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Samizdata quote of the day

What is it about being Home Secretary that turns people into fucking fascists?

– Tim Worstall, apropos this. Though it might equally apply to this or most of this. It is time the Home Office was renamed in accordance with its actual mission. Bureau of State Security (BOSS) would do nicely, now there’s no chance of confusion.

34 comments to Samizdata quote of the day

  • RogerC

    The Home Secretary often seems the political equivalent of a rottweiler, an attack dog who can be guaranteed to tackle any problem head on and to do the things normally considered beyond the pale. Also like an attack dog, their owner will usually abandon them to their fate if the fight goes the wrong way and get another one later.

    It’s more or less the job description. Be a bastard, fall on your sword when required. I don’t think the job makes them this way, I think Home Secretaries are selected to match the post’s requirements.

    Funny how there’s never a shortage of applicants.

  • Paul Marks

    David Davis (the former candidate for leader of the Conservative Party) politely explained that government ministers (even if nice people) should not have the power to attack people for expressing opinions that are “distressing” or “alarming”. This is just too damn VAGUE – as David Davis points out he himself expresses opinions (on a daily basis) .

    It is not Fascism – but it is a complete ignoring of PRINCIPLES (a sort of act utilitarianism – not even rule utilitarianism) jurisprudence without principles is not jurisprudence. But the British do not care – even Lord Denning used to say he was not interested in jurisprudence (principles) he was just going to do the English thing of doing whatever needed to get the result he wanted (not Fascism – but no good, really bad).

    To Americans who are laughing at this point…….

    4th Amendment and asset grabbing “laws” – if American judges really cared about the 4th Amendment (which they clearly do not) all these asset grabbing “laws” would not exist. “But then we could not do……..” – yes you could not do ………… because you should not do these things (there should be no “RICO” or all the rest of it).

    So neither British or American legal people care about jurisprudence any more.

    Not Fascism – but still bad, very, very bad.

  • Paul Marks

    Lord Chancellors used to be a check on Home Secretaries – the job of a Lord Chancellor being (in part) to defend the law (the principles of law) against the “I want RESULTS” Home Secretary. But we do not have proper Lord Chancellors any more.

  • Henry Crun

    Ironically, BOSS was the name of the State Security service in apartheid South Africa

  • Paul, how is that not Fascism?

  • guy herbert

    Henry Crun – No irony. That was the allusion intended by “no chance of confusion”

    Paul Marks – Denning was a fascist-in-ermine. Few lawyers are fans. It was he, you may recall, who said of those unjustly convicted for the Birmingham pub bombings: “We shouldn’t have all these campaigns to get the Birmingham Six released if they’d been hanged. They’d have been forgotten and the whole community would have been satisfied.”

  • Andrew Duffin

    Denning also famously said “Be you ever so high, the law is above you” – so the man can’t have been all bad.

    But going back on-topic, what kind of ignoramus thinks it’s even possible to talk about pre-approving Facebook posts etc etc? Because of course they could never create fake accounts, oh no, never at all at all. And everyone on Faceache is exactly who they seem to be, no doubt about that either. Idiots. Utter idiots. And these people are somehow in charge of us? Ye Gods and little fishes.

    I suppose the idea might appeal to the kind of fool who’d send indecent selfies to an unknown correspondent on Twatter or whatever…

    Yeah I guess there is a common factor there – government must do something to their brains I suppose.

  • PersonFromPorlock

    Not fascism so much as puritanism – the idea that government exists to march the sinners to virtue at bayonet’s point.

  • JohnK


    The great mistake of the Conservative Party is that they fell for David Cameron’s “Hello Sunshine” bullshit and voted him the leader rather than David Davis, whom I think should go down as one of the best Prime Ministers we never had (assuming it’s not too late). His principles seem sound on most things. Since Call Me Dave is a jumped up PR man, he does not recognise the existence of principles, and is happy to make cast iron guarantees one day and abandon them the next. Why anyone believes a word he says baffles me.

