Sunday, January 21, 2007

 

If Labour Does It, It Can’t Be Wrong

Labour has a problem with the law. That’s obvious, you say: they campaign on ‘law and order’ rhetoric, but after several crime bills every year inventing over 3,000 new crimes (that’s one every day for the police to memorise rather than getting out tackling real criminals), but the whole criminal justice system’s still such a failure that today the Home Secretary’s announcing to the House of Commons Sunday Telegraph that, having run out of other people to blame, he wants to split his department in two. But their fundamental problem is that they don’t believe in the Rule of Law.

The whole idea of the Rule of Law is that the same rules apply to everyone. Everyone has to obey the law because it gives everyone equal protection, and will punish everyone equally, without fear or favour. That means the Rule of Law is just as much about controlling rulers as about them controlling those they rule. From John Locke onwards, a key building block of Liberalism has been that power must be bound by rules to guard against bullying in general and arbitrary government in particular. It’s not about subjecting people to the law, but making everyone play by the same rules, strong or weak, majorities or minorities, governments and citizens. Similarly, equality before the law means not concocting rules specifically to penalise a particular group. If the law picks on people unfairly, what reason do they have to obey it? Every individual must be treated on an equal basis as an individual by the law for a Liberal society to win respect for law and society, not compel it. The obvious result of this is that there’s always a tension between governments and the law, because it stops them doing everything they want. How could it be otherwise? That’s what it’s there for.

What makes the current Labour Government different is not that they try to find ways of getting around the Rule of Law or try to tilt bits of it for partisan advantage, but that they’re assaulting it or discarding it across the board. Of course their Conservative predecessors had problems with the Rule of Law too – whether it was crooks like Jonathan Aitken lying in court, others using government to make themselves rich or the government abusing legislation to mount vicious attacks on groups it hated, like travellers or gay people. But undermining the courts, the police, the whole legal process, and a flagrant belief that the law doesn’t apply to them across the whole of government… That’s new.

I say ‘new’, but in some ways it’s almost like a return to medieval notions of absolute power. The ‘divine right of kings’ is a bit of a simplification (the notion was more that anyone in authority was ordained by God, from the king downwards), but several different lines of reasoning seem to have led the Labour Government to develop a similar view. The public think of them as crooks – and, often, so do I – but the key to their criminal pathology is that they don’t. Or, at least, Mr Blair and his true believers do not. They just believe that terrible creed, that the end justifies the means.

There are three main roots to Labour’s belief that, whatever they do, they should remain irreproachable. The first is the old leftist utopianism, that as they were going to create the perfect society, anything would be justified to get there. The belief in the perfect society has disappeared, but the attitude of mind remains – perhaps that’s why those who were the fiercest of old utopians, former Communists like John Reid, who are among the most ruthless in government. The second is their long period in Opposition, when Labour eventually decided that abandoning anything was worth it to get elected – so, in power, it’s only a small step to believing that any action is worth it to stay in power. The third, and in many ways the most disturbing, is that I suspect Mr Blair does have a frighteningly messianic belief in the rightness of his cause – and, if you are absolutely right, any minor wrong in pursuit of the greater good becomes a noble means to an end.

That all serves to explain why, despite all the lies, corruption and contempt for the legal system, there is still a curious integrity to what looks, on the surface, to be a desperately crooked Labour Government. There’s very little evidence of them making money individually: what they do, they do for the cause. Some of them are starry-eyed true believers; some have just convinced themselves. Both sorts will react with outrage if you accuse them of immorality (one lot in defensive funk, the more dangerous sort because they genuinely believe they can do no wrong). As Nixon said, if the President does it, it’s not illegal.

If anything that aids the Labour cause is right, then anything that obstructs it must be wrong. And so follow the deeply felt moral objections to judges, forces of conservatism, impertinent journalists, impertinent police investigations, protesters, liberals and laws. If they are roadblocks to ‘progress’, well then, they are simply wrong. It’s not merely that they believe themselves above the law, but that – as evidenced by the unprecedented way in which they tinker with it – the law itself is just an occasionally inconvenient means to their ends, itself to be denounced when it gets in the way. Churn out new laws as if every day is Day Zero. Sneer at hundreds of years of legal protections. Juries find the wrong way? Do away with jury trials. Judges give sentences that suit the case instead of the headlines? Attack the judges. Don’t have the evidence to bang up people they know are guilty? Do away with evidence and detain people without trial. If the law is too fair and thorough, use mob rule and ASBOs to criminalise people for non-criminal acts, on hearsay instead of evidence, on whim rather than beyond reasonable doubt. Set out to have all citizens, guilty until – well, no-one but Labour is innocent – guilty and so to be DNA-tagged and forced carry cards to be permitted to walk around their own country. If it’ll make the business of controlling everything easier or look better in the headlines (and so keep them in power longer), it’s morally justified and anyone who disagrees with something morally justified is, surely, deliberately evil.

