Sunday, May 13, 2007

Good riddance Blair...

I don't 'blog much about politics, but I occasionally like to fire a futile broadside against Tony Blair's noxious re-ordering of Britain's unwritten constitution. Especially odious was his attempt to abolish the ancient office of the Lord Chancellor. [St Thomas More held that post!] It's therefore interesting to read Charles Moore's assessment of Blair's time in office:
Underneath Tony Blair's eloquent farewell oration in Sedgefield, this Sinatra theme tune was playing. I've climbed each and every highway, said Ol'Demon Eyes; you'll be sorry once I've faced the final curtain. Like the original, he clearly wants to give a great many last performances.
Mr Blair's words were self-centred, giving us his life story and trying to turn it into our island story. They made no mention of his successor, or even acknowledged that he would have one. "Good luck" were his last words to the British people. One felt he almost added: "You'll need it."
The speech unintentionally captured a fact about the past 10 years: we have, in many ways, been well led, but we have not been well governed.
For example, you need to know how to make laws. No individual will have this knowledge: it is by its nature a collective endeavour. It requires parliamentary draughtsmen, legal and financial advice, consultation with experts and interested parties, civil servants with the relevant departmental experience, ministers in charge of the brief, and legislators in both Houses who can argue over the precise meaning of words. It requires the assistance of professionals, the efficient functioning of institutions, and a feeling for history.
Under Mr Blair, all the above have been disrespected. In June 2003, for example, he took it into his head to abolish the office of Lord Chancellor. The Lord Chancellorship is an office far older and more complicated than that of the Prime Minister. It includes roles that are outside politics and outside the normal run of government. It has to do with the monarchy, the Church, the House of Lords and, of course, the judiciary.
On a Thursday night, Mr Blair let it be known that the Lord Chancellorship was no more. Among those not consulted were the head of the Lord Chancellor's Department, the Archbishops, the Lords, the Lord Chief Justice, and the Queen.
Fine, you might say - good to give all these panjandrums a smack in the eye. But in fact the decision violated Mr Blair's own "What matters is what works" soundbite. One of the consequences was that he found he couldn't abolish the Lord Chancellorship after all.
Much the same thing is happening right now. In January, it was suddenly announced that the Home Office would split. We are about to have a Continental-style Ministry of Justice. The judges were not consulted.
Soon the same minister, who, once Mr Brown kicks out Lord Falconer, will probably be a party politician rather than someone with a professional legal background, will have to run both the prisons and the judges. Living off the same budget, the interests of one will come under pressure from the other. That will not help impartial justice. What is the betting it will all have to be unscrambled almost as soon as it begins?
To govern, you have to understand that something existed before you came on the scene, and that something will continue to exist after you have left it.
That is why we have a Civil Service.
That last line is a little Sir Humphrey-ish, but I think that's a fair assessment of the malignity of the so-called constitutional reforms of 'New Labour'.

A hundred and fifty years ago, the famous Northcote-Trevelyan reforms of the Civil Service got rid of its partiality and its webs of patronage. Their purpose was "to mitigate the evils that result from the fragmentary character of the Service, and to introduce into it some elements of unity". New Labour looks ever so modern, but it has taken us back to the ancien régime pre-1853.
I wish I could think that Mr Brown's new "humble" government which he promised yesterday would put this to rights, but his record suggests that his sole idea of the "elements of unity" in government is "L'état, c'est moi". In this respect, he resembles Mr Blair.
There are rumours that Mr Brown will astonish us with a series of constitutional reforms. If so, I hope he will not think that the need for better governing is answered by having yet more government. This is simply a mistake, like thinking that the rule of law is the same thing as the rule of lawyers.
Never before in our history have we been so awash with people paid salaries to pass laws over us. But never have we had so few people who know how to run the country.


Boeciana said...

Ugh, did you see his speech last week? Ugh ugh ugh.

Am now trying not to romanticise Gordon Brown - from what I know of this thought I don't specially want him in charge, but he's so much better than Mr Blair!

Zadok the Roman said...

I'm a little surprised to hear you say that he's so much better than Blair. Admittedly, however, I probably don't know as much about him as you do.

I didn't actually see/hear/read Blair's speech - but Charles Moore's assessment struck a chord with me.

There's something iconoclastic about Blair/New Labour and his attempt to do away with the Lord Chancellor has, in my mind, become symbolic of his whole approach.

Anonymous said...

Oh well Zadok. Perhaps you and your brethren can reform him. Although personally I'd start with Cherie first.

Oh wait, she's already a Catholic