Posts Tagged ‘Bill of Rights’

Hannan: BNP Is Left-Wing because It Doesn’t Support the Monarchy

April 5, 2014

Daniel Hannan

Daniel Hannan, Tory MEP who thinks BNP Must be ‘Left-Wing’ as Don’t Support the Monarchy. Wrong on Both Counts.

I’ve blogged before about the way the Tory MEP Daniel Hannan, and other Conservatives on both sides of the Atlantic, have attempted to smear the Left with the argument that Fascism is actually a form of Socialism. Guy Debord’s Cat has posted a series of detailed critiques of Hannan’s various spurious statements about this. In his post for the 24th July 2010, Hannan Doesn’t Know His Right from His Left: Quelle Surprise!, the Cat attacks this remark from Hannan, that the BNP must be left-wing, because it doesn’t support the monarchy. The Cat writes

So when I had a peek at Hannan’s blog, I saw him pretty much repeating the same lie as the US right wingers I had encountered on Delphi Forums. In the title he declares that “The far- Left BNP has never supported the monarchy“. For someone who likes to pat himself on the back for his classical education, he seems to be a remarkably thick individual.

Fascist Attitude to Monarchy Ambiguous, but Very Often Supportive

This is just plain wrong. While Hitler maintained in his Table Talk that Germany should be a Republic, and that the Socialist did the right thing for the wrong reasons when the Kaiser was forced to abdicate, Fascism has had an ambivalent relationship with it. When Franco got round to drafting a constitution for Spain, he declared it to be a kingdom, and was careful to secure the accession to the throne of Juan Carlos, even while isolating his father, the heir to the throne and neutralise the Fascists of the Phalange, who did want a Republic. Mussolini’s Italy retained the monarchy, even though its power was usurped and limited by that of il Duce himself. Other Fascist parties, like the Belgian Rexists, wanted a return to absolute monarchy.

The British Union of Fascists and Tudor Absolute Monarchy

In Britain, Oswald Mosley’s British Union of Fascists also supported a powerful, centralised monarchy against the centuries of the British tradition of representative government. Richard Thurlough in his book, Fascism in Britain: A History, 1918-1986, describes the ideology of Mosley and the BUF, including their weird and perverse interpretation of British history. For the British Union of Fascists, England reached its pinnacle of greatness under the absolute monarchy of the Tudors. This, however, had been undermined by the Glorious Revolution of 1688 which overthrew the last Stuart king, James II in favour of William of Orange. While this coup had terrible repercussions in Ireland, where the War between James’ and William’s armies have added to the legacy of hatred and bitterness, it was one of the key events in the development of British constitutional freedom. Parliament had invited William to take power, and had a far weaker claim to the throne compared to James, who was the rightful occupant of the throne by royal descent. William’s victory thus marked the supremacy of parliament over the monarchy. It was parliament that now had the power to raise and depose British kings. In addition, William had to satisfy his British subjects that he would continue to uphold their traditional liberties against any attempt to establish an absolute monarchy similar to those on the Continent. He was therefore forced to issue a Bill of Rights, which became one of the foundations of modern British constitutional liberty. This, however, was seen not as the cause of Britain’s rise to imperial grandeur, but as the cause of its decline by the BUF.

The BNP and the ‘Monarchical Revolution’

Mosley himself did not advocate the restoration of an absolute monarchy. He saw himself as the great Spenglerian Caesar, whose absolute dictatorial power would reverse the coming collapse of British civilisation. Nevertheless, elements of the British Far Right did seem to support the establishment of an absolute monarchy. In the 1980s I did hear rumours that the BNP supported a ‘monarchical revolution’ that would place active government firmly in the hands of the Crown, who would no longer be merely heads of state with little real power. Hannan is therefore completely wrong with his statement that the BNP couldn’t be Fascist because it didn’t support the monarchy. The BNP did, and is. Meanwhile, the Cat’s article attacking this statement and the rest of Hannan’s argument can be found at: http://buddyhell.wordpress.com/2010/07/24/hannan-doesnt-know-his-right-from-his-left-quelle-surprise/

Resisting Cameron’s Contempt for Parliament: Books Giving a Historical Perspective on British Democracy and Constitution

January 17, 2014

This evening I’ve reblogged Mike’s piece over at Vox Political commenting on the Coalition’s response for parliament’s call for an inquiry into the alarming rise of poverty in the UK. Cameron has ignored it, despite the fact that it was passed by a majority of 127 to 2. Mike and the commenters to his blog have justifiably viewed this as the death of democracy, the day when parliament’s ability to the hold the government of the day to account was finally suppressed. At the moment this isn’t quite true, but it does not bode well for the future. Tony Blair’s tenure as prime minister was harshly attacked by the Conservative press for its very presidential style. The Tories particularly objected to the way Blair ignored parliament when it suited him, quite apart from his reform of the House of Lords. The Conservatives saw him as a real danger to the British constitution and our ancient liberties, and there were a number of books by right-wing authors and journalists proclaiming this very clearly on their covers. Cameron is continuing and possibly accelerating this process and the transformation of the post of prime minister into something like the American presidency, and in so doing running over the constitutional checks to the power of the prime minister.

