The English version of democracy is broken, so tarnished, and so last century they have no moral high ground left on which to stand and wouldn’t recognise a truly democratic action if it bit them on the bum.
Twitter sphere and the Book of Face is close to meltdown today with the news that Boris Johnson is about to ask Mrs Windsor to shut down Parliament in what is, of course, a blatant attempt to close down any legal means of opposition to a No Deal Brexit. Well at least my feeds are. I have no doubt there are some parts of those worlds which remain untouched and that are still awash with pictures of people’s lunches, cats that look like Hitler (in Brexit land probably) and quizzes which invite you to discover what shape you aura is, or indeed what shape it is in (should be so inclined to find out).
Someone asked somewhat incredulously “Who saw this coming?” or perhaps they were being ironic – seeing as Mr J has been running it up the flagpole quite a bit recently, while Mr Bercow has in response, puffed himself up to his full 4 feet 10 and a half inches to say he will fight this with his last breath, preferably on a beach if he can find one I shouldn’t wonder. And that’s saying something for Mr B, given his breath is more usually reserved for the promotion of the sound of his own voice snipping and sniding at MPs, especially those light on the Unionist persuasion.
But finally it has come to pass. Responses against this move are varied, ranging from incandescent to very very angry indeed and all points in between. It’s making strange bedfellows of political opponents, and causing some (it is to be hoped) to temporary abandon firm principles. Republicans for example who wouldn’t give Betty Windsor (not to be confused with Babs of that name) the time of day are now demanding this most constitutional of Monarch, defies that very tenuous basis on which the whole bunch of them are tolerated (i.e. that they have no power anyway) and that she tells Mr J that he is a very very naughty boy, and probably not the Messiah afterall.
That of course isn’t going to happen. Apart from anything she’s on her summer hols up in Scotland and probably just wants shot of the delegation of “senior cabinet ministers” braving the midges and Prince Philip’s driving to ask her permission. One wonders if Ma’am has considered Skype. After all she could claim poor rural Broadband speeds made the connection difficult, and that she didn’t quite hear the conversation and gave consent instead to suspending Arlene – not the Parly; and as broadband matters are reserved, it’s all the Tories fault anyway!!
Meanwhile legal minds are whirring away trying to mount challenges to this and that and all things Brexit related and much of MSM is appropriately Armageddon like in this assault on our democracy and constitutional outrage. Whether it can be averted, whether it will lead to a Vote of No Confidence, or a General Election is beyond me. Although it seems whatever happens Parliament will not be sitting for enough days to really stop this No Deal juggernaut which, after all, has been nearly 3 years in the making as opposed to a much more recent and flimsy coalition of opposition against it. Even without the prospect of prorogation (a deliciously cigar scented leather chair men’s clubby sort of word), Parliamentarians were still intent on having their long summer break and are still planning their self-imposed conference recess when everyone goes off to the seaside to preach to the converted and gambol about our EU awarded blue flag beaches. So if democracy is truly under threat. If we are suffering an unprecedented constitutional crisis are we now reaping what we have sewed? One thing’s for sure if this is allowed to pass unchallenged, we have crossed the Rubicon and future assaults on the rights and liberties of the people in these benighted islands could make this lot look like a picnic.
The simple fact is that people in the UK and especially in England have been sleepwalking into this, in a wholly mistaken belief that in fact fair play and cricket – and an irrational fear of things that aren’t cricket – are somehow in the national DNA. We have become a land of “Things like that don’t happen here”. Where as of course we can see, we are exactly the sort of place that these things happen. There is no great “decency” regulator in the sky that comes along and says just a minute here, that’s not how we do things. Just like Police people haven’t resembled Dixon of Dock Green for quite some time (they didn’t in truth even when that was on our screens) similarly the idea that public servants (both elected and appointed) have a default “country before party/common good before personal gain” vision is woefully wrongheaded.
And the problem lies within the very structure of our democracy as it manifests itself in the fully national context. The Mother of All Parliaments with its First Past The Post two party dominated political landscape is of barren stock. Is no longer fit for purpose.
