The four ways the government of the United Kingdom is abusing and misusing the law – and the reason the government is getting away with it

2nd January 2021

Those with political power tend to want more power, and those who want more power will tend to then abuse it.

This is not a new observation, and it is perhaps one which can be made of most if not all human societies.

The role of law and government is thereby not so often to enable such abuse of power, but to acknowledge the likelihood of abuse and to seek to limit or prevent it.

That is why those with power are often subject to conventions and rules, why there can be checks and balances, and why many political systems avoid giving absolute power to any one person.

That those with power want to use, misuse and abuse that power is not thereby a feature of the current government of the United Kingdom, but a universal (or near-universal) truth of all those who seek and have political power everywhere.

Those with political power will tend to try and get away with misusing or abusing it.

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The current government of the United Kingdom, however, is remarkable in just how open it is in its abuse and intended abuse of law, and in at least four ways.

And what is also striking is what has changed politically so as to enable them to be so open.

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First, the current government sought to give itself the power to break the law.

This was in respect of the Internal Markets bill, and the ability to break the law was stated as the intention by a cabinet minister in the house of commons.

This proposal led, in turn, to the resignations of the government’s most senior legal official and a law officer in the house of lords.

And then it was even supported by a majority of the house of commons.

The proposal has now been dropped – and some would say that it was only ever a negotiating tactic.

But even with this excuse, it was an abuse of legislation and legislation-making, requiring law-makers to become law-breakers, and signalling to the world that the government of the United Kingdom does not take its legal obligations seriously.

There was no good excuse for this exercise.

Yet the government sought to do it anyway.

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Second, the government of the United Kingdom is seeking to place itself, and its agents, beyond the reach of the law.

This can be seen in two bills before parliament: one effectively limiting the liability of service personnel for various criminal offences, including for torture and other war crimes, and the other expressly permitting secret service agents to break the law.

 

From one perspective, these two proposals simply give formal effect to the practical position.

It has always been difficult to prosecute members of the armed services for war crimes.

And domestic secret service agents have long relied on the ‘public interest’ test for criminal activity (for any criminal prosecution to take place there are two tests: whether there is sufficient evidence, and whether the prosecution is in the public interest, and guess who routinely gets the benefit of the latter).

And secret service agents abroad have long had legal immunity back in the United Kingdom, under the wonderfully numbered section 007 of the Intelligence Services Act 1994.

The primary significance of these two current proposals is that the de facto positions are being made de jure.

The government believes (rightly) that it can legislate to this effect and get away with it.

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The third way – when the government cannot legislate to break the law or to make it and its agents beyond the law – is for the government to legislate so as to give itself the widest possible legal powers.

Again, this is not new: governments of all parties have sought wide ‘Henry VIII clauses’ that enable them to bypass parliament – legislating, and amending and even repealing primary legislation by ministerial decree.

But what is new here is the scale of the use of such legislation – both the pandemic and Brexit have been used as pretexts of the government to use secondary legislation for wide ranging purposes – even to limit fundamental rights without any parliamentary sanction.

And as I have argued elsewhere, there is no absolute barrier under the constitution of the United Kingdom to an ‘enabling act’ allowing ministers to have complete freedom to legislate by decree.

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The fourth way is the flip-side of the government seeking more legal power.

The government is seeking ways to make it more difficult, if not impossible, for it to be challenged in the courts.

This can be done formally: by reducing the scope of judicial review or the reach of the laws of human rights and civil liberties, or by ‘ouster’ clauses, limiting the jurisdiction of the courts.

It can be done practically (and insidiously): by creating procedural impediments and by cutting or eliminating legal aid for such challenges.

It also can be achieved by the government either promoting or not challenging attacks on the judiciary and the role of courts in holding executive power to account.

If the government cannot break the law, or make itself immune to the law, or give itself wide legal powers – it certainly does not want citizens to be able to challenge it.

Of course, this impulse is also not new – and examples can be given of governments of all parties seeking to make it more difficult for legal challenges to be brought.

But again, what is different from before is the openness of these attempts.

There is no self-restraint.

The government is going to get away with as many of these barriers as it can.

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The big change is not that those with political power want to abuse it – and to stop those who can check and balance that abuse.

That is a problem no doubt as old as law and government itself.

What is remarkable is how the United Kingdom government is now so brazen about it.

The government just does not care about being seen doing this – and if there is any concern or even outcry – that is regarded as a political advantage.

The ‘libs’ are ‘owned’ and those with grins will clap and cheer.

