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Stop Applauding “Election Fatigued” Brenda From Bristol

If you are emotionally taxed by having to trundle off to your local polling station once a year, maybe you don’t deserve the privileges of citizenship

I know that the cardinal rule of politics is that the people are always right (unless they happened to vote for Brexit) and must be praised, flattered, bribed and otherwise pandered to at all times, but sometimes individual people are wrong and need to be told as much.

Among this category of people: those who have been extravagantly expressing election fatigue, as though having to spend 30 minutes travelling to their local polling station and putting a cross in a box is far too arduous a task to be demanded on anything more than a biannual basis.

On the day that Theresa May announced that she would seek an early general election on 8 June, “Brenda from Bristol” became an overnight celebrity for her comically exaggerated negative response to a BBC reporter’s request for a vox pop asking her opinion on having to choose a government again.

Naturally in this day and age, Brenda from Bristol immediately went viral, as George Osborne’s rag the Evening Standard reports:

A woman from Bristol whose nonplussed response to news of the General Election sparked a wave of support across the country has told reporters she cannot believe her new “celebrity” status.

Brenda from Bristol caused a stir this week when she was asked what she thought of the election and replied: “You’re joking? Not another one!”

“Oh for God’s sake, I can’t honestly… I can’t stand this.

“There’s too much politics going on at the moment. Why does she need to do it?”

She was later tracked down by BBC reporter John Kay who asked her what she thought of her newfound fame.

According to the same report, Brenda from Bristol is now being “inundated with offers” from other media outlets to offer her comically exaggerated world-weary take on the election campaign on an ongoing basis, by news outlets that would rather get their viewers to chuckle along to something inane than attempt the hard work of educating them on matters of policy.

Meanwhile, nobody seems to have stopped to question whether throwing a hissy fit about being summoned back to the polling station is actually praiseworthy behaviour in the first place.

Even the normally aloof and anti-populist New Statesman sycophantically applauds Brenda from Bristol’s anti-election tirade:

What was your reaction when you found out that there would be yet another election?

That your doormat would no longer be a doormat but a hellish rectangle tiled with garish leaflets of smiling white men making hollow promises? That the only thing on the news now will be people saying the word mandate with increasing passion and intensity? That your Facebook wall will no longer be a heartwarming collage of when you first virtually connected with your lifelong friends but one long sincere ill-written political screed with neither paragraph nor point, but asterisks nonetheless? That you will have to wake up, yet again, dead-eyed and clammy-skinned, on the morning after an election, yet again, to your radio telling you your country voted, yet again, to kick itself wholeheartedly in the teeth?

From the highbrow to the lowbrow press, in other words, Brenda from Bristol is being held up as a role model, lavishly rewarded for a fleeting moment of pointless fame in much the same way that Abby Tomlinson was forced into our collective consciousness after creating the “Milifandom” on social media.

‘Twas ever thus. Pitch a memorable hissy fit on Question Time or heckle a senior politician while the cameras are rolling and the nation’s political media will beat a path to your door as though you are some kind of political oracle, uniquely able to capture and channel the zeitgeist of the moment. Spend your time wading through important but impossibly dense documents and breaking them down so that regular people can get to grips with complex policy issues (as Richard North of eureferendum.com and Pete North do so well) and you can look forward to toiling in semi-obscurity, senior journalists well aware of who you are but determined to keep the spotlight away from anybody they consider to be a professional threat.

In a year’s time, Brenda from Bristol will likely have her own talk show, in which fawning politicians will appear to be mockingly berated for trying her patience. Or some enterprising millennial will have set up a YouTube channel for her, in which she records two-minute rants about various policy issues which grind her gears or overly stretch her powers of concentration.

And why? What did Brenda from Bristol do to deserve this fame and this overwhelmingly positive public reaction? She suggested that there is “too much politics”, and that it is unreasonable for ordinary people to march themselves down to a polling station as frequently as once per year to offer their input as to how the country should be run.

Brenda from Bristol is essentially Richard Dawkins’s haughty attitude about non-experts daring to dabble in politics made flesh. Dawkins is famously of the opinion that matters like Britain’s membership of the European Union are so complex and so technocratic that they should be taken permanently out of the hands of ordinary people and left to self-described experts, who of course think dispassionately at all times and are never prone to biases or antipathies which colour their judgments.

