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The silence of Teresa May and her ministers acquiesces in attack on judges

Silence is acquiescence. The silence of Theresa May in the face of yesterday’s newspaper attacks on the British judiciary tells us much about our prime minister and her cabinet.

The silence of her Lord Chancellor, Liz Truss, has come under attack from a former Lord Chancellor, Charles Falconer, in today’s Guardian, pointing out that she has a constitutional duty to defend the judges. He writes:

 She needs to make it clear immediately that the government has no quarrel with the judges and has total confidence in them. Disagreement with the judges is dealt with by appeal not by abuse. So far Truss has been completely silent, no doubt waiting for guidance from a prime minister who appears so mesmerised by the fear of what the public may do or think that she is willing to throw constitutional propriety overboard.

Truss’s silence feeds the sense that the government is either hopeless at avoiding conflict or couldn’t care less about the constitution.

That a national newspaper, The Daily Mail, can run a front page with pictures of three judges over the headline “Enemies of the people” without being criticised by the government is extraordinary. That our government is failing to defend the separation of powers between the parliament and the judiciary, one of the corner stones of our constitution and democracy, is more extraordinary.

It is as if our government, many of its supporters and much of the official oppositions (the Labour Party) are rabbits caught in the headlights of the hard brexiteers steam-roller.

But not all. Dominic Grieve, a former Tory Attorney General, has done what Truss should have done yesterday. His analysis was forthright and the story in the Huffington Post starts:

The criticism of the judiciary over the recent Article 50 ruling is “chilling” and reminiscent of “Robert Mugabe’s Zimbabwe”…. He also described attacks the judiciary as “chilling and outrageous” and “smacking of the fascist state”

The Huff Post report on the silence of Theresa May continues

Bob Neill, the Conservative chairman of the justice select committee, said the attacks were “threatening the independence of our judiciary” and had “no place in a civilised land”.
He told The Times: [pay wall] “Some of the things which have been said about the court’s judgment by politicians have been utterly disgraceful.
“All ministers from the Prime Minister down must now make clear that the independence of the judiciary is fundamental to our democracy. You have to respect that even if you think they have got a decision wrong.

Anna Soubry, a remain campaigner said media reports were “inciting hatred” and continued: “I think we have to call this out and say ‘not in my name’.”

Stephen Phillips, the Conservative MP for Sleaford and North Hykeham, a brexit campaigner, who resigned his seat yesterday, said in his letter to constituents:

It has been a great honour to serve the people of Sleaford and North Hykeham for the last six years, but it has become clear to me over the last few months that my growing and very significant policy differences with the current Government mean I am unable to properly represent the people who elected me,

That goes to the heart of the problem. Too many MPs feel cowed by brexiteers to be “delegates” rather than fulfilling their constitutional role as “representatives”.

Those parliamentarians  who have spoken out against the attacks on the judiciary emphasises the silence of Theresa May, Liz Truss and other members of the Government.

 

 

 

‘Tory Britain, no longer aspires to be a leading Western power’ — a view from overseas

Anne Applebaum in her perceptive Washington Post column last week wrote: “Johnson, Osborne and many British Conservatives are now quite comfortable with the idea of Britain, or possibly just England, as the Dubai of the North Atlantic, the Singapore of the Western Hemisphere: a small trading nation…” The headline was: “New cabinet may signal Britain’s retreat as a Western power.”

This morning comes the news that ARM, the  British company which leads the world with its chip designs at the heart of connected world — the internet of things — which is developing very fast, is to be taken-over by Japanese Softbank business for £24 billion.

Rory Cellan-Jones, the BBC’s technology correspondent wrote:

It’s hard to exaggerate just how important ARM is to the UK tech sector – and the shock many are feeling this morning at the news that it is about to lose its independence.

Its brilliance was to realise that if chips were about to come with everything, you didn’t have to make them – designing them was the key.

The British Government is to nod through the takeover, with Philip Hammond, the new Chancellor, telling the Financial Times: “Just three weeks after the referendum decision, it shows that Britain has lost none of its allure to international investors.”

That is one way of spinning the story but it is not necessarily the way it is seen in other parts of the world.

Anne Applebaum is based in London and has written widely for serious British publications. Her Washington Post column provides a chilling insight into how the United Kingdom is being portrayed in the District of Columbia and, no doubt in many other capitals. It is a column which should be read in full but here is an extract:

… May’s choices also suggest a more profound change, visible for some time but only just now swimming into focus: Britain, or at least Tory Britain, no longer aspires to be a leading Western power. Surely May knows that Johnson is a hated figure in Brussels. Surely she guessed that the reaction to his appointment would be laughter in Washington. But she doesn’t care because — like the leaders of all small countries without aspirations to international leadership — her concerns are more parochial. She doesn’t need a foreign secretary who is taken seriously in foreign capitals.

