With Apologies To Baron Macaulay

XXVII

Then out spake prim Horatius,
The Censor of the Gate:
"To every persyn upon this earth
Butthurt cometh soon or late.
And how can we do better
When facing fearful speech,
Than shut down all discussion,
And stop the crimethink's reach?

XXVIII

"As for the tender mother
Who knits a woolen toy,
Best send the cops to brace her
Although it gives her joy
,
It matters not what we think,
We privileged with some sense,
Call the cops if anyone
May somehow take offense.

XXIX

"Haul down the books, Oh Councils,
With all the speed ye may;
I, with the state to help me,
Will halt bad speech in play.
If the people won't obey us
And alter all their norms,
Then force of law we'll bring to bear,
and stop extremism in all its forms.

Last 5 posts by Ken White

Comments

  1. Aaron says

    Ha! That was pretty good. Oh, I hope that's public domain, cause otherwise you'll get a DMCA even though it's clearly trans-formative, and fair use.

  2. says

    I salute your wordsmithery, Dr. White, but I still don't understand your philosophy. In one post you're mocking "butthurt," yet in the previous post you're asking that we treat with respect certain peoples' reaction to a shirt. Is butthurt, like obscenity, something you know when you see?

  3. says

    The difference is using threats of violence or the power of the state to shut down speech you don't like.

    And I wasn't saying you had to respect other people's reaction to a shirt. I was explaining why I felt the way I do, and suggesting it's silly to FREAK OUT because other people criticized a shirt.

  4. says

    Oddly, or perhaps not so oddly, I am more driven to violent thoughts by acts of censorship than by the words such acts are intended to suppress… Generally speaking, the advocates of ethnic, class, religious, gender, orientation, etc., hatred are wretched debaters, their so-called "arguments" poorly constructed: Self-contradictory, incoherent, weak, and unconvincing. Thus, I am never moved to anything other than laughter (at the advocates of these things) upon encountering such ideas. Yet, reading such proposals as Theresa May's, I find I am strongly possessed by a rather visceral, if inchoate and futile, rage. Following her logic, then, her own speech should be immediately subject to police control, as she is provably inciting violent thoughts — and I will be happy to attest to the truth of my emotional reaction under oath, not that it's relevant given the different legal systems we're under.

  5. Castaigne says

    Than shut down all discussion,

    Except that Christ Church cancelling the event wasn't "shutting down all discussion"; the article specifically states the debate will go on, just elsewhere. It's Christ Church's private property and if they don't want to deal with the security hassle, well, that's their right. If we were talking about public property, you might have a point there, but on private property, it's "My Property, My Rules. Obedience Or Leave."

    To do otherwise is to NEGATE free speech.

    Here's an equivalent example. In my house, on my property…wait a second. It's the UK, not the USA. Never mind. Don't care. They don't have a 1st Amendment over there in the UK, so it's not our problem.

    "As for the tender mother
    Who knits a woolen toy,
    Best send the cops to brace her
    Although it gives her joy,

    Again, UK. No free speech there. Not our problem.

    Then force of law we'll bring to bear,
    and stop extremism in all its forms.

    Again, UK. No free speech there. Not our problem.

    If we're going to discuss free speech in the UK, I'd prefer to wait until the accept governance by and inclusion into the USA, under the Constitution.

  6. George William Herbert says

    I do not know what Macaulay would make
    of the sentiments or the rhyme this day
    However, on the bridge we weep
    For Ken's been forced to poetry.

  7. Jacob Schmidt says

    But seriously though, what the fuck is abortion culture?

    And how can we do better
    When facing fearful speech,
    Than shut down all discussion,
    And stop the crimethink's reach?

    I sincerely doubt that. Not because they've promised to reschedule (a potential delaying tactic if I ever saw one), but because the institution in question is associated with the church; I do not believe that organization has any problem with the notion that abortions might be bad.

  8. Castaigne says

    @Michael Donnelly:

    It's not codified the same way as the British law, but it is definitely the state shutting down speech it doesn't like.

    Then we should definitely have the law that allows this repealed or declared unConstitutional, shouldn't we? Get some caselaw settled on this. But that's for the USA; nothing we can – or should – do about these UK issues, unless we conquer them.

