Saturday, 6 August 2011

A Constitution

"When a well-packaged web of lies has been sold gradually to the masses, the truth will seem utterly preposterous and its speaker a lunatic."
Dresden James (attributed)
That the constitution of the United Kingdom is defunct is a 'given'; that our political system is defunct is a 'given'; and that, due to the dictatorial system of government now practised by our elected representatives, the people of this nation are 'rudderless' is a 'given'. 

Enoch Powell once said that "Parliament is a word of magic and power in this country". If only that were true. It has surrendered its perogatives at home to the quango state and abroad to the European Union. It is no longer any check on the executive of government as a result of the 'whipping system' and it is fair to say that neither the legislature, nor any written constitution, can now arrest the unconstrained power of government. Constitutional changes have been made during the last few decades, purely on the 'orders' of a Prime Minister; 'orders' carried through Parliament by votes controlled by government whips. No longer do we have true democratic accountability, instead what now passes for government is a not-so-subtle despotism - or as I tend to label it: democratised dictatorship, or oligarchy as some would have it.

At the beginning of "The Plan" there are some quotations, two of which I wish to highlight:
"When the government fear the people, there is liberty. When the people fear the government, there is tyranny."
Thomas Jefferson
"The delegation of particular technical tasks to separate bodies, while a regular feature, is yet the first step by which a democracy progressively relinquishes its powers."
F.A. Hayek
"The Plan", authored by Daniel Hannan and Douglas Carswell, has I believe been the only alternative form of "government" that has been offered to the British people - at least the only one that has received a reasonable amount of publicity and, it could be said, "The Plan" does offer a release from the 'political dictatorship' that presently prevails. Or does it? I ask the question as "The Plan" does contain elements of  'centralist control', which those of us who have 'libertarian instincts' condemn.

With the introduction of the Coalition's e-petition scheme (and allowing that I have conflated Peoples Bills and Petitions in that their aim is similar; namely the objective being to introduce, annul or change a law), it is pertinent to note that Hannan and Carswell write:
"Our aim should be to import the key advantage of the Citizens Initiative - that it prevents politicians from ignoring matters of overwhelming public concern - without derogating from parliamentary sovereignty. The only way to do this is through Peoples Bills: legislative proposals put on the agenda of the House of Commons having attracted popular support in petitions. There would be no obligation on MPs to pass the Bills; but they would have to debate and vote on them and then be held responsible for how they voted."
And the difference between this and that which is proposed by the present day Coalition, is? There is no difference, because what Hannan and Carswell propose is a continuation of the present status quo, namely politicians having the 'upper hand', the final decision on that which the people want. Actually there is, because what Hannan and Carswell propose is that any petition is accompanied by an administration fee and a deposit - the latter which would be forfeited should that petition 'fall' as only the six most popular proposals would progress to the next stage. Following any debate on those six, they propose that MPs would then have the right to amend those Bills at will - yet more 'central control'. (Whether there is merit in an administration fee and a deposit is not for discussion here, but in a post to come).

A further example of parliamentary control is exhibited in "The Plan" where Hannan & Carswell write further on petitions and citizen's bills. Making the point that in the United States, where 24 states operate citizen's initiatives and 26 do not, it is possible to make a like-with-like comparison. Quoting the findings of David Schmidt in "Citizen Lawmakers", Hannan & Carswell point out that far from reducing participation in legislative elections, popular initiative seems to increase it; that turnout amongst voters is five per cent higher; and that legislation in those states that do have citizen's initiatives is lighter and better drafted. Rightly pointing out that the evidence shows that popular ballots make better citizens, thus confirming Keith Joseph's assertion that giving people responsibility makes them responsible, Hannan & Carswell then continue:
"....our proposal retains an ultimate veto by Parliament. MPs would not be in a position of having legislation forced on them."
The idea of politicians being the guardian of the nation's morals and future is echoed by John Redwood, who wrote on 11th January:
"Today we will debate Parliamentary sovereignty. In truth, it should be called popular sovereignty. If Parliament can make and unmake laws, raise taxes and spend them without interference from the EU or judges, then the people are sovereign, because they can dismiss the Parliament in elections and influence it between elections through the pressure of public opinion."
Popular sovereignty is defined by Wikipedia, thus:
"Popular sovereignty or the sovereignty of the people is the political principle that the legitimacy of the state is created by the will or consent of its people, who are the source of all political power."
If the people are the source of all political power, then it must follow that the people should not have to influence their parliament between elections as parliament should only be enacting that which the people wish.

