Monday, June 16, 2008


Happy Birthday, Magna Carta (now lock it away)!

Magna Carta grudgingly received Bad King John’s Seal 793 years ago yesterday, and though our liberties have rolled forward across the eight centuries since, Bad King Gordon still begrudges even those granted in 1215. Magna Carta is worth remembering because it made two huge advances against absolute power; last week, the Labour Government shamefully cut away at two fundamental rights. Two? Yes. With everyone’s attention on 42 days, a just as shocking change got through with hardly anyone noticing. Then yesterday Gordon Brown celebrated Magna Carta’s anniversary by having George W Bush round, causing satire to curl up and die.

Go back to the middle of last week, when Gordon Brown was uttering the immortal words:
“It cannot be draconian and absolutely useless at dealing with the problem.”
Which pretty much sum up the Labour Government’s approach. They, and Gordon Brown in particular, confuse being authoritarian with being effective. They’ve redefined the use of ‘intelligence’ work to mean ‘stupid’. As long as they make a superhuman effort to exert rigid control over every aspect of our lives; as long as they make a point of listening to no-one else, from judges to police to the intelligence services to communities, except for occasional individuals they can misquote; as long as they shout that anyone who thinks they might have the wrong idea is “soft on terrorists”… Then Labour believe that what they’re doing must be working. They’re wrong. The bossier they get, the more desperately they scream, the more useless they become. Anyone with a brain can spot that – and it’s incredible that Mr Brown has such an absolute lack of self-awareness that he says out loud something so utterly absurd.

42 Is Not the Answer

Yet while there were shrieks of disbelief from the Opposition parties and an embarrassed silence, for once, from the Labour benches, Mr Brown still got his way. The one you know about is, of course, the Labour Government’s plan to lock up people with no evidence against them and without taking them to court for six weeks. Even though nothing like that amount of time’s ever been needed. Even though the cases of people being locked up without charge for four weeks that they claimed as proof were exposed as sexed-up reports of people who’d had evidence found against them in under a week and under a fortnight, respectively. Even though picking people out and locking them away outside the law is the best way possible to build up resentment and recruit new terrorists. Even though spinning that they’re “tough on terrorism” by tossing away rights Britain’s had for eight centuries is the sort of medieval totalitarianism that half the terrorists they’re scared of want to impose anyway.

So how did it happen? Well, it’s depressingly plain that however utterly and obviously rubbish the Labour Government is, Labour MPs can still be trusted to buckle under pressure and vote to tear up any rights they’re told to. A rebellion of over fifty Labour MPs crumbled to under forty. And then Mr Brown brought in his Chamber of Horrors of dodgy supporters from the far right, making one of the most unappetising cross-party alliances since the Hong Kong British passport-holders’ vote when Labour backed Norman Tebbit and the far right rebels of the Tory Party to keep every single immigrant out, in protest against Mrs Thatcher’s woolly centrist compromise and in contrast to the Liberal Democrat position which was, surprise, Liberal.

The Labour Government simply do not believe in the Rule of Law. They don’t think they law should apply to people equally – and they don’t think they’re subject to it. And just as they’re happy to cover up bribery scandals to help out governments even more illiberal than they are, they’ve brought bribery home. Even they must have been surprised by the storm of outrage over the shower of money, gongs and more money to Labour MPs, their pet causes, and even a billion of public money to get the DUP to do what they wanted. But you know, I wasn’t surprised by Labour resorting to bribery and corruption… Because the night before the vote on six weeks’ detention without evidence or trial, Labour stealthily got through a vote giving them the power to use bribery and corruption to pervert the course of justice. And with all the media looking the other way, as was surely their plan, I’ve not read a single article that’s made a fuss about it.

Crooked Coroners Corruption

If you find this conspiracy theory unlikely, consider the strange fact that the Labour Government has a whole bill coming up about coroners, but slipped a huge extension of Government control over coroners into a bill theoretically about terrorism, but with powers that the Government can use any time it likes and for any purpose it likes – nothing to do with terrorism at all. It should have caused outrage, but became just a ‘minor’ detail. In short, this disgusting fit-up lets the Government do away with the two biggest guarantees of our liberty: juries, and an independent judiciary. The Labour Government now has the power to order that juries don’t sit on coroners’ inquests – they incessantly quote opinion polls as justification for what they’re doing, but they won’t trust real people to make real decisions. The Labour Government now has the power to replace ‘unsuitable’ coroners with their own chosen puppets to stop people asking awkward questions about anything the Labour Government wants hushed up. And to make doubly sure that their appointed stooges make the ‘right’ decisions, the Labour Government now has the power to award them extra pay – after the verdict! Yes, the Labour Government has just legislated to place bribery and corruption at the heart of our legal system, and as this is about coroners’ inquests, they’ve armed themselves with the power, quite literally, to get away with murder.

