Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Got in one!

Charles Moore suggests in The Daily Telegraph that "Few people would fight for Parliament today," questioning whether anyone would "defend democracy in today's political climate."

He is reviewing a book about the English Civil War – Cavaliers and Roundheads, and all that – adding his "take", writing that:

Because voters are so angry – rightly – about "sleaze", they have almost forgotten that those they elect must have "privileges". That is to say, they must have rights against the power of what is still sometimes called the Crown, but which means, in reality, the might of government and the power of "Europe". Parliament has sacrificed these privileges, preferring material ones, and has therefore lost respect. If we had a civil war today, few would fight for it.
That is fair enough comment, and if you move over to The Times you will see a graphic illustration of what has happened to parliament's power.

Way down the list, this is a nasty little story about how a drinks manufacturer, Sovio Wines, is appealing to the High Court against a Food Standards Agency ban on its products. There is nothing wrong with the product – in fact it is extremely popular and has been welcomed by health campaigners as an excellent idea.

What the company has done is use a pioneering process in order to take high quality wines and to reduce their alcohol content to just eight percent without in any way altering the taste or texture of the wines. But the "mistake" it made was then to label its product wine, thereby falling foul of EU law which specifies a minimum of nine percent alcohol for a product to be thus labelled.

Enter the FSA which claims that, because a breach of EU law is involved, it has jurisdiction over its distribution, whence it moved in to ban its sale. In so doing, it has "paralysed" the company's business. Stocks worth tens of thousands of pounds, held at a bonded warehouse since the 2007 banning order, have been rendered undrinkable and therefore unmarketable because of the wine's short shelf-life.

The company's chairman Tony Dann thus notes that: "The Government is urging the drinks industry to provide a wider range of lower alcohol products, consumers want to drink them and yet the FSA is seemingly trying to kill a product that everyone wants".

The problem, of course, is that the government – in Whitehall – is no longer in charge, and neither is Parliament. This is a law made in Brussels, untouched by parliament because it is an EU Regulation, which contradicts British government policy. It is being enforced by an Agency – not a Quango – paid for by us, which is not answerable to Ministers or parliament. It is acting solely and exclusively in defence of EU law.

Now look at Melanie Phillips. She writes in respect of the financial crisis:

Ultimately, however, such re-arrangement of the political furniture is unlikely to make much difference. For the public are terminally disenchanted with the entire political scene. Totally bemused by the financial meltdown, they perceive that no politician appears to have a clue either.

MPs themselves hardly exude any more confidence in themselves. With their woeful attendance records, long holidays and shorter hours, and with ministers making announcements anywhere but in the Commons chamber, there is a palpable sense that power has moved elsewhere.

Almost certainly, an electoral tipping point was reached some time ago when people decided that it was "time for a change". If so, there's virtually nothing Labour can do to avert defeat. But far deeper and much more dangerous is that the entire political process is simply becoming irrelevant to people's lives.
By diverse and several means, parliament has rendered itself impotent, irrelevant to the government of this country, toothless, self-obsessed and venal. Would we fight for it? Of course not. We would be happier driving the tumbrels... or making imaginative use of lamposts.

The only mistake Moore makes is in confusing parliament with democracy. We have not had democracy in this country for some time. The proof is in incidents like the one affecting Sovio Wines. We would fight for democracy, but not for the people who gave it away.