In this current period of hyper-partisanship there is no legal or constitutional principle that is beyond being weaponised.

What perhaps restrained the United Kingdom government – and other governments – from being so candid in their abuses and misuses of power was once called ‘public opinion’.

People cared about such things – or at least those in government believed people cared.

But, as this blog averred on New Year’s Eve, what happens if a public-spirited donkey does tell the animals on the farm that power is being misused or abused – and the animals still do not care.

‘The animals crowded round the van. “Good-bye, Boxer!” they chorused, “good-bye!”‘

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And this brings us back to the key problem for liberalism – and for the principles of transparency and accountability – in this age of Brexit and Trump.

It is not enough to point out the lies and misinformation – or to show the misuses and abuses of law – if a sufficient number of people do not care that they are being lied to or misinformed and that the law is being misused or abused.

And there is nothing the media or commentators can do about this (though we should still be public-spirited donkeys anyway).

This requires a shift – not in media and communications – but of politics and of political leadership.

Only if enough citizens care about the government abusing or misusing the law will the government stop doing it, at least so openly.

And until then the United Kingdom’s indifference towards the rule of law and other constitutional norms will just be a register of the public’s general indifference about the government getting away with it.

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36 thoughts on “The four ways the government of the United Kingdom is abusing and misusing the law – and the reason the government is getting away with it”

  1. Perhaps one of the saddest of your posts – sad because true and sad because it’s so hard to see what any one of us can do about it. The story of Benjamin, while very much to the point, was all the more striking because he failed to change anything.

    One of my friends has as his ‘signature line’ the quote “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.” The problem is: what should we (assuming we consider ourselves part of ‘the good’) do?

  2. A very interesting article. So where are we heading? Is it a case of a Politician (BJ) who was originally looked on as a bit of a joke figure, now morphed with securement of power, into a closet tyrant?
    Those that summarise he hasn’t a clue what he has been doing with Covid and formation of the Covid Bill, I would say having read your article and the Bill itself, that he knows what he is doing 100%.. Where is our basic freedom heading? Previous generation fought and died for this.

  3. “What is remarkable is how the United Kingdom government is now so brazen about it.

    The government just does not care about being seen doing this – and if there is any concern or even outcry – that is seen as a political advantage.”

    The first time I realised the government would blatantly lie in order to pass legislation was in 2011 with the Anti Squatting Law

    https://www.theguardian.com/society/2011/sep/25/squatting-law-media-politicians

    This seems to have been done merely to placate the editor of the Daily Mail, oh how things have changed…

    But on to your main point, the government now seems to have no shame when doing so

    I didn’t fully understand the concept of Firehosing until seeing this explanation from Vox

    https://www.vox.com/2018/8/31/17804104/strikethrough-lies-propaganda-trump-putin

    In short, telling blatant lies without suffering any negative consequence is seen as a way of asserting political power

    This is perhaps the most basic element of Surkov’s propaganda machine, as described by Adam Curtis in HyperNormalisation

    I think it will very interesting to see whether Marcus Ball’s efforts to Stop Lying In Politics gain any traction, I wish I were as optimistic as he is

  4. Since you mentioned Orwell, here is another quote from “Freedom of the Park”:

    ‘The law is no protection. Governments make laws, but whether they are carried out, and how the police behave, depends on the general temper in the country. If large numbers of people are interested in freedom of speech, there will be freedom of speech, even if the law forbids it; if public opinion is sluggish, inconvenient minorities will be persecuted, even if laws exist to protect them.’

    Frequent reminders are necessary for the public to know that public opinion matters.

  5. Faced with so much blatant abuse, it is no wonder that people seem to have given up. While not necessarily agreeing with it, I have some sympathy with the old, paraphrased, anarchist saying: ‘Why bother voting, a government will get in anyway’.

  6. Indeed. And what enables the power grab is the vocal support of elected junior lackeys who brazenly lie about obvious untruths. For example in the U.K. currently the claim by Tory MPs that there is no customs border in the Irish Sea, or in the US re allegations of widespread fraud in the Presidential election. Representatives making these claims know they have the tacit support of many media outlets, and won’t be held to account for them.

  7. It seems to me that one question that should be answered is why are the lawyers working in the Government Legal Department and the Parliamentary Draftsman’s Office and the Law Officers department, plus those working for the Ministry of Justice just standing by and doing/saying nothing?
    The BSB and SRA should be investigating them for professional negligence.
    Simon Dolan’s JR failed, wrongly in my view particularly given the very worrying ruling by the Court of Appeal, which the Supreme Court should have corrected. It will be interesting to see if the attempted private criminal prosecution of Matt Hancock for fraud succeeds, as that will set the cat amongst the pigeons.

