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The Great Repeal Swindle?

June 21st, 2010 Posted in Uncategorized by

The Liberal Democrats called it The Freedom Bill. The Tories called it The Great Repeal Bill. But the essence is the same. The over-mighty state has replaced our free society with one where personal liberty is curtailed and our ability to pursue our (enlightened) self-interest is inhibited. We need to sweep away the legislative and bureaucratic red tape and free ourselves to be the best we can.

dpm-clegg1The government’s answer is not only to repeal (or so it claims) vast swathes of legislation, but to ask the people what legislation should go: “As we tear through the statute book,” said Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg, “we’ll do something no government ever has: we will ask you which laws you think should go.”

Stirring stuff, but is it true? And just how far do the Tories and the Lib Dems really agree on why the bill is needed what it should seek to repeal?

The original Liberal Democrat proposal included a 2,000 word draft Bill. Though they did consult at the time, the draft bill does (perhaps unwittingly) convey a sense that the decision as to the content has already been taken. In that respect one must say that the Conservative proposal did represent a more honest consultation – though that may simply be because it came from two backbenchers rather than the party leadership.

In practice, however, one has to wonder just how genuine this exercise will be. Please don’t misunderstand! I do not think for one moment that our new Ministers are consciously planning to provide us with a sham consultation. But do you really think that in practice they will approach this exercise with an open mind?

For one thing, there are clearly areas of legislation that they would not even give a moment’s thought to abolishing. The National Health Service Act? The Income Tax Act? The Bank of England Act? Okay, those might seem like extreme suggestions, and they would be unlikely to carry much support in the country, but the point remains that it is incredible to believe that the government will really consider any suggestion that the public makes.

(And is it really so unfeasible that a movement might arise that wanted the abolition of Income Tax?).

So let’s take some more mundane suggestions. The bans on fox hunting and smoking in “public” (actually private) places are both examples of meddling legislation that seeks to ban practices based on legislators’ views of the ends that people should pursue. Whether or not you agree with either or both law, they would fit neatly under the rubric of Clegg’s “encroaching centralisation” that has led to “citizens’ rights [being] eroded by the quiet proliferation of laws”. Yet I can’t see the government abolishing either.

And even if there were no “Red Lines”: who will decide which suggestions will be enacted? Will it go to a vote? That would certainly fit with the Conservative’s enthusiasm for “Citizen’s initiatives”, but it seems unlikely that our political masters would accept the will of the mob so quiescently. After all, the Human Rights Act – an assault on which has already been declared a resigning issue by at least two government (including one Cabinet) ministers – is hardly popular with the tabloid-reading masses. Yet if, instead of some sort of referendum, the proposals have to be considered by some “expert panel” of the Great and the Good, it begins to look remarkably like it is the elite, and not the people, that will decide what is to be repealed.

This brings us on to a second question: just how united is the vision behind the bill?

At first glance, all looks well: Nick Clegg said, in his speech of 19 May 2010, that “encroaching centralisation” has led to “citizens’ rights [being] eroded by the quiet proliferation of laws”; Conservative MP Douglas Carswell wrote that “Laws, regulation and red tape stifle individuals, infantilise communities and strangle enterprise”; Chris Huhne suggested that Labour’s legislative programme has represented “the slow death by a thousand cuts of our hard-won British liberties”.

But a second glance reveals differences – not only between, but even within, parties. For some, the act is about civil liberties and human rights. It is about the abolition of the “Database State” and the power of police officers to shake down anyone they choose. But to others, it is as much about freeing businesses from stifling regulation and removing the absurd burdens that legislation places on daily life (It is, notes the quiz that accompanies the Freedom Bill proposal, illegal to import brazil nuts from Brazil, bring potatoes over from Poland or to sell a grey squirrel).

red2Both parties in fact have plenty of new regulations planned with which to disrupt individuals and businesses, from bans on airbrushing to minimum prices for alcohol. In practice, the political elite represented in both parties share one thing in common with their ex-Ministerial Labour foes: a belief that they know what is best for society and that – having won the election – they have the right to impose their will upon the citizen.

In practice, therefore – Great Repeal Act or no Great Repeal Act – I suspect that we will see plenty of new legislation in the economic and social sphere, even if our civil liberties may be strengthened in the short term.

10 Responses to “The Great Repeal Swindle?”

  1. Dick Puddlecote Says:

    Excellent article, Tom.

    This is my fear too – that the ‘consultation’ will be hopelessly skewed to return a result favourable to the coalition, or worse. It seems hopelessly optimistic, in this day and age, that our government will start to actually listen to the people for a change.

