Brexit, Public Protest And The Judiciary


No, criticising legal rulings is not fascism

Right now the internet is bubbling with a lot of nonsense about the role of the British judiciary as relates to Brexit, and though I have my head full of US election news ahead of tomorrow night’s Semi-Partisan live blog, there are a couple of pieces of egregious stupidity which need slapping down.

Today, of course, Nigel Farage made headlines by announcing his intention to lead a march of 100,000 people on the Supreme Court in an effort to demonstrate the public’s supposed strength of feeling about ramming Brexit through without any Parliamentary scrutiny.

From the Telegraph:

Nigel Farage is planning to lead a 100,000-strong march to the Supreme Court to coincide with the start of the Government’s attempt to stop peers and MPs delaying Brexit.

The march, organised by the anti-European Union campaign Leave.EU, will end with a rally in Parliament Square within sight of the court building where judges will be hearing the appeal.

The campaign group is planning to “crowd fund” £100,000 from its supporters to pay for barristers to represent Leave supporters in the court action.

This will mean that the anti-EU supporters will have their own barristers in the legal action, who can challenge claims made by Remain supporters and even the Government.

[..] A spokesman for the organisers said that Mr Farage and Leave.EU millionaire backers Arron Banks and Richard Tice had “secured support from thousands of Leave voters” for the march and legal action.

The march will most likely take place on December 5, which is expected to be the first day of the hearing. The Supreme Court has cleared four days for the hearing which will be streamed live on the internet.

As this blog recently laid out, I am fairly relaxed about the High Court case and the coming appeal to the Supreme Court. If David Cameron’s utterly useless government had a) planned the referendum properly, and b) considered the possibility of Leave winning then all of this might have been spelled out clearly at the time of the referendum, as it should have been.

That being said, MPs are aware of the hellfire which would rightly rain down on them if they seriously attempted to subvert the referendum result; if they now want to give their cosmetic blessing to a high-level instruction to the government to invoke Article 50 then they are welcome to go ahead.

Of course, some people inevitably then take it too far. UKIP leadership candidate Suzanne Evans quickly took to the airwaves making incoherent comments about the need to exercise “democratic controls” (whatever that means) over the judiciary.

From the BBC:

Ms Evans told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme there were likely to be “protests and demonstrations”, but added that these would be peaceful.

She added: “I have a concern that Article 50 is not intended to facilitate nation states leaving the European Union. I think it’s there to frustrate them.”

Ms Evans said she thought the legal process could “water down Brexit”.

She added: “I think it’s amusing that the very same people who say it’s all about parliamentary sovereignty have, for the last 48 years, been trying to undermine parliamentary sovereignty”.

Ms Evans said: “I think there’s a debate to be had about whether or not judges are subject to some kind of democratic control.”

She did not want to undermine “their judicial independence”, but added: “I suppose that in this case, we have had a situation where we have judges committed to stay in the European Union…

“I’m questioning the legitimacy of this particular case. We know that the legal profession threw a collective hissy fit when we voted to leave.”

This is just incoherent garbage. “Democratic controls” could mean anything from moving towards a system where many judges are elected (as in many American states) toward some kind of constitutional fix to prevent judges from ruling to delay or impede the government from carrying out the instructions from this or any future referenda.

At no point does Suzanne Evans articulate what kind of controls she has in mind, which naturally plays into the hands of tremulous Remainers who are lightning-quick to portray any intemperate or ill-considered language from Brexiteers as a sign of the oncoming fascist apocalypse wrought by Brexit.

From the Huffington Post:

Her comments were branded “irresponsible”. by Labour’s shadow Brexit secretary Keir Starmer. “Some of us have worked in countries where judges do as governments tell them and we know that is highly corrosive of the rule of law and democracy,” he told Today.

Starmer said the High Court had simply “upheld the rule of law” by deciding the prime minister did not have the power to trigger Article 50 without a parliamentary vote. “It’s a slippery slope,” he said of Evans’ comments. “Principle is really important here. The rule of law really matters. It underpins this country.”

However Evans said she had not been talking about judges being subject to elections, but instead “pre-appointment and confirmation hearings” and “scrutiny by select committees”.

Typically, hysterical and bitter Remoaners like Coke Zero Conservative Anna Soubry led the way with her cries of “fascism!”:

However, many pro-EU commentators, in their sudden high-minded support for the independence of the judiciary, seem to be suggesting that any form of protest directed at judges or the courts is absolutely unacceptable and fascistic, whatever the reason.

