David Cameron and Charter 88
Those of you with long memories may recall the campaign for a new Charter in 1988, an update to the Great Charter, formulated by a grouping of leftish intellectuals in reaction to Margaret Thatcher's 1987 election victory. I think it salient to look again at the Ten Points that made up Charter 88. I'll try to avoid prolixity.
1. Enshrine, by means of a Bill of Rights, such civil liberties as the right to peaceful assembly, to freedom of association, to freedom from discrimination, to freedom from detention without trial, to trial by jury, to privacy and to freedom of expression.
"We'll replace the European Human Rights Act with a British Bill of Rights" David Cameron reiterated in his speech yesterday. As for the detail, well, most of those quoted rights have been corrosively undermined by Blair's government; attempts to abolish jury trials, summary arrests of a woman for reading names at the Cenotaph and of Walter Wolfgang for daring to criticise the leadership, detention for 'protective custody' of those who may pose a risk to government, the most spied upon people in the Western world and a freedom of expression that is substantially less free than ever it was under Margaret Thatcher.
The only piece of nonsense that should be struck out is the 'freedom from discrimination' sub-clause. I occasionally take a class that I startle by declaring that 'discrimination is good'; by which I mean we discriminate in favour of the most able candidate when we interview for a job, we discriminate in favour of the most advantageous tender when letting contracts and we discriminate daily in a host of personal choices about which tie to wear or what sandwich to eat. The alternative to discrimination is random selection - and who, other than the lunatic fringe of the left, would advocate employing someone based on picking a name out of a hat?
2. Subject Executive powers and prerogatives, by whomsoever exercised, to the rule of law.
Yes, the judiciary have gone from being the demonised reactionaries of the 1970s to the saviours of democracy. This clause, at a time when the core of government is up to its neck in a corruption enquiry, also stands the test of time.
3. Establish freedom of information and open government.
Well, we DID make a great stride in the FOI direction since the Charter was drafted. Sadly, politicians of all sides and a cabal of nervous public officials are trying their best to backtrack on this. And as for open government, Blair has led the most exclusive, closed, and anti-democratic style of government that this nation has known; contemptuous of Parliament, contemptuous of Law and contemptuous of the will of the People.
4. Create a fair electoral system of proportional representation.
There are many flaws in our electoral system, but I don't think that PR is the universal panacea. The 'Power' enquiry examined this issue thoroughly and came down on First Past the Post, albeit with some very radical modifications, as being the best suited electoral system. So I think we can strike-out this clause in favour of something a bit more politically mature.
5. Reform the Upper House to establish a democratic, non-hereditary Second Chamber.
Again, we've made a vast stride forward since 1988 on Lords' reform, but has it been for the better? Many are now questioning whether the old hereditaries, with their cussed independence and deep knowledge of the most arcane of issues, weren't so bad after all.
6. Place the Executive under the power of a democratically renewed Parliament and all agencies of the state under the rule of law.
The first part needs attention more so than ever; Blair has always regarded Parliament as an inconvenience, if not an impediment. Parliamentary sovereignty must be re-won. As for the second, some progress has been made in putting the security services on a statutory footing, but so long as public interest immunity certificates and the like can be issued, and as long as Blair's cabal continues to attempt to usurp the role of the judiciary by executive authority, we've got a way to go yet.
7. Ensure the independence of a reformed judiciary.
The independence of the judiciary is as important as ever - and never has it been so threatened as under Blair's regime. This clause, too, stands the test of time.
8. Provide legal remedies for all abuses of power by the state and by officials of central and local government.
A strong judiciary jealous in defence of rights but pragmatic also in the expectation of responsibilities is the most effective shield; borrowing the concept of the law of equity, such legal remedies should be a shield and not a sword. The 'victim culture' and 'compensation culture' that so undermine our society are the result of a fundamental imbalance here.
9. Guarantee an equitable distribution of power between the nations of the United Kingdom and between local, regional and central government.
Yes, this is very much still on the agenda, but certainly not in the way in which the original signatories imagined. Then it was a campaign issue in favour of devolved Scots and Welsh assemblies, now in favour of an English Parliament, of a movement to shrink the central state in favour of the local, and very much to escape from the dead and undemocratic hand of Europe.
10. Draw up a written constitution anchored in the ideal of universal citizenship, that incorporates these reforms.
A Bill of Rights I can see, but a written constitution I'm nervous of.
So, overall, since 1988 and a Charter movement led by some of the new left, we have seen that same new left actually making the UK a much worse place in their Charter terms than ever it was under Thatcher's government. And a Conservative party under David Cameron committed to take forward many of the reforms defined in the Charter ...
Funny old world, isn't it?