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Cross-posted from My Torygraph: Little Laud to the Devil. - Wemyss's Appalling Hobby:
From the Party Guilty of Committing 'Gate of Ivory, Gate of Horn'
wemyss
wemyss
Cross-posted from My Torygraph: Little Laud to the Devil.


 

Little Laud to the Devil.

 

Three and a half centuries ago, my family – I speak of the English strain in me – were quite literally at daggers drawn (well, at push of pike, actually).  Not that this was new, or that much has changed since (sweetness and light did not precisely characterise the relations between my father and Uncle George, for example).  In that ancient quarrel, I am even now a partisan: Wromantic rather than Repulsive, and unconvinced that the Repulsive were Right and the Wromantic, Wrong.  The side of the family that sat in Cromwell’s parliaments, married into the family of the only peerage Old Noll attempted to create, and approved that connexion (bloody Ludlows) who was a proud regicide and unrepentant religious terrorist and ethnic cleanser in Ireland, I have always disdained, in favour of the side of the family that produced one of the chief Royalist agents and intelligencers in the West and moved upon the fringes of Izaak Walton’s cunning plan to rescue the Lesser George – and Colonel Blague with it – from Oliver’s grasp and the perils of the Tower.

 

Yet I think that even staunch, loyal, Royalist old Richard, that dear and glorious physician-cavalier, that High Church spymaster, might have found common ground with his cousin Sir Francis MP (and possibly even with the bloody Ludlows) over the current parlous state of British politics.

 

On the one hand, the pettiness of the squalid troughing is hard to take seriously: ‘Alan Duncan spent how much?  Well.  Either it’s a truly stunning garden, or a truly stunning gardener’s boy’; ‘Dog food?  Why no chipmunk seeds for Hazel?’; ‘Why would an MP buy horse manure when it’s free for the taking at Westminster?’

 

On the other hand, the whole sordid mess is ominous.  For it is not the disease, merely a symptom.

 

It is a commonplace to observe that, in vestry and academic and local politics, the animosity is so great and the acts are so base precisely because the stakes are so low.  The same is true of today’s parliament.  We have returned, over the past decade and a bit, to the worst days of placemen and sinecures, of graft and rotten boroughs, of a gelded legislature reconciled to overweening executive dominance by being made a gilded legislature.  Westminster has sunk to the level of the Irish parliament of the late XVIIIth Century – and for similar cause, as we shall see.  Its rules, allowances, and working hours were adopted for, and are adapted to, a world that has ceased to exist: one of what the Yanks call, or once called, citizen-legislators, Cincinnati turning briefly from the ploughing to settle affairs of state before resuming their lives outwith the forum.  These were in their beginnings a reform, benefiting QC MPs and others who worked for a living as well as sat in the House.  That great barrier to reform and independence of mind, the party system and the whip, was itself originally a measure of reform, intended to replace the patronage system and the placemen who made the Commons so noisome and disgraceful in the days of Peel.

 

Now, however, we have the worst of both worlds.  It’s as if the Crown were to retain the Civil List and the profits and possession of the Crown Estates – but enough about Duchy Organics.

 

An emasculated legislature; representatives of the people who represent no interests save their own pecuniary benefit; a complaisant Speaker; an overweening executive with no democratic legitimacy; jobbery, graft, and corruption: these things raise the hackles of any true Briton.  I know Continentals – of the right, at that – who believe, with the American Left, that taxation is a duty and that the people owe the State: a sneer British Leftists direct at Americans and Continentals of all parties (Europe is innately statist, I fear) direct at Britons and Americans and all the English-Speaking Nations indiscriminately; but what causes the Anglo-Saxons to rise up in wrath is not only being taxed, which is bad enough but, within limits and for proper purposes, tolerable, but finding that they are not getting value for money.  If that is being a nation of shopkeepers, then good for the shopkeepers: we want more grocers and fewer grandees.

 

In that light, Mr Cameron did well the other day, although not nearly well enough: it was folly to forget that respect for the Speaker’s office may in extreme cases – and this is an extreme case – require condemnation of a Speaker unfit to hold that office, and it was a blunder, and a distasteful one, to threaten Lord Tebbit with withdrawal of the whip when no such threats were expressed as to, say, Mr Willetts, Lord Hailsham, or Lord Lothian (who will persist, for no good reason, in calling himself Michael Ancram).

 

Yet this goes only to the symptom, not the disease.  Why, after all, has Parliament become this sump and sink of petty jobbery and ineffective representation?

