It’s really very depressing. On the one hand, the recent kerfuffle about Damian Green, the Met police and the breaching of Parliamentary privilege and prestige has made great news – Iain’s site has been jammed, and it’s got me blogging again. On the other, it really is, as Bob Marshall-Andrews said on Any Questions, so miserably in line with this Government’s whole attitude towards civil liberties that the question of whether any Government ministers were involved in the process is basically irrelevant. If they weren’t, the argument goes, then they have clearly so debased the entire nexus between police and politics that the police thought they didn’t even need to involve the Government.
90 days’ detention without charge (hell, 42 days – wait even 28 days. Under the Tories this was, what 48 hours? Five days maybe?), DNA databases for the innocent and guilty alike, ID cards, the restriction of trial by jury, the abolition of the double jeopardy rule, the niggling restrictions on free speech, the numerous retrospective laws, the proposed right of the police to demand identification on the street, the curtailing of Parliamentary debates, the transformation of the House of Lords into a wholly appointed chamber, the mass expansion of political SpAds into the civil service. Enough. Labour has debased the political landscape, tarnishing everything it has touched.
But Westward look! The land is bright. This Government really is on its last legs. 2010 will see a General Election; the Tories will win; the task of returning probity and accountability to politics can begin. Hmm. Maybe. I don’t feel particularly confident that it will. The rampant expansion of the executive didn’t begin under Tony Blair, after all. Why should David Cameron reverse it? Does any Government really put shadowy principles of democratic accountability ahead of the concrete accretion of power?
There’s a sense of Augean stables about politics and government at the moment. Partly this is due to John Lewis lists, and Conway and Balls-esque abuses of the expenses system. But it’s also partly to with the nature of Government. Executives seek to build up power. Progressives seek to limit the power of institutions. Progressive Governments do both – ripping down the Establishment, and filling the vacuum with more executive power. Why should a new Tory Government take difficult procedural steps to ensure that its job will be more difficult? Why should they consciously reduce the powers that they have to combat terrorism, or unemployment, or leaks? “Because it’s the right thing to do!” we declare ringingly. Maybe, but do you really hold out much hope that this is a winning argument? As I say, it really is very depressing.