The whole point of the House of Lords is that it lacks democratic legitimacy. This, as they say, is a feature not a bug. A damn good feature too. It is – or can or should be – a valuable cooling saucer into which ploys devised by the lower, popular, house are poured until such time as they congeal to be revealed in all their unappetising horror.
From time to time the will [sic] of the people, as expressed by Her Majesty’s Government, jolly well should be frustrated or otherwise suppressed. Take this headline, for instance: Peers block law on being annoying in public.
That’s from the BBC not The Daily Mash though I’d forgive you for assuming otherwise. You click on it because you think, hang on, even Westminster wouldn’t try and pass such an obviously daft notion. And then you discover that, by jove, they would. And did! You see:
Ministers want to replace anti-social behaviour orders in England and Wales with injunctions to prevent nuisance and annoyance (Ipnas).
Courts could impose these on anyone engaging – or threatening to engage – in “conduct capable of causing nuisance or annoyance to any person”.
An Injunction to Prevent Nuisance and Annoyance! How marvellous. Can one be issued to the House of Commons?
You may now, if you have not already, bury any lingering hopes this might prove a pleasingly, refreshingly, liberal government. Hark at this, however:
The Home Office has said the new injunctions – part of the Anti-social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Bill – would never be imposed in an unreasonable way.
Of course not. Just as no-one making a joke on Twitter would ever be tried and convicted for falling foul of anti-terrorism laws. Move along now, do not trouble yourself, none of this will ever be imposed in an unreasonable way. Only tinfoil-hat-wearing libertarian lunatics could think that.
You would like to think the Home Office – and MPs – might appreciate that there is virtually no aspect of human life or behaviour that is not capable of causing nuisance or annoyance to someone. Only a fat-headed optimist could think such measures would not be abused and, more to the point, abused as a matter of course. It is, naturally, yet another invitation to petty, interfering, illiberalism.
Such is the temper of the times, alas. The spirit of live and let live – the spirit which ought to be the default presumption in all matters of public policy – evidently perished long ago. Shame on the 178 peers who supported the government’s proposals.
Granted, a Labour government led by Ed Miliband would be no better and, heavens, might even be worse but that’s a miserably low bar to better. You would like to think David Cameron and Nick Clegg could or would be better than that but such hopes, for the love of god, might be held in vain. Poor liberalism, for she is dead.
What a country.
Subscribe to The Spectator today for a quality of argument not found in any other publication. Get more Spectator for less – just £12 for 12 issues.