Ancient & Modern

By Jones, Peter | The Spectator, September 16, 2006 | Go to article overview

Ancient & Modern


Jones, Peter, The Spectator


Gordon Brown has promised that, when he comes to absolute power, he alone (not parliamentary colleagues, let alone the people) will appoint a Cabinet 'of all talents' to do his bidding. Even the Romans were more democratic than that.

Roman toffs naturally took it for granted that none but they could legislate effectively. As Cicero argued, 'Many evil and disastrous decisions are taken by the people, which no more deserve to be regarded as laws than if some robber had agreed to make them, ' and placed responsibility for law-making firmly with the Senate.

That was because the people could in practice override the Senate, since the Senate contained tribunes of the plebs who could veto any legislation which they did not feel to be in the people's interests. Further, nothing became law until the people's assemblies ratified it;

and it was even possible to pass legislation by appealing directly to the people's assemblies over the Senate's heads. Cicero was arguing that laws made in this way were not real laws. Mr Brown would, one assumes, thoroughly agree. At any rate, he will not have to grapple with any of these distastefully democratic procedures.

As for the 'talents' that Mr Brown's Cabinet will possess, the only 'talent' that will be common to them all will be a willingness to be dependent on Mr Brown -- or else. …

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