Tuesday, 8 March 2011

Give us a vote on who makes our laws

I couldn’t get very excited about last week’s Barnsley by-election. Nor, judging by the feeble 35% turnout, could the electors of Barnsley themselves, who obediently placed their usual signatures against the name of the Labour candidate, as they have done since time immemorial.

Notwithstanding the apparently inconvenient fact that the Labour candidate they had elected only last May subsequently turned out to be an expenses-fiddling crook.

What did get me very exercised last week were the astonishing statements made by two previously unheard-of judges at Nottingham Crown Court who, in the course of barring a Christian couple from fostering children because of their unfashionable views on homosexuality, proclaimed “We sit as secular judges serving a multi-cultural community of many faiths” and “the laws and usages of the realm do not include Christianity, in whatever form. The aphorism that ‘Christianity is part of the common law of England’ is mere rhetoric.”

And there was I fooled into thinking that I lived in a Christian country because we have a head of state anointed in an ancient religious ceremony, two established churches, bishops sitting in the House of Lords – oh, and because nearly 80% of the population of England and Wales defined themselves as Christian, when asked in the 2001 census.

The judges themselves presumably delivered their shocking words in a court adorned with the royal coat of arms, and in which the proceedings usually kick off with participants being invited to swear an oath on the Bible. So how could they so easily conclude that Christian beliefs count for no more in Britain today than those of the islanders of Vanuatu who worship the Duke of Edinburgh as a god?

Memo to judges: the bit at the bottom means 'God and my right'. Quiz: Why might Peter Cook be turning in his grave?

In fact the Vanuatans would almost certainly be accorded more respect by the English courts, because it seems axiomatic that we must pander to the views of every religious minority for fear of causing offence. Hence the widespread sale of unlabelled halal meat to unsuspecting supermarket customers, and the official efforts to excise Christianity from our traditional public holidays, even though worshippers of other faiths keep asserting that they don’t mind in the least. My Muslim in-laws certainly celebrate Christmas far more enthusiastically than I have ever done.

The really important issue here, however, is not the content of the judgement, but the fact that power seems to be leaching constantly from those we have elected, however reluctantly, to judges who are forever beyond our reach. That applies whether they sit in the British courts or in the ever more powerful European ones, which came up with last week’s infuriating judgement on the illegality of taking account of the fact that men are more dangerous drivers than women, and die sooner (two facts which might just be tangentially connected).

In May we are being granted a referendum on a change to the voting system that absolutely no one wants, because even those campaigning for the Alternative Vote would really prefer proportional representation, which AV certainly isn’t. You only have to look at the estimates of how much it would have increased the number of Labour MPs in 1997, 2001 and 2005, when they were hardly in short supply, to realise that.

It would also have made not a blind bit of difference in Barnsley, where Labour’s Dan Jarvis scooped over 60% of the vote.

We are apparently so strapped for cash that we must sack soldiers returning from the front line of Afghanistan, yet we can afford to invest millions holding a pointless referendum to appease the doomed Nick Clegg. Well, here’s a radical idea. Why not hold a referendum on something that matters, like who actually makes our laws: MPs, British judges, Brussels bureaucrats or the European courts?

Until we are allowed a vote on that, my career advice to my son will be unequivocal: become a lawyer.

Originally published in The Journal, Newcastle upon Tyne.

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