Read this passage from Locke’s First Treatise of Government, and tell me there aren’t any parallels. It’s late and I’m a bit drunk, so I may well be reading too much into it. But the parallels are there:
“Since there have been a generation of men sprung up in the world that would flatter princes with an opinion that they have a Divine right to absolute power, let the laws by which they are constituted and are to govern, and the conditions under which they enter upon their authority be what they will, and their engagements to observe them never so well ratified by solemn oaths and promises, they have denied mankind a right to natural freedom, whereby they have not only, as much as in them lies, exposed all subjects to the utmost misery of tyranny and oppression, but have also so unsettled the titles and shaken the thrones of princes… as if they had designed to make war upon all government and subvert the very foundations of human society.”
(John Locke – An Essay Concerning False Principles, Chapter I: Of Slavery and Natural Liberty)
This is an attack on Divine Right theory and absolute monarchy written in the wake of a Civil War that kicked off (in large part) over misuse of sovereign power, and designed to justify a military coup that was launched for the same reason. It is very much of its time.
Substitute “Divine Right” for “right by election” (the famous “democratic mandate”), and “absolute monarchy” for “the right to do what we want as long as we have a sufficient majority in parliament”. It’s not a perfect parallel, to be sure, but there are surely similarities.
The thing to remember is that in Britain there are still, even in the 21st century, no checks on the power of Parliament other than the right of the monarch to refuse the royal assent to any Act passed by the two Houses. This right to refuse royal assent, commonly called the Royal Veto, has not been used in nearly 300 years. As such, it effectively no longer exists.
The Royal Veto is, however, the ONLY check we currently have on the ability of any government with a sufficient majority to pass any law it likes. This is very easy to foget. Many deny it. But in terms of strict constitutional law, it remains entirely true.
Personally, I find this terrifying – especially after the events of the last week.
Without the check of the Royal Veto, Parliament – not the people – is sovereign. Which means there is no check on Parliament whatsoever. Parliament can alter any part of the constitution whenever it likes. If Parliament becomes complacent, if a government has a sufficient majority in Parliament, a government can do whatever it likes.
None of our freedoms are sacred. None are inviolable.
As long as the government has a sufficient majority, Parliament can pass any laws it likes – including a law which abolishes Parliament itself, abolishes elections, and sets up a dictatorship.
Hey, look… you know – what’s more important? The right to hold elections and have a say in how the country is run, or the right not to be blown to pieces by EEEVIL TERRORISTS?
Under British constitutional law, the government has the right to abolish elections if it can pass legislation amending the law stating that elections need to be held. Under British constitutional law, were Tony Blair to get a bill through Parliament that abolished Parliament itself, we would have no longer have the right to elect our leaders or determine our laws, and no legal right to dispute the removal of this power..
The Legislative and Regulatory Reform Bill – which proposes bypassing parliament and allowing ministers, who have not been elected to the offices they hold and some of whom have never been elected to any office whatsover (e.g. the Lord Chancellor or Lord Adonis), to amend legislation and bring in new laws as they see fit – is the first step down this path.