This is the real reason why the media is so overwhelmingly supportive of Brenda from Bristol, and why she is receiving so much unearned airtime. Most political journalists are themselves members of the political and cultural elite who have been most upset by Tory rule and further destabilised by Brexit. Nearly to the last person, they support the EU and revile populism because at their core they believe that the people and their base passions should be kept at arm’s length from the levers of political control.

Sure, the political and media class were happy for us to vote once every five years so long as we were picking from a palette of political opinions which are all just varying shades of beige – pro-EU, pro-mass immigration, pro-globalisation, pro-multiculturalism, pro-NHS, pro-welfare state and so on. But when true democratic choice becomes available – as it was with Brexit, and as Jeremy Corbyn currently offers with the Labour Party – they take fright, worried that the British people will select a future for themselves other than the one which the elite have carefully laid out.

No wonder that Brenda from Bristol unwittingly became their idol. Albeit for very different reasons – sheer laziness on the part of Brenda, a desire to regain the initiative and take back control on the part of the elite – both of them want the same thing. Both Brenda and the political elite want ordinary people to outsource the major decisions impacting their lives to an elite class of self-described experts. They essentially support technocracy over democracy.

The rise of Brenda from Bristol therefore damns us all. It puts much of our political and media class to shame for disrespecting democracy and seeking to put down the growing rebellion against self-interested rule of the elites, by the elites and for the elites. But it also puts we the people to shame for being so lacking in political engagement and civic virtue that we genuinely consider it an unwarranted imposition to have to remain educated on political matters throughout the five-year electoral cycle.

Brenda from Bristol represents a shared desire for a return to the stale old status quo, where bipartisan consensus on all the core questions made a mockery of democracy and rendered general elections a mere “rubber stamp” occasionally given by the people to the political elite.

For the sake of all the work we have done to overthrow this failed model of governance, we should stop praising her.

 

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Will The Snap General Election Damage Trust In Politicians?

Theresa May - Snap General Election 8 June 2017

Does the prime minister’s decision to call a snap general election damage trust in politicians? No, but the actions of those MPs fighting a desperate rearguard attempt to overturn the referendum result and thwart Brexit certainly will

The received wisdom among the punditocracy seems to be that Theresa May has seriously damaged the public trust in her own leadership, and in the character of politicians in general, by reversing her earlier statements and calling a snap general election for 8 June.

The Spectator’s Isabel Hardman seems to be taking particular offence, singling out this decision as being emblematic of why voters distrust politicians and hold them in such low regard.

This might be true on the margins, but I would argue that most people do not devote a huge amount of time to storing up resentments over acts of political skulduggery and gamesmanship which impact the careers of individual MPs far more than the country as a whole.

The real reason for flatlining public trust in politicians is the fact that successive ministers, parties and MPs have continually promised radical change and sweeping improvement while offering nearly identical variants of the same centrist political consensus. People distrust politicians because for years they have claimed to hear public concern and anxiety about numerous issues – immigration levels, EU membership, state involvement in the economy, foreign policy – and then gone and done exactly what they wanted to do in the first place, without taking those concerns into account. People get angry about the real, material policy betrayals, not the cosmetic political ones.

Promising to cut net inward migration to the “tens of thousands” (wise or not) and then missing the mark by a factor of ten is liable to make people distrust politicians because it is a real and tangible failure. Offering a “cast iron guarantee” to hold a referendum on the Lisbon Treaty and then performing a complete U-turn is liable to make people distrust politicians because it actively takes away something that was promised to the electorate. By contrast, electoral shenanigans barely register on the same scale.

And yet the narrative that Theresa May has supposedly mortally wounded voter trust in politicians continues to grow, like a massive snowball picking up debris as it rolls down a hill:

Meanwhile, Isabel Hardman writes:

Today Theresa May broke her own promise about there being no early general election [..] She had been so adamant that even those who thought they knew her best after years of working together in Opposition and government had taken her at her world and were insisting until recently that May believed in keeping her promises and that there would be no snap general election.

[..] Oddly one of her complaints was that Westminster wasn’t ‘coming together’ after the referendum, as though it would be better if everyone agreed on everything she suggested, because consensus is such a good way of refining legislation so that it leaves Westminster in good shape.

