Sunday, May 13, 2007

Tranzi Watch: Mary Riddell

Consider Tranzi Watch a new occasional feature. My spotlight on the most egregious Tranziism of the moment. Today, Mary Riddell's piece about Gordon Brown's written constitution. Before I get going it should be noted that a constitution of the sort she's describing is more likely than one that Tom Paine would like. This should be enough to make anyone have second thoughts about the idea of a written constitution. I'll respond to the worst of it.

Firstly, this idiocy: "In fact, the lecture was a search for a set of values that would forge some bond between the potential jihadist and the Surrey golfer and lure people back to politics." How has that worked out?

It wasn't anything of the sort. It was an attempt to smooth over English frustration at having salt rubbed in the wound, by the appointment of a Scottish Prime Minister, of the democratic inequity Labour created with devolution. His articulation of values and national identity was lame and ignored with good reason.

"Insiders say that in the first weeks, or even days, of his premiership, he is likely to announce a national consultation leading to a British bill of rights. The result will not be the rights-lite version touted by David Cameron as an alternative to the Human Rights Act. This will be HRA-plus, in which Britons get extra safeguards on race relations and equality and the bill is more tightly ring-fenced against interference from any future government. Jury trial, a more extensive right to education and to free healthcare (and, I hope, much-neglected children's rights) might all be included."

This is the really dismal bit.

Extra safeguards on race relations? We have already made huge sacrifices in freedom of expression. She doesn't describe what these new safeguards will be. Constitutionally mandated positive discrimination, an even looser definition of what infringes race relations legislation perhaps? This is the Tranzi urge to do all they can to emphasise group rights (whether class, race, gender or sexuality) at the expense of people engaging with the state and the law as individuals.

She doesn't define what she means in calling for a constitutional safeguard for equality. The idea of taking what should clearly be a policy objective, at best, and turning it into a constitutional matter is absurd. Inequality is far too slippery, complicated and changing a phenomenon to be suitable for constitutional treatment. Is modern inequality, largely led by increased returns to education in the market, really a bad thing and the same as feudal inequality? It is a Tranzi hallmark to try and remove this kind of decision from democratic bodies and make it a part of their ever growing litany of 'rights'.

A right to free healthcare? As a person who can (and does) afford private health coverage why on Earth should I have a right to not pay?

With spiralling healthcare costs throughout the developed world does this sound durable? Particularly given how important lifestyle choices are becoming to healthcare costs incentives to healthy behaviour might become important.

Finally, the article's subtitle "his real target may be the monarchy". Almost a comically bad idea. Destroying freedom of speech in the name of fighting racists is one thing. Destroying Britain's flexible and durable constitutional code in the name of fighting the monarchy is an idea rather harder to sell. British people love the monarchy and dislike Gordon Brown. If Brown tries to take on the Queen and David Cameron his approval gap is likely to widen considerably.

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