On popular grievances

And as the power, so also the honour of the sovereign, ought to be greater than that of any or all the subjects. For in the sovereignty is the fountain of honour. The dignities of lord, earl, duke, and prince are his creatures. As in the presence of the master, the servants are equal, and without any honour at all; so are the subjects, in the presence of the sovereign. And though they shine some more, some less, when they are out of his sight; yet in his presence, they shine no more than the stars in presence of the sun.

But a man may here object that the condition of subjects is very miserable, as being obnoxious to the lusts and other irregular passions of him or them that have so unlimited a power in their hands. And commonly they that live under a monarch think it the fault of monarchy; and they that live under the government of democracy, or other sovereign assembly, attribute all the inconvenience to that form of Commonwealth; whereas the power in all forms, if they be perfect enough to protect them, is the same: not considering that the estate of man can never be without some incommodity or other; and that the greatest that in any form of government can possibly happen to the people in general is scarce sensible, in respect of the miseries and horrible calamities that accompany a civil war, or that dissolute condition of masterless men without subjection to laws and a coercive power to tie their hands from rapine and revenge: nor considering that the greatest pressure of sovereign governors proceedeth, not from any delight or profit they can expect in the damage weakening of their subjects, in whose vigour consisteth their own strength and glory, but in the restiveness of themselves that, unwillingly contributing to their own defence, make it necessary for their governors to draw from them what they can in time of peace that they may have means on any emergent occasion, or sudden need, to resist or take advantage on their enemies.

For all men are by nature provided of notable multiplying glasses (that is their passions and selflove) through which every little payment appeareth a great grievance but are destitute of those prospective glasses (namely moral and civil science) to see afar off the miseries that hang over them and cannot without such payments be avoided.

Books

Murmuring the judges – 2

The system of appointing and keeping judges is often under scrutiny. A few little pushes and a constitutional outrage can be committed in the dark.

In a previous article I looked at the condition of the judiciary and concluded that actually the quality of British judges, in all three of the jurisdictions, is very good, possibly the best in the world, and generally neutral in political controversies.  That makes the system a target for activists.

It would be worse if judges were forced to be political, as they are in the United States. British judges do not get to overturn primary legislation they dislike, and delegated legislation can be struck down only on narrow grounds. They are more vulnerable when decisions turn on social attitudes, and in a multicultural and acultural society in the midst of a culture war, there is no cultural norm and no equilibrium.

David Gauke, Lord Chancellor at the time of writing, gave a speech on 3 July 2019 in which he observed the pressures on judges:

“Those grappling with complex problems are not viewed as public servants but as engaged in a conspiracy to seek to frustrate the will of the public. They are ‘enemies of the people’.”

– and that:

“Our judiciary has a reputation for intellectual rigour, careful consideration of the arguments, and a serious-minded determination to each decision based on what is right and not necessarily what is superficially popular. I am not sure that all politicians have the same reputation.”

The easy target in the speech was ‘populism’, but there is more pressure from social justice warriors. A judge stepping out of line in a judgment or an intervention may be attacked more ruthlessly then being called an enemy of the people.  A judge may make the rather obvious point that a young woman who gets recklessly drunk in a low dive wearing provocative clothes is putting herself at unnecessary risk, but those judges who have said that have reaped a whirlwind of complaints. Had they suggested ‘she deserves it’ that would be despicable but just to suggest that people take more care of their own safety should not be criticised.

This post could be filled with pages of examples of magistrates and officials removed for expressing the slightest dissent from the progressivist line, but that would serve little purpose: the process of Twitterstorm, written complaint and disciplinary action is well known. The main point is whether social justice warriors can enforce their will, and to what extent.

High Court judges have a constitutional protection: they can only be removed after a joint address from both Houses of Parliament.  That ensures that they are politically independent.  Over the course of the three centuries since that rule was enacted, only one judge has been removed by this procedure, for criminal abuse of his position. Circuit judges are less well protected, but there cannot be removed at a whim. For those in the lowest positions, and lay magistrates, a word may remove them.

Watch for voices claiming the current system is old-fashioned or, worse still. ‘obsolete’. It will not be the populists who do that, but the ‘unpopulists’; those with a woke agenda.  They will be working in the dark, in committees and all the little offices that that have been infiltrated on the Long March.