This is great snark, but poor analysis. While unthinking, automatic consensus are never good, neither is blind, unreasonable opposition. The task before MPs is to help ensure that the UK achieves the best possible form of Brexit, given the clear instruction given by the British people to engineer Britain’s exit from the European Union. Yet there are many MPs – the entire SNP and LibDem caucuses, for instance – who have zero interest in abiding by the referendum result, and in fact have openly declared their intention to scupper the result and prevent Brexit by any means necessary and via any opportunity which can be grasped.

This is not reasonable. This is not respecting the will of the people as expressed through a majority of voters in a referendum whose legitimacy none of them complained about when they expected to win. In fact, this is deeply unreasonable.

To use a comparison from America, the behaviour of many Remainer MPs can be likened to Republican Senator Mitch McConnell declaring that the GOP’s main objective was to make Barack Obama a one-term president – not to help ensure American success despite their ideological differences, but to blindly and angrily oppose everything just for the sake of it in order to weaken the president. A temper tantrum rather than constructive opposition.

One can also compare the attitude of die-hard Remainers to the US Republican Party strategy when ObamaCare was being debated in Congress. Here was a president with a mandate and a congressional supermajority, but rather than engaging with the legislative process to inject conservative thinking and ideas into the eventual bill, the Republicans again chose blind opposition – including opposing policy ideas (such as the individual mandate) which were once approved by conservative think tanks and enacted by conservative governors. The result was a flawed attempt at American healthcare reform, which fell far short of achieving universal coverage or access and giving almost none of the parties what they really wanted (either single-payer or a deregulated insurance market).

Remainer MPs have a chance now to engage with the Brexit process, to apply pressure to help achieve the best kind of Brexit – in this blog’s view, an interim Norway-style option which preserves maximal single market access and avoids having to draw up alternative trade, regulation and customs arrangements against the clock. But this already unlikely goal cannot be achieved so long as so many Remainer MPs openly salivate at the idea of blocking Brexit altogether and brazenly boast about their intention to blindly oppose everything that this “Evil Tory” government tries to do.

Theresa May was right to state that Westminster needs to “come together” – not in blind obedience to a Tory manifesto but in acknowledgement of a legitimate referendum outcome which must now be enacted. Under this umbrella of basic respect for democracy there exists a vast spectrum for disagreement and opposition of particular policies and ideas, as is right for a liberal democracy. But unless we observe common rules and accept certain undeniable facts then we cannot work together productively.

Presently, too many pro-EU Remainer politicians are choosing the path of blind opposition as opposed to constructive engagement. They refuse to live in the real-world universe where they lost the EU referendum and the Brexiteers won. Living in denial is certainly their right – but in doing so they have given Theresa May exactly the cover that she needed to call this early general election.

Hardman concludes:

Actually, politicians are decent people, and all people can end up breaking promises. But the problem is that the voters have the same childlike sense of justice that doesn’t easily forget those broken promises (remember what happened to the Lib Dems in 2015 after their broken tuition fee pledge?)

Anyone who has worked with children who have been neglected in their early years knows that keeping promises is even more important, as each broken promise hurts terribly and reminds the child of the pain they felt when they were younger. Voters as a whole aren’t vulnerable in the same way, but they consistently show the same frustration with politicians when asked for their attitudes towards them in polls. And whatever they may say about their commitment to public service, but Theresa May and David Cameron have in recent years made it even harder for politicians as a group to gain the public’s trust.

This is a little condescending to voters, but there is some truth in it. I wouldn’t necessarily describe voter anger at broken material promises by politicians as being “childlike”. Rather, I think it represents that innate sense of fair play which is common to children and decent adults alike.

Promises should certainly be kept, but let us not pretend for another moment that all political promises are created equal. David Cameron standing down as an MP after first promising to stay on, and Theresa May holding a snap general election after promising not to do so – these acts simply do not offend the public trust as much as other, far more significant policy betrayals committed by all parties of government in recent decades.

Perhaps it is easy to lose perspective as an establishment journalist used to following every detail of the Westminster Game of Thrones, but out in the country actual tangible outcomes matter far more than the kind of palace intrigue which fascinates The Spectator.

But as even some Remainers (at least those outside of Parliament and the political elite) now realise, attempting to thwart the outcome of the EU referendum – either through procedural shenanigans or attempting to roll the dice with a second referendum, ignoring the fact that Article 50 has already been triggered – deeply offends that sense of fair play, and does so far more egregiously than Theresa May’s broken promise about not holding a general election until 2020.

