the outlawing, yes outlawing, of imperial measurements. It is now illegal to buy two pounds of apples in an open-air market. Much has been written on this absurd piece of over regulation usually on the way in which the Government does not understand the people. However, little has been written on the way this episode shows how little the government understands, or cares for, its own constitution. The source of this pernicious regulation was an order put out by a Government department in 1994, setting a timetable for the gradual removal of imperial measurements. This regulation relied on powers given to the government in an earlier act, the 1972 European Communities Act in which Britain adhered to the (then) European Economic Community. Unfortunately they ignored the fact that a law had been passed in 1985 (the Weights and Measures Act) regulating imperial measurements, and therefore recognising them. What this meant was that the government was outlawing a law made in 1985 from a law made in 1972. Under British constitutional law, "no Parliament can bind its successors", this means that no law is permanent if a democratically elected Parliament overrides it. The government ignored this, and showed its contempt for the Parliament from which it derives its power.
The government even tried to stop debate on the Kosovo war. It was even seen as a minor event when Blair described it as a war, for to admit to a war would be to admit that we were fighting a war without Parliamentary approval something that is illegal. The inability to call a vote on this subject was not for fear that the war would not be called both the Liberals and, although privately critical, the Conservatives were for it. It was a fear of criticism itself and probing questions. Needless to be said, once his contempt for Parliament was safe until the next country is bombed, Mr. Blair called it the "first progressive war". At least he didn't call it the first democratic, legal or constitutional war.
An uncharacteristic slip that revealed Blair's attitude towards intermediate institutions was shown when he talked about Scottish devolution before the 1997 election. Explaining that the proposed assembly's powers would not drag the United Kingdom apart he said that the assembly would have the powers of "a parish [township] council", and further he said that "as an MP, sovereignty in Me". He was wrong on both counts most parish councils cannot outlaw field sports or lower income tax but it was more disturbing where he thought sovereignty lies. It is accepted that Parliament is sovereign in that it can make any law, but the sovereignty does not rest in one Member of Parliament, but in them as a collective body, as Parliament. As the almost certain winner of the next election, he knew what he was thinking even if he did not intend to reveal it.
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