Over recent days the Conservative government has proposed to make the former editor of the Daily Mail, Paul Dacre, the next chairman of the media regulator OfCom and Charles Moore, a Brexiteer critic of the BBC and his opposite number at the Telegraph, the next chairman of the BBC.
Priti Patel, having given up on her first idea of shipping refugees to the middle of the South Atlantic, is now reported to be considering Moldova, Morocco and Papua New Guinea.
Hollowing out the media and blaming immigrants for all the country’s problems has been the path taken by authoritarian governments across the decades. Indeed, these actions have already used by the most authoritarian governments in the EU, the Law & Justice Party in Poland, and Fidesz in Hungary.
But, worryingly, the Conservatives’ headlong rush in this direction is more than just skin deep. Over recent months, the Conservative Party has aligned its delegation in the Council of Europe’s Parliamentary Assembly with the waifs and strays of the extreme right of European politics in a new grouping, the European Conservatives and Democratic Alliance Group.
Amongst the better-known members of the EC/DA are Poland’s Law and Justice Party, which opposes LGBT rights, and Vox in Spain, which proudly calls itself anti-feminist and has campaigned to repeal the country’s gender-violence legislation. The group also contains representatives from the Danish People’s Party (anti-immigration), the Swedish Democrats (anti-Muslim) and Alternatif für Deutschland, one of whose legislators described the Holocaust as “certain misdeeds”.
The Conservatives MPs are not just ordinary members. Ian Liddell-Grainger (MP for Bridgwater and West Somerset) is its Chair. Dame Cheryl Gillan (MP for Chesham and Amersham) is one of two vice-Chairs. And Oxfordshire’s own John Howell, MP for Henley is it Treasurer.
When a Henley constituent of Mr Howell wrote suggesting he might want to resign that role he replied tersely “No.”
Oxford Region’s Chair, Graham Jones has now renewed that request – and gone further by suggesting he campaigns to have the Conservatives align with a Group that “more closely reflects the values of the people in his constituency.”
In a statement issued to the press, Graham said:
“These are parties out of step with traditional British Conservative values. Mr Howell is a decent man and must feel embarrassed rubbing shoulders with them. Given that the UK was a founding member of the Council of Europe after the war, creating our cross-party European Movement at the same time, is it really appropriate for his party to be associating with these unsavoury populist politicians, and for him to be aiding their activities?
“How does it square with the government’s stated mission ‘to make the Council of Europe better able to protect the UK’s goals in Europe on improving human rights, democracy and respect for the rule of law’?
“I would ask him to think again and not only resign his role as its treasurer, but also seek to have the Conservatives align with a Group that more closely reflects the values of the people in the constituency.”
The situation we are in as a nation is not hypothetical. This year alone, Johnson’s government has introduced over 250 regulations that have not been discussed nor approved by Parliament. The Internal Markets Bill that would give the government authority to break international law (you know…because we are special) also seeks to oust Judicial Review.
Most of the actions needed for the end of the Transition Period, such as building lorry parks, can now be done by diktat.
These are not the actions of a government that wishes to honour and protect the tried and tested conventions of British democracy.
We have to act now. Whether your MP is Conservative, Labour or LibDem write to request they reject and oppose this move towards authoritarian powers. After all it’s in their interests too – once the government decides its authority doesn’t come through parliament, what will they be needed for?