LBC’s notoriously and stridently europhile presenter James O’Brien ripped into the protest, essentially declaring that it is wrong to protest legal decisions and rulings:

Today James gave his reaction to the march and it’s safe to say he wasn’t impressed: “We’re post-truth now…what’s Mr Farage doing? Having a little march to the Supreme Court to complain about British judges enacting British laws in British courts.

“Truly we are down the rabbit hole!”

James continued: “He says to remind people what they voted for. I appreciate your core support is a little bit flaky pal, but I don’t think anyone’s forgotten what they voted for.

“It’s quite incredible. Yet we’re all still standing alongside, going: ‘Oh, I wonder why this is happening.’

“I’m not wondering why this is happening. I know why this is happening. Same reason it’s happened throughout history. You take angry people who feel like they’re not getting a fair deal, give them a false target for their fury and just sit back and watch the whole place burn down.”

Presumably O’Brien feels similarly sickened when crowds of people assemble in front of the United States Supreme Court to protest in favour of socially progressive outcomes, like striking down the Defence of Marriage Act (DOMA). Except we all know that O’Brien would have no problem with such protests. Demonstrating about legal cases is abhorrent and intimidating when Nasty Brexiteers do it, with their thuggish and populist ways, but absolutely fine when the people march under a rainbow flag or advocate for a progressive cause.

But some of the most thin-skinned people of all are those within the legal profession, who apparently feel under assault by Brexiteers and parts of the media in the wake of the High Court decision.

From the Guardian:

The justice secretary, Liz Truss, is embroiled in an extraordinary row with the country’s barristers, after she was accused by the Bar Council of not fulfilling her role as “the conscience of the government”.

Truss has failed to condemn vitriolic attacks on the three judges who last week ruled that parliament must be given a vote before Britain triggers article 50, launching the Brexit process.

Chantal-Aimée Doerries QC, the chairman of the Bar, the representative body for barristers in England and Wales, told the Observer that the cabinet minister had a duty to uphold the rule of law. “[Her job] is sometimes called the conscience of the government and one would expect her to speak out on something like this,” she said.

The high court ruling on Thursday, which the government has said it will appeal, unleashed a torrent of personal abuse directed at the judiciary, with one prominent cabinet member claiming the judges’ decision was “unacceptable”.

Under huge pressure to defend the independence of Britain’s judges, Truss – who is also lord chancellor – issued a terse statement on Saturday, observing: “The independence of the judiciary is the foundation upon which our rule of law is built and our judiciary is rightly respected the world over for its independence and impartiality.”

What more do these wobbly-lipped victims want? The High Court made a decision, and various citizens together with certain press outlets exercised their free speech rights to criticise that decision in loud and forceful terms. Did anybody attempt to physically or mentally coerce the judges who made the ruling? No. Has anybody hatched a plan to neuter the judiciary’s ability to rule in future such cases? No. So what, exactly, does the Bar Council want? Apparently they want to be exempt from criticism. And to elevate the judiciary into such an exalted position would be truly frightening and totalitarian.

If the Bar Council, assorted other members of the judiciary and a coterie of Remainers expect Liz Truss to stop the Big Bad Scary Media from uttering opinions about the validity of legal decisions or the motivations of the people who make them then they really have taken leave of their senses, as well as any conception of the role of a free press in a democracy.

All in all, many Remainers seem to be taking leave of their senses. Those people who never gave the judiciary a second thought but who are now lionising it simply because they delivered a verdict which seems to frustrate some Brexiteers need to realise that the judiciary is not always high-minded and impartial.

The BBC reports that Lord Judge, the former Lord Chief Justice, opined that the Supreme Court should not overturn the High Court’s ruling because to do so might be *perceived* as a victory for the demonstrators:

The justice system could be undermined if a ruling that only Parliament can trigger Brexit is overturned, a former lord chief justice has said.

Lord Judge said it would be seen as a victory for pro-Brexit demonstrators should the Supreme Court reverse last week’s controversial High Court ruling.

[..] Lord Judge, who was the most senior judge in England and Wales between 2008 and 2013 and who is now a crossbench peer, told BBC Newsnight that people were entitled to protest but he was concerned about the impact the case might have on the legal system.

“People can march as much as they like,” he said.

“I don’t think it makes any difference to the judicial decision but it does make a difference to public order.

