Monday, March 21, 2005

New Labour Needs a Hard Correction

Unfortunately, it's unlikely that enough British voters will, with an internal grimace, vote for the Tories or the Liberal Democrats in the upcoming general election to unseat dictatorial "Prime Minister" Tony Blair and the travesty he has created out of the Labour Party. Long-time newspaperman and distinguished military historian Max Hastings comments:

A Labour majority of a hundred is the likeliest outcome of the election. I suggest this without pleasure. I shall vote Tory for the first time since 1992, not because I expect Michael Howard to form a government, but because Britain desperately needs an opposition more substantial than the media. Labour's absolute dominance of the Commons is bad for democracy, and there are reasons to suppose that it could continue for a decade.

Even when ministers commit blunders, they are seldom obliged to stop and think. They can ram through decisions, confident that, even if they suffer a few bad headlines, they cannot be gainsaid. A fortnight ago, after the Lords assaulted the anti-terror bill, some ministers made threatening noises about preventing the upper chamber from again obstructing vital government business - once the electorate renews their mandate.

Most Labour MPs regard a Commons vote as the only endorsement that matters for almost any course of action. This attitude is alarming in a country with pitifully few of the constitutional checks and balances available to other nations, especially through the existence of rival centres of power to the executive.

George Bush remarked last November that he had gotten himself a lot of political capital out of his election triumph, and he intended to spend it. But, even in a country where the Republicans control both houses of the legislature as well as the White House, there are significant limits on Bush's authority. State power is the most obvious, together with the fact that US presidents cannot take support for granted, even among members of their own parties on Capitol Hill.

In Britain, by contrast, displays of independence by Blair's MPs have been rare, chiefly confined to such grotesqueries as the fox hunting ban. If Labour wins a third term with a handsome majority, we face the danger of an elective dictatorship, especially if steps are taken to complete the emasculation of the House of Lords.

It is remarkable but true that in Britain a party with a parliamentary majority is as close to a pure dictatorship as anything going in the west today. Former Tory leader Iain Duncan Smith comments:

AS Republicans in the United States decide whether to do away with filibusters by changing Senate rules - the so-called nuclear option - they would do well to cast their eyes at their Conservative cousins across the Atlantic. Britain's backbench members of Parliament, whom I led as head of the Conservative Party from 2001 to 2003, are virtually powerless before a determined government majority. Indeed, if it were not for the House of Lords, the second and appointed chamber, which has retained limited powers of delay, British government would be an elected dictatorship.

How did this come to pass? In 1887 a group of Irish Nationalist and Liberal members of Parliament brought the House of Commons to a standstill. Outraged by the Irish Crimes Bill, which imposed draconian sanctions on campaigners for Irish home rule, the rebel M.P.'s filibustered discussion for more than a month, forcing numerous all-night sittings and making government business impossible. But they failed to stop the bill, and in the process they stretched parliamentary procedures beyond the breaking point. The Conservative government then in power accused the Irish M.P.'s of unreasonable obstructionism and, by a substantial majority, it introduced the modern parliamentary "guillotine," which allows government ministers to set a cutoff for parliamentary debates.

The guillotine was sold to Parliament as an exceptional device to counter exceptional behavior by minorities. Today, however, British governments use guillotining and similar powers to curtail debate as a matter of course. The guillotine no longer applies merely to unreasonable behavior but is used routinely to gag parliamentarians.

Blair has done his best to turn the House of Lords into a chamber of dogs who bark on order. He really has no opposition. He really needs, like Bush, to go out on his ass.

They'll reelect Labour. Shame - especially for those of us who mostly sympathize with the Labour Party and see that it needs a hard correction.

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