    @Ken White:

    It's funny when people lecture me on "my house, my rules" and then tell me I shouldn't be writing about something.

    I didn't say you shouldn't be writing about it. I'm just saying "Meh, not American, not our problem." C'mon, don't put words in my mouth. That says nothing about what you should or should not write.

  9. En Passant says

    Michael Donnelly wrote November 18, 2014 at 5:39 pm:

    Actually our problem [as] well, it would appear: …[Arstechnica link omitted, it's good though]

    This looks like a particularly bullshit DOJ attack on the First Amendment.

    Apparently an undercover agent asked the defendant Heather Coffman if she ever posted anything supporting ISIS, and she shook her head "no". So she's charged with lying to an federal agent. Any society that values free speech should bring that kind of government overreach to a screeching halt.

    Will we? I don't know but I hope so. I'll go so far as to say that the prosecutors and government agents responsible should be drummed out of government service immediately without their pensions. Just because they're so unAmerican that they hate the First Amendment.

    This prosecution needs a mad dog take no prisoners First Amendment defense, and some fiery publicity. The exculpatory no has been outlawed by these federal statutes criminalizing the act of saying "I didn't do it", even if you don't know exactly what they claim you did. Legal pushback and public free speech advocacy is long overdue.

    For some perspective, 1st Baron Macaulay[1] died a few years before the English Act for preventing the frequent Abuses in printing seditious treasonable and unlicensed Bookes and Pamphlets and for regulating of Printing and Printing Presses was repealed in 1863. He was, of course, never in real danger of prosecution under it.

    Dryden, Pope and Swift (mostly Swift) worked under the guns of that act. Swift's printer was convicted under the act. Later a jury refused to convict Swift under the act for the Drapier Letters. Swift, in a courageous act of outrage over his prosecution, then published fierce attacks on the Lord Chief Justice of Ireland.

    Dryden and Pope wrote their satires more subtly. Several decades ago, I heard the late great literary critic Hugh Kenner describe the techniques: "Write so cleverly and subtly that a prosecutor trying to convince a jury that your work is seditious libel would put the jury to sleep."

    That might be a way to approach the present overreach. So, maybe Heather should have written "I really lurve me some of Osiris' main squeeze." I think that would be hard to prosecute without putting the jury to sleep, or making them roll on the floor laughing.

    FN 1: Damn fine satirical verse, Ken!

  10. Castaigne says

    Apparently an undercover agent asked the defendant Heather Coffman if she ever posted anything supporting ISIS, and she shook her head "no". So she's charged with lying to an federal agent. Any society that values free speech should bring that kind of government overreach to a screeching halt.

    That's overreach? She lied to a federal agent. Whether or not she knew it was a federal agent is irrelevant; the material fact remains that she lied to a federal agent. I can't exactly lie to a client I'm talking to on the phone, and then claim I'm in the clear because I didn't know it was really a superior in my employment who was making a bust. I don't see much of a difference between the two. Of course, I also would have answered honestly and said "Yes.", regardless of if I knew it was a fed or not. The only rational answers are to state the fact or refuse to answer the question.

    I dunno, perhaps I expect too much of people.

  11. Mateo says

    Castaigne, you're absolutely right. "She lied to a federal agent." Who was undercover. So if you happen to talk to a stranger today and lie about the number of times you blew your nose, by all means, it should be a felony. That's exactly the kind of governmental power we want our government agents to have. I see no way such an interpretation could possibly be abused.

  12. xtmar says

    @Castaigne

    I think it is actually material if she knew the undercover agent was a fed or not. Absent either a specific professional or fiduciary duty, as with a client or employer, or if you're testifying under oath, I don't think that people have a specific duty to be truthful to others. If you were to ask me randomly on the street how much I made last year, and I gave you a completely inaccurate response, that wouldn't be criminal, but if you were an undercover FBI agent, it would be, which is preposterous.

    Of course, if I'm wrong and we have a general legal obligation to tell the truth to everyone all the time, I apologize and have egg on my face, but I don't think that's the case. I think morally and as a practical matter, we should strive to do so, but I don't think failing at that should be or is criminal.

  13. Taliesyn says

    @xtmar

    There is no legal requirement to tell the truth in day-to-day activities (ie – not including fiduciary, legal, or professional duties/activities). There is, however, a legal requirement to always tell the truth to police. The problem is that those laws do not make exemptions for whether or not you know they are police or even if you know what they're talking about.