“Let’s say for the sake of argument the Supreme Court decides the High Court was wrong, it will undoubtedly be conveyed as a victory for the demonstrators.

“It won’t be but that’s what will be conveyed. And if that is conveyed, you’ve undermined the administration of justice.”

In other words, the head of the judiciary from 2008 to 2013 thinks that the Supreme Court should make a decision not based on the law, but rather on a desire to signal to unruly Brexiteers that judges cannot be pushed around. Even if there are found to be legal grounds for overturning the lower court’s decision, Lord Judge believes that the Supreme Court should allow error to go uncorrected in order to put the people in their proper place.

And yet criticising these people or displaying the slightest scepticism about their motivations and objectivity is apparently tantamount to fascism.

Give me a break.


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UKIP National Conference 2015: What To Expect

UKIP Doncaster 1

Last year’s party conference saw UKIP fresh from victory in the 2014 European elections, and boosted by the shock defection of former Conservative MP Mark Reckless. Twelve months and one agonisingly unfair general election result later, what surprises can UKIP offer this time around?

Twelve months ago, the current British political landscape would have been completely unrecognisable, the stuff of fantasy.

The Labour Party had not yet imploded in a shower of more-compassionate-than-thou moralising. The SNP’s Westminster surge was beyond even the Scottish nationalists’ wildest expectations following the “No” vote in the Scottish independence referendum. In fact, there was only one political party which could claim to have any real momentum and be making tangible progress of any kind.

That party was UKIP. Twelve months ago, when Nigel Farage teased the UKIP 2014 conference delegates by telling them that a Tory MP would be speaking to them in his place – that MP being Mark Reckless, who then defected to UKIP live on stage to enormous cheers – there was a very real possibility that the second defection of a serving Member of Parliament from the Conservatives to UKIP might unleash the floodgates. At that time, it was entirely possible that UKIP could have ended the summer with a small handful of motivated, eurosceptic ex-Tory MPs, and a real Westminster presence.

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The Battle For UKIP’s Soul, Part 2

Douglas Carswell - Nigel Farage - Battle for UKIP's Soul


Only a few short years ago, this blog would never have imagined uttering the shocking words “I agree with Nigel Farage”. But in the ongoing internal warfare within UKIP, Farage’s latest intervention is a welcome one.

Yesterday, this blog wrote about the coming battle for UKIP’s soul, as evidenced by a growing movement within the party urging them to move to the political centre, a potentially fatal error of judgement.

This misguided movement should be distinguished from other calls to change the tenor and tone of the party’s messaging – this blog fully supports a calmer, more reasoning style of political engagement by eurosceptics and advocates for individual liberty, but not at the expense of jettisoning core commitments to smaller government and increased personal freedom.

And on this front, Nigel Farage’s latest statement gives some encouragement. From the Telegraph:

Nigel Farage has refused calls to move to the centre ground as tensions with his deputy and only MP grow ahead of meeting with MEPs this week.

The Ukip leader said he would continue to speak out on controversial topics like immigration, despite pressure from his deputy chairman Suzanne Evans and Douglas Carswell.

In television interviews on Sunday, Miss Evans had said that Ukip “needs to go” more into the centre ground, while Mr Carswell said Mr Farage had to moderate his “tone”.

But a defiant Mr Farage told The Daily Telegraph: “I will continue to lead Ukip as I have, broadening policies.

“They don’t want the party to attract opprobrium but if you take on the political class on tough issues you attract opprobrium.

Quite right too. The constant scorn and attacks, just for holding political opinions that would be considered perfectly common sense and mainstream in other countries such as the United States, can become wearing after a time. And as the ad hominem attacks increase the temptation to moderate the message can be very strong indeed. But it must be avoided – for now is the time for eurosceptics and believers in smaller government to stay the course, not dilute their message.

None of this is to argue that UKIP should not tone down the anti-immigration rhetoric or stop courting controversy where it can be avoided. For instance: though the impact of EU migration on the unskilled British workforce is undeniable, there is probably no further mileage to be gained from pointing this out. And though it may be quite right to insist that the National Health Service should cater for British citizens and taxpayers first and foremost, using the example of foreign HIV sufferers was always going to attract the ire of Britain’s virtue signallers and professional outrage-mongers.

