Friday, 4 April 1997, 10:37pm
10 Downing Street
London SW1A 2AA
Dear Mr Brown,
Many thanks for your letter dated the 25th March, replying to mine of the previous 1st March. Though my letter was only copied to him, I am impressed that the Prime Minister has asked you to make a reply. The letter’s real addressee, Dr Brian Mawhinney, the Conservative Party Chairman, has so far not even acknowledged receipt.
Turning to the contents of your letter, I am a little disappointed that you do not appear to have understood my reasons for not voting Conservative next month. I am not interested in the debate over whether people should be allowed to keep guns at home if they are deactivated, nor in the relative merits of what Lord Cullen proposed in his Report and of what the Government has done.
To make myself as clear as possible, I am against any measure of adult gun control. I believe that any adult should be able to walk into a gun shop and – without showing any permit or proof of identity – be able to buy as many guns and as much ammunition as he or she can afford. I further believe that individuals should not be prevented from keeping guns at home and carrying them in public, and from using them to protect their life, liberty and property.
This is part of the British tradition, and I have been continually shocked by the conduct of a Conservative Government in further destroying that tradition. In ramming the Firearms (Amendment) Act through Parliament, Mr Major and his colleagues have abandoned what little claim they still kept to the name Conservative.
Still worse than taking away our fundamental right to self-defence is the manner in which it has been done. You mention section 51 of the Act. This reads as follows:
(1) The Secretary of State may by regulations make such transitional and consequential provisions and such savings as he considers necessary or expedient in preparation for, in connection with, or in consequence of‑‑
(a) the coming into force of any provision of this Act; or
(b) the operation of any enactment repealed or amended by a provision of this Act during any period when the repeal or amendment is not wholly in force.
(2) Regulations under this section may make modifications of any enactment contained in this or in any other Act.
The meaning of these words is plain. The Home Secretary has been empowered to amend Acts of Parliament by his own fiat. I fail to see what this is but another radical breach of the Constitution. Its only precedents I can find in our history are the exalting of the prerogative power by Charles I and of the suspending and dispensing powers by his two sons. Moreover, new precedents are being laid down that will soon enable the authorities to abolish our liberties as they please. The substance of representative government was destroyed more than two generations ago. Now even its forms are to be treated with open contempt.
Your comforting assurances about the limited nature of this breach are of no value. Similar assurances were given about the reversal of the burden of proof in confiscation proceedings during the debate on the Drug Trafficking Offences Act 1986. Since then, reversing the burden of proof has become standard. Whether by accident or by design, the Government is at war with the Constitution.
This war covers far more than the right to keep and bear arms for self defence. I will not be voting Conservative for many other reasons. Among these reasons are:
- The Manifesto promise of a “voluntary” identity card scheme. If anything, this is still more alien to our traditions than victim disarmament. Identity cards are the basic means of inspection and control in any police state. With the recent advances in computer technology, they now comprise the means of taking us into a “soft” totalitarian nightmare, in which all our movements, and our purchases, and perhaps soon our states of mind, will be open to official inspection.
- The money laundering laws go still further in the practice of inspection and control of private acts. These have at best a marginal value in any battle against real crime – most of which would be far better deterred by restoring real punishments. The widespread sale and use of recreational drugs that were their official justification are not real crimes, and were never regarded as such in the good old days of our Constitution before 1914.
- The Security Services and Police Acts both permit secret entry into and search of private property without a Warrant. They even permit the planting of listening devices. Again, these laws are of little value against real crime. Their use is far more valuable as a means of social control. The Judges have all been shocked by these measures, and have rightly denounced them as another breach of our ancient Constitution. We expelled James II and put his father to death for far less despotic acts.
- The discussion paper recently published by the Department of Trade and Industry plainly aims at criminalising the use of strong encryption technology in this country. The justification is that the use of such encryption technology will hinder the detection and punishment of crime. This is an absurd argument, as criminals will continue using programs like PGP whatever the law proclaims. As with the Government’s victim disarmament laws, the only people likely to be affected by a legal ban are the honest public, who will find their private communications open to official inspection. If the Government were really concerned about crime, it would treat encrypted messages like other kinds of private property: the courts would be able to issue Warrants on probable cause, requiring decryption of specified messages, with various penalties available in the event of a refusal to cooperate.
- The weight of taxes remains as crushing now on the middle classes as in 1979. It is higher today even than it was in 1992, when we were promised tax cuts “year on year”. The fact is that whenever faced with a choice between raising taxes and cutting spending, this Government has always chosen the first.
- There is an undeniably heavier weight of regulation on business than in 1979. To be sure, there are fewer attempts made to control rents or the price of bread. But Christopher Booker in his “Sunday Telegraph” articles has revealed how much new despotism there is over small business – the shutting down of the British fishing and beef sectors being only the most notable.
In short, I can see no positive reason for voting Conservative next month. The negative reason that kept me loyal in the past – that a Labour Government would tax and regulate the country to death – has been removed by Tony Blair. We have not had a Conservative Government in this country at least since Mr Major became Prime Minister. Indeed, the only new thing about New Labour will be the faces.
I hope that a period of opposition will allow the Party to go through the same change of heart on the Constitution as it went through in the late 1970s on the economy. If that happens, then I will certainly vote Conservative at the next election.
For the moment, however, the Party has lost my vote – and it has lost the votes of tens of thousands of people like me. If Mr Major wants to know why his Government is the least popular since polling records began to be kept, he might stop listening to what the chattering classes in the media regard as important, and start listening to the voice of real English conservatism. Yes, we do care about the state of the economy. But now that no party is offering the kind of socialism that produces economic collapse, we are more interested in the preservation of all the things that used to make this country great.
Or, since most politicians and their advisers seem incapable nowadays of following a connected argument, try this soundbite: “It isn’t the economy, stupid”.
© 1997 – 2017, seangabb.
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