Nor was she bothered by the further implications of the choice. Johnson has been a brilliant cheerleader for Britain in the past — a great ambassador for London — and some people now hope he will continue in that role. But in his recent columns and conversations, he has also made it clear that Britain’s traditional alliances — with the United States, with Europe — mean little to him. Instead, he has flirted with Putinism, praised Bashar al-Assad and gone on trade junkets to China. Johnson’s admiration for rich foreign dictators echoes the views of many leading Tories, even George Osborne, the just-retired chancellor of the exchequer. Johnson, Osborne and many British Conservatives are now quite comfortable with the idea of Britain, or possibly just England, as the Dubai of the North Atlantic, the Singapore of the Western Hemisphere: a small trading nation, an offshore home for Russian, Chinese, Malaysian and Nigerian money, a place comfortable with oligarchs of all kinds — even with Americans, as long as they have cash — and very distant from old Thatcherite ideals about democracy and rule of law.

Sending naked negotiators into EU conference chamber

Now we know. Brexit campaigners won the referendum by lying and dissembling but had no idea what they were asking people to vote for: no vision of a future outside the EU. And they had no leadership capable of working out and articulating what they wanted to happen so they have outsourced the job to the people who wanted to remain.

Tomorrow we will see a woman Remain campaigner — albeit a less than enthusiastic one — become our prime minister having promised “Brexit means Brexit”. The trouble is that we have no idea what she thinks Brexit means and I doubt if she has either. And how can we trust Theresa May who has so readily switched sides in  a fortnight — it is like the old joke about the politician who was challenged and said: “If you don’t like my principles I have others.”

There is no vision. There cannot be a realistic one because we do not know how the various members and organisations of the European Union will react. At one extreme there is possibility of being outside the EU relying on World Trade Organisation rules to conduct our business. At the other, we could be offered something like the Norwegian deal which would include associate membership of the Shengen area.

We will be sending negotiators into the conference chamber naked. The referendum result throws away our leverage for change.

The position is not so far removed from that Aneurin Bevan faced in 1957 when he addressed the Labour Party conference on nuclear disarmament:

I knew this morning that I was going to make a speech that would offend, and even hurt, many of my friends. I know that you are deeply convinced that the action you suggest is the most effective way of influencing international affairs. I am deeply convinced that you are wrong. It is therefore not a question of who is in favour of the hydrogen bomb, but a question of what is the most effective way of getting the damn thing destroyed. It is the most difficult of all problems facing mankind. But if you carry this resolution and follow out all its implications — and do not run away from it — you will send a British Foreign Secretary, whoever he may be, naked into the conference chamber. … And you call that statesmanship? I call it an emotional spasm.

Whoever accepts the post of foreign secretary in the May administration will know that quote from one of the most memorable political speeches in post-war Britain. George Osborne is being tipped for the post — if it is him we can celebrate a brave man.

With the Labour Party dysfunctional, failing to provide opposition, May has adopted policies put forwards by Ed Milliband before his failure to win the last election led to his resignation. The Guardian reports today that she has also adopted his slogan about a “country that works for everyone rather than a privileged few”.

For her proposal about workers in the boardroom we need to dig further back in labour history. The system which supported German post-war industrial resurgence was put in place with the help of British trade unionists led by Vic Feather, later General Secretary of the TUC.  The Tablet, in a 1987 article, commented:

… it is one of modern history’s crueller ironies that the reconstruction of the West German system, on the ruins left by Nazism and war, from which its excellence today derives, was carried out with the help of British TUC advisers led by Vic Feather.

If May succeeds in this ambition she will have done something which has not been done by any of the post-war British labour governments.

Jeremy Corby has accepted May’s policy of Brexit means Brexit (“We have to respect the decision that has been made“) as, seemingly, has a majority of the parliamentary labour party. His stance on the  importance of maintaining the free movement of people, now seems to be the most fruitful area for opposition to the new government.

But would even that survive the removal of Corbyn as  leader? The opposition can hardly survive a new leadership battle at a crucial time in British politics. Even with the summer recess coming up the opposition needs to be hard at work on its strategy not squabbling: the new government will certainly be doing its preparation.

At present the SNP, the Lib Dems and the Greens are providing real opposition but they cannot fill the vacuum created by a fractious (and irresponsible) labour party.