"One of the beacons of Britain's modern democracy is its advanced system of judicial review of administration. It is hard to believe now that even in the 1960s, our courts were just about as executive-minded as judges in some non-democratic states, refusing to rock the boat of public policy. If parliament conferred discretionary power on an official in wide terms (such as "to act as he sees fit", or "in the public interest"), then the courts would interpret such a power as the grant of an infinite authority, with which they could not properly interfere."In case anyone needs reminding, language exactly like this features in the Welfare Reform Act 2012.
The words 'as the Secretary Of State sees fit' now governs eligibility for all income-based benefits within Universal Credit, rather than statutory entitlement.
David Cameron is laying the groundwork to scrap 'redtape', among it the Equality Act 2010. Why? Because the ability of an official to have legally infinite power, restrained only in broadness but not in depth by their office, really is archaic in Britain and is the preserve of less democratic countries in the 21st century. The Welfare Reform Act grants Iain Duncan-Smith that kind of power. The only thing standing in his way is this question: Is it legal?
Two weeks ago, Sue Marsh made this post on her blog. Read it, it makes a comparison with the Third Reich and the current situation facing sick and disabled people in Britain. But there is something in it which is very different from the hysterical comparisons of internet comments. Namely, Sue does not use a broad-brush and still has the insight to understand this is still a generalisation. But it's a very specific one- the comparison is specific and it can be supported or refuted on a very limited number of points without hair-splitting.
When it became clear to me that Pat's petition to halt all changes to benefits for sick and disabled people until after a thorough review of them was going to fail to hit the target before the deadline, even I began making very specific comparisons. At that point there was nothing to lose and the Nazi comparison when done carefully is an effective rhetorical device which says to detractors- "When you have the benefit of hindsight, you will find that we were right".
So here is another comparison: the Prime Minister in numerous speeches and in briefings to journalists has expressed his desire to move the country onto a militaristic footing, in order to secure it's future prosperity and lift it out of a depression. He has called for a change in national attitudes, norms and institutions so that they behave as if the country were in a war against an existential threat. He has successfully kept himself from being implicated in almost anything his government and supporters are criticised for. He has used scapegoats and blamed the nation's problems on them, they have limited means of fighting back. Scores of people are to be forced to work for less than they can survive on, some of them indefinitely. The business-class are carefully courted for support. High-ranking officials are given executive powers which they can exercise as they see fit.
Remind you of any other industrialised western democracy from the last century?