Last month I blogged about the imprisonment and trial of four Levellers (for details of the Levellers see here) in March 1649 for publishing a pamphlet (England’s New Chains Discovered) which dared to criticize Oliver Cromwell and the military government. In effect this was the start of a determined programme of suppressing opposition and avoiding accountability which lay at the heart of the concerns articulated in the pamphlet. The warning which the event hold for us today was starkly illustrated a few weeks ago during Prime Ministers Questions in the House of Commons. This is supposedly a central event in British democracy where the Prime Minister is held accountable by our representatives. While all Prime Ministers in recent times have been known to dissemble, David Cameron has established a special notoriety for ignoring questions. In this instance he did it with a persistence, arrogance and contempt for the House of Commons which defied belief.
Jeremy Corbyn attempted to raise the issue of Council funding, a perfectly reasonable subject ahead of local elections the following day. The tribal jeering from the Conservative benches which accompanied Cameron’s display of haughty evasion along with a Speaker who was apparently happy to let the circus continue can only mean that accountability is seen as dispensible by those MPs. But this is only one of a growing list of instances where the Government is riding roughshod over democracy. To the case of Jeremy Hunt I highlighted in an earlier post, can be added the Government attempt to shackle the House of Lords; the power grab on the BBC reported by the Times; the by now blanket refusal by Ministers to appear for interview on network news programmes; Government whips stacking senior positions of committees with lackey Conservatives and so on. Action needs to be taken urgently by MPs of all parties and particularly the Speaker. There must be recourse to a sanction which can be applied to a Minister who acts in this way. But what Conservatives must understand that the more power they accrue will fall into the hands of the opposition in the event that they lose the next election (not impossible considering the EU split). One crucial change must be to open up far more Civil Service resources for use by senior members of the opposition.
Cameron has taunted Corbyn with supposed homilies from his (Cameron’s) mother. Maybe considering her protests regarding Oxfordshire County Council cuts it is an apprpriate time for Cameron to seek Mrs Cameron’s opinion of himself. But one thing is clear, whatever Cameron means by ‘British Values’, democracy is clearly not among them.