Monday, August 29, 2005

Democracy is not a spectator sport

Something that caught my eye today ostensibly has nothing to do with the European Union but, in fact, has everything to do with it.

That "something" is the Home front column by Philip Johnston today in the Daily Telegraph, in which he tackles the vexed problem of traffic fines and the use by local councils of traffic laws as a way of making money.

Writes Johnston, "local authorities continue to cash in on traffic controls that everyone accepts are necessary but that are resented when they are unreasonably applied." He cites an example of one camera monitoring a bus lane in south London which has resulted in 5,000 drivers being fined.

"Our household," he reveals "has paid three of them - in just one year because cars have to enter the lane to turn left. That will have raised at least £250,000, or more if the offending motorist has failed to pay the £50 penalty within 14 days and has had to stump up £100, which is a disincentive to appeal."

After local protests, he adds, the council's head of traffic has promised to introduce gaps in the bus lane to allow access to the roads on the other side, though only as part of a general road resurfacing scheme. "Will we all get our money back? Fat chance," he concludes.

Therein lies our problem. If the likes of Johnson, with his access to the media and the power that affords him, is prepared to roll over and pay up for something that is so manifestly absurd and unjust, no wonder our rulers feel they can get away with something as outrageous as handing over more and more powers to Brussels.

This was sort of what I was getting at in my piece a few days ago when I wrote that the remedy lies ultimately with us the people. "We must badger our representatives until they do their jobs," I declared, "and to refuse to accept any authority but Parliament. In effect, we must make ourselves ungovernable other than through the lawful rule of our own Parliament."

Without dwelling on semantics, as to the precice meaning of "lawful" which can get everybody bogged down, one must make the distinction between "legal" which, presumably, these traffic orders are – and a fair, honest exercise of the law. Traffic orders were never intended by Parliament – and certainly by the people to whom they apply – as a revenue-raising exercise and, in that respect, they are not "lawful". They are an abuse of the law.

To contest these laws is not easy, and takes personal sacrifice. If you get it wrong, you end up in the cells, as I have done, or the bailiffs turning up at your door to steal your car, with the connivance of the police. But Neil Herron seems to be making a fist of taking on Sunderland Council over its traffic rules, and many more are looking to follow his lead.

There are many ways, as he as shown, of bringing the battle home to the bureaucrats, and making their lives misery, and we should learn from him. Either we can do that, or we can roll over and suffer, in which case it will only get worse. The choice is yours but, as I am wont to say, democracy is not a spectator sport.

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