Wednesday 14 August 2013

Make It Legal

Not just a piece of paper

Our country’s governance will increasingly have to be based on legally enforced rules, rather than the universally accepted norms of behaviour that were once “the best thing about British society”. (Michael McCarthy, Independent, paraphrase Aug 2011)

No more regulations; what’s needed is a change in culture. (quoted on BBC News 2013 6 8)

Education, Not Regulation, is What's Needed at Britain's Rowdy Tabloids. ... No, what needs to change is the culture, the ethos that operates in British newsrooms. (Tony Rogers,

“There is no such thing as common law marriage or common law man and wife.” (

The middle classes don’t quite understand that the law applies to everybody – and that means them.

They’re always moaning about regulations (“There are too many laws! We should repeal the lot of them!”). They howl when laws are passed that apply to them, especially about smoking, seatbelts and speeding. They loathe the idea of a DNA database. They want a bobby on the beat, but CCTV is an instrument of the devil. Any law a “law-abiding” citizen may actually break is a “petty regulation” imposed by busybodies and bureaucrats.

But they don’t complain about the “nannying and meddling” that banned adulterated food, or ended London smogs (the Clean Air Acts of 1956, 1968 and 1993), or healed the hole in the ozone layer after econuts campaigned against CFCs. They’re quite happy to benefit from safety curtains in theatres.

They say you can’t ban smacking because it would criminalise most parents in the UK. Or even criminalise innocent, law-abiding people. But if the government makes something a crime and you keep on doing it you are not abiding by the law. (They object to a lot of things on the grounds that they would “criminalise” middle class people – ie treat middle-class lawbreakers the same as chav scum lawbreakers.)

The same people who whinge that Britain is becoming a police state approve of boarding schools, corporal punishment and workhouses, and think the civil liberties of “yobs” should be taken away.

They think we don’t need laws against paedophiles or bottom pinchers: “In my day we easily got rid of them – it’s between the people concerned – these pathetic people needn’t concern us.”

They think people should be kept in line by a “change of culture” (though many hate protesters like Occupy). Upper-middle Upwards think the liberal project should be carried on by “social pressure”, not legal changes. (This may mean Upwards spouting propaganda, organising sit-ins and generally being bossy, as usual.)

"Change of culture" is management-speak, and seems to mean “becoming more ethical”. In the old days we called it “teaching people morality”. But, as the Upwards say, the word “morality” has been “hijacked by the right”. What ARE we to do?

Oddly, the people calling for a change of culture rather than more regulations are the same ones who insist the English language follows rules, and say that Americanisms should be banned. (And that people who say "Can I get a latte?" should be shot.)

Right-wingers think that they are prevented from making racist or sexist remarks by something called “political correctness”. Actually it’s the Crime and Disorder Act of 1998.

They like to say “You can’t legislate away bigotry and intolerance.” Yes, we can. For example, acceptance of homosexuality has risen in countries where civil partnerships have been introduced. Read about it here. And here.

Working-class Mr Definitely thinks “human rights” means prisoners having tellies. (“Prison’s just like a holiday camp!” as he used to say when Butlin’s was popular.) He also likes to say “I know my rights!” and “It’s a free country!”. His bosses call him a “barrack-room lawyer”.

Posh Stow Crats know the law, particularly in regard to inheritance (for the stately home and land).

When it comes to marriage, Upwards think they’re living in a pre-legal society. Discussions about marriage in the Guardian (Why is it out of date, or back in fashion?) never mention the legal aspects: rights to pensions, property, inheritance, guardianship of children. Unmarried fathers have few rights, and since the Children Act of 1989  have to opt in to parental responsibility by filling in a form (“petty bureaucracy” again).

If you exchange vows in your garden in front of your friends you’re married in their eyes which is what matters. “The legal and fiscal side would diminish the relationship and communal side,” say some Upwards.

Upwards think that “making it legal” means that the state thinks only marriage is a legal union. Living together is not illegal (where are the cohabitation police?), it just doesn’t give you legal rights. It hasn’t since 1753.

The rights gained on marriage or civil partnership (they differ) are explained here. Just one example: if you aren’t married, and have a joint bank account, and one of you dies, the remaining partner ceases to have access to the bank account until the estate is sorted out.

Bohemian Arkana Nightshade says that this is all so utilitarian and unspiritual – you should trust that the universe and humanity will look after you. Hipster Rowena thinks weddings are retro – and vintage and antique. She has a Goth wedding at a Unitarian church.

Other Upwards think it’s better not to be married because divorce is so expensive. Splitting up will be even more expensive when you find you have no rights to your home or your partner’s pension. Dividing up your assets will be just as costly if you’re not married. What if you’ve contributed to the mortgage but your name isn’t on the deeds? What’s your legal position? I don’t know, do you?

Some amazingly witless Guardian-readers whine about marriage (September 3, 2011)

Having lived together a very long time, my husband and I … decided to get married for reasons of inheritance tax. Harry was an anarchist, and as such felt we did not need the approval of the state to do so (presumably “live together”), and wanted it not to be known … that he had committed this heretical act.

Last year my husband (shudder) and I had to get married for tax reasons…

I never thought of marriage as mandatory

We had no religious beliefs and regarded marriages as no more than a piece of paper. We thought there were some beneficial tax reasons but did not make enquiries. Then my husband found out from work that if anything happened to him, his dependents would receive nothing, whereas if we were married we’d be secure…

(What do they teach them at these universities? They always bring out the bit of paper line as if they were the first to think of it.)

Update: After 10 years, the middle classes are as idiotic as ever: 

A précis by @stevewebb1 of the many ways in which unmarried couples are discriminated against (in life and on death) relative to married couples, even after (as here) 30 years together. Time for the law to catch up with modern society. (@MissJoEdwards. They just need to get married. Costs about £100.)

More here.

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