As predicted, Tony Blair went to the Palace today to ask the Queen to dissolve Parliament. This archaic ritual may seem a little frivolous, but it is by no means the only power still granted by Royal Prerogative. As Stuart Weir recently wrote in Red Pepper, the prerogative also gave constitutional cover for the bypassing of Parliament in the run up to the Iraq war.
Now that the campaign has officially started, Red Pepper’s election coverage will appear daily on this Blog. We’ll try to remain enthusiastic and cover aspects of the genuine political debate that needs to be had – despite the best efforts of the mainstream parties and media to pitch to a conservative ideal of middle England’s ‘hard-working families’. But the signs don’t look good, and this election could see an even lower turnout than the 59% who bothered to vote in 2001. This is not a sign of apathy, but disappointment at the emptiness of Britain’s institutions.
Jean-Jacques Rousseau, attacking the English model of representative government in 1762, wrote some words that (taken out of context) might serve as a useful reminder to us today: “In a well-ordered city every man flies to the assemblies: under a bad government no one cares to stir a step to get to them, because no one is interested in what happens there, because it is foreseen that the general will will not prevail, and lastly because domestic cares are all-absorbing…. The people of England regards itself as free; but it is grossly mistaken; it is free only during the election of members of parliament. As soon as they are elected, slavery overtakes it, and it is nothing.” OR