A Year Without Statutes

The descent pattern is apparent, the crisis is locked; but it's a nice summer morning and I had a very relaxing jacuzzi in the Fulham Broadway David Lloyds after my workout yesterday, so I'm not going to go on about gloomy stuff right now.

Instead, I wanted to make two small suggestions to my fellow subjects, and any other reader at the asylum ; read about Palmerston, and think about a country that passed no laws for a year.

I always admired Lord Palmerston, or at least I did so before it was fashionable to drop his name. The rakish, Regency product who ended up the grand 'Old Pam' of the mid-nineteenth century was, after all, one of the more interesting men ever to be Prime Minister.

I first discovered the history of him in a second-hand bookstall at a Rockingham Castle fete when I was twelve. As I remember it, though memories of childhood always do this, the day was as bright as this one seems set to be. Jasper Ridley's biography smelled of age and seriousness, and I fell on it with some small amount of money I got from somewhere, and a great deal of fascination.

My favourite story from it wasn't Palmerston's extremely tough line on crime, or the tale of his Irish aristocratic Britishness that I used to annoy some patronising liberal poet one of my English teachers once got in to hold forth on Shelagh Delaney-type ways about working class consciousness. It wasn't even the way he got into politics by performing well in three different beds, which is at least more honest fun than a political party selection meeting.

My favourite story was of the allegation, made against Palmerston in his eighties that he was having an affair with a Mrs O'Kane. The allegation came, principally, from Mrs O'Kane. The 1850s were far less prudish than the late Victorian period, which on this side of the Atlantic wasn't so prudish as we have been led to believe for years. 'She was O'Kane,' went the headlines, 'but was he able?'.

Big Sid James style laughs all around, if you know your bible stories. Good luck to him in whatever compacted dimension the past still exists in.

Anyway, I was thinking of Old Pam today. He was once stopped in the lobby of the House of Commons, where he sat despite being an Irish Earl (a bit like Michael Ancram used to). He was asked if he supported some new law or other. What he did was something I wish people would do these days.

Palmerston said he wouldn't support the new bill, because there were 'too many laws'.

How much more true is that today. Scarcely a day goes by without some new interference in our civil lives, dressed up as an attempt to 'deal with' a usually manufactured or distorted problem got up by lobby groups of busybodies or by politicians trying to justify their own existence.

In fact, there are so many laws nobody knows how many there are. The Office of Public Sector Information doesn't say, or at least, doesn't make it easy. The Statute Law database doesn't seem to have the number accessible. I suppose I should go to the Middle temple library and measure or weigh the Halsbury's, or have a look at its index. There's a first time for everything, after all. Yet even that organ makes counting the laws in force, rather than the statutes it has cognisance of, hard to glean.

So why not have a year without statutes?

Law wouldn't stop. The courts work. Precedents apply. The EU could not be stopped from churning out directives, but it may be salutary not to pass the domestic legislation to implement them, and to let the courts work out what they meant or whether they were legal.

The best benefit of a year of no statutes, though, would be that we would realise something Palmerston intuited; the essential uselessness of most of the media and political class at any one time. Those who were any good would stop patronising people or trying to 'do things' and actually have a proper debate about what sort of a country they wanted; the vast majority, who are no good, would simply either fester or explode.

That would be quite good in itself. Politics these days is about allowing the personal psychological problems of semi-talented individuals to be embraced by well-funded lobbies on behalf of panting elites and the post-protestant hordes of the wannabe righteous. Most of them are unemployable except by their mates, and most of the mainstream media do not know what they are doing. In addition, most laws are nannying attempts to stave off the moment when people actually have to work out how to live their own lives, and get on with others (in England at least).

There are many cues one could take from Lord Palmerston. The inescapability of feminine attraction, proper strong foreign policies and proper tough rules about crime, to name but three. The utility of balancing budgets would be a fourth.

But the best suggestion to reach us today from the long ago is still as wise as it usually was. It is that there are too many laws, and we should just stop and think about whether we need any more or if we want to get rid of lots of them.


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