    1. I will answer that question, as a former government lawyer – do not visit the faults of ministers on the lawyers. Everyone – including governments – are entitled to legal advice – and if it were not for the advice of government lawyers, we would have even more executive excesses.

      1. “do not visit the faults of ministers on the lawyers. Everyone – including governments – are entitled to legal advice ”

        I take your point but it does remind me of the line in the (impeccably liberal) Slate at the time of the torture allegations in the US. In summary, government cannot be blamed for following legal advice; lawyers cannot be held accountable for the advice they give their clients; therefore no one can be held accountable for anything so long as there are both clients and lawyers involved.

        You will excuse me, perhaps, for saying this is not so convincing to a non-lawyer.

  8. Although what is strange is that when a bit of authoritarianism was needed (enforcement of covid restrictions) the government couldn’t be bothered.

    1. That was not for the want of trying, as some of the early police actions were excessive. That sort of policing, however, ultimately rests on consent – and that consent was discarded on the road to Barnard Castle.

      1. I don’t think the initial heavy-handedness of some police actions was Government-inspired though. Rather they were born of rigidity of mental approach that can be found in the personalities of some who are attracted to policing as a career.

  9. One of your most important articles Mr Green. Given the day of week and time of year perhaps it might get a little less readership than it deserves, so it might be worth revisiting in a couple of weeks.
    Two rays of hope here in a bleak picture. The brighter ray is that the combination of Biden and his party and the Never Trumpers and the so far closet, anti-Trump Republicans in Congress and the Senate will seek to buttress the pillars of democracy in their constitution. Perhaps the post election debacle will persuade even the most hitherto purblind Republican that material changes have to be made.
    The second much less bright ray is that we have a leader of the Opposition who, one hopes, as much as anyone in the House of Commons understands the importance of the rule of law. Of course his priority has to be winning power, but it would be good to see him and his team developing ideas about reinforcing that rule of law.
    The actions of the Prime Minister and his team have been jaw–dropping. The illegal prorogation of parliament, the bringing into law of promoting an illegal act for two, but there are a myriad of other steps that have been and are being taken. The evisceration from the Tory Party of people like Grieve, Gauke and Boles demonstrated the authoritarian tilt of the Prime Minister. The stream of staged portraits of him flooding the media – well, it doesn’t take much to see what’s going on here.

    This is why your posts are so important, and I am sure will be taken to a wider audience over time.

  10. Those of us of a historical mitten can see many presents throughout history for this current period. I do not discover to the view that governments always act in these authoritarian ways. I agree it is a risk and often the populous can be lulled into this almost catatonic state of not caring. But it never lasts, but it always end badly. Civil strife, maybe even civil war of a government so desperate to hang on to power that it risks war. These are the consequences and this period will end in the same way.
    Destruction of the planet by nuclear war before the next election in 2024 is I think inevitable and unavoidable

  11. I care and I am grateful that you take the time day in, day out, to make sure that those of us who do care are kept informed as to what is really going on.

    The most shocking thing about the current state of affairs is as David says, not that governments should try to do this, they always have, but that there is insufficient self-interest to raise an effective political protest to stop it.

    If the odd security agent/spy gets away with attempted murder, so be it…but what if the attempted murder is of you?

    Pastor Niemoller comes to mind. It seems now that the limits of power are simply whether you can acquire it in the first place and, I suppose also, whether you can keep it once you have it and have abused it so openly.

    No wonder Donald Trump is so angry – in less than three weeks he has his hands taken off the reigns of power.

  12. It definitely seems we’ve gotten to the point where people believe the ends justify the means (providing the ends are their preferred outcome). IE, people didn’t care what the government did, as long as it was delivering Brexit, or targeting black youths, or deporting ‘undesirables’. The trouble, by the time you’re the victim, it’s too late.

  13. In response to your post “The four ways the government of the United Kingdom is abusing and misusing the law And the reason the government is getting away with it” Having only skimmed this I can see they are giving themselves beyond egregious powers particularly to allow many not to be held responsible including how they will dispose of bodies and changes to the mental health act and social care – It needs scrutiny.