So by all means, UKIP should stop doing the things which unnecessarily drive up the party’s negative ratings, and even prepare to take a back seat in the coming Brexit campaign if this will give the broader eurosceptic movement the greatest chance of success. But  it would be unpardonable to change the manifesto commitments to national defence, refocusing international aid, simpler and flatter taxes, welfare reform and smaller government just because they do not fit with a “centrist” political strategy.

Nigel Farage was quite right when he said that opposing the bland British political consensus will attract opprobrium – you know you’re really closing in on the target once you start taking heavy enemy fire. Perhaps UKIP’s leader has started following this blog, which said precisely the same thing (in almost the same words) only yesterday:

Suzanne Evans apparently now believes that UKIP and conservatives in general are to blame for the often hysterical response of many people to right-wing ideas, and that they need to change their “brand” so that people want to “sing and dance” about their beliefs rather than remaining shy Tories or shy Ukippers. But this misses the point. To avoid public opprobrium would be to adopt the same tired, worn-out centrist policies which have led the establishment parties to such unpopularity and irrelevance.

UKIP received just under thirteen per cent of the national vote in the general election because that is currently more or less the ceiling of support for eurosceptic, quasi-libertarian thinking in Britain. But the correct response to this fact is not for UKIP to change the policies to encompass a larger number of potential voters. The correct response is to engage in debate and win over more people to the pro-sovereignty, pro-personal freedom worldview – raising the ceiling rather than lowering the ambition.

UKIP’s future currently stands on a knife-edge, both in terms of ideological direction and the party’s continued political viability – though the two are inextricably linked. On the one hand, there is the impulse to welcome the new ranks of ex-Labour supporters by adopting a more left-wing, big government approach, but on the other is the fact that any move to the centre or embracing of the stale post-war consensus is likely to result in UKIP ultimately becoming seen as just “more of the same”.

The short term political benefit of reducing negative headlines and winning over fickle left-wing voters without doing the hard work of really changing hearts and minds in favour of an anti-big government, pro-freedom agenda is just that: a short term solution. It may temporarily increase support and polling numbers, but only at the expense of shredding UKIP’s hard-won claim to represent a genuinely different political choice.

Britain has more than enough parties eager to bang on about “our NHS”, mindlessly defend the public sector and blindly support the EU, all as part of their grubby quest for centrist support. We do not need another such party.

And UKIP must follow Nigel Farage’s lead and resolutely refuse to become just another party of centrist compromise and disappointment.

The Battle For UKIP’s Soul

UKIP Battle Bus - General Election 2015


More concerning news about UKIP from today’s Guardian:

The author of Ukip’s general election manifesto has said the party should concentrate on “compassionate, centre-ground” policies, denying the party was riven with bitter infighting.

Suzanne Evans, the party’s deputy chairwoman, said the party’s post-election troubles were related to advisers who had now left. “I don’t think anyone hates anyone,” she said on Sunday […]

“I think if you look at the manifesto – and let’s not forget I wrote the manifesto – I think it was very compassionate, very centre-ground, very balanced and Nigel called it – bless him – the best manifesto ever written. So it was a great sort of feather in my cap. That I think is where he wants to take the party and where the party needs to go.”

On “shy kippers”, a phenomenon repeatedly alluded to by Farage during the campaign, Evans said it was crucial to find out why those people were reticent in showing their support for the party. She added: “If we’ve got it absolutely right and if our party brand is working at the moment, why don’t people want to sing and dance about it?”

This was always the danger for UKIP – not so much the bitter infighting, which is disappointing yet predictable, but rather the growing impulse to move further away from its guiding principles toward the political centre.

The frustration within UKIP is quite understandable – the party dramatically increased its level of support from 2010 to 2015, continuing an exponential rise over the past five years, but was rewarded with only one Westminster seat thanks to the diffusion of its support across the country.

And looking at the parties which performed well (namely the Conservatives and the SNP) it is easy to come away with the impression that the path to electoral success lies in wittering on endlessly about public services – the Tories because they only sold their Long Term Economic Plan on the basis that a stronger economy means more cash for things like the NHS, and the SNP because of their reflexive opposition to ever shrinking the state.

Smarting from the loss of half its Westminster representation and trying to keep a lid on very public infighting which threatens to make the party look foolish, the impulse to move to the political centre is clearly very strong. But it is equally misguided – the British political centre is already overcrowded, with the rudderless Labour Party and David Cameron’s Coke Zero Conservatives fighting over the same ground.