  14. Salem says

    Again, UK. No free speech there.

    Say what? As implemented in UK law by the who?

    It's Christ Church's private property and if they don't want to deal with the security hassle, well, that's their right. If we were talking about public property, you might have a point there, but on private property, it's "My Property, My Rules. Obedience Or Leave."

    Is this based on an argument that Oxford University, and Christ Church, are somehow not public bodies in the meaning of the HRA in terms of their relation to students? Or is this just you bloviating about something of which you know nothing?

  15. Luke G says

    @Taliesyn

    With regards to the laws requiring not lying to the cops not having an exemption for lying to an unidentified undercover agent: Just out of college I worked security at a college bar. When we asked a patron to leave, a woman came to help lead him out and he pushed her arm off of him. He was immediately thrown the floor and cuffed, arrested for "assaulting an officer" via drunken "don't touch me" arm shove.

    Apparently this woman was notorious for going to bars and touching the drunks to get them to touch her back, then filing assaulting an officer charges. I confronted one of the uniforms who said that, when questioned, she simply says she identified herself properly, and the brass believes her.

    So yeah, it's not just the lying/truth laws that give police entirely too much protection whether or not they're acting under color of law, or whether you have any idea that they are police and therefore have the extra protection. (Oh, and my petty revenge was simply start yelling "cop!" every time she came into a bar I was in. Haven't seen her in years).

  16. Jacob Schmidt says

    I can't exactly lie to a client I'm talking to on the phone, and then claim I'm in the clear because I didn't know it was really a superior in my employment who was making a bust. I don't see much of a difference between the two.

    You have a responsibility to tell the truth to clients as a term of your employment, but not to tell the truth to random civilians?

  17. Burnside says

    "Meh, not American, not our problem."

    You're right, Castaigne. I had completely forgotten that the internet is for Americans only and so it should only be concerned with American things. If people want to discuss British news, they should head on over to the British internet.

  18. Taliesyn says

    @Luke G

    I never mentioned undercover – I was explicitly including undercover, off-duty, and/or plain-clothes officers, because the bloody law makes no distinction. Hell, you could simply screw up a simple question like "What did you do last Tuesday?" by forgetting you stopped at the store that day, and boom, you're technically guilty of a felony.

    The thin blue line is another problem altogether, especially when it protects abuses like that. I do like your solution, however.

  19. Taliesyn says

    @Jacob Schmidt

    Businesses lie all the time, be it advertising, telling you something is coming Soon(tm), or pretty much any other way to turn a profit. I've dealt with parts supplies who lied about product when they actually didn't have any, CSR's who lied about return policies, even a VP at a prior employer who asked me on three separate occasions to falsify metrics being sent to a client so as to make it look like we weren't in default of contract. (I told him no all three times and found another job ASAFP.)

    You should ALWAYS expect that you may be lied to if there is any conceivable way a lie would be more profitable than the truth. And honestly, even if it's not you should be careful.

  20. Babs says

    Not only that, Burnside, but free speech is a uniquely American concept, apparently, and no one outside the States should be concerned about it.

  21. Grifter says

    Wait, the linked article doesn't say the lie was to the undercover agents:

    She is accused of telling an undercover FBI agent that she could help facilitate sending somebody to join the ISIS fight in Syria, and she then lied to FBI agents about it.

    It looks like she hung out with an undercover agent, and then when she was questioned about the agent by "real" agents, she lied about it. Seems kinda entrappy, in the sense the questions were about the undercover agent, but it also seems like she lied to real, identified agents.

  22. David C says

    I can't exactly lie to a client I'm talking to on the phone, and then claim I'm in the clear because I didn't know it was really a superior in my employment who was making a bust. I don't see much of a difference between the two.

    The difference is this. Lying to clients is prohibited. You know this. If you lie to your employer who is pretending to be a client, you're attempting to lie to a client, which is prohibited behavior.

    But if you lie to an undercover agent, you aren't trying to do anything prohibited. You're trying to lie to a random person. It is not prohibited to lie to a random person.

