Monday 15 February 2016
Further Tory contempt for democracy.
When I first started studying politics way back in the 1950s I was taught that, whereas in many wicked foreign systems opposition to the government was forbidden, sometimes on pain of torture or death, here in enlightened Britain opposition was not only permitted, but opponents were actually paid to do it. "Her Majesty's Loyal Opposition "was a part of our wonderful, though unwritten, constitution, and its leader was paid a salary out of public funds.
Clearly this concept that freedom to oppose is an essential part of a healthy democracy does not form part of the Politics, Philosophy and Economics (PPE) course which David Cameron studied at Oxford, or if it does, then Cameron wasn't listening when they came to that bit of it.
Step by step this government is seeking to choke off opposition.
In the last parliament a bill which purported to regulate the activities of all lobbyists effectively only reduced the ability of charities to campaign during elections. Privileged access of private companies and interests such as the betting lobby to ministers and government departments remains unhindered. Google, for example, had umpteen conversations with ministers before their mouse of a tax deal with HMRC was revealed.
Charities which receive funding from the government are to be forbidden to use that money for any campaigning at all.
The "Short Money", which for 40 years has funded political parties other than the official opposition, has been cut, and the ability of the trade unions to contribute to the Labour Party is to be greatly reduced by the substitution of "contracting in" for "contracting out." There is no similar restriction to require share-holders to "contract in" to, or vote for, the massive contributions their companies make to the Conservative Party.
Today the Independent newspaper reveals plans for the latest outrage.
"Local councils, public bodies and even some university unions are to be banned by law from boycotting "unethical" companies. . . .Under the [government's] plan all publicly funded institutions will lose the right to refuse to buy gods and services from companies involved in the arms trade, fossil fuels, tobacco products or Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank."
Beyond the sphere of funding, "freedom of assembly" (ie to demonstrate) has become increasingly difficult, and the ability of public service unions to strike is to be made almost impossible.
Daily under this government we move closer to the (slightly adapted) conclusion of the Marriott Edgar poem popularised by Stanley Holloway:
And it's through that there Magna Charter
As were signed by the Barons of old,
That in England today we can think what we like,
So long as we think what we're told.