An appreciation by Phillip Taylor MBE and Elizabeth Taylor of Richmond Green Chambers
The book is rightly subtitled "New Labour, Human Rights and the Rule of Law" and describes, with examples, the erosion of our civil liberties since 1997. It starts ominously with this statement: "we live in a society where he police have more power, where we are watched and monitored more closely and more often, and in which our ability to speak out and protest is subject to more and more restraints".
A damning indictment of New Labour, many may feel, if ever there was one. Ewing does say that many people do not share his views although `at best they may share the concerns' and that really sums up the worth of the work- it's a collection of statements on areas of the law which affect the direct relationship between the State and its people with worrying conclusions.
There are 8 chapter headings in 300 pages covering all the usual `liberty' issues and there are some useful cases and statutes cited. It's very readable and something which all MPs ought to read, especially the new intake from 6th May 2010. Probably the single most important theme is the erosion of individual rights by the state and Ewing backs up each topical issue with breathless detail to justify the assertions made.
Ewing also knows a few of the tricks about reviews because he says that normally only the introduction and conclusion of most books are read. This book is different, however, because the wealth of detail on what can be termed `abuses' by the state are well worth reading in detail throughout. The final conclusion, right at the end, covers `power not rights' and appears to be a veiled criticism of the "human rights business" and the deliberate ineffectiveness of judicial review which is merely seen as a sop to the public as far as some are concerned.
The problem with the book is that when one reads it, one seems to go around in circles all the time rather like the bonfire, not knowing whether the thing is completely out of control.
So, the lasting legacy of "Bonfire of the Liberties" will hopefully be the way out of the current `liberties' mess with parliamentary reform. The problem, however, remains with the international economic crisis taking pole position as the top agenda issue of today although the corrosion of civil liberties and the constitutional slide will need addressing as a matter of some urgency in the short term if we remember our inter war years history.
Ewing offers useful steps which can be taken to restore some semblance of balance between loss of rights and a consecutively aggressive series of Executives. The work is rightly a 2010 definitive account of the struggle for civil liberties as a new Parliament meets this year to seek to curb executive power (if it can) and implement some of the reforms on offer.
Ewing is clearly trying to douse the `lack of liberties' fire which still seems to be out of control and it's a useful commentary on the parlous state of today's `rights' which will be viewed with interest in a couple of years' time (we hope).