I disagree [that this has been a bad government]. Oh, if you want a government that defends the country and provides common services while keeping so far as possible out of your way, the Labour Government elected in 1997 has been a disappointment. This does not mean, however, that the Blair and Brown Governments have been a failure in their own terms. They have, on the contrary, been very successful.
The purpose of the Government that took power in 1997 was to bring about a revolutionary transformation of this country – a transformation from which there could be no return to what had been before. The English Constitution has never been set down in a written document, and there has never been any statement of fundamental rights and liberties that was protected from change by ordinary legislation. Instead, these rights and liberties were protected by a set of customs and institutions that, being legitimised by antiquity, served the same purpose as formal entrenchment. It can be hard, in every specific case, to justify trial by jury, or the rule against double jeopardy, or the idea that imprisonment should be for a specified time and no longer, or the right to speak freely on matters in the public domain. There are principled arguments that satisfy in the absence of strong passions. But, strong passions being granted, the best argument has always so far been that these things have always been in England, and that to change them would be to break the threads that tie us to the past.
It would be childish to argue that the Ancient Constitution was in good health until 1997, when it was suddenly overturned. Unless there is an catastrophic foreign invasion, constitutions are not destroyed in this way. Ours had been sapped long before 1997. To say when the tipping point was reached, and by what means, would take me far beyond my stated theme. However, what remained of the Constitution has, since 1997, been dismissed as a set of “outmoded” relics, and large parts of it have been swept away. Those that remain have been transformed beyond recognition.
On any normal assumptions, the country has been governed very badly since 1997. On the assumptions of the Government, things have gone very well indeed.
The rest of it is in the same excellent vein, and very much worth cogitating on—I am even being swayed by the republican argument.
On Friday the 16th October 2009, I spoke to a Conservative Association in the South East of England. Though I did not video the event, and though – on account of the heated and not always good natured debate the followed my speech – I was asked not to identify the particular Association to which I spoke, I think what I said is worth recording.
Yes, I can imagine that many Conservatives would find this speech unpalatable—but then they are concerned only with power and not with the rights and liberties of the people of this country.
We shall probably have a Conservative Government within the next nine months. But this will not be a government of conservatives. If we want a preview of the Cameron Government, we need only look at what Boris Johnson has achieved during the past year as Mayor of London. He has not closed down one of the bureaucracies set up by Ken Livingstone and his Trotskyite friends. The race equality enforcers are still collecting their salaries. The war on the private motorist continues. Rather than cut the number of New and Old Labour apparatchiks, he is currently putting up taxes. David Cameron will be no better. He may be forced to make some changes and to slow the speed of the transformation. The transformation will continue nevertheless.
Indeed it will: if you believe in freedom and so place your hope in Cameron then you are a fool. To refuse to see that makes you a knave.
I understand that many people will vote Conservative on the Barbary Ape principle. Fine: go ahead. I may even have some sympathy for that position—it is difficult to imagine that Cameron and his merry men could be quite as bad as NuLabour. But as Sean points out, he will be—essentially—no better.
Over the last few decades, we have seen a steady and gradually acceleration of our serfdom; increasingly, we are no longer free individuals, but slaves living under sufference—we are grudgingly allowed to retain a small proportion of our liberty and our possessions only as long as we continue to accept the jackboot of the statist upon our necks.
This is a war, and it's time to pick the side that you fight on: are you a totalitarian or a libertarian?