British people have always prided themselves on their political morals. For centuries they have seen themselves holding the political moral high ground over the Continentals. We have never “feared the knock at the door” as the saying goes. The great British adherence to civil liberties has always been the cornerstone of our self-concept as the “cradle of democracy”. The yoke of tyranny never sat easily on British shoulders.
During the War years, that cross-Channel contrast was highlighted. The British looked over the water and saw German citizens rounded up and carted off to who knows where, never to return. They nodded. Yes, that is the Continental way. “Your papers, please,” a phrase never to be heard in free Albion.
Freedom of the individual to do, think and say what he likes without fear of interference by government; the concept of a government that exists to safeguard its citizens who are, by their (God-given) nature free: all based on a thousand years of legal tradition from the codification of Saxon laws by King Alfred to Magna Carta to the constitutional monarchy. The state is, deep in the British mind, there for us, not the other way around.
So it used to be. And it was this freedom that created in the British mind the idea of civil duty. The State protected our freedom, our privacy, our homes, and was ours. The relationship of the common man to the state developed out of the unique English take on feudalism. English serfs, peasants and freemen were not the abject slaves of their overlords. They were protected and lived in a reciprocal relationship with the ruling classes, both secular and ecclesiastical. It was not a relationship of abject serfdom as it was on the cold Continent. Under the Saxon laws and Magna Carta common men had rights balanced with duties.
This relationship was the foundation of modern British Common Law and Parliamentary democracy. From these basic concepts of the dignity of individual persons under a law that treated them equally was developed the concepts of the Founding Fathers of the United States and of what used to be called the “Free World”.
How free is that Free World today? And who can be counted as part of it? These are questions that are becoming more pressing today in Europe.
Is the British notion of civil duty (a notion demonstrably absent among many of Europe’s peoples…I’m looking at you, Italy) being used against the British people? Are they being duped and cozied along into tyranny by their deep sense of civic responsibility? I don’t know if anyone still uses the phrase, “Mustn’t grumble” but the idea is still there deep in the British psyche. Is it time to do a little more grumbling?
I must say I had a bit of a turn yesterday reading all about the British judiciary’s eagerness to show their EU team spirit by pursuing and turning over thousands of Polish citizens who were summoned under the European Arrest Warrant on pathetically trivial charges.
I do not labour under the illusion that British democracy is any longer being conducted in the traditional manner and under the traditional philosophy. Not with 80 per cent or more of laws passed in Westminster being mere rubber-stamping of Brussels edicts. I’ve been reading for some years now about the capitulation of successive British governments (and yes, Tories, under the Great Margaret as well) to the overlordship of Brussels bureaucrats and a legal and constitutional philosophy that is wholly alien to British concepts of the state. I’m not new to this.
But yesterday I read the submissions by the Freedom Association and Fair Trials International to the to the Joint Committee on Human Rights and started getting a cold feeling in the lower intestinal regions.
Many times in the last few years I have asked the same question of British friends: “What the heck has happened to this country?” There seems to be an entirely new, anti-British political philosophy running the joint, one that is heavily statist, oblivious to, and even sometimes hostile to civil liberties, that is, in short, heavily Continental.
The idea of a national ID card seems to have fallen by the wayside since the defeat of Labour at the last election, but all the rest is still firmly in place. The cameras are everywhere and people are watching what they say.
I am minded of a conversation I had once with a nice little old lady on the bus one day in Chester. Clad in the traditional English NLOL manner in pleated wool skirt, twin-set, tweed coat and sensible shoes and trailing a wheelie shopping cart, she was heading back to Tattenhall, the village we lived in, after doing her shopping in town.
We had fallen into conversation, as you do, when we found out we lived in the same village. She said she was glad to live there because all these “terrible things” hadn’t really started happening there yet.
“What sort of terrible things?” I asked.
“Well, you know. Crime; young people acting up; immigrants…” She trailed off, stopping herself.
“But we mustn’t say that,” she said with a grim expression.
I recognised a George Orwell principle at work. She was doing the thing that all British people seem to do, stopping herself from thinking the things she really thought.
I told her that she was British and she should think and say whatever she damn well wanted to say. She looked at me somewhat gratefully, but said nothing more about what was bothering her.