Neil Herron describes himself as “a new-born political anorak”. The issues he has involved himself with seem, at first glance, unbelievably petty: defending use of non-metric measures, and questioning the legality of parking fines in Sunderland.
There is more than meets the eye however. A feature of the “new politics” is the brushing aside of annoying legal details. The EU is the worst offender in this regard, with New Labour sprinting in its shadow. Mr Herron is saying “Wait a minute, do you actually have the legal authority to do what you are doing?” In a number of cases, they don’t.
Upholding the ban on non-metric measurements required the Law Lords to announce a startling new constitutional doctrine. A partial success has already been achieved in the parking dispute. And Herron’s third hobby horse, more obviously significant than the others, is the quiet setting up of unelected “regional assemblies” without any statutory basis.
I think the common attitude, that government has a totally free hand in the mechanisms it uses to govern, and that getting laws through parliament is a piddling technicality except in cases of great controversy, is hugely dangerous, in that it reduces the influence of voters, and increases the power of “undamped” variables such as activists and the media, which can produce huge overreactions to events. I think that however large or small the issues, in insisting on legal justification for government activity, Mr Herron is performing a valuable service. I don’t know if he’s right or wrong in any particular case, but the question has to be asked, and he’s asking it. I would say, conservatively, we need about twenty more people like him.