    But that's all moot anyway – someone misread the Ars article. According to the article, the woman was NOT charged with lying TO the undercover agent. She was interviewed by two non-undercover agents and asked ABOUT the undercover agent, whereupon she lied, trying to cover for the person who she didn't know was an agent. It was still a setup, but at least she did intentionally lie to someone she knew was an agent.

  23. ZK says

    It's apparently a fact of the internet that you must get through 90% of the comments before someone reads the article. Even here.

  24. DRJlaw says

    @Castaigne, @En Passant

    I'll leave the definitive word to those who have actually practiced Federal criminal law, but long long ago in my wee-little law student classes we were taught that for most crimes — excepting violations (no jail time) or a handful of serious crimes such as statutory rape — there is a mens rea requirement.

    For states that follow the model penal code, if no mens rea is mentioned the default standard is recklessness. However the key concept, which I assume applies to Federal law as well, is that where a standard is specified it carries over to each material element of the crime unless it is explicitly varied — a so-called "one for all rule."

    My guess is that you would have to knowingly or purposefully lie to a federal agent — i.e., not merely knowingly or purposefully lie, but knowingly or purposefully to such a person. You don't get to conclude that "he/she purposefully lied, and it happened to be to an undercover FBI agent, so felony." You have to determine that that person know they were talking to a federal agent, and then lied rather than following the oh-so-sage advice to say absolutely nothing except for "we'll be speaking through my lawyer."

  25. En Passant says

    DRJlaw November 19, 2014 at 2:48 pm wrote:

    My guess is that you would have to knowingly or purposefully lie to a federal agent — i.e., not merely knowingly or purposefully lie, but knowingly or purposefully to such a person. You don't get to conclude that "he/she purposefully lied, and it happened to be to an undercover FBI agent, so felony." You have to determine that that person know they were talking to a federal agent, and then lied rather than following the oh-so-sage advice to say absolutely nothing except for "we'll be speaking through my lawyer."

    The problem is that police and prosecutors strain to create criminal prosecutions where speech was merely flippant and the "lies" were just stupid bravado.

    Say you tell an undercover agent that you know a supersekrit way to end Civilization as We Know It™, when what you really mean is "I can talk smack about anything you want." Then the police interview you about whether you told the undercover agent that you were planning to end Civilization as We Know It™, You say "no, not really".

    You have just lied to a cop. They have the undercover agent's testimony that you said you knew how. If you knew how, all they have to do is convince a jury that you must be planning to do it, because why would anyone ever say that if they didn't mean it?

    In the wake of 9/11 and the rise of terrorism by radical Islamist groups there have been numerous prosecutions of people, mostly young idiots who were really no more dangerous than just pissed about their parents or something, for plots to do crazy and almost impossible things. The government agents encourage them to take further feckless steps in furtherance of the ridiculous "plan", then bust them.

    Meanwhile, the same government agencies do nothing about actual terrorists. It's become a way to "make work" for themselves without having to do any actual police or intelligence work to prevent actual terrorist attacks. They've taken to heart P. T. Barnum's (or maybe it was Mark Twain's) advice: "Nobody ever went broke underestimating the intelligence of the American public."

    I don't think that in an allegedly free society that anybody should find it necessary to be constantly on guard in case a flippant or even comedic statement will later come back to them as a criminal prosecution.

    As Ken pointed out in his original verse and links, even expressing something as ill-defined as "extremism" now can bring police and prosecutorial attention. Police and prosecutors should prevent actual crime and bring actual criminal perpetrators to justice. Focussing on "extremist speech" brings about just the opposite: letting actual terrorists run free while prosecuting harmless idiots who talk smack.

  26. Stevie says

    Ben

    Well, there are a lot of people who are completely clueless as to legal systems in England and Wales, and they get downright flabbergasted to discover that we do, indeed, have laws relating to free speech, both homegrown from common law and, for example, the legislation you mentioned, as well as those relating to the EHR, which was mostly drafted by English lawyers.

    I have no doubt that Cambridge will re-arrange this, but just in case anyone's worrying that they may miss it, I can provide a brief summary:

    all forms of contraception are inherently evil and contrary to God's will, so [shut up about priests abusing children] and get back to producing more children. And yes, they really do believe that taking the contraceptive pill is an abortion, just in case you thought abortion meant abortion.

