Left Out Liberal

A left-wing/liberal look at the UK's General Election of 2005.

Sunday, April 17, 2005

Blurring The Lines

This morning my best friend Sir Ian Blair has returned once more to give everyone something new to make them sleep uneasily in their beds every night.

Yes. Him. The government's favourite police chief and loyal sheep. Every week or so he likes to pop his head above the parapet and let everyone know he supports this government, he loves ID cards, he wants more power for the police and he wants more anti-terror legislation. But then again, what police officer doesn't want to be feared and "respected" by the loyal Citizens? It's hardly surprising he wants more power.

What's more worrying is the fact that he has not long took up this post and yet he is becoming a regular media commentator and mouthpiece for the government. It is inevitable that next time someone tries to tell Blair why ID cards won't work, he will tell everyone that the Chief of the Met wants ID cards, and who is better qualified than a Police Chief to tell us what we do or don't need.

Therein lies the problem. Sir Ian Blair has become a political figure. Remember the separation of powers? The good old principle that one arm of the state is not supposed to be able to ride roughshod over the others? Sure, we don't have an official separation of powers in this country, and in some cases it's hard to tell the difference between the legislature and the executive, but the principle is there and there are ways of exercising it.

The police force are a sub-branch of the Executive. The Home Office is an Executive department. The police force are an Executive agency - they are the agents of the Home Office and execute the laws in place.

Therefore, what follows is simple. The Police chief is not a legislator. He has no powers to legislate. Thus, for the chief of the Met to get involved in promoting and arguing laws - and there is no doubt Tony Blair will use his public statements to back up his case - there is a breach of the separation of powers. The police are there to execute the law. They are intended to be independent of government; if they start making the law up as they go along, then it almost seals the deal of the police state Charles Clarke and Blunkett seem to want to push us towards.

This is becoming a problem in our political culture at the moment. We've already seen how Labour's obsession with spin has blurred the lines between the civil service and party officials. The politicisation of the senior civil service is often talked about. Then we already have the declining legislature in the face of the mighty Executive. And now this: the police telling us what laws we should and shouldn't have.

Just another uncomfortable development of authoritarian governments.


At 4:35 pm, April 17, 2005, Blogger Matt said...

I'm a big fan of the separation of powers, but at the end of the day it's the guy in charge who makes the decisions, controls the media, engineers the policy drive and therefore in effect promoting the ethos of 'cohesion,' which is in fact just the lackies doing the bidding of the guy at the top. There is also an argument that Montesquieu's ideas aren't brilliant in practice either. Look at the good old US of A! Combined with Federalsim (which I'm not a huge fan of) this has lead to personalty politics and individualist money politics. Of course there is information suggesting party renewal (along with the party decline) and promoting community spirit. In my cynical eyes however it all seems like too much of a convenient cloak for centralised decisions

At 2:46 pm, April 18, 2005, Anonymous bookdrunk said...

One of the (many, many) problems with Sir Ian Blair giving his opinion is that is isn't a private citizen opinion but one based on information only he has seen and which he won't share - for security reasons, obviously. We just have to trust that he does, in fact, know best.

I get nervous when partisan interpretations of an issue get presented as neutral opinions - particularly when they come in the middle of an election season.

At 10:16 pm, April 18, 2005, Blogger Eddie said...

It's a very worrying development. As you say, this will only encourage people to think Sir Ian Blair must know best, thus further encouraging the paternalism we're getting used to when it comes to the "terror threat" in the UK.

It's already been used in exactly the way you describe by Jeremy Paxman in tonight's interview with Charles Kennedy. No one would ever think to attach the proviso that this was an opinion of one man. It's simply to be accepted as fact.

Charles Kennedy was right today to say that Sir Ian Blair would probably much prefer 10,000 extra police than for every citizen to carry a bit of plastic.


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