So many of Labour’s problems come straight from this attitude. When Mr Blair said his government would be “purer than pure,” he meant it, and he still does. In the bright light of his ultimate aim – to stay in power – everything else is bleached. If they sold peerages for millions, it wasn’t for an immoral gain, but for money Labour needed, and so a minor transgression becomes a moral duty for the greater good. I don’t know whether the Prime Minister’s Director of Government Relations, Ruth Turner, is innocent or guilty. But in the Prime Minister’s eyes she is entirely innocent either way, because she was doing something for the greater good. Whether she broke the law or not is entirely immaterial. Either way, Mr Blair is not lying – he’s telling a greater truth. When the police arrested someone first thing in the morning, without warning – as they might do with anyone on suspicion of perverting the course of justice, who could reasonably be thought to be disposed to dispose of evidence – the howls of outrage from such figures as bullying Mr Blunkett, happy to attack police, judges or any other thought criminals, were entirely justified in their own minds. If criminals are arrested, it should be with the maximum publicity and without worrying about evidence or prejudicing any trial – Labour must be right, and seen to be right. If Labour people are arrested – well, that’s an evil theatricality, aimed against the forces of good. Unsurprisingly, yesterday’s midday news had an interview with someone from the Police Federation who had a different (so, by definition, wrong) view, attacking the government on behalf of rank and file police officers: “What sort of undue pressure are they trying to bring?” he asked. “Senior figures in the government shouldn’t expect better treatment than ordinary members of the public.” You see, that’s his fatal mistake.

The same comes of Mr Blair still believing he’s right in ordering the legal system to stop investigating the Saudi bribes scandal. The unions give Labour money, which is an absolute good, and they want the investigation stopped; the Saudis give Labour moral support in the war against whatever it’s said to be a war against, which is an absolute good, and they want the investigation stopped. On the opposing side, what are there but a few laws, and what good are laws if they put themselves against the side of good? When the Liberal Democrats criticise that for undermining our moral position in the world, that’s a failure of leadership – failing to see that anything is justified to aid the big picture. When the OECD says the Labour Government is breaking an anti-bribery treaty, it misses the point that the Labour Government has no intention of being corrupt. Oh no. The Attorney General announces with typical doublethink that dropping the investigation “doesn’t mean we are backing off in any way from our commitment to tackling international corruption.” And, as Jeremy Hardy’s version of Mr Blair used to say when believing in Christianity and sacrificing to the Devil by the full moon, I see no contradiction in that. The only reason that Ruth Kelly stands out in wanting different laws so Catholic organisations can be state-sponsored bigots over adoption is that, in a slightly off-message way, she’s not doing it in the interests of the Labour Party but of some other believers who think the law must support them and them alone.

Anyone who disagrees is wrong. Anyone who criticises or exposes is damaging Labour – which is wrong. Anyone who defends or allows any of those things is wrong. And isn’t it wrong to tolerate evil? So, while the rules don’t apply to them, and it’s none of our business to ask why, only they are the arbiters of good and evil. Any other criminals or critics – in the Labour lexicon, the two are interchangeable – must be shown no mercy, due process or not. Labour people cannot do wrong because what they do is in the cause of a greater right; but nobody else can make this decision, and only most glaringly in their infamous disregard for international law. No other consciences are valid, because that would be to permit evil.

There is an alternative point of view.

It is that the state must be bound by the same rules as everyone else. That however powerful they are, however rich they are, whoever their friends are, everyone must be constrained by the Rule of Law, or no-one has cause to obey any of it. All power must be answerable to the people, which needs the people to know what it does in their name, and it to be checked by the same rules that check us all. And the end does not justify the means, or there’s no law at all. You can either believe in the Rule of Law or the Rule of Labour, but when they come into conflict one must take precedence.

In a completely unrelated development, tomorrow the Liberal Democrats launch a new campaign to tackle crime.

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