The two major parties approach their annual conferences and the new political season in anything but confident mood. For the Government - as for any British government - there is the usual 'problem of the economy', which will never go away and so is of no immediate importance: situation desperate but not serious. More unusually there is a sense, which the Maastricht debates heightened, if only by their impenetrability, that the country's constitutional arrangements no longer work. Over the last couple of months there has been an ebullition of often bizarre constitutional argument, with most of the actors seeming to take the wrong parts. The Speaker warns the judiciary not to intrude on Parliamentary privilege and quotes the Bill of Rights; Tony Benn warns the judges likewise and also quotes the Bill of Rights. The Evening Standard eulogises the same Tony Benn as the 'last of the radicals', while Lord Rees-Mogg takes the Government to court for abusing the royal prerogative. The judges, for their part, dismiss a particularly brazen attempt by the Government to assert that its ministers cannot be sued in law on the ground that to admit this would be to admit that the Civil War never occurred. The Conservative Party's Euro-haters, who would die in the last ditch to defend the rights of Parliament, turn into pussy-cats the moment the word 'confidence' is mentioned.
LRB 9 September 1993 | PDF Download