THE LAST DITCH An Englishman returned after twenty years abroad blogs about liberty in Britain
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Liberal democracy will be the biggest casualty of this pandemic

Liberal democracy will be the biggest casualty of this pandemic.

I tweeted several paragraphs from this excellent article before realising the way I used to do this was better and turned to my blog. The article lifted my spirits because Lord Sumption, pillar of the legal Establishment, is articulating all the concerns I had begun to fear marked me – not as a perfectly reasonable classical liberal – but some kind of sociopathic crank. That is after all, according to the opinion polls, what most Brits seem to think of those still speaking of Liberty in present circumstances. 
Lord Sumption quotes Professor Neil Ferguson, who in speaking of the Sage Committee's reaction to China's response to the COVID-19 virus, cheerily remarked;
It’s a communist, one-party state, we said. We couldn’t get away with it in Europe, we thought. And then Italy did it. And we realised we could … If China had not done it, the year would have been very different.
With these words, Ferguson – whose botched, bodged and ballsed-up computer projections, none of which remotely matched the prophetic accuracy of a tabloid astrologer, were used to justify tyranny throughout the Western world – reveals himself as a monster. Not least because he evidently sees nothing sinister in them himself. I had feared since I first read them elsewhere that most fellow Brits would not be concerned by them. I had begun not just to fear that our liberties were in danger but that I had been deluded in believing we ever had them. 
Lord Sumption addresses that in his article. My executive summary of the British Constitution is just two words long: "Parliament rules". Unlike our American cousins, we have no legal constraints on state power. The name of our "Supreme Court" is just lasting proof that Tony Blair is a poor lawyer. The Judicial Committee of the House of Lords (its name before Blair changed it) was less snappy but less deceptive.
Much of our history consisted of Parliament trying to constrain the power of the monarch and our constitution reflects that. Parliament succeeded, and since then – as our democracy is absolute – it has not been law but convention that kept Britons free. As Lord Sumption puts it:
What makes us a free society is that, although the state has vast powers, there are conventional limits on what it can do with them. The limits are conventional because they do not depend on our laws but on our attitudes. There are islands of human life which are our own, a personal space into which the state should not intrude without some altogether exceptional justification.
The craven, cowardly surrender of the heirs of John Hampden to state tyranny shows how fragile those attitudes were. 
I don't subscribe to any COVID-19 conspiracy theory. This microscopic threat (all of which, I read somewhere, could be contained in a Coca-Cola can) is real. What is also real is the celebratory glee with which evil forces have used the fear of it to make us submit to power. The jaunty tone of Professor Ferguson's quote is blindingly revelatory of his attitude, and that of the Western Establishment as a whole. Boris Johnson would have us believe he's on the classically-liberal wing of the Conservative Party; a staunch defender of Liberty. Lord Sumption's comment on that is as searing as a mild-mannered Law Lord is ever likely to make;
The Prime Minister claims to believe in liberty and to find the current measures distasteful. Actions speak louder than words, and I am afraid that I do not believe him. He is too much of a populist to go against public sentiment. He lacks the moral and political stature to lead opinion rather than follow it.
Two evils are abroad in the world today – COVID-19 and a far older one; the lust for unconstrained power. One would fit easily in a Coke can. There's a real danger that the other may never be contained again.


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If you want to understand the attitudes prevalent in our society, look no further than the comments below these two articles. They are full of sneering, self-righteous, ignorant and judgemental attitudes from people who have never heard about critical thinking, let alone applied it. They have lapped up the dictatorial propaganda peddled by government and SAGE and are hateful of anyone who dares to contradict the narrative. It really is a depressing situation.


Quite. That said, I was approached when chairman of my university's Conservatives to go onto the party's candidates list. I would like to say I turned it down on principle because of my disgust at the idea of living parasitically and bossing strangers about. In truth, my reasons were more mundane. I thought it would wreck my planned career as every employer would know I wasn't committed to my future with them. I would have needed to take leaves of absence to fight at least one impossible election and then (with luck) a winnable seat. Even the best-case scenario would have involved years of uncertainty during which I couldn't provide a stable home for the wife and family I had in mind. The best I can say is my lust for power was less than my desire for a stable family life. That puts me in a higher category than most rent-seeking sociopaths (aka politicians) but it was not as fully moral a decision as I would now wish it had been. In fairness I wasn't a libertarian at that point.

Baron Jackfield

I think that the late Douglas Adams (of "Hitchhikers' Guide to the Galaxy" fame) summed it up most succinctly - "The desire to become a politician should be an absolute bar to being allowed to become one".


One of my earlier disillusionments (I seem to be afflicted with remarkable naivety for someone who led a business life inter alia in Russia) was when I had to leave Liberty – then under the direction of Lady Chakrabati of Palestine – because I realised it was (and always had been) another left-wing "front" organisation with no actual interest in liberty at all. I should have known better than to join it in the first place. The National Council for Civil Liberties as it was then called was the organisation which, with Harriet Harman working for it, had PIE (Paedophile Information Exchange) affiliated to it. It was always a Left/Labour front – only interested in "rights" that others must be forced to pay for with the state's knee on their throats. One of the difficulties of modern political life is that the Left has taken the teachings of Goebbels firmly to heart and uses words like "liberal", "civil liberties" and "liberty" in utterly dishonest ways. In the final analysis, if you aim to have the state dominate national life and direct economic activity, there is no way you CAN care about liberty, correctly-understood. So you warp the words, lie, cheat and get yourself elected precisely to destroy the things you say you love. That's a given. What was NOT a given before COVID-19 (though the Tories have always had a paternalistic, squirearchical dimension to what passes for their ideology that often makes them speak with forked tongue about Liberty) was that a "Conservative" government might wallow in totalitarianism like BoJo's has.

David Bishop

Oddly silent, somewhat like Sham* Chakrabarti and her ilk then?


Fortunately all the charities who have spent years fighting for human rights will push back.

Oh, they are all oddly silent. Something that puzzles me.


That is exactly my fear and, it seems, Lord Sumption's. That politicians desire power is no surprise. Who else would be attracted to living parasitically on their fellow-men while bossing them about? I fear the desire for such status is a kind of mental illness and that, just as paedophiles are drawn to work in children's homes, those who seek political office or a place in the state administration are more than averagely likely to be dangerous. We would be better with a parliament selected at random from the electoral register, but the random decent people who got the job would not want it so would side with the rent-seeking power fiends if it's ever proposed. Best of all would be for the state's power to be severely limited. Given the attitudes revealed during this crisis, I fear than any written UK constitution prepared now would not be nearly as good as America's, which is itself under constant attack. Frankly, I am more disappointed by my fellow-voters of whom I naively expected better than by the politicians of whom I expected nothing.

David  Bishop

Lord Sumption has spoken out consistently, eruditely and increasingly resolutely throughout this farrago. For his efforts, he has been subjected to a spitstorm of abuse, which he has withstood with consummate composure.

Today’s piece is one of his most powerful, containing, as you highlighted, his scathing view of Boris Johnson’s trustworthiness and leadership as well as Ferguson’s professionalism and ethics.

Will it make any difference? I would like to hope so, but am very concerned that the genie of control freakery is well and truly out of the bottle.

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