    Some of this is a harrowing read. It’s inconceivable that the government didn’t know that covid cases would rise over the winter, yet no preparations and measures to support the NHS or to effectively restrict the spread of the virus were put in placehttps://twitter.com/SueJonesSays/status/1345232171343212546?s=20

  14. I think it would be unreasonably optimistic to assume that this law will only be used to protect undercover operatives inside terrorist cells or gangs. Suppose any police investigator breaks any law, such as wiretapping or hacking without a warrant. This law might be invoked to protect them.

    Increasingly, well-established safeguards like “the police cannot wiretap someone without a warrant signed by a judge” are being eroded, either through mass surveillance systems whose classified nature allows them to be misused without public scrutiny (XKEYSCORE, TEMPORA, DISHFIRE, et al) or legal frameworks that erode citizen’s rights (e.g. allowing police departments to sign off on their own “warrants”, or granting police immunity when the break the law, the National Crime Agency’s immunity to the Freedom of Information Act).

    The Investigatory Powers Act 2016, for example, allows police and other bodies to read someone’s internet connection history without a warrant. It also established the secretive Investigatory Powers Tribunal, which protects police who misuse Britain’s mass surveillance technology in that citizens who bring a case against these systems are compelled to do so via the IPT, and those citizens’ lawyers are not even permitted to use discovery to see the evidence necessary to make their case. (Recall the movie My Cousin Vinny where the titular incompetent lawyer is surprised to learn that the law requires the prosecution to share his evidence with the defence, it being necessary in order to ensure a fair trial.)

    This is part of a more general trend where police in Britain gain increased power and decreased responsibility, with the result that citizens’ rights are eroded under the pretext of preventing crime, and police abuse is rampant. Consider the Black Lives Matter movement in the States, sparked by outrage over a very real pattern of police abuse, caused by a policing environment where officers felt no repercussions when lying, mistreating members of the public, or breaking the law, with the result that police abuse became commonplace and institutionally difficult to remove.

  15. That small minority of the public who read this succinct and valuable blog will almost instinctively agree with you. And perhaps would react by thinking that it should be made obligatory reading for all “compos mentis” adult citizens, the whole UK public.
    However, a simple thought experiment on the hypothesis that such obligation could be imposed would, I think, lead to the following conclusion: 90% of the public just would not understand the concepts used in your argument, nor would they understand why that argument should be relevant to them. Why so? Because they have never been taught anything whatsoever about these notions of power, responsibility, government, controls, checks, etc.. Not in their formal nor informal education, whether three generations ago or in the last month.
    If that is a valid conclusion, perhaps we can begin to see a possible course of action to remedy the situation.

  16. that looks rather 1933/1917ish bleak

    what has happened / will happen to the Mother of all Democracies?

  17. I think the required shift in politics and political leadership has to be accompanied by a shift in media and communications because of their interdependence, and because issue apathy, issue fatigue and public division – underliers of public indifference – can all be strategically designed and achieved through data-driven media and communication campaigns.

    In political organisations the press team, which includes media and communications, work hand-in-hand with the electoral team, who interpret and strategise data-driven messaging and campaigns. Relationships with senior media (editors, journalists etc.) figures are key. Media and communications are the primary avenues used by politicians to manipulate public values and sentiment in order to drive partisanship and influence voter behaviours e.g. through tailored voter (public) communications (which can differ from group to group) and selective press briefings. This is important because the indifference you highlight will not be equally recognised by different public groups who are differently informed (e.g. by local/targeted political communications, different news and local affairs readerships, different news consumption habits, different geographical and familial partisanship expectations etc.). Publication reach and audience demographic is monitored and considered when communication campaigns are planned and publications are colloquially known by their sympathy e.g. the Telegraph is commonly referred to as the Torygraph.

    It’s also worth noting that the political industry has a surprising two-way skills pipeline and special relationship with the following industries: big tech, communications, lobbying and media.

    Media manipulation is now an established field of research within the disinformation domain. I think this is key to seeing a positive shift in public indifference in the future, as teaching people how to assess, seek and spread information, and avoid information risk (i.e. taking, suppressing, spreading or acting on, disinformation and misinformation) will lead to better issue awareness, better quality information for the public in general, and in turn less indifference to corruption, manipulation and poor governance.

    That said, lawyers are at the frontline of our democracy and your well-written piece is critical in highlighting the blatant attacks on it. Now our challenge must be getting people to read it.

  18. Since you’ve discussed some counter-factuals, I have one. What if the 2016 referendum had followed Swiss rules? They are the gold standard for referenda. 1. The proposal is explicit 2. Voters receive information packets with detailed arguments for and against. 3. The referendum must win majorities in a majority of the UK’s 4 nations.

