Magazine article The Spectator

The Spectator's Notes

Magazine article The Spectator

The Spectator's Notes

Article excerpt

New Labour has always preserved from the hard Left the Leninist idea that the party (or, in Blair/ Brown theory, 'the project') is the only reality to be respected. All the other institutions of society -- above all, Parliament -- are 'superstructure', so much flim-flam to be insulted, ignored and, if the chance presents itself, kicked into 'the dustbin of history'. Everything about the arrest of Damian Green shows the effects of this process. Thus the police, corrupted by years of political pressure, chose the brief moment when the House of Commons was prorogued to raid the offices of a Member of Parliament. Unless they are intensely stupid (a proposition not to be discounted), they cannot have imagined that their behaviour could ever have led to a successful prosecution, but they went ahead anyway, influenced perhaps by the fact that the official urging them on was Sir David Normington, who happens to be chairing the body trying to select the next Metropolitan Police Commissioner. Three of the senior policemen involved in the case want the job.

Thus, too, the Speaker, Michael Martin, weakly anxious not to be on the wrong side of government, passed the buck for letting the police in to the Serjeant at Arms, herself a politically correct appointment designed to weaken the independence of parliamentary officers. The Commons 'Commission', the body invented to safeguard Parliament's rights, was not consulted. And then the Leader of the House, Harriet Harman, seems to have tried, in a secret meeting, to tell the Speaker how to handle the issue in Parliament.

Not so long ago, there was something called 'the usual channels', which was in essence, one person, the government chief whip's private secretary, Murdo Maclean. When all parties respected Parliament, they could settle most disputes amicably through the good offices of Mr Maclean, without unnecessary partisanship. But Mr Maclean was pushed out in the early Blair period, and now there are no usual channels. Indeed, there would appear to be almost no channels at all. The Leninist view of life involves, among other things, a breakdown of that bourgeois concept, trust. It is terrifying.

The Home Office, the department in charge of this particular mess, now seems to have developed a concept of law in which the gesture, not the actual effect, is what matters. Others have pointed out that Jacqui Smith's plan to make men liable for prosecution for hiring prostitutes who have been trafficked, even if they do not know that they have been, is not workable or just.

Another example arises with the work of the UK Borders Agency. This has the reasonable aim of trying to control immigration better, but, once again, there has been a lack of interest by its creators in how it would actually work. Under the new rules, all schools taking foreign pupils will be made liable. So if a pupil at a boarding school decides to stay in England for the summer holidays, the school will be responsible for his/her whereabouts all that time. If the pupil and even, possibly, his/her entire family claims asylum in this country, the school, as the 'sponsor', will have to pay all the costs associated with the asylum process.

And if it turns out that the school is unwittingly harbouring a current foreign pupil who is not complying with the rules, it can be fined £10,000. …

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