Wednesday, 13 May 2015

Obeying the law is no defence

For too long, we have been a passively tolerant society, saying to our citizens: as long as you obey the law, we will leave you alone.
David Cameron (via Chris Bertram / the Graun)

If he thinks that we can't go on like this, how would he like things to be? Something like this, I guess:
Therefore we will become an actively intolerant society, interfering in the lives of law-abiding citizens whenever we see fit.
I've never had any time for Cameron's views on political economy, but at least I gave him credit for the reasonable belief that the state shouldn't interfere in the lives of law-abiding citizens who aren't causing harm and, furthermore, that the laws themselves should be changed when they limit people's freedom for no coherent reason.

I'm sure he'd say that the people on his little list are causing harm. If that's really the case, he should do what he did with equal marriage - change the law. If he could make the case that same-sex marriage harmed nobody, so the law had no business interfering with it, he should be able to do the converse and put forward a reasoned argument that specific activity x, which is currently legal, causes harm, so it's the law's business to control it.

Others might, or might not, agree that activity x should be banned, but at least the issues could be debated openly and the rules made clear. Instead, Cameron seems to be suggesting a system where obeying the law of the land is no defence - so long as somebody in authority doesn't like the look of you, you can be spied on, detained, censored, "disrupted" or otherwise interfered with, with impunity.

Dave must be suffering from a severe attack of cognitive dissonance, trying to square the idea of Conservative respect for individual liberty and the rule of law with this kind of arbitrary, statist authoritarianism. But that's nothing to the amount of doublethink it'll take for our new justice secretary get behind the Conservative project to extend the state's coercive powers, unchecked by reference to anything as fuddy-duddy and old-fashioned as the rule of law, after his high-profile campaign, as education secretary, to instill respect for our ancient liberties in every schoolchild:
The rule of law is what Conservatives in particular were brought up to believe in, a bit of the imperial history (Magna Carta, Blackstone, Dicey; etc) that Michael Gove will soon be making all little Englanders learn by rote.
Now children, I want to hear all of you recite clause 29 of  Magna Carta: 'No Freeman* shall be taken or imprisoned, or be disseised of his Freehold, or Liberties, or free Customs, or be outlawed, or exiled, or any other wise destroyed; nor will We not pass upon him, nor condemn him, but by lawful judgment of his Peers, or by the Law of the Land. We will sell to no man, we will not deny or defer to any man either Justice or Right.'

*Yes, I know it's sexist - don't blame me, blame the 13th Century.