Monday, 23 June 2014

Stand for Something

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Colin Craig and his party met over the weekend.

After many months of public hand wringing Craig finally announced in which seat in he will be standing. And after many weeks of publicly insisting National throw him an electoral deal,  whinging he and his party deserved it, he is now saying “what they do is up to them…. all those things are helpful but it's not something we're asking for.” Well, not now. Not this week.

Craig and his deputy, former head of Social Welfare Christine Rankin, famous for being as generous spending taxpayer money on herself and her staff as Grant Dalton, launched their campaign with the slogan ‘Stand for Something.’

It sounds like a plea to his members.

These are the four things they’ve decided to stand for. If you don’t like them, they have others. (I’ve reviewed their first policy last and their last policy first; since the party leader is religious, he’ll understand.)

“A ‘simplification’ of the tax system including a tax free threshold that delivers everybody a tax cut.”

No complaints there, since they also favour balanced budgets – but there’s no figure for the tax cut which, just ninety days from an election could either be laziness or a wriggle (or both?) and it looks too much like populism when you won’t say what spending you would cut to match.

“No more ‘discounting of sentences’ to ensure criminals serve their full prison terms.”

It’s a bad run-on sentence (does discounting truly ensure criminals serve their full prison terms?), but if I take their meaning accurately, they’re going for the Law and Order vote and this is their chosen flagship. Fair enough. And there’s certainly no reason anyone convicted of crimes with actual victims deserves early release as of right, but can’t we please distinguish between actual crimes and victimless crimes, and can’t we imagine a situation in which prisoners might be offered incentives to improve their behaviour?

“An end to policies that favour some New Zealanders on the basis of race.”

I fully agree. It’s taken Craig some time to come round to this, so you might see a degree of opportunism in borrowing form 1Law4All. But he goes one step ahead of 1Law4All by insisting “the government shall protect property rights” (as good to hear as it is rare to hear it from a politician) and saying “if land has been taken without just cause from any owner, then reinstatement or reparation must be made. The courts should treat equally all citizens in respect to legal claims about land and property.” Very good indeed.

It means absolutely nothing, however, because their real flagship policy makes a simply nullity of all the others. That policy is:

“Referendums should become binding on Governments.”

I am utterly, totally, irrevocably and on principle opposed to this policy, and to any party with this as a policy.

To identify the nature of binding referenda is to damn them: the idea behind binding referenda is that the will of the majority should always be enforced; that unlimited majority rule is always right.  Nothing could be more dangerous, or more destructive of real freedom. 

We frequently hear the call for 'binding referenda,' as if the will of the majority were always right beyond question. Yet without the protection of right, such unlimited majority rule is as dangerous as outright tyranny – whether you’re done over by the mobocracy or the government, the result for the minority is the same either way.

It’s not just that the majority is not always right, but that right is so easily buried by populist might. Unlimited majority rule puts in danger every “minority” who disagrees – and since the smallest “minority” is the individual, every disagreeable individual’s life, liberty and pursuit of property and happiness is hostage to the will of the mob.

It’s not just  a curious position for a very minor party to adopt, since it fallaciously assumes whatever results from referenda would be to the liking of the members of this minority party. But as the ghost of Socrates might tell you, in any battle between an individual and the community under such a system, it’s the individual’s life and fortune that is ultimately forfeit.

As  Walter Williams reminds conservatives, "Democracy and majority rule [can] give an aura of legitimacy to acts that would otherwise be deemed tyranny." Principled government is not built on majority rule, but on individual rights.  Hanging your hat on the verisimilitude of a vote is no substitute for standing on principle, it is simply the counting of heads regardless of content and making it law.

Until the most important things in our polity are put beyond the vote -- our rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of property and happiness -- and only a written constitution and widespread support for these rights can do that effectively -- then binding referenda are not the harbinger of freedom, they are just one more of its many desecrators, one very hard to overturn if ever introduced.

This is not to utterly disparage the party and its members for standing for something other than mainstream blancmange. Good for them for standing up for something.

But whatever policies they do stand for, a policy of binding referenda trumps them because it can always potentially veto them. In other words, if you’re standing for this this, then you are standing for anything.

1 comment:

  1. Unless that referendum process can only be used to revoke an existing law as opposed to creating new ones.


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