Free Life 34, October 1999, Editorial: Days of Shame and Degradation, by Sean Gabb

From Free Life, Issue 34, October 1999
ISSN: 0260 5112

Editorial: Days of Shame and Degradation
by Sean Gabb

As will be apparent from the Letters Page of the current issue, some of my readers have chosen to complain about the unrelievedly gloomy tone of my Editorials. This is a complaint that has been made at various times during the past eight years, and I propose to give it the same consideration now that I have always given it in the past. I will therefore proceed with my thoughts on the ejection of the hereditary Peers from the House of Lords.

For future historians, nothing else, I suspect, will more perfectly show the degeneracy of our present age. An assembly that is older than England itself, the origins of which are lost in the gloom of the forests that once overspread the north of Europe, has been destroyed in the name of what our masters are pleased to call “democracy” and “modernity”. I grant that something called the House of Lords will continue to meet and to transact parliamentary business. But this will not be the House of the English Peerage. It will soon have become entirely what it is intended to be – a rubber stamp for the most worthless and despotic government this country has ever known. Mr Blair has created more life Peers in the past two years than Mrs Thatcher created in eleven. I cannot recall a Prime Minister who created more Peers in so short a time. Nor will he stop until the House is packed with his own nominees. This is treason, and it must not be forgotten, even in the years of further constitutional vandalism that lie before us, who struck the loudest and perhaps the hardest blow against the free and immemorial English Constitution .

What is most shocking about this treason is the near silence of opposition to it. The debates of 90 years ago over the Bill to limit the veto of the Peers filled the whole country with noise; and the defence of the Peerage, though immediately unsuccessful, was conducted with a brilliance and passion that deterred all later governments before this one from repeating the attack. But when eventually it was repeated, the attack was barely resisted.

I will pause here to admire Lord Burford, eldest son of the Duke of St Albans. As an eldest son, his rights are confined to sitting in the Lords to hear debates, but not to take part. As the debate on destruction was beginning, though, he broke the rules of the House and made a short speech from the steps of the Throne. He said:

This Bill, drafted in Brussels, is treason. What we are witnessing is the abolition of Britain. Before us lies the wasteland – no Queen, no culture, no sovereignty, no freedom. Stand up for your Queen and country and vote the Bill down.

There is little need for a commentary on this. It is short and clear and plainly the cry of an honest man. It is the sort of statement that could never be made in the Commons, for the simple reason that the elected politicians have spent so much of their lives posturing and lying that they can no longer even imitate the language of unadorned truth. It also shows the practical justification for the existence of an hereditary peerage.

But however noble, Lord Burford’s intervention was a set of words without significant echo. The newspapers of the Quisling Right poured scorn on him, recalling that he was descended from Charles II and Nell Gwynne, and that he held unorthodox views about the plays of William Shakespeare – as if either fact had any relevance to the validity of his words. They had already combined with the Conservative Party to make a defence of the Lords so short and feeble that not even an awareness of how stupid are the personalities directly involved can erase the suspicion of deliberate sabotage. The leading members of the Peerage had no interest in defending their order, as they had already been bought off with promises of life Peerages that would allow them to continue profiting financially from their titles. As for the ordinary Peers, they were, like the French nobility before them, too soaked in democratic sentiment to believe any more in their right to sit in Parliament.

And so the Lords are no more. As a libertarian, I tremble for what remains of our freedom. We are threatened with the abolition of the double jeopardy rule in criminal cases, with the withdrawal of many criminal matters to what the Government knows is the more indulgent scope of the civil courts, with an e-commerce law that will make it a criminal offence to rely on our Common Law privilege against self-crimination, with a final neutering of Trial by Jury, with an extradition law that will allow foreign police officers to come into this country and arrest and deport suspects without so much as notifying the British courts – and generally with a torrent of oppressive and arbitrary legislation that will turn the words “English Liberty” into an oxymoron. The Lords who would once have resisted this for us have been themselves swept aside. I do not expect much in the way of a defence from “Lord” Bragg and “Lady” Jay.

But I am also a conservative, and I stand appalled at the loss of ancient landmarks in this wild, Jacobinical orgy of destruction. I can do no more than quote Wordsworth on an earlier horror:

Men are we, and must grieve when even the shade
Of that which once was great is pass’d away.

Sean Gabb

© 1999 – 2017, seangabb.

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One thought on “Free Life 34, October 1999, Editorial: Days of Shame and Degradation, by Sean Gabb

  1. seangabb Post author


    I was struck by your Editorial in the last issue of Free Life – chiefly by how similar it is to the kinds of things people on the Left wrote about the Wilson/Callaghan years after 1970 and then after 1979. As with them, it achieves it power by serious exaggeration. I have interspersed some comments in your text.

    The Conservatives governed this country for 18 years. During this time, they broke every promise they made or implied.

    Not True – manifestly not true: for example they promised to reduce inflation, and did – eventually.

    They promised lower taxes. They raised taxes.

    Half True They raised indirect taxes – largely because of the economic costs of their idiotic economic policies of the first term.

    They promised a return to free enterprise. They made state control more efficient.

    Half True What about privatisation? In any case, out here on the left it is agreed that to achieve "free enterprise" you will need a strong state to keep the poor, unemployed etc quiet. CF miners' strike of 1984 etc.

    They promised more individual freedom. They made the country into a police state.

    Wild Exaggeration CF real police states.

    They promised to make the country respected abroad. They began its abolition by merger into a European federal state.

    Half True They certainly did "make Britain respected abroad" in certain quarters. (A combination of North Sea, Maggie's rhetoric which appealed to some people, and North Sea oil revenues.) But did they begin to abolish this "country?" You mean state, I guess, in that sentence. Even after the creation of the European super state – which by my reading is receding rather fast at the moment – the countries of France, Belgium etc will still be there.

    They read out speeches and signed newspaper articles promising a new dawn of classical liberalism.

    Not True – Well, maybe. I've read quite a bit of the Tory stuff from 1976-79 and I do not remember promises of "classical liberalism" – jeez, hardly anyone in the Shadow Cabinet on 1979 would have had faintest idea of what it was; and most would have abhorred it if they did.

    They promised bread, and gave us a stone. And when finally driven from office, they left a state machinery so powerful and uncontrolled by law that New Labour has in some respects felt obliged to dismantle it.

    Comment This is weird, because out here on the left one of the most striking things about New Labour is their acceptance of the impotence of governments and states in the face of markets/capital. New Labour think they are essentially powerless – certainly in the economic sphere.

    Guess it depends on where you are sitting!

    Best wishes,

    Robin Ramsay

    Editor, Lobster