Due to the three main parties basically having the same policies, but differing in the method by which those policies are implemented, the only main alternative is Ukip, yet even they appear to be wedded to the supremacy of a parliament over its people. Witness, from their policy on the constitution:
"Introduce a right of recall whereby electors can challenge an errant MP and force a by-election in exceptional circumstances, such as abuse of expenses....... [.......] .......Give Parliament powers such as treaty ratification and consent for declaring war."
I query the use of the word 'exceptional': what is 'exceptional'? Whilst it is acknowledged that MPs should not be recalled for spurious reasons, would not adherence to political party doctrine  - an adherence imposed by the whips on the direction of the party leader - to the detriment of what his/her electorate wished, not be 'exceptional'? By agreeing to parliament having the power to ratify treaties (presumably without the agreement of the people) means that as with membership of the European Union, the British people could well be 'saddled' with something they do not want. If this country is to declare war, should not the people decide, as when all is considered it is their lives which will be at stake?

Is it right that those who are the source of all political power are only allowed to exercise that political power once every five years? What we experience presently is a 'parliamentary democracy' when what in fact should prevail is a 'representative democracy', the latter, one in which those representatives carry out the people's wishes, rather than the present situation whereby those representatives carry out their own wishes.

Readers will no doubt recall this recent post and, as a result, that which will follow during the course of the next few weeks, will be a sincere attempt to propose a better system and an alternative to how this country is managed - and do note, I did not use the word: 'governed'.


Anonymous said...

In fairness to Powell, I think there was some truth in it when he said it.

As to the only alternate plan set before the British people, if I may...

WitteringsfromWitney said...

Saot: Powell: agreed, but then he was someone 'special' - but even he agreed in an MP's 'divine right'.

Interesting so ordered!

Anonymous said...

A massive contribution towards the restitution of democracy would be secret ballots for MPs. This would completely undermine the "whipping system". As a safeguard the voting records of MPs could be published immediately a General election was called. That way you could still hold them to account for what they have or have not supported over the previous Parliament. It would at least give our parliamentary misrepresentaives a 5 year window to think and act in our interest!!

Stuart said...

I noticed that the Plan still gave politicians the upper hand when it was serialised in the Telegraph. It is nice to think that I speak some sense when you come to the same conclusion as I did back in 2003 when corresponding to my MP (Sir) George Young.

WitteringsfromWitney said...

Anon: Noted....!

S: Back in 2003 I had little interest in politics.....

Hopefully you may like what follows....

The Gray Monk said...

Suspend every civil servant above Grade 7 and set up an investigation of their activities, introduce secret ballot voting in the Houses, have an elected Upper House and abolish all quangos. Then we might have some hope of democracy - at least until they figure out how to steal it again ...

TomTom said...

The Constitution of Britain is simply the fact the London Rules. The Media, Financial, Business, Political Elites all reside in London and that is not true of any other OECD country.

That is the reason why nothing will change whatever is done.

In the days when Manchester, Bradford, Leeds were textile and engineering powerhouses and Newcastle/Middlesborough had Vickers and Armstrong armaments works and a strong business class - now everything is London eve the airport

Frankly Britain is ideally suited to Fascism, it is Democracy and Pluralism which is alien to Modern Britain. The Victorians had a different cultural anchoring for Democracy than the Neo-Elizabethans.

Play with mechanisms as much as you want but London -= The City= The Media =Big Business = Politics so nothing will change.

LJH said...

There is no penalty for lying to the electorate, running up huge debts, commissioning useless and overpriced projects. Until they are held to account and face real penalties ranging from loss of pension rights to long jail terms, the political and administrative classes will continue to look upon the rest of us as mealtickets and little else.

TomTom said...

commissioning useless and overpriced projects

Which provide lucrative revenues for insiders. Edward Heath had a trading account at Brown Shipley throughout his time in Politics. Must have had very good returns to pay for Morning Cloud.

Now we are to have a purported Minister for Magnates so rich men can have their own Minister representing their interests rather like Scotland and day English Voters will notice !

WitteringsfromWitney said...

TGM, TT, LJH: Thanks for the comments/ideas which have been noted and to which reference will be made.

Chris Palmer said...

Referendums and e-petitions (the new website just being a continuation of the old Downing Street petition begun under Blair) are representative of a failure of the political parties and politicians to reflect our views and opinions. I have written a blog posting about this on my website which goes into more detail.

WitteringsfromWitney said...

CP: Agreed - forgive my ignorance but, your website url is......?

Chris Palmer said...

You click on my name, else: Article is at the top of the site.

WitteringsfromWitney said...

CP: Commented on that post - apologies if you suffer a loss of readership.......!

Chris Palmer said...

Thanks - a loss of readership could be catastrophic though! A fifty per cent drop from two people to one..! Or even worse... none!