We should all worry about making it easier to sack judges, as that they would be removed for petty reasons.  The argument in learned reports will talk of taking action where a judge has committed a crime or corruption, or become a Weinstein, for that is the way to prise the lid off.

The lid off, it would open the way to politically motivated sackings and we would have an ochlocracy.  The Daily Mail headline about “Enemies of the People” was mild and brief compared with pressure from within the establishment; and the new establishment, not the democratic overlay.  Political storms are easy to begin without thought: when the ‘Birmingham Six’ had their convictions overturned, one MP tried to start the process to sack the judge who had gaoled them, but could go no further as constitutional procedure is robust against emotional lashing-out, but when there is a disciplinary procedure, ,that will be another matter: every so often there is a Twitter storm demanding sackings for public officials alleged to have said something unfortunate (whether they did or not – Roger Scruton’s treatment is still raw). When once even High Court and Supreme Court judges are vulnerable, there is no stopping it.

We would end up with fearful, bland, useless judges, taken from the ranks of those meek and willing to be led by the changing fashions of discourse, not those willing and able to command, which is what a judge must do.

See also

Books

Has the hour of the SDP come at last?

It is the political party which refused to die. Is this now the time for the SDP to rise again?

Jumping before they were pushed, six Labour MPs have announced they will not stand at the new General Election, and the thing about this sextet is that they are all Momentum targets, and several are consistent Brexiteers: Kate Hoey, Stephen Pound, Stephen Twigg, Jim Fitzpatrick, Kevin Barron, Ronnie Campbell, not a consistent party, but consistently the more level-headed on Labour’s benches.

There stands in the wings the Social Democratic Party.  The original SDP, as those with long memories or short history books will recall, was founded by a “Gang of Four” in 1981, splitting from the Labour Party over its increasingly lunatic left-wing stance.  Even Kinnock’s Labour was moderate though compared with the Militant Tendency snapping at t its grassroots, and that Militant Tendency has transformed into Momentum.  The foundation of the SDP has been spoken of as a model for a breakaway from Labour’s frequent descents into madness, and a warning against it.

After just 2 years the Social Democratic Party threw in its lot with the Liberal Party and in 1988, having failed to cause an earthquake, it dissolved and merged with the Liberal Party to form the Social and Liberal Democrats, now the Liberal Democrats.  Not all came across:  David Owen, one of the Gang of Four, refounded the SDP, and it carried on for two years with Lord Owen, one of the original Gang of Four, before dissolving, but again some stalwarts refused to go, and there is still a Social Democratic Party today.

The remnant SDP is tiny, still holding to the Limehouse Declaration but, and this is crucial, they are a pro-Brexit party, glad to accept WTO terms if no better deal is available. Is this a destination for breakaway Labour MPs, as it was in the heady days of 1981?  The political landscape is different today, and the repulsiveness of Momentum’s Labour Party is like nothing seen before.  Something must break.

Several peers have broken off Labour too, over the rampant anti-Semitism in the party’s ranks rather than its self-destructive European policy.  They need no party to stay in Parliament and so can remain independent.  Those with political vim, Kate Hooey being a prime example, may want a vehicle that could bring them back to the Commons, or at least to challenge Labour’s assumed ownership of the working class. Good luck to them.

Oh,

In other news, Simon Franks (multimillion-pound entrepreneur and apparently a Eurofan etc) and his “United for Change” party / movement / vanity project was rumoured this week to be relaunching as “The United Party” (presumably after ChangeUK poisoned the waters on that name): still nothing official though. He would far from the first to launch a pro-EU party with fanfares and promises for the future. I lose track of the number there have been since 2016. If brevity is the soul of wit, these new Pro-EU parties are humour personified. Countdown to evaporation begins.

Books

The Curses of Caesarea

A Channel 4 documentary on Saturday night brought home an ancient controversy. Illustrated with a treasure-trove of material from Caesarea on the coast of Roman Judea, what was found is shocking.

The programme was on Roman chariot racing, but that is not what stuck in the mind – it was the physical evidence of life in a city which was not as it should have been.

