The Divine Right of Politicians?
Dave Barnby has written an insightful piece. We reproduce it here, slighly edited for space -
It is worrying that we see the Brown Government has set up a committee of politicians that has already made recommendations on the shape and content of a future Bill of Rights, seemingly ignoring the fact we already have one. The leader of the opposition too has spoken frequently on the need for a Bill of Rights, again ignoring the Bill of Rights of 1688(9).
We have a written Constitution, inconvenient though that may be for those exercising power. British politicians are wont to claim otherwise or downplay the fact. Most of the public are familiar with Magna Carta and a lesser number will know of the Declaration / Bill of Rights (1688/9) of the Glorious Revolution. . .
Constitutions are important in that they limit the power of rulers and governments and require that Parliament and government are subject to the rule of law, as John Bingley explained in Unlawful Governance.
Of course no law or constitution can be absolute and they ought to be amendable. But certain provisions have a fundamental nature to them in that they define our humanity, much in the way that the Ten Commandments do.
I am a great admirer of Thomas Paine, the 18th century political philosopher who helped in the birth of the USA. Paine is quite clear that constitutions are the property of the nation and its people and that politicians have no right to involvement:
Government has no right to make itself a party in any debate respecting the principles or modes of forming, or of changing, constitutions. It is not for the benefit of those who exercise the powers of government, that constitutions, and the governments issuing from them, are established. In all those matters, then rights of judging and acting are in those who pay, and not those who receive.
. . .That Parliament believes it can now do as it likes (the so-called Supremacy of Parliament) and is not subject to the rule of law (especially the Constitution) is shown by the way it brought about our membership of the EEC in 1972/3 by adopting the Treaty of Rome. This was a change that conflicted with our Constitution and was done without consulting the public. Since that time we have had five other events conflicting with our Constitution, all without public consultation through a referendum.
The full awful list is given here:
Treaty of Rome 1972 - PM Heath
Single European Act 1986 PM Margaret Thatcher
Treaty of Maastricht 1992 PM John Major
Treaty of Amsterdam 1997 PM Tony Blair
Treaty of Nice 2000 PM Tony Blair again
Treaty of Lisbon 2008 PM Gordon Brown
You will note that three are the work of Conservative Governments and three of Labour Governments. That's form, of course. Conservatives talk eurosceptic in opposition, but soon it will be their turn 'in power', and they will run, firmly grasping the 'baton of integration', as ever. The public's will counts for nought.
Politicians will counter: you had a vote on the EEC in the 1975 referendum. But that was merely a three years too late retrospective referendum on the Treaty of Rome, which took us into the EEC as it was then. It's akin to appointing a chairman of a golf club and asking the membership to vote on the appointment three years after the event - there would be uproar.
It's not surprising that the late Douglas Jay MP, speaking in the House of Commons in the second reading of the European Communities Bill (ECA72) that took us into the EEC (see CD: Shoe-horned into the EU) said:
Millions of people in this country will feel as I do, that legislation passed in this way, with no consent, cannot command the assent of the country and would lack moral and constitutional validity.
Yet Douglas Jay did not know then half of the shameful and deceitful dealings that we are now aware of since the release of material from the PRO under the 30-year rule; and which are detailed on the above referenced CD. This was done to persuade a very reluctant public and to coerce a reluctant Parliament to accept the Treaty of Rome. Can it any longer be claimed that Parliament freely and fairly adopted this Treaty?
The political classes having rightly removed absolute power from monarchs of the past have applied all their skills and cunning to remove checks on their own power and we now have an untenable situation where the public are faced with politicians who seem to subscribe to a new doctrine of the Divine Rights of Politicians.
The 1st Earl of Chatham, Pitt the Elder, was aware of the threat when he said:
. . .instead of the arbiitrary power of a Stuart king, we must submit to the arbitrary power of the House of Commons. If this be true, what benefit do we derive from the exchange? Tyranny my Lords, is detestable in every shape, but none so formidable as where it is assumed and exercised by a number of tyrants. My Lords, this is not the fact, this is not the Constitution, we have a law of parliament. We have a Statute Book and the Bill of Rights.