Governing By Consent

The news in the UK on Boxing Day (Dec 26) - traditionally the day when country folk go hunting foxes - cast an interesting light on the concept of "governing by consent", one I hope we'll see the government carry forward into other legislative...

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The news in the UK on Boxing Day (Dec 26) - traditionally the day when country folk go hunting foxes - cast an interesting light on the concept of "governing by consent", one I hope we'll see the government carry forward into other legislative areas.

The UK's agriculture minister thinks that a law against fox hunting passed in the UK is "unworkable". The law in question was controversial when it was passed, but entered the UK statute book through a perfectly transparent and legitimate process and is now part of the body of regulations the police should be enforcing. All the same, fox hunts are happening all the time and it seems that police forces generally prefer not to take action against them.

While it may offend the sensibilities of urban animal lovers, this is actually a sound principle. From the perspective the Minister is taking, the majority of affected citizens - as opposed to those of us living in urban areas - feel that hunting with dogs is the best way, on balance, to keep fox populations controlled while also encouraging country sport. In the context of laws they believe are ill-considered, the affected citizens are engaging in mass civil disobedience, highlighting the fact that this law is not actually in line with the wishes of the large majority of the population affected by the law.

If our government were internally consistent, they would apply the same principle to internet downloads. The vast majority of the affected citizens believe that downloading music and movies socially is not just acceptable but an essential part of 21st century living. They show this by continuing to do so without regard for the creeping infestation of corporate control of culture.

Being able to share the cultural artefacts you love with a friend has been part of social living for the lifetimes of everyone living today. Under cover of copyright expansionism and the abuse of freedom by real but rare counterfeit criminals, copyright law has been allowed to bleed over from regulating the creative industries to regulating cultural exchange between citizens. That's nothing to do with the consent of the population and everything to do with the desires of successful businesses to reinforce their monopolies against the very cultural responses they have triggered.

Sadly, I doubt our government is internally consistent. The country pub conversations they were involved in around Christmas convinced them that their rich friends were right and foxes should be hunted with hounds. But when it comes to culture, the rich friends they listen to tell them Cliff's pension is at stake and thieving kids should be locked up. They see downloads not as justified civil disobedience but as the home-life of looters.

They simply can't see that, if the law around fox hunting needs liberalising to match the will of the population, then the law relating to downloads does too, and in much greater measure. Which is a pity, since governing by consent is one of the foundations of democracy.


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