 

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Following A Remain Vote, The Slow, Inevitable Descent Into Irrelevance, Apathy…And Worse

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In case of a Remain vote, brace for impact…

Pete North fears the consequences of a Remain vote:

If Britain votes to remain in the EU we will have permanently forfeited most of our rights to influence policy over trade, fishing, aid, energy and agriculture. These are absolutely crucial to our overall domestic industrial policy and these areas have a profound impact on our lives and our economy. Having sealed the deal to no longer take an interest in such affairs, parliament will be able to seal itself into its tiny little bubble where reality may never intrude. It will be the absolute final death of adult politics.

As much as Britain will withdraw from the world, it will largely delegate the important policy areas to the EU technocrats and will instead be fixated permanently on the minutia of our lives. Controlling what we do and our individual choices is all that will be left for them to influence.

And so I can see Britain becoming a distinctly illiberal place, where politicians use their remaining powers to restrict our personal freedoms in what we do, what we consume and what we say to one another. They will become ever more controlling over things which are none of their business. I see a political system making itself wholly redundant and resorting to displacement activity to fill the void.

Consequently the public debate will be an ever more diminished one, where the House of Commons becomes a gallery for vanity and virtue signalling. To many extents we are already there but a remain vote pretty much seals our fate.

It’s hard to disagree with this assessment. Unless, of course, one inhabits the EU apologists’ alternate universe, where a Remain vote signals a new era of enthusiastic British leadership in the European Union (despite not being a member of the euro or Schengen), and the EU starts falling over itself in its desire to reform and respond to the individual concerns of member states.

In Owen Jones / David Cameron / Jeremy Corbyn La-La Land, having positively re-affirmed our commitment to the EU with a Remain vote we will all join hands beneath a rainbow and “work together” to solve the intractable crises and internal contradictions of this creaking, mid century-era political union with a snap of the fingers. But for those of us back on planet Earth, the next few years will actually be profoundly depressing.

Pete continues:

I do not see this coming without a price to pay. Certainly I don’t see that I have a place in the new model of post-democratic politics. We will have a political class which does not believe in Britain’s capabilities and lacks the will to govern.

We will be an insular country of diminished significance having turned our back on global participation. We will have empty shells of political parties neither of which are worth a vote. And voting to be rid of them will accomplish little. We have seen how the system neatly castrates insurgent parties and we have see how those not native to the system can be marginalised. There will be no value in voting.

And when it comes to Euro-elections, where we have the dubious honour of selecting overpaid button pushers to rubber stamp global regulations, the details of which are already decided, we will, at best, send the very worst of what we have in protest. If we even bother at all that is. I won’t.

We will in effect be an occupied country where there is no value in participating in the public debate since the conclusion of any debate will simply not translate into policy or reform.

Consequently politics as a subject heading will be a subheading of light entertainment, where if anybody holding any expertise wishes to influence policy they will depart for Geneva and never look back. Anyone with a hectoring and nannying agenda though, will head for the Westminster gossip bubble.

Meanwhile the disconnect between the governed and the governors will grow. From there, there are only two paths. Permanent idiocracy or a furious backlash the likes we have not seen for generations. There is always a price for turning our backs on democracy. Always.

This echoes my own thoughts exactly –  it is not coincidental that our politicians increasingly seek to meddle in the minutiae of our lives at the very time they are divesting themselves of ever more power and responsibility for any of the truly big political and ideological questions.

And this is the reason why I simply cannot fathom so many people from outside of politics – usually the first ones to grumble about the state of the nation – enthusiastically cheerleading for the status quo and our continued participation in the EU.

Do these people like the fact that voter apathy is a major problem? Do they rejoice in the fact that all of the main political parties in Westminster fit within such a narrow ideological window that the views of many are entirely excluded? Are they happy that the British people have not been called on to strive together towards an important goal of any kind in nearly seventy years, and that we are increasingly a nation of passive, whiny consumers of public services? And assuming they are not happy with the status quo, how on earth to they think that any of this is likely to change while the single biggest drain on our democracy, independence and entrepreneurialism remains intact?

Already we have a parliament in Westminster stuffed to the rafters with politicians who would rather make grandstanding anti-austerity speeches in the hope of going viral on YouTube or wax lyrical about banning Donald Trump from our shores in a dismal act of virtue signalling than actually get to grips with policy. If we continue to divest power and sovereignty to the EU (and as Cameron’s fraudulent renegotiation shows, we sure as hell ain’t getting any of it back) then how is the calibre of our own politicians going to do anything other than decline yet further?

