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Rediscovering the Great British Republican Tradition


For a Civic and Constitutional Republic


Issue No 51 Friday 20 November 2009




This week 

·        Government Overrides The  Distinction Between Law And Policy


·        The Simple Equation That The Private Sector Is Good And The Public Sector Bad Has Blighted Our Lives For Decades.




News Stories

Highlighting news stories important to the Civic Republican view, particularly those that are overlooked or little covered in the main media.





·        Government Overrides The  Distinction Between Law And Policy


The weakness of the British constitution was once again clearly exposed during the state opening of parliament last Wednesday.


Also exposed was the contempt in which politicians, notably the Prime Minister, hold established constitutional principles. Under any view of the running of a state there has to be a clear distinction between the Constitution, Legislation and Policy. Gordon Brown and his government demonstrated, during this supposedly august occasion, how they do not recognise this distinction - how they do not give a fig for constitutional propriety - particularly when it comes to trying to save their skin at the next general election.



On the Prime Minister's personal website,, we find posted the following "Transcript of Her Majesty’s Most Gracious Speech to both Houses of Parliament on Wednesday 18 November 2009" in which she says:


"As the economic recovery is established, my Government will reduce the budget deficit and ensure that national debt is on a sustainable path. Legislation will be brought forward to halve the deficit."


The problem lies in the last sentence. An act of legislature, a statute, a law, is to be voted in to compel the government to "halve the deficit". But halving the deficit is not a matter for legislation. To say that it is is to effectively makes it against the law to do otherwise. Now the only person or body that can be considered responsible for controlling the deficit is the government and so we have the spectacle of the government proposing to pass a law to control its own future actions. The nonsense of this is all too evident.


Evident to people outside Westminster , that is, for both the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats in the House of Commons support the legislation. Of course, the Conservatives know very well that to legislate in this way makes no sense but they dare not challenge the proposal for fear of being seen to not care sufficiently about the deficit. And they themselves know that (if elected) they will play fast and loose with constitutional principle in exactly the same way as New Labour has done.


Elsewhere on the website an outline of what this so-called Fiscal Responsibility Bill will mean is given:


The purpose of the Bill is to:


Put the Government’s deficit reduction plan on a statutory footing, in order to halve the deficit over four years and put debt on a sustainable path in the medium term.


The main benefits of the Bill would be:


• This legislation and the detailed provisions of the bill will be set out in the Pre-Budget report alongside the Chancellor’s fiscal forecast.


• The new legislation would provide a firm and binding statutory basis for the Government’s consolidation plans, creating a duty to meet them. It constitutes a major change to the structure of fiscal policy, especially through giving Parliament power to approve multi-year fiscal plans. Accountability and scrutiny is through Parliament rather than in any new external body.


• Legislating now demonstrates our commitment to sustainability and adds focus to our plans. It is important that businesses and investors have certainty about the Government’s fiscal plans, in order that they can make long-term plans and decisions with confidence. The Fiscal Responsibility Bill provides this.


Now the big and obvious flaw that will be built into this "law" is that it will inevitably omit one essential feature of a true law - there will be no penalty for transgressing it. When has a law ever been introduced before which did not define a punishment for infringing it. It is in the nature of any law in any country that it must define what will happen to someone who violates it. Otherwise, there is absolutely no point in passing it. Laws are not there to represent hopes for a certain type of conduct by people. They say if you do this then this other thing will happen to you.



We may legitimately ask what will be the penalty that a future government will suffer if they fail to abide by the sovereign law that will be set out, debated and no doubt voted through during this parliament. We may ask the question, but of course we already know that answer - there will be no arrests by the police, no due process of law, no trial by jury, no sentence by a judge and no fine or term of imprisonment imposed. It will be a statute in name, a law to be abided by - and it will be an insult to the dignity of the constitutional we live by and the nation we are pleased to call our own.


This travesty of our whole political and legal processes is to serve just one purpose - to advertise Labour policy for the coming electoral campaign.


And it is symptomatic of the whole direction of the polity that the government can get away with this demeaning tactic with very little serious adverse comment. The point has been made by some journalists that using the legislative process to advertise policy is unconventional. But we should be up in arms that such liberties are being taken with parliament and the legal system. Unfortunately Brown and Blair before him have accustomised many to slipshod use of government process to spin and persuade, and to lie and cover up, that they barely see it happening, when it happens.


Margaret Thatcher in the long Conservative rule throughout the eighties and beyond demonstrated how the British constitutional arrangements left it wide open for the Prime Minister to operate in dictatorial fashion. New Labour took that on board and then showed us how the lack of a written constitution gave the government power to govern whatever way it chose.


The Queen's speech on Wednesday made it clear that as far as the government is concerned there is absolutely no reason why legislation cannot be used to establish policy.


The logical chilling follow up to this is for policy to be used as if it were legislation.




Recommended article of the week




·        The Simple Equation That The Private Sector Is Good And The Public Sector Bad Has Blighted Our Lives For Decades.



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……. …….until next time