Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Autocracy advances in Britain

What does "cutting red tape" mean in practice? In Britain, it means cutting policy impact assessments, reducing consultation, and making judicial review inaccessible:

David Cameron has axed standard assessments used to gauge how policies affect different social groups as part of a drive to get rid of the "bureaucratic rubbish" that gets in the way of British business.

Cameron also vowed to slash three-month consultation periods on future government policy proposals, signalling that the public may not get a say at all on some proposals, with the final decision left to individual ministers. Other measures include reducing the time limit for bringing judicial reviews, hiking up the legal charge involved, and halving the number of possible appeals.

The prime minister outlined plans to axe equality impact assessments at the CBI conference, saying new government measures needed to be "tough, radical and fast" to help British business compete in the global race. He said "faster government" was one of the key steps Britain needs to take to thrive – "in this global race you are quick or you're dead", he said.

Which no doubt sounds great to businessmen - but society isn't a business. These processes exist for an important purpose: making sure government gets it right when making policy. And judicial review - the ability to challenge a decision in the courts for illegality, irrationality, or impropriety - is a core check on the powers of the state. And Cameron is tossing all of that overboard, undermining democracy in the name of economic efficiency.

The drafters of our Canterbury dictatorship would be proud. But what's really worrying is that they'll look at Cameron, think to themselves "that sounds like a good idea", and start doing the same here. I mean, its not as if we need Bill of Rights review of policy, or statutory consultation on mining in national parks, or the ability to take the government to court when they clearly and obviously have behaved unlawfully. No, government knows best, and we should just leave it to make decisions. The only role of the peasantcitizen is to obey.