I spent this evening reading through the Tory strategy document, ‘2020 Vision: an Agenda for Transformation‘. It makes disturbing reading – a mix of delusion, hypocrisy and some revealing elements that speak volumes about the party that is currently leading the coalition government, and whose leader has expressed the wish to remain as Prime Minister until at least 2020. If you have the stomach for it, you can read the whole thing here.
You might have heard mention of this document already, as some of the news media have mentioned one implied measure to reduce benefits in some regions to try, effectively, to starve unemployed people back into work, no matter how poorly paid.
I’m going to look at that issue and some others in a separate post, but there is one item I want to feature in a separate post because I think it’s both so important, and so telling about the mentality of the parliamentary Tory party and its backers, that it merits specific attention:
The Tory party in government wants to be above the law.
In the first section of the report, titled (with consummate irony) ‘Political Commission for Better Government‘, the Tory MPs who authored the section – Nadhim Zahawi, Penny Mordaunt, George Freeman, Charlie Elphicke, James Morris and Laura Sandys – demand that Government Ministers should be above the law. Or as they put it:
The authors go on to argue:
In a fast moving, increasingly competitive globalised World we need a Government that can make decisions at speed. Yet in Britain Government operates with a lower sense of urgency than the average garden snail. A key reason for this is that the Courts second guess Government decisions so frequently that Ministers fear to make a decision at all lest they find themselves on the receiving end of a Judicial Review.
Ministers are appointed to make decisions. Ministers are accountable to Parliament for these decisions. This is the way our democracy is supposed to work. Ministers’ decisions are not supposed to be second guessed outside the Parliamentary system.
In other words, ‘We want to be able to make our decisions without the inconvenience of having to worry whether they’re actually legal or not.”
Doesn’t this speak volumes?
Even more worryingly, the report hones in on one area that it says highlights the need for Ministers to be above the law more than any other:
The largest increase in judicial review applications
was immigration cases..The Department most affected by judicial second guessing is the Home Office. The Home Office is responsible for law, order, national and border security. This department is key to our safety and security as well as the security of the state. Yet this department is hobbled by persistent interference by the judiciary
Or: ‘Those pesky judges, always meddling where they’re not wanted and pointing out that we’re doing something illegal! Don’t they realise we’re important people?!”
When David Cameron and George Osborne – with craven capitulation by the LibDems – forced through a decision to make the misdeeds of the bankers subject to a Parliamentary investigation rather than an independent inquiry, there was justified uproar because Parliament does not have the necessary power and stature to force witnesses to testify, to punish those who fail to appear or who lie, or to impose penalties and punishment on miscreants. It’s widely recognised that this decision was taken as part of a whitewash to avoid having to really do anything about the bankers that almost brought down our economy.
Yet the Tories – in what they described as
specific policy proposals for our 2015 manifesto
wish to make Ministers unaccountable to judges and the law they apply, and only accountable to a Parliament that, by definition, is going to be subject to the voting power of the very government to which the Ministers belong. So this proposal, effectively, is to make government ministers only accountable to themselves.
There is one slight exception – but it’s so slight as to be basically meaningless:
Only a decision that is so unreasonable that no sensible decision maker could have made it should be subject to review.
So, according to this Conservative proto-manifesto, judges have no business being involved in the decisions made by Ministers, and the only decision that should be open to challenge by judges is one that is so idiotic that every single sane person would disagree with. After all, Ministers are important people and shouldn’t be wasting their time trying to make legal decisions. If they can find one ‘sensible’ (and try finding a legal definition of ‘sensible’ that will stick!), that’s alright – no legal challenges!
Ministerial power can be used for great good, or for great evil. This government is using it to make cuts that are costing lives and livelihoods. Iain Duncan Smith is targeting disabled people with measures that are pushing up suicide rates sharply.
Theresa May makes decisions that can result in individuals being sent to countries where their lives and bodies may be in severe danger, families being torn apart, or even whole families being sent to countries where they face persecution and even death.
Jeremy Hunt – whom Parliament allowed to keep his job in spite of massive public conviction that he provided information and assistance to Rupert Murdoch’s News International on the BSkyB takeover which Hunt himself was to adjudicate (so much for accountable to Parliament!) – is now, as Health Secretary, in a position to make decisions that can result in services and treatments being withdrawn, lives lost or lives ruined, as well as costing the livelihoods of hundreds of thousands of health workers.
Yet, according to the Tories, these and other ministers should only be accountable to the Parliament that by definition the party of those ministers control. Not to judges, because apparently, when it comes to ministerial decisions, speed counts and legality does not.
That the Tories consider the rule of law an inconvenience (except when it suits their purposes to claim to be the party of law and order) should tell you all you need to know about their worldview and their attitude toward those they consider beneath them.
The principle of ‘checks and balances’ is absolutely vital in a democracy. Everyone, ‘even’ Ministers and the Prime Minister himself, must be subject to the rule of law, to the need for due process and the possibility of legal review. Anything else risks tyranny, insanity and misery. It’s worth any amount of inconvenience to prevent that.
But the Tories and their ‘2020 vision’ would prefer to be above the law. We must make sure they don’t get even a sniff of being in power in 2020 – and for a long time beyond that.