And yes, there will ultimately be a backlash. Pete is right. You can just about get away with governing in an aloof, high-handed and profoundly anti-democratic manner when you are delivering rip roaring economic growth – just ask the dictators of China. But in a mature advanced economy facing serious structural issues, the government can do little to distract us from the gaping chasm where real local democracy and an informed citizenry should be.

At some point the divergence will become too great. The EU’s primary purpose is to steadily integrate the various member states toward the goal of political and economic union – the common European state spoken of so fondly by Francois Hollande last year. This objective overrides everything else. Certainly, trivial matters like mass unemployment in Spain, Italy and Greece are utterly irrelevant compared to the obsessive desire to unite the continent under a single currency and government. The EU simply doesn’t care.

Of course, when the mass political disengagement and civil disorder comes, all of those now eagerly chanting hymns of praise to the EU and encouraging us to vote Remain will feign utter shock. In some cases it may even be genuine. But the blame will lie squarely with them.

For despite our material progress and the current flourishing of London as the world’s capital city, Britain is on a negative democratic trajectory right now, and a vote to remain in the EU is nothing less than a vote to pitch the nose downward a few degrees and turn up the throttle.

And the ground will make no distinction between Remainer or Brexiteer as it rushes up to meet us.

 

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The Seven Deadly Sins Of Pro-European Union ‘Remain’ Campaigners

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Zealotry, pessimism, denialism, idiocy, treachery, materialism and sloth – the Seven Deadly Sins of those campaigning for Britain to remain in the European Union

The Financial Times reports on German moves to bring long-simmering plans for an eventual European army back to the boil with the submission of a significant new white paper – the release of which has been conveniently deferred until Britain’s EU referendum is concluded:

Germany is to push for progress towards a European army by advocating a joint headquarters and shared military assets, according to defence plans that could ricochet into Britain’s EU referendum campaign.

Although Berlin has long paid lip-service to forming a “European defence union”, the white paper is one of the most significant for Germany in recent years and may be seized by anti-integration Brexit campaigners as a sign where the bloc is heading.

Initially scheduled to emerge shortly before the June 23 referendum vote but now probably delayed to July, the draft paper seen by the Financial Times outlines steps to gradually co-ordinate Europe’s patchwork of national militaries and embark on permanent co-operation under common structures.

[..] At the European level, the paper calls for “the use of all possibilities” available under EU treaties to establish deep co-operation between willing member states, create a joint civil-military headquarters for EU operations, a council of defence ministers, and better co-ordinate the production and sharing of military equipment.

“The more we Europeans are ready to take on a greater share of the common burden and the more our American partner is prepared to go along the road of common decision-making, the further the transatlantic security partnership will develop greater intensity and richer results,” the paper states.

This is not shocking. This is not surprising. This is what the gradual creep toward European political union looks like. Proposals like this are raised before being quietly deprioritised, seemingly dropped in the face of political backlash, only to be resurrected and advanced once more, each time gaining a little more ground until the end result is achieved – not necessarily by its original name (as with the Constitution) but always in practical effect. No never means no with the European Union. It simply means brief retrenchment before pressing ahead the same thing with a slightly different label.

At this point I do not know what more can be said, what further evidence can be presented, to convince people that the European Union is not the benign, happy-go-lucky club of friendly countries occasionally coming together on a super voluntary basis to fight crime, Save the Earth and braid each other’s hair that they are so desperate to believe it to be.

The EU is not shy about its intended direction of travel. None of the EU’s “founding fathers” were remotely shy about what they wanted their creation to become. For all of its bureaucracy, the Brussels machinery is usually quite transparent in its workings, for those with the patience to look and discover what they do in our name. And yet there persists a massive disconnect between the European Union’s own self-declared purpose and the way in which it is perceived and portrayed in Britain.

I once ran for the train at London Euston station, intending to go to the city of Wolverhampton (don’t ask why). But I didn’t look closely enough at the departure screen, and accidentally boarded the service to Manchester, engrossed on a phone call, only realising my error when the train first stopped at Stoke-on-Trent. But crucially, once I realised my mistake I did not stay on the train in the forlorn hope that by staying in my seat I might still somehow end up in the West Midlands. No – I got off the train and rectified the error. I did so because like most people, on matters of travel I am capable of perceiving and understanding objective reality – in this case, the reality that I was sitting on a train taking me at great speed to somewhere I had no wish to go. My destination and that of the other passengers were irreconcilably different.

