The century-long dispute to come

Keith Hudson

According to the Sunday Telegraph this morning, the Conservative government, barely three weeks into its new administration is now in a state of internal war.  On the surface, it is about which body, the European Court of Human Rights (which is separate from the European Union), . . . or the Supreme Court in this country (a fairly recent civil service construction) should have precedence

David Cameron (or should one say George Osborne, the real manipulator of these types of decisions) was silly to sack Dominic Grieve from his post of Attorney General in July last year — probably the brightest and most scrupulous MP to hold the post in many a year.  He’s now seeking revenge.  To be fair, his reasons are probably genuine and he gave warning a week or two ago that he was not at all happy that Cameron should revoke the UK Human Rights Act of 1998 and thus sever the subservience of our Supreme Court to the European Court and restore Parliament as sovereign over British laws.

Whether Dominic Grieve is right or not, I wouldn’t like to say because I don’t know enough about the law to argue one way or the other.  Suffice it to say that Grieve has been joined by Andrew Mitchell, a former Development Secretary and also a seemingly powerful mysterious other — a “Conservative figure” — who is only talking anonymously ar present. All these are saying that the European judges have a better sense of human rights than our judges, especially when it comes to decisions about some British Muslims who may or may not be supporters of terrorism and who should, or should not, be deported from the country.

It’s all very confusing to say the least, all the more so because it’s all mixed up with other controversial matters such as Scottish independence, whether we’re going to stay in the European Union or not, and also how the government can possibly revive the economic fortunes of large regions of northern England that have been neglected by a distant London and which are sinking just as London is prospering.

In short it’s a total constitutional mess and might take years or, probably decades, before clarity dawns or, as I would prefer saying, deep reforms of our out-of-date, political and civil service systems are carried out.

The main problem as I see it is that, because of the development of the artillery regiment of 200-300 years ago and the subsequent carving up of Europan principalities, city-states and linguistic regions into new highly centralised governmental bodies known today as nation-states — and promptly followed by the rest of the world — our present sort of one-person-one vote democracy every few years with a largely invisible, but powerful, meritocratic civil service behind it, is seen by both politicians and civil servants as the acme of what human government is and should be for all time — with just a little bit of trimming here and there from time to time.

Well it isn’t, because that would contradict the fact that a whole succession of quite different types of governance have arisen in man’s pre-history and civilized history according to the circumstances of the time.  Why should radical governmental change stop now?  Because the day of artillery regiments is now over (indeed, they can’t even be afforded by any government these days) and, superseded by much more powerful forms of possible warfare such as nuclear weapons, biochemicals or the cybernetic destruction of other countries’ electricity grids, this makes a nonsense of the idea of a militarily defensible nation-state.

And there’s a lot else of mammoth significance which is going on quite outside the formal debates or decisions of nation-state governments.  The rise of the political power of the multinational corporation, the rise of an international type of over-class in the advanced countris, the decrease of the world population that is likely to take place — and increasingly steeply — from about 2050 (apart from Africa), and the steady rise of the scientific class, hitherto insidious and politically quiescent, but hardly likely to remain so when whole economic systems (certainly those of the ten or so advanced nation-states) increasingly depend on it.

Indeed, because science is also telling us that man, the species, is a great deal different in character and behaviour from man as most political power-holders and humanitarians presently conceive us to be, then, in my view, we will probably see as large and continuing contest between science and secular politics for a century or more to come as that which is now fast subsiding between religious and secular authority (even in the Muslim countries).  New and quite different types of lateral, specialised governances which span the world like spiders’ webs might arise. On the other hand, governments might contract into quite small units reminiscent of the hunter-gatherer groups with which our species started, with infrastructure being contracted out to transnational scientific agencies.  There are many other possible ways of taking decisions other than the ya-boo events which go on so often in so many parliaments.

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