A passage buried in the Conservative manifesto has been causing a lot of concern. Particularly after Labour peer Lord Falconer discussed the matter on BBC Newsnight and suggested that it could put Boris Johnson above the rule of law if the Conservatives win.
“Won’t be restrained by the courts”
The manifesto itself essentially needs decoding. It reads:
We will ensure that judicial review is available to protect the rights of the individuals against an overbearing state, while ensuring that it is not abused to conduct politics by another means or to create needless delays.
Speaking about it on Newsnight, host Emily Maitlis asked:
Is this a shifting away from a legal framework to a political framework?
It is… It’s an absolute echo of what the government’s response was to the [suspension of parliament] case where the Supreme Court said the prime minister had acted unlawfully in [suspending parliament] for a long period of time. They said it was conducting politics by another means. So… that bit of the manifesto… if Mr Johnson becomes prime minister again, he won’t be restrained by the courts from acting unlawfully.
Overriding the rule of law?
In the manifesto passage, the Tories characterised Britain’s legal institutions as “politics by another means”. This can be true. But usually those other political means are rulings against the public and in favour of the establishment. For instance, the High Court recently ruled against postal workers striking for better pay and conditions. That’s despite the senior deputy general secretary of the Communication Workers Union Tony Kearns pointing out:
We’ve got a 97 per cent yes vote on a 75 return. It is the clear democratic will of the employees of Royal Mail and members of the CWU to take strike action, as is their human right.
In this case, the High Court is outlawing strike action that workers have voted for by an overwhelming majority (97%).
But, on the positive side, Britain’s legal system can also reign in a government that is trying to override the democratic process. For example, the Supreme Court ruled in January 2017 that the Conservative government cannot trigger the process for leaving the EU (article 50) without parliamentary approval. This ruling ensured that there were proper checks and balances on the Brexit process.
Now the government seems to be trying to stop that happening again. With the cover story that it’s channelling ‘the will of the people’ on Brexit, Johnson’s Conservatives appear to be trying to move towards absolute power over the nation. If Labour does not win this election, the implications could be even more dangerous than we thought.
Featured image via YouTube – The Telegraph