Suzanne Evans apparently now believes that UKIP and conservatives in general are to blame for the often hysterical response of many people to right-wing ideas, and that they need to change their “brand” so that people want to “sing and dance” about their beliefs rather than remaining shy Tories or shy Ukippers. But this misses the point. To avoid public opprobrium would be to adopt the same tired, worn-out centrist policies which have led the establishment parties to such unpopularity and irrelevance.

UKIP received just under thirteen per cent of the national vote in the general election because that is currently more or less the ceiling of support for eurosceptic, quasi-libertarian thinking in Britain. But the correct response to this fact is not for UKIP to change the policies to encompass a larger number of potential voters. The correct response is to engage in debate and win over more people to the pro-sovereignty, pro-personal freedom worldview – raising the ceiling rather than lowering the ambition.

Of course this won’t be easy. It takes time – and the gradual accumulation of evidence that the centrist policies pursued by the other parties are failing – to persuade people  that a radically different direction is needed. And in Britain, so accustomed to the post-war settlement policies of an active, interfering government and welfare state, persuading people that lower taxation and greater freedom can result in more prosperity rather than less is particularly challenging.

This means that despite the strides made by UKIP since the party was founded, dramatic electoral success was never going to come in 2015, and nor will it come in a rush in 2020. Weaning people away from big government is a long, difficult process – especially in a country where 52 per cent of the population receive more in government benefits than they contribute in taxes.

But selling out by becoming just another centrist party that drones on about “compassion” while failing to restrain the state and free the individual is the worst possible idea, and would represent a grave betrayal of all those people who were originally attracted to UKIP’s cause.

UKIP is clearly being moved by the impulse to make a comfortable home for the legions of former Labour voters who have switched their loyalty to Nigel Farage, and we are now witnessing the beginning of a battle for the party’s soul. But the answer is not to recreate the Labour Party under a purple banner – to do so would be hugely insincere, and would undermine the true foundation of the party’s support.

Four million votes in a general election is a huge accomplishment, and the temptation to exploit and artificially increase this number by repositioning to the left is immense. But a principled political party – the party to which this blog, after much soul searching, lent its support on 7 May – should not seek quick shortcuts to greater public favour.

Real progress is difficult, and comes slowly. UKIP’s warring factions must not forget this simple truth.

UKIP’s General Election Manifesto: A Serious Offering From A Serious Party

UKIP 2015 General Election Manifesto Launch - Thurrock Essex - Nigel Farage - Suzanne Evans


For British voters who believe in the wisdom of small government and personal freedom – as well as those who believe that the British people are capable of achieving so much more than angrily lobbying for endless new perks and benefits from the state – the 2015 general election campaign thus far has been a dreary, depressing spectacle.

But in Thurrock today, the United Kingdom Independence Party gave what was perhaps their most convincing pitch to voters thus far, with the launch of their 2015 general election manifesto, entitled “Believe in Britain”.

This blog wholeheartedly concurs with the introduction to UKIP’s manifesto, in which Suzanne Evans (Deputy Chairman, Policy) bemoans the remarkable lack of optimism and faith in Britain now evident, to some degree, in all of the other political parties:

If only all politicians could believe in Britain as UKIP does. If only they could share our positive vision of Britain as a proud, independent sovereign nation, a country respected on the world stage, a major player in global trade, with influence and authority when it comes to tackling the pressing international issues of the day.

And on issue after issue, UKIP are making themselves an increasingly plausible, reasonable choice for liberty-minded voters to make when they vote on 7 May.

On fiscal policy, UKIP advocate a flatter, less redistributionist tax structure which puts the Conservatives to shame:

The longer term aspiration of a UKIP government will be to create an income tax structure of a basic rate of 20 per cent, an intermediate rate of 30 per cent, and a top rate of 40 per cent, meaning income taxes will be flatter and lower. Bringing down taxes on working people at the bottom and in the middle ranges of the income scale is our priority. In the longer term, we will aim to restore the personal allowance to those earning over £100,000 and make 40 per cent the top rate of tax for all, as it used to be.

On defence, UKIP can now make a plausible claim to be the new natural party of the Armed Forces, showing a commitment both to our veterans and to the robust defence Britain’s national interests that make the other parties – who have treated the Defence budget as a piggy bank to be raided to fund fuzzy electoral bribes, rather than the most sacred function of a nation state – look opportunistic and immature by comparison:

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