…..where the Conservative Party is concerned, vis-a-viz the matter of our country’s membership of the European Union was concerned, nor where our system of representative democracy lay. In the following extract from a speech, the origin* of which will be disclosed at the end of this post, the remarks about the Conservative Party and their attitude can also be levied at the Labour and the Liberal Democrat parties.
“I have been inveigled into that bleak and ungrateful exordium by observing that the Conservative Party appears to be determined nevertheless to insult the electorate at the next General Election in the most overt and direct manner conceivable. It would be in the interest of the country as well as the Party if they were to abandon that fateful project while there is yet time to do so. I have described it as a direct and deliberate insult, because no lesser description is adequate to describe the act of telling the electorate to its face that it is no longer to be allowed to decide the matters put before it at a General Election. Why? Because they are allegedly not fit to be trusted to do so.
Just imagine the scene. “Ladies and gentlemen”, a Conservative candidate will be saying, “you have received my election address and noted the policies of my party. These, I have to tell you, you may treat as so much waste paper. It is our intention that in future the economic policies of your country, the taxes you are invited to pay, the public expenditure those taxes will support, and the relations between the United Kingdom and the outside world will cease to be any business of yours whatsoever. They will be settled elsewhere and by others, not by the House of Commons which you elect and which is answerable to you. Those matters we consider now as being far above your ken, in which you will not be permitted to meddle; for it is the intention of the Conservative Party that Britain shall become part of a European state, economically and politically unified. The laws you have to obey, the taxes you have to pay, the policies of the make-believe government which will still function in Whitehall are to be nothing to do with you, tra-la, nothing to do with you’.
“Do not imagine, dear friends”, will continue the candid Conservative candidate, warming to his theme, “do not imagine that I am talking about large, distant, cloudy subjects such as guarantees for Kurdistan or relations with China. No, the smallest details of your domestic and personal lives, your retirement conditions, your circumstances at work, nay, whether your local shop trades on Sunday or not, will be governed by European legislation which you will not make and cannot alter. I warn you therefore not to waste your time, once you have done your duty and re-elected me, in writing or complaining to me about how you are governed I shall have already washed my hands of all such concerns’
Beware the anger of an electorate which wakes up to find how much has been taken from it unawares by those who entered into collusion to do so. To some of us that moment of awakening may look tantalisingly distant; but somewhere down the years the reaction, the revulsion and the revenge are waiting, when they come, they will make short work of the Party and the persons who were willing to betray their country. The expression “betray their country” may be thought harsh. Nice it certainly is not; but accurate it certainly is. Deduct from the meaning of Britain the right and the habit of deciding through those whom tho people elect the laws by which they shall be bound and the necessities to which they shall be subject; and what is then left of the history and of the real meaning of Britain? Those therefore who make it their political object to destroy that right and that habit do in the literal and natural sense of the term “betray their country.”
On the same subject, it is worth quoting from a comment sent to me by the author of the draft constitution recently posted, in which the question is posed: “I was under the impression parliament, in the name of the people, beheaded King Charles the First over a dispute about levying taxes on the people without parliaments consent. Parliament now appears to have no problem with the EU doing the same. What has changed? Could it be that parliament now no longer works in the name of the people but of the EU?” – which, in turn, supposes that we should ‘behead’ (constrain) Parliament. Is that not the aim of those of us who attended Harrogate, likewise those commenting on that event?
The same speaker, who was a committed believer in parliamentary and representative democracy, in another speech** also said:
“The time is now past, however, when the ordinary citizen – the individual whose name appears on the register of electors – can sit back and watch the show go by, devolving the responsibility for defending his rights and liberties onto members of Parliament. The time for shoulder shrugging and sanctimonious allusion to the vulnerability of MPs to pressure from party whips has gone by. The obligation to put country first has come to roost where it properly belongs, with the ordinary people, whose right to govern themselves through those whom they elect hangs in the balance.
Whips are persuasive; governments are influential; party bureaucracies are powerful; tut the ultimate authority to which all are still subordinate lies with the electorate, the electorate to which in a few months’ time all those principalities and powers will be returning in humble mien to petition for the favour of a vote. Amid all the chatter, the sovereignty which is in danger of being destroyed is the sovereignty of the electorate which those very parties that are seeking its favour are bent upon taking away: “Vote for us”, they would say, if they were truthful; “but by the next time we will see to it that there is nothing important left for you to vote about”.
The responsibility for this country’s future independence and self-government, the most precious possession of every Briton, has come home to rest with the rank-and-file elector…….. This time, after all that has happened, there is no room for prevarication, nowhere for the elector to hide: it is in his hands to keep or to throw away the right to govern his own country. If he is resolved to keep that right, the elector has the means to make the House of Commons do his will. If he does not, he will have no one but himself to blame.”
This speaker, whom I have quoted, acknowledges the sovereignty of the people, but wished that sovereignty to be limited to expression once every few years. And therein lies the problem with representative democracy, namely that the people’s voice is constrained to periodic judgement. While much of what this speaker discusses is related to our relationship with the European Union, it is also relevant when considering the relationship and attitude of our politicians to us.
More to follow once Richard North has posted on local government, because all the foregoing is also tied to local government.
* Speech by the Rt Hon. J. Enoch Powell MBE to the Annual Dinner of the Oxford University Conservative Association at the Eastgate Hotel, Oxford, at 9 pm, Friday, 17th May 1991.
** Speech by the Rt Hon. J. Enoch Powell MBE at the Annual Dinner of the Wolverhampton South West Conservative Association at the Connaught Hotel, Wolverhampton, at 8 p.m., Friday, 22nd November 1991.