As it was with my ill-fated train adventure, so it is with Britain, currently being borne along on the semi-fast service to European political integration. It should now be abundantly clear to everyone that the destination is not “friendly trade and cooperation” as the EU’s desperate apologists claim, and yet many wavering voters still believe that if they close their eyes, ignore the mounting signs and stay fearfully on the train, it will take them somewhere acceptable.

And I don’t get it. I just do not understand those of my fellow countrymen who are educated people and not hardcore European federalists – people who do not want Britain to become subsumed into a European political union or cast aside as the rejected half-member with no influence on the periphery – but who nonetheless intend to vote Remain in this EU referendum. I’m not being dramatic. I have tried very hard to put myself in the position of a soft Remain supporter, and I can no longer do it. Clearly I have passed the Brexiteer event horizon and can no longer turn back, not that I wish to. And I speak as a former hardcore euro-federalist (back in my student days).

Basically, to vote Remain in this EU referendum, one quite simply has to either:

1. Be a committed euro-federalist, eager for a United States of Europe

2. Understand that this is the end goal, abhor it, but think so little of Britain’s prospects as an independent, globally-engaged nation that being part of such a European state seems like the “least worst” option

3. Summon enormous powers of denial in order to ignore the EU’s trajectory and accept at face value David Cameron’s fraudulent assertion that he has secured meaningful concessions from Brussels

4. Be incredibly ignorant of recent history and basic, easy to research facts

5. Actively wish harm to one’s own country and democracy

But perhaps that is not entirely fair. As I wrote recently, I can see how some voters – particularly those from my own Millennial generation – might choose to prioritise short term financial stability over long-term democratic health, though I think that such people seriously underestimate the risks inherent in surrendering the last vestiges of our democracy to an unaccountable supra-national government. And of course some people are just incredibly apathetic.

So there are also the further two possibilities:

6. Self-centred materialism

7. Laziness and apathy concerning an issue of fundamental importance

That’s it. Those are the choices. Zealot, pessimist, denialist, idiot, traitor, materialist or sloth.

If you are planning to vote Remain in the EU referendum, which one are you?

 

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We Know More About Antonin Scalia And The US Supreme Court Than Our Own Legal System

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If you have ever read a John Grisham novel or watched Law & Order, you probably know more about the American legal system than the average British citizen knows about our own

When the firebrand US Supreme Court associate justice Antonin Scalia died last weekend, the news made headlines around the world, and the story was covered extensively on the television and print media here in the UK.

Legal experts and part-time America watchers (like me) all came crawling out of the woodwork to offer their analysis of what impact the Supreme Court vacancy will have on the remainder (and legacy) of President Obama’s second term, the likelihood of any Obama nominee being successfully confirmed by the Senate, and the impact of a rebalanced court on American social policy.

All of this earnest discussion and analysis, over a vacancy on a court which sits thousand of miles away, and has absolutely no jurisdiction over anyone in Britain! And yet people were interested – partly because many of us likely have a greater understanding of the American legal system and its personalities than our own.

Today, conservative American publication The National Review bemoaned the fact that a third of Americans don’t know who Justice Scalia was, according to the latest opinion polling. They seize on this fact to (rightly) condemn the disengagement of those who fail to educate themselves on important civic matters:

Strangely, the percentage of people who said they had “never heard of” Antonin Scalia increased from 29 percent in 2001 to 39 percent in 2005. Was that the Greatest Generation, who read newspapers, dying off and the Millennials, who never look up from their cell phones, entering the polling sample?

This is a free country, and you’re free to not care, and free to not pay any attention to, say, one-third and arguably our most powerful branch of government. I understand the sense that it would be a better world if we could spend more time thinking less about what government is doing about more pleasant things — food, sports, movies, home furnishings, how awesome the finale of Gravity Falls was, etc.

But if you choose to pay no attention to these things, and refuse to read anything about them, watch anything about them, or learn anything about them . . . then I’d rather you left the voting to those of us who do care.

The National Review would be shocked, then, to learn just how few citizens of America’s closest ally understand the basic tenets of their own legal system. Because although I don’t have an opinion poll to back me up, I would be surprised if one third of British citizens knew that we even had a Supreme Court, let alone the names of a single one of its justices.

