THE LAST DITCH An Englishman returned after twenty years abroad blogs about liberty in Britain
Liveblogging the Convention on Modern Liberty
Philip Pullman on the nation's virtues

Answering the wrong question

Continuing to liveblog the Convention on Modern Liberty, I attended the session called "Judges and politicians; who decides?" I wanted to hear an intelligent discussion about the separation of powers. In my view, that is the element of our constitution which is broken. However, it has not fractured along the line between the judiciary and the rest. The judges are doing their constitutional job (which in Britain is not very much). The part of our constitution that is not working is the separation of powers between the legislature and the executive.

In our system, Parliament is sovereign, but the wise men of our history never foresaw the day when the executive would subjugate the legislators. Sir Geoffey Bindman put his finger on it when - referring to another speaker's list of New Labour's liberty-destroying laws - he observed that the question we need to answer is "How did the Government get away with it?" The answer, surely, is that the political parties have taken control of candidate selection and eliminated all the "difficult" people who might stand up to power. Then they have taken the resulting rabble of mediocrities and whipped it mercilessly. Lord Bingham commented that Parliament is "the only watchdog" of our liberties. The watchdog, sadly, is a spoiled poodle fed and groomed by the executive.

Lord Bingham, by the way, was splendid. He spoke cogently and (by the standard of judges) quite passionately. Ex-Attorney General Lord Goldsmith contrasted very badly with him. As someone commented during lunchtime analysis at the nearby pub, it was hard to tell if he believed the nonsense he was spouting, or was just toeing the party line. I suspect he has long stopped making the distinction.

My shock at spending the morning surrounded by Guardian readers was somewhat soothed by a lunchtime drink with more libertarians than I have ever previously been able to shake a stick at. And I have DK's contribution to look forward to. If he is on form, we may hope for some apoplectic Guardianistas.

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