One of Mike’s commenters has said that for people to be able to challenge this gradual accumulation of power by the prime minister, without recourse to or check by parliament, they need to be informed of how parliament actually works. I haven’t quite been able to find a book I bought a while ago on parliament. I have been able to find a number of books, which give an important historical insight into the development of democracy and the extremely long struggle for a truly representative, democratic parliament. Here are the books I recommend:

Eric J. Evans, The Forging of the Modern State: Early Industrial Britain 1783-1870
(London: Longman 1983)

Forging Modern State

This is a general history of Britain. I’ve selected it here because of its chapters on the constitutional changes which vastly increased the electorate in the 19th century. These were the Great Reform Act of 1833, and then Disraeli’s further expansion of the franchise in 1870, and the agitation and popular movements that demanded them, such as the Chartists. These show just how hard won the vote was, though it wasn’t until 1918 that every adult in Britain had the vote. The 1870 electoral reform enfranchised most, but certainly not all, working class men, and still excluded women from the franchise.

The book also describes the other major events and crises of that part of the late 18th and early 19th centuries, including the establishment of something like a public educational system in Britain, the enfranchisement of religious Dissenters so that they could participate in politics, the repeal of the Corn Laws, industrialisation, the Factory Acts, and poverty. The 19th century is very much a part of political discourse today by both the Left and Right because it was the age in which modern Britain really took shape, and the debate over ‘Victorian Values’ introduced by Maggie Thatcher. Evan’s book as an overview of Britain in the period offers valuable information on that crucial period.

John Miller: The Glorious Revolution (London: Longman 1983)

Glorious Revolution

This was an other vital period in the creation of British parliamentary democracy. It was when the Roman Catholic, Stuart king, James II, was overthrown and the crown given instead to William of Orange. It is obviously an immensely controversial topic in Northern Ireland, because of the way it cemented the exclusion of the Roman Catholics from power, which was held by a very narrow, Protestant elite. Back in 1988, the year of its tricentennial, Margaret Thatcher’s government deliberately chose not to celebrate it because of its highly divisive legacy in Ulster. It’s importance to British democracy lies in the fact that it gave real power to parliament. True, Britain was still a monarchy, not a republic, but its kings and queens now ruled by the consent of parliament. Furthermore, William of Orange was forced to reassure his British subject that he would not override parliament and the traditional constitutional checks and liberties by issuing a Bill of Rights. This became one of the founding documents of the British Constitution during the 18th and early 19th century.

J.W. Allen, A History of Political Thought in the Sixteenth Century (London: Methuen)

16th Century Politics

This was first published nearly a century ago in 1928. Nevertheless, it’s still a very useful book. The 16th century was the period when politicians, theologians and philosophers across Europe began to inquire into the origins of their countries’ constitutions, and debate the nature of political power. It was an age of absolute monarchy, when it was considered that the king had total power and whose subjects had no right to resist him. This view was attacked by both Protestant and Roman Catholic political theorists, who developed the idea of popular sovereignty. St. Augustine had introduced into Christianity the ancient Greek theory of the idea of the social contract. The theory states that right at the beginning of human society, people came together to elect a leader, who would rule in order to protect their lives and property. As well as claiming a divine right to rule, medieval kings also claimed the right to rule as the people’s representative, given power through this original contract between the primordial ruler and his people. Under theologians and philosophers like the Spanish Jesuit, Suarez, this became the basis for a true theory of national sovereignty. Just as kings owed their power to the will of the people, so the people had the right to depose those kings, who ruled tyrannically.

These are just three of the books I’ve found useful in presenting the history and development of some of the aspects of modern British theories of constitutional government and parliamentary democracy. I intend to post about a few others as well, which I hope will keep people informed about our democracy’s origins, how precious it is, and how it must be defended from those modern politicos, like Cameron, who seem intent on overthrowing it.

