ON HIS bike in France last week, via Zoom, the former Supreme Court judge Lord Sumption gave a wise and essential lecture, ‘Government by Decree – Covid 19 and the Constitution’, hosted by Cambridge University’s Private Law Centre. You can view it here:
In brief Lord Sumption accuses the government of setting fire to the constitution as it tries to rule by decree. My precis of what he says follows.
Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely, especially when fear is created as people crave security, so the state creates more fear and obtains greater control. Yet Parliament is not ready and willing to act and to stand for its high calling, rather it seems to have abrogated its responsibilities.
Fear is a potent instrument of the state. It promotes intolerant conformism and abuse. Fear has been deliberately stoked up by the state and by selective use of statistics and modellers: these were not accidental matters but part of a strategy whose errors and failures assisted in success. Boris Johnson is sustained in power by appealing to the irrational and emotional in collective wisdom.
Johnson is in power only with the consent of Parliament via the people, whom he sidelines and avoids thus diverging from our constitutional past, and acts unlawfully whilst instructing the police to do likewise and with political discrimination in their actions.
Appropriate powers were available in the Civil Contingency Act 2004 and the Coronavirus Act 2020 but were ignored as Parliament had powers of oversight.
Johnson unlawfully used Part 2a of the Public Health (Control of Disease) Act 1984, as amended 2008. Such actions required Parliamentary scrutiny and approval which Johnson wanted to avoid. His activities are totalitarian as they did not get Parliament’s approval.
Government by decree is not just constitutionally objectionable but bad government, creating a delusion that authoritarian government gets things done. There is no detailed knowledge, no strategy, no wider thought, no research, no understanding of the all-round implications for the economy or health of the nation. The ministers act on the hoof, promote loyalty against wisdom, flattery against objective advice. These absences promote unfounded self-confidence, banish moderation and restraint. All these are vices seen in this Government.
The British public must wake from its failures to understand how these matters are an assault on social interaction, eroding the glue of social wellbeing of a once united country, and engage actively in politics, join political parties, and connect with MPs.