By-passing parliament: the blogs got there first
Until a day or two ago, few people in Britain were aware of a new Bill before parliament which, if passed, will give Ministers the power to enact new laws, primary legislation, on their own account without the inconvenience of having to get them approved by either House of what used to be our legislature — and they will also enjoy the power under the Bill to amend or even repeal existing legislation. If they get away with this, they will get away with anything. It represents the final stage in the process under which the executive has steadily gained complete control of the legislature. Once again we may have to look to an undemocratic, wholly nominated House of Lords to protect our constitution against the assaults of a rapacious and omnivorous government. It’s true that the Bill imposes certain limits on ministers’ powers to enact new legislation or amend existing laws, and that it requires ministers to lay an explanatory Order before parliament when exercising the proposed new powers: but it remains a wholly unconstitutional and unacceptable piece of work which parliament should throw out with anger and contempt.
Attention was first drawn to this extraordinary development in a couple of short blog items on 7 February, followed by a longer and more analytical piece in Owen’s Musings the following day. It was a full week later, on 15 February 2006, that the alarm was sounded for the first time (as far as I can discover) in the national media by Daniel Finkelstein, in his Times column of that day. The following day the Times carried an anxious letter about the Bill from six distinguished Cambridge law professors: we may hope that the debate and protests will now take off and that the government will be forced to think again.
I have sent the following message to Daniel Finkelstein to congratulate him on his pioneering role in this affair and to note the interesting time-lag between the blogosphere and the national media:
Dear Daniel Finkelstein,
Congratulations on breaking the news at national level of the Legislative and Regulatory Reform Bill scandal in your Times article of 15 February. The letter in today’s Times
from the six Cambridge law professors amply justifies your concerns and
should help to raise awareness of what is about to happen to our
This is just to draw your attention to a piece about the Bill
published on 8 February in a blog (my son’s, as it happens!) which
attracted some bloggers’ attention — see the comments following Owen
Barder’s original post. In fact the alarm had been raised on the
previous day in another blog, and one more again, as the links in Owen’s piece confirm. Yet another blog suggests a different angle on the issue.
This seems to me an interesting example of the time-lag between an
issue being broken and aired in the blogosphere and its appearance
rather later in the national media. I wonder to what extent the
political commentators such as yourself monitor the blogosphere, or at
any rate the livelier and more alert political blogs (such as Owen Barder’s and my own!) for leads to news of fresh horrors emerging from Whitehall and Westminster?
I am putting a copy of this message on my own blog, partly to make the
useful links in it more widely available and partly as a tribute to
you for getting this out into the open. As you said in your own
article, why on earth has this not been all over the front pages for
16 Feb 06
As a minor tail-piece: we should savour and store away this latest misuse of the word ‘reform’ in the title of the Bill (the "Legislative and Regulatory Reform Bill"), as if this attack on democratic parliamentary process can properly be described as a ‘reform’. In the same way, the assault on the comprehensive principle in education is described as ‘educational reform’ and the proposal to change the electoral system so as to give the Liberal Democrats the permanent power to decide whether the prime minister shall be the Tory or Labour leader is described, even more widely, as ‘electoral reform’. There’s something Orwellian about this.