  • RRS

    Perhaps (actually?) this because what y’all have in that unwritten Constitution is the unlimited sovereignty of Parliament (presumed to derive from the electorate, which are by now the most ineffective segment of the overall polity).

  • There is no perfect system RRS. The US 4th Amendment is pretty damn explicit and yet that does not seem to have stopped asset forfeiture on a scale unthinkable in the UK (where you typically at least have to be convicted first), or weirdness like ‘arresting’ property so that its owners effective have no rights.

  • Amen JohnK. The fact the Stupid Party chose Cameron over Davis pretty much says it all.

  • Mr Ed

    Extremist Disruption Orders, EDO? I have to declare an interest here, as my Japanese housemates of years gone by called me ‘Edo’, as they could not pronounce a word without a vowel at the end unless it was an ‘n’ (Nissan, Datsun etc.) and I have a fond memory of thinking for about 3 months that they were having a private joke about ‘Edo’ (era and city) at my expense. If this measure passes into law, I shall become ‘ Mr Edo’, assuming that I am allowed to commit lèse majesté.

    The idea of the police approving Facebook posts is both sinister and laughable, the scope for steganography. ‘Can’t Understand No Talk. Careful Officer Permits Posts Eventually, Right?’ and take the initials. How many Plod and spies will be employed waiting to approve a picture of a halal dinner that an ‘extremist’, wants to post on his Facebook account?

    From what little I heard of her speech, the Home Secretary seemed to be saying ‘Here is Fat, Lazy Plod’s Shopping List of wicked and stupid ideas, we must let them have them or else… ‘(convicted Lithuanian murderers will be roaming the streets of London).

    I suppose that this gives rise to a parlour game: Who was the last in the list of Home Secretaries who would, presented with such an idea, have said* something like ‘This plan is shockingly tyrannical, evil and stupid, sack the creatures who came up with it‘.

    Perhaps Churchill?

    *(after saying ‘What’s Facebook?’)

  • long-lost cousin

    I guess I’m confused. How will that fight terrorism?

    And have a thought for the poor bastard who gets stuck with that.

    “Hanrahan! What are you doing?”

    “I was going to go grab a Starbucks and then post up at that stop sign outside the school that every’s been bitching about people running…”

    “Change of plans. You need to spend all night on facebook editing and deleting terrorist posts in Arabic and Farsi and Urdu, even though you don’t actually read any of it.”

  • PersonFromPorlock

    I do want to suggest again that the sovereign remedy for all these censorship programs is an ap that plasters the Internet with ‘messages’ consisting of random number strings. Lots of ‘messages’.

  • veryretired

    I don’t know or care who any of these slimy toads are, or what they think they will accomplish with this stupidity, but it always fascinates me that people who propose these types of censorious laws don’t understand that, in a free society, or any society, for that matter, they are the very definition of extremists, and their statements are much more threatening than anything some ordinary citizen might say.

    That such people are completely oblivious to their own natures, and the larger meaning of what they are proposing doesn’t surprise me. It’s the nature of such a beast.

    Why anyone who hears them, or reads their drivel, doesn’t just slap them at the earliest opportunity is a mystery.

    A little less “civilized” behavior would be a very good thing.

  • Regional

    dave cameron is a shallow opportunist and an over confident narcissist. Very few people of real ability would go into politics and endure the hatred of the Meeja, university types and unions.

  • RRS


    The post was not on comparative systems. It was in response to the query of why one particular system produces particular anomalies.

    Of course the U S has its equal issues; but they arise as violations of a Constitution, not in conformities within its terms.

  • Nicholas (Natural Genius) Gray

    So this would be the virtue of not having a Constitution- it’s terms can’t be violated if it has no terms. Another win for Britain!
    What a shame that the Supreme Court was left in charge of interpreting the words of the constitution, which it did after it exorcised its’ spirit.
    Still, has any Constitution stayed the same? Our Australian Constitution has changed, and it was always designed with a stronger center in mind- once tax powers go to Canberra, they never come back!

  • bobby b

    I guess I’m confused. How will that fight terrorism?