Today Caesarea is a modern city, and its predecessor was modern in the Roman world too, founded by Herod the Great as his capital, named after Augustus and modelled on the cities of the Graeco-Roman world. This city had all the trappings of a Roman city, including a theatre, a temple dedicated to Roma and Augustus, and a hippodrome, for chariot racing. Around the circus were all those shady stalls found in every Roman arena – the temples, the taverns, the cauponae, the knocking-shops and magicians selling charms and curses.

The city attracted a large gentile community, though the majority of the city’s population were Jewish, until later centuries. What they could see around them in this new Hellenistic city was abomination: heathen temples, murders as entertainment in the theatre, soothsayers and magicians. A foreign culture was taking over and one which offended against every aspect of the Law.  In a well in the city Israeli archaeologists have found many curse tablets, rolled sheets of lead with curses written in Greek invoking Greek deities to bring death or ill-fortune on enemies, or on the opponents of favoured chariot racers.

The reaction of observant men must have been of horror that here within the Land of Israel there stood in stone the very antithesis of all the law and the prophets.  Further, it was modernity and seems to portray the inevitable future for all, and it was embraced by those who went to live within the city. We do not know if any of those curses invoking the Goddess were laid by Jewish inhabitants of the city, but the fact that pagan idols were being invoked and pagan magicians thriving in the land, seducing even Jewish men, must have looked like the evil that arose in the days of the prophets.

Unlike the days of the prophets though, no end could be imagined as all the civilised world was in the hands of the Romans and the Greeks and all modernity embraced their civilisation. To reject that culture was to reject modernity and to be “on the wrong side of history”. Therefore it could only grow: pagan temples, pagan culture, idols, orgies, indulgence, ritual murder, debauchery, astrologers and soothsayers and all that the Law forbids celebrated in the cities of Israel with official approval.

The men of Judea were strangers in their own land, mocked by those who had come among them for their old-fashioned, joyless religion and stale morality.

There were rebellions.  They were suppressed, with brutality: Roma triumphans.

However there may have been a memory of the prophecy of Daniel, the King’s dream in which “a stone was cut out without hands, which smote the image upon his feet that were of iron and clay, and brake them to pieces”, and “the stone that smote the image became a great mountain, and filled the whole earth” – this was a vision of the future Messianic kingdom, but for those in the land seeing everything ebbing away, this must have seemed a vain hope.

It was not a vain hope:  Roman culture was in time overthrown by “the stone the builders rejected”.

Our western culture, our world culture, has been built on religion and morality that King David would understand and Caesar Augustus would not. Now that foundational culture is under relentless attack we are urged to give up, to accept an inevitability of modernity which claims eternal truth, as did Rome. I hope that the ruins of Caesarea can provide us with a lesson for today.

Gyimah gymnastics

The MP behind the shortest, most hopeless membership bid has been back on the news: this morning on, Sophie Ridge on Sunday, Sam Gyimah announced that he would lead a conspiracy to undermine his own party and government to stop a no-deal, including unspecified legislative intervention – which is a realistic threat as we saw before, even is the resultant emergency Act of Parliament turned out to be a damp squib.

However listen to what else he said: he declared that he has consistently voted against ‘no deal’. That’s not actually true though, is it Sam?

In fact, he consistently voted against the Withdrawal Agreement, three times. In fact, he has consistently voted for no deal, on every binding vote: he only voted against in a non-binding motion and that rushed and effectively non-binding Act of Parliament.

Two things could have secured a deal, which Gyimah, Grieve and others claim to want: passing the Withdrawal Agreement, or allowing the Government the authority it needed to negotiate a better deal. Passing a motion to deprive the government of authority to walk away just handed the negotiation to Brussels and left Mrs May powerless to force any concession.

It was that recklessness too which drove Mrs May from office and opened the door for Boris Johnson: you are responsible, Sam.

In short, Mr Gyimah, Mr Grieve and others, your every action has been directed to ensuring that no deal can be reached. When the United Kingdom crashes out of the EU without a transition, you must take personal responsibility, and if your recklessness is such as to trigger a General Election before the party’s poll ratings have recovered, every Conservative seat will have a split vote with the Brexit Party, Mr Corbyn and Mr MacDonnell will waltz into Downing Street, and the resultant economic meltdown will make even the maddest of Project Fear projections seem as nothing. Then we will look to you, personally, to accept responsibility.