    The infamous 350,000 million pounds a week for the NHS would not have had the stage all to itself if it had even been allowed.

    1. DAG addressed this, or rather he addressed a narrow Remain win in a previous post

      https://davidallengreen.com/2020/12/what-if-what-if-what-if-three-counterfactuals-about-brexit-and-how-they-may-have-not-turned-out-as-remainers-would-have-liked/

      The problem was that UKIP were scaring the Tories, and even if Remain had won, either through more robust referendum criteria, or with the process that was used, UKIP were not going to fade away in to obscurity

      By that point the Leave campaign had attracted enough financial backing to almost guarantee a win at some stage, it’s just that 2016 featured a particularly awful confluence of world events that ensured a Leave win

      1. Indeed. However, the wishful statements of Brexiteers such as Johnson, that the fate of the UK in Europe is “now settled” is just that. Eurosceptics were a boil on the bum of British (mainly Tory) politics for decades, but they were a noisey minority. Brexit diminishes the role of the UK on the global stage and, obviously, the European one. It worsens trade with our biggest trading partner and will prove increasingly irksome for the public. The silent majority of (serious?) politicians must favour re-establishment of many of the ties severed, if not an immediate full rejoining of the EU. The reasons for Euroscepticism may have been manifold, but the advantages of it are zero. Perhaps we should hope to wake the sleeping MPs before proselitysing the masses!

  19. “ While still high, the quality of the UK’s legislative and executive institutions has diminished in recent years.” Moody’s when downgrading the UK’s rating. Admittedly this referred mainly to economic rather than legal governance, but it’s telling.

  20. I have been aware of all these things covered in this article for some time; aware also of the government and its supporters disseminating lies an misinformation, especially around Brexit. But what can I do? I feel powerless and it is dispiriting.

  21. Hello, I know that your posts do not make comfortable reading. But this one really overwhelmed me. I cannot see what one can do in the present circumstances. Still, thank you for providing much needed analysis.
    I did try to make a modest donation via credit card but I am not sure it went through. Something seemed to be going wrong. I will try again another day, as I think it is only right to support your work.

  22. As an economist, I am particularly aware of the strong relationship economic historians have noted between concentration of power and poor economic performance. Britain’s historic economic outperformance is often dated to the Glorious Revolution of 1688, where the settlement with the House of Orange substantially limited the power of the sovereign, and created a near unstoppable dynamic towards greater democracy and pluralism of power over the next 300 years. It was a major factor in why the Industrial Revolution started in Britain, which drove both economic growth and a reduction in economic inequality. Whereas more centralised monarchies, like Austria-Hungary, did not like the look of powerful industrialists and prevented similar happenings until they had no choice if they were not to fall too far behind. Today, both China and Russia are careful to restrict the growth and independence of major economic actors.

    (For those who take an interest, the classic text on this, accessible to the layman, is Why Nations Fail, by Acemoglu and Robinson. The main criticism of it is that other things matter too, which is quite clearly true, but I think the book establishes it as a major issue.)

    Recently we have fallen behind our main local economic competitors. Our trend towards greater equality reversed, starting in about 1980. Part of that was the deliberate tax and welfare policies of the Thatcher/Major period. But I think the importance of the centralising influence of the reform of local government finance, in the wake of the Community Charge debacle, is often overlooked. As a much smaller proportion of LA income was raised locally, so central government reduced the discretion of local authorities.

    This has led us to being the most unequal country in NW Europe and the EU, aside from one Baltic state. (After adjustment for tax and welfare transfers.) I think it is no accident that over that same period we have been gradually overtaken economically by all our near neighbours on the continent in NW Europe (everything N of the Alps and W of the old Iron Curtain), aside from France which is now roughly equal, but I expect will overtake soon.

  23. It seems to me that we’re all assuming this government has any intention of being bound by the old rules of decency, probity, integrity, or just basic shame.

    And they’re not. When asked how Trump managed to succeed, Steve Bannon said, Because there’s nothing we will not do to achieve our aims. We’re going for head shots while the other side is still playing at pillow fights. – I paraphrase, but the primary quote is here: https://www.democracynow.org/2018/9/21/michael_moore_are_we_going_to

    And there’s a lot more depth in Nancy MacLean’s book ‘Democracy in Chains’ – the absolute intention to destroy Democracy from the inside: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Democracy-Chains-history-radical-stealth/dp/1911344684/ref=sr_1_1

    “ For liberty to thrive, Buchanan now argued, the cause must figure out how to put legal—indeed, constitutional—shackles on public officials, shackles so powerful that no matter how sympathetic these officials might be to the will of majorities, no matter how concerned they were with their own reelections, they would no longer have the ability to respond to those who used their numbers to get government to do their bidding.”

