Written by Mike Swadling
It’s not a bad idea in a democracy to be popular as well as right. One of the depressing things surrounding the stories of Boris Johnson and Partygate has been the number of social media posts from liberty lovers saying the story isn’t the party. Instead, the story is that the rules were wrong.
They are right of course; the rules were wrong. No doubt most reading this have broken lockdown rules, some even as early as the spring of 2020. But there is a difference when the rule breakers are those that impose them. Politics requires cut through, and often requires opportunism. Partygate gives both.
Most people in May 2020 were studiously following the rules, and they simply don’t like the hypocrisy of the PM, cabinet members, senior civil servants and their assistants, being out partying when we couldn’t get together with family to bury a loved one. Yes, the rules were wrong, but saying the rules were wrong two years ago doesn’t have the cut through of pointing at a ruling class laughing at us.
There is another issue here that really matters – the Government must follow the same rules as the governed. Magna Carta set out the need for the Monarch to follow the law as much as the commoner. Today much the power of Monarch is effectively held in Downing Street, and rather than taking their cue from Runnymede our current government seems to have looked to Versailles. John Locke wrote that ‘freedom in society means being subject only to laws made by a legislature that apply to everyone’. The rule of law is a common enough expression, indeed according to the National Curriculum it is a fundamental British value.
I firmly believe the best case for liberty is made when liberty lovers connect with a broad swathe of voters and show the hypocrisy of government and the desperate need we all have to constrain it. Can we build a majority that says all people must be free to act with complete liberty? I doubt it. But can we effect change or even build a majority by saying never again can the government be able to act outside of the laws it requires us to follow? Absolutely!