If ever there’s something the Labour Government considers awkward or embarrassing, either to themselves, their dodgy business associates, their fellow corrupt, undemocratic regimes, or of course all three, if ever a death is involved the Government can now both cover it up and make sure that the ‘right’ result comes out of the inquest. That’s what happens when there are no juries and you get to pick your own crooked co-operative coroner. Rule of Law? Chuck it in the bin. Even more scarily, there’s nothing to say this is the end of Mr Brown’s plan for destroying the independence of the courts. Since the Bill of Rights in 1688, a judge can only be dismissed by an Address carried by a two-thirds majority in both Houses of Parliament, meaning no government is ever strong enough to do it by themselves, and even that doesn’t allow the government then to pick a tame replacement. To do to judges what they’ve just done to coroners, the Labour Government would only need a simple majority to dismiss that law, and after that a two-thirds majority would be replaced by… A Minister flicking a pen. Expect it in the next bill about ‘terrorism’.

Without the media spotlight on this issue, fewer than twenty Labour MPs opposed the Government’s plans for bribing and corrupting at will every inquest into a death.

Did She Die In Vain?

It’s easy to talk guff about Magna Carta. I wouldn’t swap 2008 for 1215; it didn’t bring in a lot of liberty for you or me, and while the King may have been forced to give way, it was by the barons rather than any sort of popular power. It was a first step towards democracy, but only by diffusing power from one person to a few dozen. Most of it’s even been repealed, but that’s not the point; the rights in it have been built on and expanded. There are all sorts of reasons why its reputation has grown over the centuries, but despite the fact that it was mainly about helping out the barons (and possibly even reasserting some rights from before the Norman Conquest), there are two vital elements that mean its reputation remains deserved. It’s important not because it has the best array of rights, but because it was first to codify two foundations of the Rule of Law, and we still have them. It set out the right of habeas corpus, so that the state can’t lock you up without charge and trial. Which the Labour Government wants to do away with. And even more importantly, it forms the kernel of constitutional law, with the country’s ruler for the first time being made subject to the law rather than above it.

It’s ironic, isn’t it, that in the week of Magna Carta’s anniversary, Gordon Brown and the Labour Government have managed – by hook and by crook – to make Britain the country least bound by habeas corpus in the democratic world, and to put the state above the law in what’s surely the most crucial area of all law: life and death.

They deserve damnation.

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Makes me feel guilty for posting squee about horror movies all night.

Someone else is blogging about the important stuff though:
Oh, no no no, Jennie! Even if you feel a duty to concentrate on politics and nothing else (and I don’t), blogging about fun things would still be how to keep from exploding; maintaining a constant sense of outrage drives you insane or into despair. Besides, I have immensely fond memories of An American Werewolf in London, and who couldn’t enjoy The Abominable Dr. Phibes and Bob Fuest’s fabulous pop-art direction (as seen on many of The Avengers’ best episodes)? So to pace myself between posts on the loathsomeness of the Labour Government, I’ve blogged about Doctor Who psychological horror, and Kessler. Hmm…
Can't agree with a lot of your logic, Alex - but 10 out of 10 for the title from one of Hancock's finest sketches.

Frankly, most of the people who burble on about Magna Carta have no more appreciation of the historical context than Tony and Sid in the jurors' room. How can it be that David Davis is allowed to get away with the guff that he is leading a crusade to defend MC by opposing 42 days' detention when he backed 28 days as wholly necessary to protect the national interest?

Was the Dr Who story with the Kessler link 'Genesis of the Daleks', by the way?
Thanks for the comment, Nick, and sorry I didn’t spot it earlier. I’m intrigued; which bits of my logic would you like to counter? That your Labour Government can’t be both draconian and absolutely useless? A tricky one to disprove. That a lot of the terrorists your Labour Government’s scared of want to establish medieval totalitarian regimes, including taking away exactly the sort of rights your Labour Government’s taking away? That your Labour Government being backed by Norman Tebbit and Ian Paisley might suggest they’re not entirely on the progressive side of politics? That your Labour Government having the power to sack coroners it doesn’t agree with and bribe its new place-people might lead to corrupted enquiries…? Or perhaps you just “can’t agree” because you might be disciplined by the Labour Party?

Glad you enjoyed the Hancock reference, though – I’m not sure about this new biopic with Will Smith ;-)

And not a bad guess on the Kessler link… But no, Genesis of the Daleks isn’t the answer I have on the card. It’s a bit more like Secret Army, I suppose, with Nazis in control and the war going on, but to give you a clue, what’s unique about Kessler is that’s it’s long after the war, with a war criminal still alive long after he’s been pronounced dead, and the hero isn’t a plucky British or American agent but one of the war criminal’s own people who’s disgusted with that bit of his people’s history…
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