    All of these aggrieved Muslims all over the world – the ones hacking off heads, confiscating and impregnating entire junior high school classes, making new music videos of mass ditchside executions, packing their clothing full of ball bearings and Semtex and shredding nearby crowds, and just generally acting out and being rude – well, they’re mostly just still understandably mad about Draw Muhammad Day.

    If we can all just learn to behave, and speak politely and submissively to Muslims – when they tell us it’s our turn to speak, I mean – then they’ll no longer feel quite so provoked, and I’ve been assured that they will calm down quickly once that happens.

    So, ya know, this new law is only intended to remind all of us – us non-Muslims, I mean – that it’s our unchecked privileges and our unconscious biases and our ignorance of Islamic law and, above all, our lack of polite submission that causes the Muslims to feel that they constantly need to correct us.

    Once the new law has made us conscious of our failings, we’ll know where we need to improve, and peace with Islam should very quickly follow.

  • RogerC

    Mr Ed wrote:

    Perhaps Churchill?

    It was his post war government that passed the Prevention of Crime Act (1953), so I’m not so sure. I’ve not managed to dig up any record of the debate though.

  • Schrodinger's Dog

    When I read about this, I was furious, as I’m sure was everyone who reads this blog. The comments in the linked Daily Telegraph article were overwhelmingly against, too. I didn’t actually count, but I reckon it was 95% opposed, which is about as close to unanimous as you’re ever going to get in a democracy. Good.

    But how are we actually going to stop this? Want to bet that, despite the opposition, these laws will go thorough? Britain desperately needs a free speech society – as do a lot of other places. Free speech: no ifs, no buts, no maybes. Inevitably it would mean defending some pretty unpleasant people, as no-one bothers about nice people saying nice things. But if neo-nazis and islamist hate preachers, to name but two examples, don’t have freedom of speech, none of us does.

    I’d like to help, but I’m not sure how, as I’m a British citizen living in the United States, which puts me in a kind of political limbo.

  • Laird

    Sorry, Nicholas (Natural Genius) Gray, but I’m just not following that argument. Your non-constitution can’t be violated because it has no terms? And somehow that’s a good thing?

    You comment “What a shame that the Supreme Court was left in charge of interpreting the words of the constitution.” Well, yes and no. Yes, it did arrogate to itself (in Marbury v. Madison) the power of judicial review over the constitutionality of federal statutes, a power which was not expressly laid out in the Constitution. But it is far from the only institution having that power. Each of the legislative and executive branches has an effective veto over laws it deems unconstitutional (the legislative by declining to pass them in the first place; the executive with the explicit veto power). So in essence we have three branches of government which have independent affirmative duties to satisfy themselves as to the constitutionality of a particular law, as well as the power to block it. I rather like that. Of course, that’s the theory; in practice there is essentially no incentive for any of those branches to invalidate a law if it expands the power of government, and the results are plain for all to see. But the idea is good, if insufficient.

    So which is the better approach, the English “non-constitution” or the American written one? Given that both seem to be routinely ignored when it suits the interests of politicians and assorted other statists, at least the American version has the virtue of providing actual words to which one can point when screaming “that’s unconstitutional!” The best you British can do is mumble something about historical precedent, which is amorphous enough that it provides no firm ground upon which to stand. (As a practical matter it really does little good to point to the Magna Carta, as its actual words have very little relevance today; have you ever read it?). We at least know when our government is transgressing its proper boundaries; you don’t even know where those boundaries lie. Not that this makes me feel much better.

  • PersonFromPorlock

    “…at least the American version has the virtue of providing actual words….”

    Well, kinda actual words. Until the Justices pronounce upon them, whereupon they become, well, ‘Inigo Montoya’ words….

  • you don’t even know where those boundaries lie. Not that this makes me feel much better.

    Indeed is should not. In some ways things are far more restrictive in the UK, but in others the USA is far further down the dark path. Over the years I have moved from being an unequivocal supporter of the American constitutional approach, to now concluding it actually does not matter a damn.

