The Tories lost yet another court case this week, after a two year legal battle SNP MP Tommy Sheppard won a ruling that the British Government’s secret polling on public attitudes to Scottish independence should be made public. Yet after The National newspaper contacted the Cabinet Office, headed by Michael Gove, asking to see the documents, Gove refused, saying merely that the British Government would respond to the ruling “in due course”, which is Tory-speak for “Only after you’ve dragged it out of my cold dead hands, suckers – what are you going to do about it? I’ve ignored plenty of court rulings before, what makes you think that this one is any different? Now bugger off I’m busy arranging an appearance on GB News where I intend to tell an audience of frothing Brexiters and Daily Mail readers that the EU has no respect for the rule of law.”
According to the ruling, the Government has 28 days in which to comply with the order to release the documents before being found in contempt of court. However it’s clear that they are not going to respond with good grace and intend to drag their heels and make things as difficult as possible.
It’s far from the first time that the Johnson Government has lost a court case and been found to be acting illegally and exceeding the bounds of its authority. This is particularly alarming in the context of the collection of laws, precedents and customs which passes for a British constitution as there are few effective means of holding the executive branch of government – number 10 Downing Street and the cabinet- to account.
With a Conservative majority of 80 in the House of Commons, Parliament is effectively nothing more than a rubber stamp, one which the government regularly treats with contempt. Just this week a normally somnolent Speaker, Lindsay Hoyle, was roused to anger, claiming that the Prime Minister had misled him about the timing of the announcement that the lifting of lockdown restrictions in England was to be delayed from 21 June until 19 July. Hoyle was angry because yet again the Government had chosen to make an important announcement via briefings to favoured figures in the press instead of making an announcement in Parliament, where, in theory if not in practice it can be held to account by MPs.
That only really leaves the courts as a means of holding the Government to account. The press in the UK has shown time and time again that it has no serious interest in challenging the Conservatives. Much of the press sees its job as to act as cheerleaders for the Tories and for Brexit. The already noticeably right wing bent of the British media only got more pronounced this weekend with the launch of the G Beebies Channel, dedicated to purveying bedtime stories for those red faced angry men who seem to make up a disproportionate section of the BBC Question Time audience.
But even the courts are no longer an effective means of holding the power of an unscrupulous and amoral government to account. You cannot shame the shameless. You cannot embarrass a brass neck. You cannot dishonour a government composed of principle-free charlatans. This government has already suffered numerous legal defeats, yet it sails on regardless, safe in the knowledge that there are no real consequences for its misbehaviour. Just a few days ago Michael Gove was found to have broken the law over the way his department had handled the awarding of government contracts to a company headed by associates of his pal Dominic Cummings. The court ruled that a reasonable person would suspect favouritism – in other words finding that if it looks bad and it smells bad, it’s reasonable to assume that it is indeed bad.
Advocates for the traditional way of doing things in the UK once prided themselves on what they called the “good chap” theory of British Government. It was rooted in the patrician snobbery of the English private school system and held that government in the UK worked because it was led by “good chaps” imbued with a sense of decency, fair play and whose personal code of honour would make them resign if they were ever found to have broken the rules, so therefore there was no need for formal systems for holding them to account. It was of course always a comfortable and self-congratulating fantasy born out of English exceptionalism, but it held for decades, bolstered in large measure by that peculiarly English deference to posh “characters” with cut glass accents.
If Michael Gove were a “good chap” he’d have resigned after the court found that he’d acted unlawfully over a dubious award of contracts to friends of his. If he were a “good chap” he’d have resigned when the courts ruled that the vote Leave campaign he headed had acted unlawfully. If he were a “good chap” he’d have resigned when it had come to light that while he was hypocritically calling for the prosecution of drug users he was himself using cocaine. He’d have resigned, along with Boris Johnson and the rest of the government when a court found that these “good chaps” had lied to the queen in order to unlawfully prorogue Parliament so that they could avoid any scrutiny in the Commons of their plans for Brexit.
Of course he hasn’t resigned, and neither have any of the others in this government who have been found by the courts to have broken the law. The malignant presence of Priti Patel still casts a shadow over the Home Office despite the court ruling that she unlawfully deported an asylum seeker in order to prevent him giving evidence at the inquest into the death of another man being held in one of the Home Office’s inhumane detention centres. She’s still in office despite having been found to have bullied staff members and breached the ministerial code.
Matt Hancock isn’t going anywhere despite a court ruling that he awarded a contract to a company run by his family. He’s going nowhere despite mounting evidence alleging that he lied repeatedly during the early months of the pandemic and along with Johnson and Gove ran a government whose incompetence, chaos, and ineptitude caused tens of thousands to die of covid when they otherwise could have lived.
If this was the Scottish government and the SNP, the media and the British political parties would be screaming to the rafters that Scotland was a failed state. It’s the British state which is faIling but all we get is a collective shrugging of the shoulders and a deliberate and studied silence from the Scottish Conservatives – it’s about the only thing that bunch of know-nothings have ever sucessfully studied.
Yet if the rule of law cannot be enforced we really are in a failed British state. The problem is that the only people with the power to do anything about it are the Goves, the Patels, the Johnsons and the Hancocks who have a vested interest in keeping things exactly the way that they are. That’s why Scottish independence is vital if we want to live in a state where the rule of law is respected and the powerful can be held to account. The UK has no solution when “good chaps” turn out to be rotten to the core.
NEW MODERATION POLICY
In the wake of recent events I am determined that this site will not become a home for bigots and conspiracy theorists. They will not be welcome here. Moderation is the most stressful part of running a blog, but this site is going to continue to make the positive case for independence. With this in mind as of today a new moderation policy is in force.
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