The British Referendum and the Long Arm of the Lawless

By Danielle DiMartino Booth

“Kings have long arms, many ears, and many eyes.” So read an English proverb dated back to the year of our Lord 1539. And thus was born an idiom that today translates to the very familiar Long Arm of the Law. It stands to reason that such a warning was born of feudal times when omnipotent and seemingly omnipresent monarchs personified the law, possessed of reach, eyes and ears against any and all nefarious souls who dare defy and attempt an escape into thick, ancient forests under dark cover of night.

Today we use the very descriptive and accurate idiom with little thought as to how it came to be a part of our modern language. The credit should go to Charles Dickens for bringing that borrowed but altered expression forward in time. It was he who first coined and made use of the phrase, “the strong arm of the law,” in his debut novel, 1836’s The Pickwick Papers. This satire opens a window onto life as lived in mid-nineteenth century England. It is through humor rather than judgement that Dickens appeals to and gives readers a glimpse of their true characters as they stand on the precipice of the Victorian Age.

The British Referendum and the Long Arm of the Lawless

Suffice it to say that many Britons today yearn for a time when hopefully fair and just monarchs, or later, elected officials, were the only lawmakers with whom they need comply. That bygone world starkly contrasts with the Britain of today, where the electorate finds itself being rigorously governed by the Bank of England (BoE), a deeply intrusive institution whose strictures may as well be law.

As is the case with the United States, those tasked with leading the BoE are unelected officials who have nevertheless risen to a power rivaling that of the duly elected. And, in the absence of any real fiscal courage, the words of central bankers are now being received as gospel rendering their ‘arms,’ and thus their reach, longer than was ever intended by those who envisioned at their inception bodies that were to be apolitical rather than the in-fact compromised institutions of today.

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