(The PC Left and rabid practitioners of Identity Politics are also missing a trick – eleven of the twelve current justices of the UK Supreme Court are old white men, with the remaining justice an old white woman. Are these people really the most qualified for the job, or did they get their positions through the chumocracy and establishment connections? Why is there no public confirmation process, to give democratic oversight to the selection of new justices? And yet how many times has the UK Supreme Court been picketed by angry Social Justice Warriors demanding ethnic balance on the court?)

I will be honest and start by admitting that before writing this piece, I could only name one justice of the UK Supreme Court – Lord Neuberger, the court’s president. And that’s awful. I write about politics and UK current affairs every day and consume several hours of news on television, the internet and social media besides, but I could only name one person on the bench of the UK Supreme Court. And if I can’t rattle off a handful of names together with a brief commentary on their respective legal and ideological outlooks, how many people are actually able to do so?

How many laymen – people without a direct professional or personal interest in the workings or judgements of the court – actually do know who sits on our own version of the Supreme Court? How many could explain at a high level how the legal system works, with the division between civil and criminal court, the work done by solicitors and barristers, and the hierarchy of trial and appellate courts? Or the difference between the Scottish system and that of England and Wales? All that I currently know, I learned from an Introduction to Business Law course while studying at university – there were no civics lessons in the 1990s National Curriculum. And most others will not have even received this basic primer.

But how are we to fulfil our potential as informed and engaged citizens when we fail to understand how one of the three major branches of government works? Most people have a passable grasp of the executive and the legislature, even if they don’t recognise the Government and the Houses of Parliament using those terms. But I very much doubt that one adult in fifty could explain the fundamentals of our legal system, let alone the many layered intricacies.

UK Legal System - Judges Procession

But flip it around. Why would we know how our legal system works, or recognise the major personalities in the British legal scene? And why should we bother to take the time to educate ourselves?

People in America know the names and ideological leanings of the justices on their Supreme Court for a number of reasons. For a start, they take their civics a little bit more seriously on that side of the Atlantic – something that we could learn from.

But more than that, the American legal system is far more responsive to the citizenry than the British system is to us. One major difference is that many local judges are elected. Now, this may or may not be a good idea – and having watched a number of local races for positions on the bench, I have my grave doubts as to the wisdom of elected judges. But you can’t deny that you are likely to feel much closer to the legal system if you have a direct say in who gets to don the black robes.

Even more important is the fact that unlike we Brits, Americans have a written constitution to act as a common frame of reference when talking about legal matters. Even half-educated Americans will talk about whether something is “constitutional” or not, and apply this test to all manner of public policy debates, from government surveillance to gay marriage. This is important, because it gets people thinking beyond the mere fact of whether they agree or disagree with a particular law, and toward the broader question of exactly why the law in question is good or bad. That’s not to say the ensuing debate cannot still be ignorant and intemperate – it often is – but at least everyone is able to take part in the debate along the same parameters.

Consider the Edward Snowden leaks, when one whistleblower’s actions laid bare the extent of secret government surveillance in Britain, America and the other “Five Eyes” countries. In America, the people – outraged at this secret, systemic violation of their privacy – were able to haul officials in front of congressional committees and debate the legality of the government’s actions with reference to the Fourth Amendment, which prohibits unreasonable searches and seizures. And in due course, the American government had to make a number of concessions and restrict its surveillance activity. In Britain, by contrast, we had David Cameron pompously telling us that he respects the “tradition of liberty” but is basically going to do whatever he wants. And what recourse have we to stop him? None.

Then there is the central role which the US Supreme Court often plays in matters of great social importance in America. In Britain, Parliament’s “elected dictatorship” is the Alpha and the Omega for nearly all significant decisions made in this country – the government can pass or repeal any law almost at will and with no reference to any higher text or law, so long as it can muster the votes in the House of Commons. The courts then simply apply what has been handed down by Parliament, which is sovereign. Refreshingly, this is not so in the United States.

Consider just some of the most famous cases – household names, even to those of us living in Britain. Dred ScottCitizens United. Roe vs Wade. Brown vs Board of Education. We may know next to nothing about American current affairs, but we know that these relate to slavery, campaign finance, abortion and racial segregation. Because in America, the president is not the only person who matters. Nor are the leaders of Congress. The third branch of government matters equally, and how the Supreme Court chooses which cases to hear and applies their interpretation of the Constitution to those cases constitutes a vital check and balance in the American system.

