I saw recently a report in one newspaper suggesting that my friend, George Osborne, has begun to write a book about ‘The Age of Unreason’. I haven’t yet had a chance to ask George whether this report is accurate – but various events recently have made me think that he may be on to something.
I was really quite horrified to see, a couple of weeks ago, some newspapers attacking very senior judges of the judgement they had given about whether the triggering of Article 50 to initiate formal talks on Brexit requires an Act of Parliament.
Not myself being a lawyer, I don’t have any competence to take a view on whether the judges were, as a matter of law, right or wrong about this. And, to tell the truth, I don’t think it has any practical significance either way – since I am absolutely convinced that Parliament will very quickly pass the necessary Act if the Government brings a Bill to it.
One way or the other, Article 50 is going to be triggered on schedule.
What was shocking was not, therefore, anything to do with Brexit or the merits of the particular case, but rather the fact that some newspapers clearly thought it was reasonable to express vitriolic sentiments about very distinguished judges who were simply trying to decide what the law was – and who in their judgement, made it abundantly clear that they had nothing whatsoever to say about the underlying political issues.
It seems to me that the maintenance of a civilised society – and, indeed, of a democracy under the rule of law – depends on all of us making a clear separation between our views about any particular political issue and the judgements of judges about what the law is at any particular time.
Politics comes in when politicians are changing the law. But it has to be kept out when judges are interpreting the law.
In the last few days, alas, we seem to have witnessed another example of Unreason. This time, the newspapers in question were having a go not at the judges for interpreting the law but at the Office of Budget Responsibility for forecasting the future.
I have absolutely no way of telling whether the OBR – or indeed the many other independent economic forecasters around the world who roughly agree with them – will turn out to be accurate or too pessimistic or too optimistic. But I am quite sure that all of these forecasters (and, in particular the OBR itself) are trying their best to work out what will happen on the basis of economic modelling.
Their models may be good or bad. But there is no point in accusing them of displaying some kind of bias when all they are trying to do is to get at the truth as far as they are able.
I hope that these examples of irrationality will prove to have been just passing eccentricities, rather than a lasting feature of the scene.