Thursday, February 19, 2009

Forget infringements of liberties. Populism is the problem.

The Henry Porter Convention is attracting more followers to the banner.

The latest is the normally-quite-good Tim Garton-Ash. Reading his unconvincing article, you get the impression that he's scrabbling around for reasons not to be left out. 

Yet, oddly, buried towards the end, is the key point:

"A couple of years ago I asked a very senior New Labour politician if his government had not got the balance between security and liberty wrong. "Well", he replied, "one thing I can tell you is that if you ask the British people they will always choose more security." And this is where the ball comes back to us. Since our leaders are now mainly followers - following the latest opinion poll, focus group or newspaper campaign - it's up to us, the people, to change their view of what "the people" want."

Now, that final sentence is pure bullshit. Columnists from the Guardian - even in coalition with a handful of (hanger!) Tories such as David Davies - are not going to do this. The point isn't to change people's minds - the public have always been deeply illiberal, and collectively stupid - as Matthew Parris illustrated very well a while ago here.

The point is - instead of banging on and on and on about specific infringement of our Aynchunt Wibberties - real or imagined - it is to campaign with equal gusto against those who promote and excuse the populist mode of democracy that is the cause (as Tim seems to acknowledge) of this illiberalism.

If you want to stop the intrusive and ill-thought out legislation, you have to demand a return to deliberative policymaking.

This week, the Tories have launched possibly the most odious and reactionary proposals ever to go into a draft manifesto of a major British political party - demands for direct democracy and elected officials on a number of fronts - and I've not heard a squeak about this from any of the refugees at Henry's bash.

If you want to see "great thinkers compelled to drink Hemlock at the whim of the masses*" then that's what the Tory proposals will give you. Legislation that is thoughtless and reflexive to a greater extent that that promoted by the current government - if that were possible?

*Not my own aphorism, sadly - but I can't find it's origin now

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