Can you name a comparably important British case? They do exist – the Al Rawi case, for example, with its implications for the legality of secret hearings, or Nicklinson vs Ministry of Justice, which confirmed the current illegality of voluntary euthanasia, or the “right to die”. But few people know about these cases or why they are important, because the British legal system is so much more remote and unaccountable to the people.

St Louis Old Courthouse - Dred Scott Case - 2

Finally, there is the question of sovereignty. The United States Supreme Court is the final arbiter of what is and is not constitutional, and therefore applicable to American citizens. It cannot be shunted aside by an impatient government if it holds up or overturns key legislation, and nor can it be undermined from the outside – the court determines for itself which cases it will hear, and a majority decision made by five out of nine Supreme Court justices will then bind the government and lower courts. This goes against everything that the current British establishment – who are only too happy to wreck every institution and overturn any tradition in pursuit of their short term goals – stand for.

But crucially, the US Supreme Court is also not subordinate to any external or foreign body. By contrast, the UK Supreme Court is treaty-bound to defer to the decisions of the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU), and must interpret all UK legislation not through the lens of compatibility with a British constitution, but rather to ensure its compliance with the European Convention of Human Rights. That might sound all well and good until one realises just how broadly “human rights” have come to be defined.

And one must also ask why we as a country do not trust ourselves enough to be the final arbiter of important cases. Are we naturally more barbarous than our European neighbours, and in need of constant judicial restraint by our moral betters on the continent? Whatever the answer, the inescapable truth is that legal subjugation to an external, supranational body is the antithesis of national democracy.

So to recap, there exist a number of deficits between the American and UK legal systems in terms of ensuring citizen understanding and engagement with the judicial branch of government, namely:

1. A weaker sense of civic duty and engagement in Britain

2. Greater democratic distance between the people and the legal system in Britain, compared to America

3. Lack of a written British constitution as a common frame of reference when discussing legal matters

4. A much clearer link between decisions made in the US Supreme Court with American social policy

5. Lack of sovereignty: the American legal system is sovereign and subordinate to no external body, unlike the British legal system which is subordinate to EU law

US Supreme Court

There is no good argument for continuing to abide such a remote, elitist and unaccountable legal system as we suffer in Britain. None. And anybody tempted to sniff haughtily at the American system, with their elected lower court judges and Scopes Monkey Trial culture wars should remember that however passionate and unseemly the public discourse can sometimes be across the Atlantic, this is only because more American people are actually engaged citizens with a moderate grasp of how their country actually works. We should be so lucky to have a system as simple, accessible and easy to explain as they have in the United States.

And it should be a source of great shame to us that our journalists, politicians and private citizens often know more about another country’s legal system through watching Hollywood movies or Law & Order than they do about our own.

The American public is rightly fixated on the issue of who President Obama will nominate to fill the Supreme Court seat left vacant by the late Antonin Scalia – incidentally a first rate mind and writer of opinions and dissents which are accessible and entertaining even to laymen like myself. They care about who takes up the ninth seat on their Supreme Court, because unlike Britain, their legal system is more than a rubber stamp for the government of the day.

The ninth justice of the US Supreme Court may well end up casting crucial swing votes in important matters of human governance in the next decades, such as the right to bear arms in self defence, the right to privacy and the right to free speech. And these decisions could well have tangible, real-world consequences for the 330 million people who live under the court’s jurisdiction, as well as anybody else to whom the Constitution applies – like your First Amendment right to free speech when you go to holiday or work in America as a British citizen.

Elevating the people and the institutions into the public consciousness is not crass sensationalism, as some may charge. On the contrary, focusing on the personalities helps to elevate the issues to a place of prominence in our public discourse, which is exactly what we should be doing here if our own elites were not so busy trying to hide from public accountability anywhere they can scurry – be it behind the black veil of EU lawmaking in Brussels or the bewigged, dusty obscurity of the British legal system.

It would be ironic if it took the death of a supreme court judge in another country to force Britain to finally take a proper, critical look at our own impenetrable legal system. But public interest in legal matters peaks only very rarely, and so those of us who want to see real legal and constitutional reform have a slim opportunity – but also an obligation – to make our case.

For as things stand, a constitution and legal system in force over 3,000 miles and an ocean apart often feels more familiar – and less remote – than our own.

 

Supreme Court Justices - United States

Supreme Court Justices - United Kingdom

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