  • Nicholas (Natural Genius) Gray

    Sorry, I was trying some humour, Laird.
    But this does raise the interesting point of political evolution vs political creationism. The American constitution was created before we realised that Evolution is how nature operates. The British system (of muddling through) might be more compatible with the real world.
    Anyone with an opinion?

  • RRS

    Laird is certainly right on the issue that “everybody” interprets the U S Constitution.

    But, to my point: England has, and has had, a Constitution. That Constitution provides absolute sovereignty to the Queen in Parliament.

    It is that concept of absolute sovereignty which administrators (bureaucrats) assert devolves to them which gives rise to the issue of the original post.

    We have the same issues here in the U S but they arise from different assertions (our Federal Administrative State, e.g.)not from an assertion of devolution of absolute sovereignty.

  • Laird

    I’d like to hear from some English barrister (or other knowledgeable person) about RRS’s statement that the English constitution provides the Queen “absolute sovereignty”. I thought that the monarch’s sovereignty was significantly constrained, by the Magna Carta and subsequent developments. Am I wrong?

  • Nicholas (Natural Genius) Gray

    Yes, I think that the Coronation oath does bind the monarch to agree to many conditions, ever since Magna Carta. King John’s early demise was the best thing he ever did for England- Magna Carta never did get repealed, and has stayed as a relevant part of English history ever since.

  • Guy Herbert

    Yes Laird, you are wrong. Note RRS says “the Queen in parliament” which is the formal definition of our supreme legislature, not the merely the Queen. The Crown – ie officials and ministers acting in the name of the sovreign, further exercise a good deal of residual prerogative power that stands outside parliament, and much of government activity per se falls into that category.

    There are limitations but they are either those of convention in more recent law than Magna Carta which is a nullity. (And arguably was a nullity within 100 years). Legislation can and does restrain prerogative, and so does the common law, and now EU law. There are some procedural constraints. But British democracy is dangerously absolute. British bureaucracy chafes against the control of the courts.

    An example of the importance and relative status of prerogative is that there is no legislation underlying the status of departments of state, though some of their agencies and offices have statutory status. If I were to become Prime Minister, I could by order abolish the Home Office on my first day. But I would have to delegate its statutory powers to some minister or ministers and provide for eg the National Crime Agency to have a master. I couldn’t without statutory authority have its headquarters, Seacole House, burned to the ground the same day because that would be destruction of crown property without authority. But an Act of parliament could be pushed through as emergency legislation, did I command a majority in the House of Commons, to do that and have all living former permanent secretaries executed without on the rubble.

    On Magna Carta, this, by my estimable friend David Allen Green, is good.

  • Guy Herbert

    As an aside on N(NG)G’s comment on the Coronation Oath. That is a confection originally devised for George V – who cleverly reinvented the monarchy in its modern ceremonial form – it has no legal force or meaning whatsoever. Who may be sovreign is bound by some constitutional statute, and the royal household must obey (most of, with trivial exemptions) the general law. But the crown functions of the sovreign are again founded in convention.

  • Schrodinger's Dog


    You wrote:”Over the years I have moved from being an unequivocal supporter of the American constitutional approach, to now concluding it actually does not matter a damn.”

    I don’t agree. The Constitution, or rather the Constitution as interpreted by the Supreme Court, has at least saved the United States from the utterly iniquitous “hate speech” laws. With the internet, this makes global censorship far more difficult, something for which we should all be grateful.

  • RRS

    Thus has Guy Herbert summed up the current condition of the English “State” as an embodiment of authority and its derivation from the Prerogative re-established in Stuart times and lost by James II; but not destroyed, simply transferred “in a box” to Westminster, where that prerogative remains intact.

    For a modern U S comparison to that form of authority, see, Phillip Hamburger’s Is Administrative Law Unlawful (2014)

  • Schrodinger’s Dog, I am not at all certain that it has been the 1st Amendment that has been saving free speech in the US, (neither am I certain that it has been the 2nd saving the right to bear arms – or what’s left of it). Rather, I think that it has been the particular American culture, the US history, etc. The Constitution may have helped to formalize these particular aspects of that culture, but I suspect that these rights would have survived without it as well.