Comment, Comics and the Contrary.
On my recent travels it was my good fortune to read a copy of the Sunday Express. I need not tell anyone reading this that the Express is not only a right-wing rag, but a stupid right-wing rag. However not since I read a leader column blaming political correctness for the closure of rural post offices have I read anything as stupid as the quotation approvingly cited by Julia Hartley Brewer this last Sunday.
A source close to Home Office ministers, i.e. a Home Office minister, is quoted as saying – and, lacking access to Lexis-Nexus at the moment, I paraphrase accurately – that civil servants, disparagingly referred to as bureaucrats, stick to the letter of human rights law. This mode of operation is described as the bureaucrats behaving as ‘a law unto themselves’.
First. Bureaucrats are an indispensable part of any complex, metropolitan civilisation. To use the term as an insult betrays a deep stupidity. This is the usage employed by, most likely, a Government minister.
Second. People obeying the letter of the law are not, by definition, a law unto themselves, unless they are also law makers. If civil servants did not stick to the letter of human rights law then it would be perfectly possible to describe them as behaving as a law unto themselves. What this probable Government minister is actually describing is a state of affairs in which he or she, and the Government he or she represents, a frustrated in their desires to act as a law unto themselves. Indeed, this is precisely the political philosophy of Tony Blair; making no secret of his frustration by law, whether on detaining people, deporting people, or instigating military action, this is a Government that sees the law as nothing but restraints.