The Heads of Grievances of 1689: The Origins of the British Bill of Rights

July 6, 2013

After William of Orange’s invasion and accession to the British throne in 1689, Parliament met to present him with a list of grievances. These were a mixture of the constitutional violations that had been made by James II, which they wished to see corrected and removed, and further provisions strengthening parliamentary liberty and placing constitutional limits on royal power. The second half of the list of grievances was dropped completely, but the first was amended to become the Declaration of Rights and then the Bill of Rights. This last is the closest Britain has to a written constitution.

The List of Grievances

The said Commons so elected, being now assembled in a full and free representative of this nation, taking into their most serious consideration the best means for attaining the ends aforesaid, do in the first place (as their ancestors in like case have usually done) for the vindicating and asserting their ancient rights and liberties, unanimously declare,

That the pretended power of dispensing or suspending of laws, or the execution of laws, by regal authority, without consent of Parliament, is illegal;

That the commission for erecting the late court of commissioners for ecclesiastical causes and all other commissions and courts of like nature are illegal and pernicious.

That levying of money for or to the use of the crown, by pretence of prerogative, without grant of Parliament, for longer time, or in other manner, than the same is or shall be granted is illegal.

That it is the right of the subjects to petition the king and all commitments and prosecutions for such petitioning are illegal.

That the raising or keeping of a standing army within the kingdom in time of peace, unless it be with consent of Parliament, is against law.

That the subject which are Protestants may provide and keep arms for their common defence.

That election of Members of Parliament ought to be free.

That the freedom of speech and debates or proceedings in Parliament ought not to be impeached or questioned in any court or place out of Parliament.

That excessive bail ought not to be required; nor excessive fines imposed; nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted.

That jurors ought to be duly impanelled and returned; and jurors which pass upon men in trials for high treason ought to be freeholders.

That all grants and promises of fines and forfeitures of particular persons before conviction are illegal and void.

And that for the redress of all grievances and fort he amending, strengthening and preserving of the laws, Parliaments ought to be held frequently and suffered to sit … And towards the making a more firm and perfect settlement of the said religion, laws and liberties, it is proposed and advised … that there be provision by new laws … to the purposes following, viz.

For repealing the Acts concerning the militia and settling it anew;

For securing the right and freedom of electing members of the House of Commons, and the rights and privileges of Parliaments, and members thereof, as well in the intervals of Parliament as during their sitting;

For securing the frequent sitting of Parliaments;

For preventing the too long continuance of the same Parliament; boroughs and plantations against Quo Warrantos and surrenders and mandates and restoring them to their ancient rights;

None of the royal family to marry a Papist;

Every King and Queen of this realm at the time of their entering into the exercise of their regal authority, to take an oath for maintaining the Protestant religion and the laws and liberties of this nation; and the coronation oath to be altered;

For the liberty of Protestants in the exercise of their religion; and for uniting all Protestants in thematter of public worship, as far as may be;

For regulating constructions upon the statutes of treasons, and trials and proceedings and writs of error in cases of treason;

For making judges’ commissions quamdiu se bene gesserint; and ascertaining and establishing their salaries, to be paid out of the public revenue only; and for preventing their being removed and suspended from the execution of their offices, unless by due course of law;

For better securing the subjects against excessive bail in criminal cases and excessive fines and cruel and unusual punishments;

For reforming abuses in the appointing of sheriffs and in the execution of their office;

For securing the due impanelling and returning of jurors and preventing corrupt and false verdicts;

For taking away informations in the Court of King’s Bench;

For regulating the Chancery and other courts of justice, and the fees of officers;

For preventing the buying and selling of offices;

For giving liberty to the subjects to traverse returns upon habeas corpuses and mandamuses;

For preventing the grants and promises of fines and forfeitures before conviction;

For redressing the abuses and oppressions in levying the hearth money;

And for redressing the abuses and oppressions in levying and collecting the excise.

The British List of Grievances and American Guns Rights?

Looking through the list it struck me that the provision, that British Protestant could keep guns for the common defence is, shorn of its sectarian conditions, the origin of the American 2nd amendment: that Americans have the right to bear arms. The American Constitution was strongly influenced by Locke, and 17th century British theories of constitutional government. It seems to me that the strong feeling amongst the American Right, that people should have the right to own guns ultimately has its origin in this clause, which was intended to protect British Protestants from persecution by an absolute and tyrannical monarchy.

While the anti-Roman Catholic nature of these grievances meant that it was not until the 19th century that Roman Catholics enjoyed civil rights in Britain, and led to immense hardship and oppression in Ireland, nevertheless the List of Grievances can be seen as one of the fundamental elements of modern, British constitutional democracy.