Tuesday, 14 July 2009

Guardian Councils

Denis MacShane, in the Independent last Thursday, inveighed against the Dangerous Constitution Bill. "Now the Commons has a new supervisory body which is a British version of Guardians – a concept instituted in Iran and other nations where the raw democracy is considered too messy. [...] Under the new rules, MPs who write books have to report how many hours they worked researching, thinking and writing them. [...] The same rules apply to QCs like the late John Smith who could not have been an MP, let alone Labour leader under these provisions. For party bosses this is a perfect mechanism to reduce MPs to being poodles living in permanent fear of the new 'Council of Guardians' and its Commissioner."

(Iran's Council of Guardians vets all parliamentary candidates for adherence to Islam. This is presumably a major reason for the USA declaring Iran to be undemocratic. However, not only is there a de facto bar to a US citizen entering Congress, the money to fund a campaign, there is also the need to subscribe to the Abrahamic God. If there is an atheist, agnostic or even a Buddhist member of Congress, I have yet to hear of him or her. To that extent, the UK parliament is more liberal than Congress.)

In the same issue, there was a report from Israel that Shin Bet had effectively become the Guardian of the Judiciary: "Israel's internal security service has been given a de facto veto over the appointment of judges in an unprecedented decision that has the country's embattled liberals up in arms.

"The move by the Judges Selection Committee on Friday is likely to make it harder for members of Israel's Arab minority and others with views that are not mainstream to become judges, according to the Association for Civil Rights in Israel (Acri). Zahava Galon, a former MP of the dovish Meretz party, said the decision was 'a scandal'. She said: 'We are turning into a kind of police state with Big Brother everywhere. A judge shouldn't have to pass the Shin Bet's tests. This is just something that isn't done.'"

I am optimistic that, now it has been exposed, this vetting will not long survive scrutiny in one of the most open societies on earth. There are also signs in Iran that internal fissures, aggravated by the recent demonstrations against a probably stolen presidential election, may lead to the end of the Guardian Council there. But I can't see the Mandelson/Brown government, with its Stalinist tendencies, giving up its chance to turn MPs into elected employees.


Frank H Little said...

Now a supervisory board is proposed for Ynys Môn. In view of the trouble that island's council has been in virtually since its inception, one cannot argue too strenously against this. However, this sort of "fire-fighting" must be the exception, not the rule.

Frank H Little said...

Lord Tyler (a former Liberal Democrat whip in the Commons) reports that the Upper House has much improved the Bill. While addressing the problem of privilege, it is not clear yet whether Denis MacShane's other points have been met.