 

The Westminster Parliament behaves like the Irish parliament of the period 1688 – 1800 because, in effect, it is.  Or, if you prefer, it is a devolved assembly.  ‘Statutory instruments’ have deprived it of its legislative role; and actual power resides in Brussels, a place so corrupt it makes Westminster look like Utopia.  Nothing of any real moment occurs in the House: merely shadow-boxing.  It resorts to Punch and Judy politics precisely because it is no more now than a puppet theatre.

 

In fact, in many respects, it is not even a legislative assembly at all, nowadays.  Brussels decides.  Westminster implements.  Where Brussels allows the UK to decide, the PM decides (or dithers); Westminster implements.  And that is the real, shameful secret: Parliament is no longer a legislative body, it is a new layer of the Civil Service, and not even of the British Civil Service.

 

These causes for the collapse being identified, the remedy is clear.  Get the realm out of the EU.  Adjust the obscene number of MPs, lobby fodder, most of them.  End statutory instruments.  Stop putting everything on the statute book.  Pay MPs enough that working people can afford to be MPs, but not enough that they can cease to work and become professional politicians for life, moving from SpAd to MP to quangocrat: structure things such that members are persosn with experience of life, whether as a GP, a QC, a farm labourer, or a miner.  Get a real Speaker, a Frank Field or a Sir George Young.  Loosen party discipline to a reasonable level: no more FU putting stick about.  In short, restore the House of Commons – and the Lords, whilst we’re at it – to their functions. 

 

Or face the consequences.  For I know from my own family history that it was not one thing – and certainly not ideology or religion – that drove half my family into rebellion as Roundheads whilst the other half, for all their doubts, rallied to the King’s Standard.  It was the accumulation of insults to the liberties of the subject and of the House, coupled – mark this well – with taxes raised to no purpose other than to be wasted upon a court and its placemen.

 

For in the end, this row is not merely about expenses and fiddling.  Not really.  This?  This is Ship Money.  And Gordon Brown and all the political class, of all parties may – to paraphrase an American rebel of the 1770s – profit by that example.

 

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Comments
fpb From: fpb Date: May 13th, 2009 08:54 pm (UTC) (Link)
Speaking as one of the Continentals you used for target practice, I am afraid that you misrepresented, or at least misunderstood, my views. I said paying tax is patriotic; I did not say that any tax, and any government, are worth paying and obeying. Indeed, a true patriot can and will rebel against an unrepresentative, tyrannical or foreign government. A major aspect of the Italian struggle for independence and unity was an ongoing tax revolt against the Austrian colonial power, and that for two inter-related reasons; they taxed us too much (no wonder that within five years of being driven out of Italy, the Austro-Hungarian Empire experienced the worst economic crisis in its history) and they gave us no say in the management of our own affairs. Paying tax is one part of the democratic contract; it is one of those duties whose fulfilment give the citizen a claim over his government and a right to be heard. Citizenship is a two-way street; you have rights, and you pay for them. Among those rights is to hound the government about the proper spending of your taxation; and don't think we don't do it. Let me tell you something, amico mio: to a cynical Italian eye, the English attitude to government seems entirely too reverential. You act as if it was a great and staggering surprise that politicians are corrupt and Parliament full of placemen; why, welcome to Planet Earth. And the surprise is not that government abuses its powers, but that there are so few avenues to stop them. In Italy, a whole branch of the judiciary is dedicated to conflicts between the state and the citizen or private sector: we have criminal justice, civil justice, and administrative justice - which is possibly the most powerful of the three. My mother is a clerk in the Supreme Court of the administrative branch (called, oddly enough, the Consiglio di Stato or Council of State). You can go to Administrative Tribunals for any kind of public decision whatsoever that annoy you, and they tend to support the citizen or private business; compare and contrast with the petty and not-so-petty tyrannies of ministries, planning law and other administrative bodies in this country, often unstoppable save by the clumsy and expensive tool of judicial review or European courts. You will actually hear Italians both of the left and of the right complain that the problem with us is not that the State has too much power, but that it has too little, being often impotent and stymied by the self-will of a single citizen. But that is what happens in a free commonwealth ruled by laws.

