5 Feb 2023

“Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.

Lord Acton, 1887

On 6 May 2020 I published ECONOMIC SHUTDOWN! EMERGENCY!!. This has aged quite well, in my opinion. I forecast a form of stagflation; essentially economic slowdown and rising prices.

At the time, in common with almost everybody else, I took the government’s need to exercise emergency powers for granted. The Public Health Act of 1984 was supplemented by The Coronavirus Act, hurried through after four days of whatever passed for Parliamentary scrutiny in March 2020. 

The act allowed the government to detain anyone suspected of having the virus (a pretty alarming negation of civil liberties by itself), to close borders, to record deaths without inquests, to restrict the right of assembly, to close schools, to suspend elections. As I recall, it did all of those.

Legislation, which normally needs to be laboriously passed through Parliament, is not practical in an emergency. Obviously the question of what constitutes an emergency is a matter of opinion. And a perpetual state of emergency is ideal for anyone who wants to restrict or compel the behaviour of others. This explains why the language of crisis (catastrophe, extinction, mass murder) is employed by Net Zero enthusiasts. There is a website that monitors the progress of extinction claims over time.

So the Thunberg team knows what it is doing. But while we may fend off the most extreme demands, the plausibility of Lord Acton’s words was supported all too well during the pandemic. 

The leaders of Canada, New Zealand, Scotland, Wales and many other places appeared to relish the power and to believe that authoritarianism was a measure of responsibility. 


I recently read a book, published in 1947, about the parliamentary debates of the first year of the post-WWII government. In July 1945, Labour was elected with a dominating 150 seat majority on a manifesto of stunning radicalism. Almost everything that moved was to be nationalised; coal, coking, railways, airlines, healthcare and the Bank of England. 

During the war, an Emergency Powers Act was renewed by Parliament annually. Given that the country was fighting the most notorious dictator the world has ever known, who passed his own Enabling Act in 1933, it was understandable that defenders of democracy were careful to make it clear that the end of the emergency would mean the end of extraordinary powers.

The contrary turned out to be the case. With such a majority and such a mandate Labour could effectively ignore opposition, but the procedure of passing large and complicated bills is lengthy. . With such a legislative programme to execute, the temptation to cut Parliamentary corners was overwhelming. 

The final Wartime Emergency Powers Act expired in February 1946. The new Labour government demanded and of course achieved a five year extension. During the nearly five years that followed most of the nationalisation happened, with private owners whose businesses were compulsorily seized being compensated with government debt. 

Being responsible for everything is more of a burden than a boon. To this day, people of advanced years remember the post-war rationing that lasted into the 1950s. Labour’s majority was reduced to 5 in the 1950 General Election and it was then out of power from 1951 to 1964.

The opinion polls say that Labour will be back with a majority after the next General Election (December 2024 at the latest). At present the party’s winning strategy seems to involve having no policies at all. Yet its peripheral representatives such as the current Mayor of London appear to be quite comfortable behaving autocratically while citing the “climate emergency” as justification. 

Some commentators think that if Labour won a huge majority in line with that of 1997 (179 seats) then the party would succumb to infighting. Either way, we must be careful what we wish for. 


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