I'm making the point because I need you to put that aside for a moment.
For once, I'm not grandstanding.
This is deadly serious.
First of all, ask yourself _carefully_: Do you clearly remember the details of how Hitler got himself legally appointed as Dictator of Germany?
The Reichstag Fire?
The mass-media promotion of the Communist Threat?
The Enabling Act?
If you're in the least bit fuzzy, go have a quick look at Wikipedia right now. Please. It's worth it.
All done? OK.
Now, I'd like to introduce you to the tediously-named Legislative and Regulatory Reform Bill. You can find it here on the UK Government website: http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm200506/cmbills/111/06111.1-4.html
You probably haven't heard of it before, unless you're a habitual political activist. You should have, though. The Bill had its second reading in the House of Commons this week, where just a handful of MPs barely got the chance to debate it. It's now winding its way through towards quietly becoming a hideous turning point.
The Bill is actually written rather simply, for a piece of law. It's not very long. Have a look for yourself.
Under the terms of the Bill, a Cabinet Minster may alter any piece of UK legislation -- or draft an entirely new piece -- by issuing an "Order". That's right. The Bill grants Ministers the power to pass or amend laws almost as they see fit.
There are some restrictions, of course. There are a few trivial content restrictions. The Minister has to be personally satisfied that the Order is in line with what party policy hopes to achieve, for example. The Minister also has to accept that an Order cannot be used to remove a freedom which members of the public could reasonably expect to retain -- with the Minister deciding what reasonable expectations are, of course. New crimes created by Orders cannot have punishments more severe than two years imprisonment, although of course multiple infringements can always be given to be served one after another.
The key defence though is that an Order has to be open to ratification by existing Parliament processes. It has to be voted into effect by Parliament.
It's OK after all...
...or is it?
The structure of Parliament and existing process means that whilst in theory the Bill would allow Parliament a vote on any given Order -- NOTE _not_ a debate; _not_ a change to amend; _not_ multiple readings; _not_ all the other usual structure of the government process, just a vote -- it would also be possible for Orders to come through Select Committees: in other words, to be rubber-stamped by Minister-selected groups of MPs.
Make no mistake. This Bill takes Parliament out of Government almost entirely -- something Blair is desperate to achieve, as he is currently having a terrible time fighting his parliament. Saner and wiser heads than mine are calling this the Abolition of Parliament Act. The media have been very, very, VERY quiet about this, which is frightening. There are a few articles, buried in the back of major papers and magazines:
The Times (Guest Article by a Liberal MP)
The Times (Opinion Article by a legal/political correspondent)
The Times (Letters column, letter from several Cambridge Uni law professors)
The Guardian (Special report on the constitution)
The Observer (Politics & constitution article)
Oh, in case you were wondering, the Bill allows for Orders to bind the Crown, so the Monarchy is no defense.
"Best" of all, the Bill can even be used to amend itself. So the idea of, oh, say, removing the requirement for Parliament to have the option to strike an Order down could be passed through Select Committee as one recommendation in a gargantuan, bland and otherwise mildly beneficial report on something really boring -- say giving MPs another pay rise -- and an Order implementing the report could be slipped through quietly late one night when only a handful of MPs are about. Wham. Suddenly, Ministers would have the power to pass any law they saw fit without debate, notice or redress, all nice and legal and contitutional and unavoidable. (This is the "Indian Rope Trick" that a couple of the news reports mention).
When the bill was first introduced, Ministers promised it wouldn't be used for anything controversial, just for streamlining existing laws relating to business. This week, they were down to saying it wouldn't be used to do anything extremely controversial -- and even that tiny safeguard is being refused admission to the law. Already they're getting the bit between their teeth, and it isn't even passed yet.
If you don't find this terrifying, I suggest you read some of the other Constitution articles and links from the news sources above, go back to Wikipedia and read more about Hitler, or go read some current affairs sites regarding Iran, Iraq, "Terrorism", "Pedophilia", modern Surveillance, and the removal of rights to political protest in recent years.
Then ask yourself -- if someone in the modern world truly wanted to take over, and had studied 20th century history, and knew where the Bolsheviks and the Nazis had gone right AND where they'd gone wrong; someone very clever and very manipulative; someone who knew how to avoid spooking the herd; who knew how to manipulate the media; who truly believed He knew what was best for everyone -- what sort of strategy would such a person take, knowing that the hysteria that swept the Nazis through would ring alarm bells this time round? OK, I admit it, this paragraph is assuming the worst. But please, think. There is no possible justification for this power grab. Can you truly afford to risk assuming the best -- and of our politicians, no less -- on this one?
Note to UK Residents: You can get a template letter to send to your MP from some activist types here. Please. Make use of it right now. Please.
Note to Non-UK Residents: You know how Hollywood always casts Brits as the sly, manipulative villains who catch everyone by surprise by not being as cultured as they sounded? Now you know why. Do not assume you are safe. If our lot get away with this, your lot will follow suit faster than you can say "Bill of No Rights".
Note to everyone: This is fucking important. Please feel free to do whatever you want with any or all of this text, including link it, copy it, blog it, post it, paste it, stick it, stuff it or T-shirt it.
Thanks to Canis for flagging this nightmare up for me.