    This was James McGill Buchanan’s suggestion for the US and it’s been imported to Hungary with great effect, and now to here. We are in the midst of a coup d’etat, and I don’t see anyone in the media who either understands the end game or sees it as anything other than an aberration. I’d rather like to see this blog begin to explore this. But the problem is that it sounds like conspiracy theory, when the reality is that it *is* a conspiracy, it’s just…. actually happening. There is no going back to constitutional norms. And from my Hungarian friends, the reality of what’s playing out there is grim. I think we’ll see that happening here in a far shorter time scale…

  24. In this connection, I’ll just repeat the remarkable prescient words from one of Johnson’s schoolmasters, the truth of which is demonstrated throughout Johnson’s own public and private life: “I think he honestly believes that it is churlish of us not to regard him as an exception, one who should be free of the network of obligation which binds everyone else.”

    We are making a mistake if we expect him to obey any of the usual conventions or norms. Such as, for example, telling the truth to his employers, or remaining faithful to his spouses (third time lucky?).

    Trump has caused enormous damage to the body politic in the US, but the US has robust checks and balances that might just repair some of the damage.

    The UK does not have equivalently robust checks and balances: our constitution depends on the people in charge being “good chaps” and doing the “right thing”. We are in the midst of finding out what happens if they are bounders and cads.

  25. The lies & chicanery of brexit has provided this govt with enough evidence to show that whatever safeguards, checks and balances have been in place to forestall the activities you describe, they’re easily overcome & essentially worthless.

    What has been a greater surprise is how so many MPs have willingly discarded their role & power to hold these people to account. Even worse, the govt have used the pandemic shamelessly to ensure parliament will continue to be observers for the foreseeable future. Currently the only voices appear to be the parliamentary committees but even they are being ignored.

    Representative democracy in the UK has always been marginal given the FPTP voting system but thanks to the current govt and its compliant MPs even that is now at risk.

  26. “It is not enough to point out the lies and misinformation – or to show the misuses and abuses of law – if a sufficient number of people do not care that they are being lied to or misinformed and that the law is being misused or abused.”

    The question is, at what point does it impact the lives of a sufficient number of people? They may indeed not care if it doesn’t seem to affect them.

    A related question is, is there a correlation between hyperpartisanship and a lack of competence at governing? It appears that one thing that motivated (a sufficient number of) US voters is the lack of competence of the Trump administration in dealing with the pandemic. That administration never prioritised competence as a criterion for public office.

    A similar effect may be being seen in the polls in the UK. The 20 or so Conservatives who lost the whip and are not currently in government included many more experienced politicians who may have been more competent (and who knows how many competent Conservative MPs didn’t stand for reelection out of dislike for the direction of the party). It may be lack of competence that ends this government, not its lack of respect for the law.

    A competent hyperpartisan government? Is it possible?

  27. Government ministers may well be entitled to legal advice – but we must get to see the question and the answer. Ministers qua ministers are not private individuals, they are acting on our behalf. I think it is fair we get to see what is contemplated and done on our behalf. And none of the ‘national security’ nonsense.

    Of course, a cunning minister may seek advice privately and claim on expenses via a holding company in Lichtenstein. More work for investigators and lawyers.

    Mathew above tells us that the arts of propaganda, misinformation and so on are far advanced. Seems completely improper that our paid for government can use this power without us seeing exactly what they are up to. One has only to look at the Telegraph or Mail to think ‘how can anyone believe this stuff’. I am sorry to say that ordinary citizens represent an open and uncritical market for propaganda and should have a strong counterbalance freely available. A lie is a cheap and easy thing, disproving it is slow and expensive. That balance needs to change.

    In this modern age I also have a problem with ‘the right to remain silent’. Fundamentally this dates back to when a confession could lead to the gallows. In effect a confession amounted to suicide, a mortal sin in those days. Nowadays all silence does is waste our time and money extracting information from criminals and officials. Far better to require they fess up straight away or face condign punishment. Better that policepersons and officials are far more afraid of the judge than they are of the Home Secretary or Prime Minister and totally ‘encouraged’ to drop those persons in it at the first time of asking.

    The cynical might suspect that ‘right to silence’ also represents a good work opportunity for defence lawyers. Perhaps we will end up keeping silence.

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