Wednesday, 25 January 2017

The debt Britain owes Gina Miller

The trouble with populists is that they’re always in a hurry.

When they’ve seen that something needs to be done, they want to do it now. They don’t want to have to waste time with the niceties of consensus building and scrutiny – they take so long and delay necessary action. You can see it with Trump in the States: he wants to reintroduce torture as a weapon of policy, and wants to do it quickly, by means of an executive order.

The Guardian quotes Steve Kleinman, retired air force colonel and chairman of the research advisory committee to the High Value Detainee Interrogation Group (HIG):

“If the US was to make it once again the policy of the country to coerce, and to detain at length in an extrajudicial fashion, the costs would be beyond substantial, they’d be potentially existential. We’ve seen how [torture] promotes violent extremism, how it degrades alliances. We’ve seen how it only serves to provide information that policymakers want to support [desired policies], not what they need,” Kleinman said.

“A lot of these people who weigh in heavily on interrogation have no idea how little they know, [and do so] because of what they see on television,” said Kleinman, who emphasized that he was not speaking for the HIG.

But populists are in a hurry. They don’t want to have to stop to take such annoying and delaying objections into account.

It was always so. Julius Caesar marched on Rome because it was time to do away with the corrupt and inefficient republic. Napoleon launched a coup d’état because it was time to restore order to France and let her be great again. The war clique in Japan in the 1930s did away with the opposition to its rule because it knew it was time for the Empire to astonish the world with its military prowess.

Sadly, a little opposition might have avoided outcomes far worse than the problems they were trying to fix. Caesar’s actions replaced a rotten republic by an Empire which again and again became a bloodthirsty tyranny. Napoleon led France to momentary glory then utter failure, on the retreat from Moscow and the field of Waterloo. Japanese militarists won spectacular victories throughout 1942 and then were forced step by step to the loss of all they had gained and the destruction of much of what they had at home.

Now, one of the things about populists is that they’re often popular. They can frequently put together a popular majority (not Trump, as it happens, but he did win the election despite that). As democrats, we’re obliged to go along with the majority view (or the electoral win, at any rate, in the case of Trump).

But the lesson of those cases is that even when they have popular support, and they’re in a hurry, we should not on any account slacken in our scrutiny of the measures they propose.

In Britain, a popular majority decided in June of last year that Britain should leave the European Union. It was a misguided decision, as the country will discover over the next decade or two. But the decision has been taken and I see little or no chance of its being reversed. Britain will leave the EU.

The process starts with triggering what is known as Article 50. The Prime Minister, Theresa May, decided that she would do so. After all, the people had spoken. As Prime Minister, she could take that step using prerogative authority, a hangover of truly monarchical power, now exercised by ministers rather than the crown.

Gina Miller: staunch champion of British constitutional rights
Any true democrat must therefore be immensely grateful to Gina Miller. She launched a case, later joined by a number of other plaintiffs, demanding that the government should not act without the authority of parliament. She won the case and the government’s appeal against that judgement has now been rejected by the Supreme Court.

By a majority of 8 to 3, the Court ruled that leaving the EU would have a major impact on British laws, and only Parliament can make, change or revoke laws.

The effect on the Brexit process will be nil. Parliament will certainly approve the triggering of article 50. Britain will still take the senseless and self-destructive step of leaving the EU. But at least we have established that government, on major, law-making matters, can’t simply by-pass our elected representatives. It must win their consent to such steps.

That may be slow and dull. It’s horribly frustrating for the hurried populists and their supporters. But, as the examples of Caesar, Napoleon and the Japanese Empire demonstrate, the alternative is far worse.

Trump seems likely to prove the point again over the next few years.

Gina Miller has suffered horrible abuse in social media and the press. Any Brit that cares about the constitutional settlement of the country, and believes that any idea, good or bad, ought to be subject to scrutiny, should be deeply grateful to her.

Thanks, Gina. The personal cost to you has been immense, I know. I salute your courage and principled determination.

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