    This may seem lacking in nuance but anyone familiar with the antics of the SPUC and its ilk over the years has come to realise that they don't do nuance; they have, on occasion, told downright lies, as the judge found in the case I cited above, but nuance is not in their toolkit.

    According to the SPUC: the case was about the 'morning after' pill; the judge disagreed:

    "The claimant, John Smeaton, who acts on behalf of the Society for the Protection of Unborn Children (“SPUC”), says that such prescription or supply amounts in principle to a criminal offence under sections 58 and/or 59 of the Offences against the Person Act 1861 (“the 1861 Act”)"

    "In reality the allegations which SPUC makes extend to this: that a woman who takes the morning-after pill is herself potentially committing a criminal offence under the 1861 Act.
    Furthermore, and whatever SPUC may say, these allegations of serious criminality which it makes extend to cover any form of birth control which may have the effect of discouraging a fertilised egg from implanting in the lining of the womb – that is to say, not merely the morning-after pill but also IUDs, the mini-pill, and even the pill itself."

    Finally, I have to note that much of the money used to fight hopeless cases like this comes from Christian Fundamentalists in the US, just as they provide money in Africa to encourage people to kill anyone they suspect may be gay. I wish they didn't…

  27. Desiderius says

    "Could a person with such character stand up, against great odds, in the face of the the very casques that did affright the air at Agincourt? Could such a person do his duty, as England expected, at Trafalgar? Could such a person keep calm and carry on? Would such a person fight on beaches, on landing grounds, in fields and streets, in the hills, and never surrender? Is such a person capable of having a finest hour?

    I ask because of this: societies that make rules like this one, encouraging its citizens to scamper mewling behind the skirts of the government when faced with the least offense, produce people with the character necessary to take them up on the offer. It is hard to imagine how a nation run by people of that character can endure — or at least, how it can endure as anyplace you'd want to live."

    Hear, hear. I have difficulty imagining a more advantageous ground upon which to disavail people of that character of their run of the nation(s).

  28. Desiderius says

    "The planned protest, organised through a Facebook page entitled 'What the fuck is 'abortion culture", now lists over 330 people as attending.

    Neaverson told Cherwell, 'I'm relieved the Censors have made this decision. It clearly makes the most sense for the safety – both physical and mental – of the students who live and work in Christ Church. I'm glad the views of the GM were well represented and well received.'"

    No place so sacred from such fops is barr'd,
    Nor is Paul's church more safe than Paul's churchyard:
    Nay, fly to altars; there they'll talk you dead:
    For fools rush in where angels fear to tread.
    Distrustful sense with modest caution speaks;
    It still looks home, and short excursions makes;
    But rattling nonsense in full volleys breaks;
    And never shock'd, and never turn'd aside,
    Bursts out, resistless, with a thund'ring tide.

    But where's the man, who counsel can bestow,
    Still pleas'd to teach, and yet not proud to know?
    Unbias'd, or by favour or by spite;
    Not dully prepossess'd, nor blindly right;
    Though learn'd, well-bred; and though well-bred, sincere;
    Modestly bold, and humanly severe?
    Who to a friend his faults can freely show,
    And gladly praise the merit of a foe?
    Blest with a taste exact, yet unconfin'd;
    A knowledge both of books and human kind;
    Gen'rous converse; a soul exempt from pride;
    And love to praise, with reason on his side?

    – Pope, Essay on Criticism

  29. dee nile says

    "Focussing on "extremist speech" brings about just the opposite: letting actual terrorists run free while prosecuting harmless idiots who talk smack."

    Terrorists are dangerous. Harmless idiots are, by definition, not. If you were a cowardly cop, which would you go after?

  30. barry says

    Again, UK. No free speech there.

    Probably about the same amount. But I am counting practical/effective free speech rather than theoretical free speech, ie. how much you can say before you end up in court (the worst per capita defamation rate seems to belong to Sweden).

    Popehat often does international stories. But not all as funny as the last one about the British space scientist who wore a very loud shirt on TV without taking into account the sensibilities of American audiences. That demonstrated that there is no default culture, even if it often looks like it's the one we happen to live in. It's minorities all the way down.

  31. Castaigne says

    @Mateo:

    So if you happen to talk to a stranger today and lie about the number of times you blew your nose, by all means, it should be a felony.

