Jury trials are the latest in a long list of things which have displeased the government. Its reaction looks like it is following a familiar – grim – pattern. Phil Syrpis explains.
Every time ‘events’ prompt an institution, beyond the direct control of the government, to take a course of action which displeases the government, the government does two things.
First, it responds in strident terms, encouraging others (eg in the right-wing press) to respond in even more strident terms. It whips up the issue.
It can often appear that it is flailing, seeking out ever more outlandish responses. The majority of the ideas which are floated duly come to nothing.
But second, and this is where people’s concerns should be focused, it takes significant steps to neuter, or perhaps to co-opt, the institution concerned. The aim is to ensure that displeasing outcomes are rendered more difficult or impossible.
The range of institutions which have suffered, and are likely to suffer, from this approach is a very long one. The government’s desire (and ability) to ‘bring them into line’ is profoundly concerning.
So… we have juries, judges (‘enemies of the people’), Parliament (prorogation; Henry VIII powers; appointments to the House of Lords), the civil service (enforcement of the ministerial code; conduct of inquiries) and the media (BBC, C4, and the right wing press).
The government has, when it suits its interest, also moved against scientific and academic expertise, against trade unions, and against right to protest. (I’m sure there are many more…).
Add to that, the corruption around the award of Covid-19 contracts and the Downing Street parties, and its willingness to breach international law and go back on commitments it has made.
The government sees itself as being above the law, and above reproach. But it is, amidst what can look like chaos, acting determinedly to neuter and co-opt institutions which displease it, to ensure that it can be above the law.
It is a profoundly dangerous time. There is little in the constitution which can withstand a government determinedly acting in this sort of way. For better or worse, public opinion, and public action, is the key.