I've been inspired (and not for the first time) by The Urban Fox - this time by a thoughtful post on the issue of ID Cards . For those who don't know, Parliament are voting tonight on a plan to introduce these cards into the UK. There's a good Q&A here on the issues involved, but basically the idea is that they will:
"strengthen national security and protect people from identity fraud and theft by providing them with a convenient means of verifying their indentity in everyday transactions"
This is obviously nonsense, but Fox explains all of this, so I won't repeat here.
This all got me thinking about the British Constitution. Basically (and you politics graduates please bear with me.... especially you and you) A constitution is a document that establishes the structure and principles of a government; it outlines the form of govenment, the structure and powers of the governmental institutions and usually talks of the rights and duties of the citizen. Probably the most famous of these is the Constitution of the USA. Why is it famous? Because it is always being harped on about - especially people who like guns (who puts that they are a multi-method deer hunter on their CV? )
The British Constitution is different. In the British Constitution, instead of the three branches of government being separate (legislature, executive and the judiciary), in Britain they are concentrated in Parliament. Parliament is sovereign and cannot be limited (in the way that, say, the US Congress can be limited by the Supreme Court). That's not the biggest difference though. Unlike the American Constitution, the British Constitution has never been written down. You cannot take it out of a library and have a look at it. In fact, you pretty much have to be a constitutional expert to have any real idea of what it is. This makes it an inherently flexible system, although its critics would say that never writing it down means that the citizens have no real idea what their rights are or when they are being violated.
This brings me to ID Cards.... (as well as the government's other proposals, like detaining terrorist suspects without trial, planning the removal of trial by jury in some cases... as discussed on this very blog)
If the Government can muster a majority in parliament for these reforms, then basically, they will end up as law. Yes, the House of Lords can hold the law up for a while, but they do not have the right to halt legislation that has been passed in the House Of Commons. We can get out onto the streets and protest if we like - as happened with the opposition to the War in Iraq and opposition to the ban on hunting with hounds. Oh look. That got us nowhere. We are fighting an unpopular war in Iraq and fox hunting has been banned.
So what can we do? Wait for a credible political party to come along that takes a responsible view on these issues, listens to what the people want and comes to a sensible, rational and practical decision? Hm. I'm not holding my breath for that one.
Don't get me wrong. I think we basically have a fantastic political system. We have liberties and freedoms that (we like to think) are the envy of much of the world. I'm just wondering how this system has allowed us to get to a place where some of these freedoms and liberties can be signed away. Where the opposition party find themselves falling over themselves to agree with the policies of the government. Where the government can ignore the vocal protests of millions of citizens. Where a Labour prime minister can cosy up to a Republican president....
How did we end up here?
The roots of our parliamentary democracy can be traced all the way back into the middle ages and beyond. It has traditionally been believed that the primacy of parliament began when a succession of kings in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries were deposed "by the authority of Parliament" ( a phrase actually used in the confirmation of the claim of Henry IV to the throne).... This view of the "Lancastrian constitutional experiment" is dented somewhat by the fact that Edward IV seized the throne from Henry VI in the traditional way - by battle - and Parliament had nothing to do with it. There is however a substantial body of evidence to suggest that people in the middle ages had a real sense of their historical past and a notion of constitution. This awareness only increased with the advent of the printing press, and is reflected in the popularity of the theories of kingship and law found in "mirrors of princes" manuals (like 'De Regime Principum' by Giles of Rome that had been translated into 10 languages by the end of the fourteenth century). This popularity shows that, amongst the political nation represented at parliament at least (we're not talking about the Monty Python peasant here), there was a notion of a consitution dealing with law, justice and property. Edward II, Richard II and Henry VI - the 3 deposed kings - aroused the anger of the political nation by breaching this notion of constitution to such an extent that parliament acquiesced to their deposition. It is this notion of constitution that still underpins the authority of the British Parliament today. It is the bedrock of the constitution.
Why am I telling you this?
We might have an unwritten constitution, but that doesn't mean that we should simply allow the government to roll through their vile reforms. We, the political nation of the UK, the electorate, have a strong sense of what we believe is right and wrong. We have a sense of law, justice and property. This Labour government, and the pathetic, toadying opposition are making me angry and they are failing to meet what I believe are their obligations to us. For me this justifies their removal.
We must act.
Of course, I'm not suggesting that we sharpen our axes or stick a gibbet onto Parliament Green (attractive though that idea sounds). Our next chance will come at some point in the next 12 months and will come at the ballot box. Labour look nailed on to win again, but we have to take our chance to make our feelings known. We need to get off our arses and make ourselves heard. We don't have to lie down and die and let them get away with this. We've got to take the power back.
Shall I start my letter writing campaign now?
When plans change
4 days ago