    It wouldn't occur to me to lie about it, as there's never a point in lying. *shrugs* Like I said, maybe I expect too much of people. I know that when people lie to me and I find out that I am very vengeful and punitive in response, so perhaps it's just not something I'm going to encounter very much. YMMV.

    =====

    @xtmar:

    Absent either a specific professional or fiduciary duty, as with a client or employer, or if you're testifying under oath, I don't think that people have a specific duty to be truthful to others.

    Ah, I would disagree with that entirely, but then, I find lying to be enraging. If a law were proposed that would allow a person who had been the recipient of a lie beat the liar around the head, face, and body with a crowbar until hospitalization was reuired, I would fully support it. I generally consider lying to be almost worse than rape or murder; at least rape and murder are honest and non-deceptive.

  32. Castaigne says

    @Salem:

    Say what? As implemented in UK law by the who?

    *shrugs* Your Queen or the Parliament can negate all that stuff at will, either by leaving the EU or repealing/overriding the Act. If there is a British/UK Constitution that your royalty or Parliament are unable to override, that's news to me. I mean, isn't only custom that prevents the Queen from waving her hand and doing what she damn well pleases?

    Is this based on an argument that Oxford University, and Christ Church, are somehow not public bodies in the meaning of the HRA in terms of their relation to students?

    I was at first under the impression that the article was referring to a location in the USA, where no, those would not be public bodies. That's why I immediately never-minded after seeing that it was in the UK. Public or private in the UK is whatever the Queen/Parliament says it is.

  33. Castaigne says

    @Jacob Schmidt:

    You have a responsibility to tell the truth to clients as a term of your employment, but not to tell the truth to random civilians?

    No, I was using an analogy to illustrate a point.

    =====

    @Burnside:

    You're right, Castaigne. I had completely forgotten that the internet is for Americans only and so it should only be concerned with American things.

    No, just that anything outside of the USA is irrelevant to Americans. All of y'all operate under different laws and such; free speech is uniquely defined in the USA and has no applicability outside of it.

    It's like this story I once was told by a British solicitor (I think that's the term) about an American he had to represent. The American had landed in an airport in the UK (I forget which) with a loaded .45 in a shoulder holster (God only knows how he got it on the plane) and when British police took exception to that, he went ballistic (not literally). American was screaming about his 2nd Amendment rights and how they applied everywhere in the world and blah blah blah. Ended up with some prison time there in the UK and got a very good lesson in how the Constitution ends at the borders of American territory.

  34. Castaigne says

    @En Passant:

    If you knew how, all they have to do is convince a jury that you must be planning to do it, because why would anyone ever say that if they didn't mean it?

    Exactly. No one would say something if they didn't mean it. It would be irrational and incomprehensible to do so.

    =====

    @Desiderius:

    I ask because of this: societies that make rules like this one, encouraging its citizens to scamper mewling behind the skirts of the government when faced with the least offense, produce people with the character necessary to take them up on the offer. It is hard to imagine how a nation run by people of that character can endure — or at least, how it can endure as anyplace you'd want to live."

    Well, in all seriousness, here's the problem I have with that. If I'm not going to let government take care of the problem, or the law, or whatever, then I have to take care of it myself. And if I'm going to solve it, I'm going to do it in:
    a) the most practical way possible
    b) in the most permanent fashion possible, so I don't have to deal with the problem again.

    People tend to object to this and prefer governmental solutions.

  35. Salem says

    I mean, isn't only custom that prevents the Queen from waving her hand and doing what she damn well pleases?

    Hilarious.

  36. Castaigne says

    @Salem:

    Hilarious.

    Well, let's see. Looking it up, the monarch is bound by the "Constitution of the United Kingdom", but that Constitution is uncodified and basically consists of the sum of the law that makes up UK statutes. Changes in the Constitution are thus accomplished simply by passing Acts of Parliament.

    Going further into it, the monarch is in practice only constrained by "convention and precedent", which can be overturned at any time is the monarch decides to drop 'parliamentary sovereignty' as a principle and dismiss Parliament unilaterally – a power the monarch still has and has not relinquished. Since the military gives their oath directly to the monarch, and not to Parliament, this is feasible and would probably be desirable in an emergency.

