We are an adversarial culture

Some people bewail what they describe as the "adversarial political culture" they think has come over Britain. Politics has certainly become more divisive, more ill-tempered and more abusive. Part of this comes from the conviction by some that their cause is so just and so important that they are no longer required to behave like decent human being in pursuit of it. They think it so virtuous and so vital that it justifies any actions that might advance it. Their self-judged virtue allows them to be vile.

But politics in the UK has always been adversarial. So has our law and our science. We pit parties against each other, facing their opponents in Parliament separated by two sword lengths, not in the horseshoe chambers favoured in continental Europe. The electors make judgements about who wins, and they vote accordingly.

In law we don't conduct a joint inquisition to find the facts. We have one side making the whole case for the prosecution and the other doing likewise for the defence. The jury looks on and decides who has won. It is adversarial.

In our scientific activity we set theories against each other, and contrive experiments to tell us which ones have won by making better predictions and explanations than the others. This adversarial culture is part of our national psyche. We prefer trial and error to system building. This is one reason why we did not sit easily in the European Union. They have coalitions where we have a winner-takes-all political culture. Their law is inquisitorial, ours is adversarial.

Moreover, European law tends to be by statute, top down, telling people what they can do. English law is Common Law, made up of countless prosecution versus defence decisions reached over the centuries. It tells us what we cannot do, and assumes that what is not prohibited is allowed.

So yes, our culture is adversarial; it always has been. That politics has become more bitter is not because it is adversarial, it is because some people have lost their tolerance and sense of decency.