There is one final point that is well worth making. A State will always exist. Political power of some sort, with the ability to impose laws and force their respect, is a natural part of mankind, of man as a political animal. If it is not paid for by the public, and therefore dependent on the public, it will, like many tyrants of old, draw its resources from its own private wealth, and will therefore be both unaccountable to the public and endowed with enormous extra-legal powers to compel all those who come within the sphere, not only of its political, but of its economic power. The Tzar of all the Russias was also the chief merchant of the nation, and the chairman by right of its merchants' association. Think about it.
fpb From: fpb Date: May 14th, 2009 10:39 am (UTC) (Link)

From the website of Italy's Council of State

After discussing the similar bodies found in various European countries, such as France and Germany, the website gets to England:

"There is no such thing as administrative justice in England. Control over state powers is either not allowed - in a particular range of acts that depend ultimately on royal prerogatives - or entrusted to a large number of special non-judicial bodies. That means, among other things, that there is no judicial oversight of any kind over large areas which are deeply overseen in Italy."

In Inghilterra non esiste alcun diritto amministrativo. Il sindacato sui poteri pubblici o è escluso, in relazione a determinate categorie di atti riconducibili a prerogative regie, o è affidato ad un complesso sistema di organi speciali non giurisdizionali. Cio vuol dire, fra l'altro, che non c'e alcun controllo del giudice su ampie materie largamente controllate in Italia.
wemyss From: wemyss Date: May 15th, 2009 02:17 pm (UTC) (Link)

My dear fellow.

You take too much to yourself. You are not the only Continental rightist with whom I communicate.

That being said, I cannot agree or accept the subject's claim over his government and his right to be heard are dependent upon the performance of any duty soever: these are natural rights. It is for the executive to come to the people, cap in hand, and say, We propose the following, and will need so many pounds and pence; and the people are then to say, yea or nay.

As for the notion of judicial review, we won't have it, don't want it, and shan't wear it.

I am not, by the way, shocked that politicians are swine. I am shocked that British politicians are swine. If nothing else, they damned well ought to have known they'd be caught out.
fpb From: fpb Date: May 15th, 2009 04:18 pm (UTC) (Link)

Re: My dear fellow.

No: because of the presumptions you so eloquently set out, they are quite rightly surprised when someone actually finds them out. In a society that has no instrument whatever to stop political power doing what it wants - except for the sorry and sterile pleasure of sending one bunch of bums home after they have done their worst, and replacing it with another - they had every reason to believe that they could go on using their position for ever. (There can be no notion of abuse where proper rules and proper enforcement are lacking.)

And the subject's claim over the government and his right to be heard may not be dependent upon the performance of their own duties, but the citizen's certainly are. A citizen is an adult living in a world of adults; if he does not acknowledge and perform his obligations, he undoes himself as an adult and as a citizen, and opens the road for others to similarly neglect their own. I did not say that this is a moral principle, except in a negative sense, but it is a most practical one. A free commonwealth only lives on the self-discipline of all its members; otherwise, anarchy below is answered to by anarchy (in the Chestertonian sense) above. It is nice to think that a higher power would always remember its obligations whether or not everyone else is rejecting theirs, but only God sends down the rain on the just and on the unjust alike.
fpb From: fpb Date: May 15th, 2009 04:28 pm (UTC) (Link)

Re: My dear fellow.

Incidentally, I don't deny that there are such things as natural rights. There are also natural duties. Giuseppe Mazzini, the greatest of our democratic patriots, wrote an excellent book about them, in order to fight the influence - swiftly growing in his day - of Karl Marx and his philosophy. Of course, he who does not fulfil his natural duties is often extremely swift and articulate in claiming his natural rights. The jaundiced eye with which I for one regard such phenomena is part of the liberal and democratic tradition I learned from my elders.
fpb From: fpb Date: May 15th, 2009 04:30 pm (UTC) (Link)

By the way,

My dear fellow, You take too much to yourself. You are not the only Continental rightist with whom I communicate.

As I acknowledged in my very first line: "Speaking as one of the Continentals you used for target practice..."
magic_at_mungos From: magic_at_mungos Date: May 13th, 2009 09:23 pm (UTC) (Link)
Twunts. The lot of them.
wemyss From: wemyss Date: May 15th, 2009 02:10 pm (UTC) (Link)

Indeed.

And, yea, verily.
magic_at_mungos From: magic_at_mungos Date: May 15th, 2009 06:40 pm (UTC) (Link)

Re: Indeed.

*sighs* Get rid of the lot of them. It's not on really.
shezan From: shezan Date: May 14th, 2009 01:31 am (UTC) (Link)
Westminster has sunk to the level of the Irish parliament of the late XVIIIth Century – and for similar cause, as we shall see.

Classic!
wemyss From: wemyss Date: May 15th, 2009 02:09 pm (UTC) (Link)

Too easy, really.

Ta, love.
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