    So yes, precedent and custom are the only things restraining HRM from taking direct control of the government….and this is the position of your own Royal Commission on the Constitution (1969-1973).

  37. Stevie says

    Castaigne

    Well, oddly enough we do have emergencies from time to time, and the outcome of Cobr meetings relating to those emergencies are, of course, reported to Her Majesty in due course.

    It occurs to me that a possible source of your confusion is that you really don't understand the weight of convention and precedent in this country; this is unsurprising, given that the U.S. hasn't been around for very long, and therefore hasn't had the time to accumulate them.

    Equally you seem unaware that the powers of the Crown have significantly altered since 1973; the creation of the Supreme Court is an obvious example. The appointment of judges in general, and the Supreme Court in particular, is now out of the hands of politicians and the monarch, which I personally find infinitely preferable to the U.S. system…

  38. Salem says

    Castaigne, you don't get it. The Queen isn't just bound by the Constitution, she's also bound by statute. She has no power to suspend or dispense the law at her pleasure (unlike, apparently, Mr Obama). Indeed, much of our constitutional law is statutory. She cannot unilaterally "drop" parliamentary sovereignty as a principle – at least, not legally. I suppose she could stage a coup d'état, if she could get the army to go along with her, but then by the same token so could anyone, and now we are outside the legal realm anyway.

    What she could do, in theory, is prorogue Parliament on her own initiative (note that despite what you say, she can't even dissolve it on her own initiative, as she used to be able to) but this would in no way be "dropping" Parliamentary sovereignty. Indeed, Parliament gets prorogued and dissolved on a regular basis. She could also take direct control of the government, or appoint ministers of her own choosing. This too would not be "dropping" Parliamentary sovereignty. Or she could refuse Royal Assent to a bill; this too would not be "dropping" Parliamentary sovereignty – indeed, the monarch is part of Parliament. Any of these actions, however, would be highly unusual, and would likely only be used in an emergency. And the reason that they would only be used in an emergency is that Parliament can fight back. For example, if the Queen appoints ministers not to the liking of the House of Commons, they can refuse supply. This is exactly what happened to the last monarch to try this (William IV) and no-one has tried it since.

  39. AlphaCentauri says

    May says far-right activists and Islamist hotheads who have not committed any crime or incited violence could be served with an order to shut the hell up. She has also talked about people who … have "rejected democracy"—these folk, too, could potentially be branded extremists and silenced.

    So by enacting such a law, one simultaneously becomes the first violator. Fucking brilliant.

  40. andrews says

    isn't only custom that prevents the Queen from waving her hand and doing what she damn well pleases

    No. The main thing that prevents the Queen from waving her hand and doing what she pleases is old age. She can barely survive being wheeled out for public display a few times per year. For decades she has lacked the stamina to do anything worthy of note.

    The main royal accomplishments within living memory are breathing at the various decade-in-office anniversary celebrations. I am not sure this is worse than what we in the states see in our recent presidents.

  41. Stevie says

    Andrews

    Er, I think you may have a somewhat tenuous hold on what might loosely be called facts; in reality Her Majesty is still capable of putting the boot into her PM for breaching the convention that her personal views on constitutional matters are never disclosed, viz the Scottish referendum.

    I was in Paris during the the D Day commemorations this summer, and was somewhat bemused to see the Union Jack and the Tricoleur in pairs every 20 metres or so as we strolled down the Champs Élysées, particularly since we were held up by massive security surrounding Obama and Hollande having a meal together. The total absence of the Stars and Stripes, apart from the ones on Obama's cars, was a not terribly subtle clue that France chose to honour those who had been with them from the start.
    Admittedly, Hollande really enjoys Her visits because la Reine is immensely popular in France, so some of that rubs off on him; he doesn't get to hear people cheering him very often, so it's nice when it happens.

    Equally, La Reine made the keynote speech at the commemoration; in deference to those who do not speak French she did it in English, but she could have done otherwise since she is highly fluent in French, and has personally known every Head of State in France since De Gaulle.

    So, definitely not convinced by your fantasised view of the Queen, but you do seem to be overlooking a blindingly obvious point; your hypothetical coup could be carried out by Prince Charles, William, Harry, the Princess Royal etc. etc., so suggesting that the only reason hasn't happened is the queen herself is elderly is downright ridiculous…

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