  2. Geoffrey Payne Says:

    The campaign against the smoking ban has totally failed. There is one very simple reason why both the Tories and the Lib Dems do not support it; it is unpopular.
    How counter-intuitive is that? People actually want laws that tell them what to do.
    I notice in your objections to regulation you said nothing about the government regulating banks, telling them they should be too big and they shouldn’t mix up retail and casino banking.
    Is Liberal Vision going to campaign against that? The danger is of course that by default that would simply leave banks as they were before, going for short term profit and ignoring the long term consequences.
    The reality is that it is Libertarians who have got it wrong. They dream of a Utopian world where laws are not needed because everything corrects itself. Yet there is no sign that is true in the libertarian paradise of Somalia.

  3. Tug Wilson Says:

    I find it absurd that the so called Freedom Bill will not amend the total Smoking Ban, our Hospitality Industry is in Tatters because of the ban, with thousands of our Pubs and Clubs forced out of business because of it. It is time we had some Honesty and Truth regarding the so called “claims” of secondhand smoke dangers, even our own HSE could Not back up such claims. Are this Government going to stand by and watch an Industry killed off by an ill thought out law that only a minority asked for or wanted when all that was needed was giving the Pubs and Clubs the Choice to be smoking or non smoking. The MPs wre voted in to serve ALL people tax paying smoker and non smoker alike. It is time for some common sense to be shown and amend this Nazi ban.

  4. Ziggy Says:

    Of course people will be thrown in cages for smoking spliff & Liberal vision as per usual wll not speak out

  5. Dick Puddlecote Says:

    “libertarian paradise of Somalia”

    You are a mad lefty and I claim my £5. Good that you read the book of lefty cliches, it has to be said, but poor in your comparing like with like.

    Or first world with third. Or Christian with muslim.

    Oh, you get the idea.

  6. Tom Papworth Says:


    How absurd. Where to start?

    “The campaign against the smoking ban has totally failed… How counter-intuitive is that? People actually want laws that tell them what to do.”

    Actually, Geoffrey, the group that support the smoking ban and those whom it regulates are largely discrete entities. It is a majority imposing its will on a minority through legislation – a bit like the banning of drugs and (until 1967) homosexual relations. This is a concept you would not understand, however, as you are not a liberal.

    “I notice in your objections to regulation you said nothing about the government regulating banks… Is Liberal Vision going to campaign against that? The danger is of course that by default that would simply leave banks as they were before…”

    Classical liberals have long opposed the state-managed banking cartel that led us into the financial crisis of 2007 (and the crises of the 1970s, 1930s etc.). Liberal Vision has published on this matter.

    “The reality is that it is Libertarians who have got it wrong…”

    Perhaps, but Liberal Vision is (as its names suggests) a Liberal, rather than a Libertarian, think tank. Of course, we are libertarian, but then so’s Shami Chakrabarti.

    “Yet there is no sign that is true in the libertarian paradise of Somalia.”

    I could simply respond with “What Dick said”, but really. Is this the best you can do, Geoffrey? How absurd.

  7. Julian H Says:

    To repeat a point I made at the IEA debate last night, libertarians do not seek a breakdown in the rule of law – which is presumably what Geoffrey is referring to with regards to Somalia.

    The rule of law is not the same as government. You can have massive government, and no rule of law – as happens in countries like North Korea and Zimbabwe (and many other sub-Saharan African countries to a lesser but still significant event). You can also have a rock-solid rule of law, and a minarchist government. You can describe places like Somalia as many things, but minarchist is not one of them!

    Saying Somalia is a libertarian’s paradise is like saying that North Korea is the paradise of anyone who is remotely social-democratic (or “socially liberal”, as some say).

    Also, to repeat Tom’s point – Liberal Vision is for any *liberals* (who are LDs) who broadly support our vision (outlined on this website). I personally call myself a libertarian, but many people in LV do not. We also welcome constructive criticism and debate on the forum (and at conference).

  8. Ziggy Says:

    Julian there are libertarians who don’t believe in the rule of law as many would know it rather they say that they believe in natural law as they perceive it.

    As for Somalia well you must of heard of libertarians whine that they never consented to whatever law or that never consented to there being government & well my standardised response to those who don’t want government is move to Somalia being as there is no central government.

  9. James Says:

    The governments answer was to ask the people, what legislation should go. The general public has sent a clear message back, that they want the smoking ban changed.

    For Nick Clegg to come back with the message that we are not prepared to change the smoking ban; when the last government promised a review of the legislation in July of this year, involving all effected parties. The ban was also not wanted by the public in the first place, more than sixty percent responded to ONS in 2006 and 2007 said they preferred a choice of areas indoors or restrictions.

    Clearly there were originally thousands of entries on the Your Freedom website, asking for the ban to be amended.
    To deny us any debate on this issue at all, means that the Great Repeal is a swindle and that The Your Freedom website is a complete sham.

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