Sunday, April 10, 2005

Whither England?

The blogosphere is quite as scary a place as the real world. As a new political blogger, I have been tracking the debates on more established political blogs. There's not a lot of "moderation" about, that's for certain.

Few people seem to subscribe to small "l" liberal values any more. The strong views of many are matched by a strong desire to impose them on others. A small example: many are prepared to "solve" the problem of low turnouts at elections by compulsion. Firstly, a low turnout is a message from the voters - that they are alienated from the political process. Deny them that method of making the point and they may emulate the disgruntled Austrians a few years ago who voted for neo-Nazis to give the system a quick kick. Secondly, why on earth should it be a crime for someone not to vote? Your not voting comes nowhere near hurting me and I have no right to force you to do it. Thirdly, anyone who really doesn't want to be there is probably going to spoil the ballot paper anyway, so what the hell would be the point?

New Labour has criminalised more than 1,000 formerly legal activities. Most of us can name only one (hunting with hounds) but there really are 1,000+ more. Given that the police in Britain don't enforce the laws against burglary - pleading lack of resources - what rational legislature would give them 1,000+ new crimes to enforce?

I have a proposal. Every law should have a "sunset clause", so that it will automatically expire on the 10th anniversary of the end of the Parliament in which it was passed. If it matters, it will be renewed (after all income tax has never been permanent and is renewed every year). If it doesn't matter, it can be allowed quietly to die. That way the "ratchet effect" by which ever more new laws criminalise or regulate ever more aspects of our lives would be reversed.

The only exceptions would be non-statutory common laws (against murder, theft etc.). Those predate Parliament itself in many cases. Britain is unique in that if all its statutes were repealed it would have - in the Common Law - a complete and workable (if rather quaint) legal system.

If we continue to tolerate a situation where every sad story in the tabloids leads to a new law, we will end up so hemmed in by rules that we will have no scope to live free. Arguably, we are already there! We should ask ourselves if we even have the right to mortgage the future of our posterity by imposing rules on them as to which they will have had no say at all.

It is too much to hope that our usually ill-educated and inexperienced members of Parliament will subscribe to Montesquieu's famous view that "If it is not necessary to make a law, it is necessary NOT to make a law", but at least we can limit the damage their legislative diarrhoea is causing.


AK said...


found your blog from boris johnston website

agree that compulsory voting is not a great idea, but at least it is better than some others like postal voting which is already leading to fraud

Tom Paine said...

Thanks for your comment. The government's particular scheme for postal voting is certainly flawed, as the judge in Birmingham so graphically explained.

It's interesting that (a) they intend to continue with the same scheme and (b) their party activists have been caught (in one place) using it to rig an election.

I wonder in how many places they were NOT caught.

Bill said...

I agree with you about postal voting - it is certainly a flawed system. I got myself a postal vote soon after it was introduced, simply so I could understand how it operated, so I have had an opportunity over the past several elections (national, Scottish and local) to get to know the system and just how vulnerable it is to tampering.

As for the sub-title of your blog (your initial post in March) I wrote about just this subject back in January and feel just as you do about it:

Tom Paine said...

Thanks for the comment, Bill. The problem about civil liberties in Britain seems to be that it is an issue that does not divide us on party lines. From hard left to hard right, (with more fragrant stops along the route) you can find people who understand and care about freedom of speech and thought and the right to fair trial. But there are no decisive votes in it for Labour or the Conservatives - so we might as well not exist.

It seems our Constitution has always been defective, but the historical accident of balance between the parties created an illusion that it protected us.

I reject all temptations to "loserism" however. We are not yet defeated, just desperately in trouble - and the internet is allowing like-minded people who might otherwise despair to exchange ideas which just may trigger a solution.

Tom Paine said...

I have changed the colour scheme because of Simon's comment that it was hard on the eyes. It's a bit less striking looking now, but I hope more legible