A political system that relies on an outmoded system designed to create and perpetrate dominance from only two parties, locked in mortal combat, has no room or mechanism for compromise. Without electoral reform to allow some sort of proportional representation, the middle ground, the smaller parties, the parties of special interest stand no chance. The real third party in the UK in the last 10 years hasn’t been the Lib Dems despite holding cabinet office, or abandoning long held cherished policies at the first whiff of the Downing Street cat’s litter tray. It has in fact been UKIP and all the subsequent manifestations of Farage. Not ever elected to Westminster yet spurred on by a fawning media, it didn’t need to be. It was allowed to effectively shape Conservative party policy, and therefore the destiny of 65 million people, without coming under the scrutiny of the British electorate. Had PR existed I have no doubt UKIP, or the Brexit party as it might have become earlier, would have taken seats and perhaps instead of their idiot elected reps being confined to local politics, or the Parliaments in Brussels and Strasbourg which are so ignored by the media in this country, then more people in more places might have seen them for what they are, been able to hold them to account and perhaps, just maybe, we wouldn’t have been in this mess in the first place. The biggest assault on our democracy isn’t whatever the current Prime Minister is trying to pull, it’s been the unfettered and unchecked influence of Farage and his cohorts operating outside of parliamentary process.
In the devolved administrations in the UK of course FPTP has been abandoned as the only way to elect our representatives and, as a result, in all 3 (while Stormont was sitting at any rate) we saw a rise of multi party democracies, with formal power sharing in the North of Ireland, only one outright majority in Scotland in a system that was deliberately designed to make that all but impossible. It also means that the voters have more choice, 4 parties minimum, each with a real and genuine chance of taking seats, with all the coalition, compromise, consensual politics that can and has meant.
Across the globe just over 60 nations cling to this British legacy, by far the largest proportion of them being former Empire colonies or members of the Commonwealth and, Canada, USA and India aside, the rest are small beer in terms of geo-political influence. But even those 3 don’t also have their democratic hands tied by an un-elected second house to boot. The farce that has become US elections doesn’t exactly make a good advert for FPTP at any rate. No EU member state uses it apart from Poland for elections to its Senate. Most EU members (not including those in the former Eastern bloc) having given it up in the early years of the 20th century. And the most recent country in the world to turn its back on FPTP was Lebanon in 2017.
But when so called democracies rely on a system dominated by just two parties, it means that as often as not, voters are voting against things as much as for them, as the use of tactical voting makes clear. It is in reality a sort of disenfranchisement just as bad as rotten boroughs. It relies on the voters doing all the work. Unless fatigue or personality “turn off” occurs they have to make the shift away from policies they once found appealing, rather than parties turning towards them with policies which might persuade people to try a new lot based on a chance of improving the lives of a country’s people. In other words it puts all the onus on the voters and none on the policy makers. And just like football – that other ultimate game of sides, it relies on – and encourages – tribalism. It means that each major party doesn’t have to find common ground with the other, or the common good, it just keeps bashing away, taking even more extreme positions. Positions which supporters both within and outwith the party structures feel that have to adopt just in case the other side wins. A bit like playing conkers in the playground. And we all know that cheating is the best way to play and win at football and conkers. Is it any way to run a country though?
And can we be blind to the move to the right? Can we deny it? The anti immigrant rhetoric, not from pub landlords only, but people in power. A home secretary openly in favour of bringing back the death penalty. Inhuman treatment of the poor, rape clauses,”protection” of paedophiles through lack of robust examination of historical cases and so it goes on. Neo-Liberalism has its nasty little claws in us and there is no shaking it free.
Yet despite this we can see the cracks, the hung parliaments of recent UK GEs, suggest that perhaps the voter isn’t as content with the way things are done as they once were. Yet the inevitable horsetrading, the bribes, the deals, the endless “kingmaker” analogies of Clegg, frankly seemed a complete mystery to European colleagues and friends who are so used to coalitions and politics of compromise they simply could not fathom why the UK seemed to be eating itself in 2010. Compare that with the SNPs brave decision to run a series of minority governments, relying on support at times cross party for policies.
So England I’m sorry you had it coming! Your stubborn rejection of a devolved parliament for England, your rejection of FPTP for GEs, your slavish following of red and blue has led to this. Ultimately few parties have all the policies for all of the people all of the time unless you are a rabid Tory or Labour person. So instead of trying to find alternatives, realising FPRT means that millions of votes are effectively wasted, people turn off.
Perhaps the biggest indictment of all was the man who voted Brexit “as a protest” but he didn’t think his vote would count “as it never did in other elections”. Now leaving aside the acute stupidity of someone who couldn’t understand the implications of a binary vote, if your voting citizens are so mired in the belief that they and their votes don’t matter, can you really trust the system to deliver for those citizens at any time? So is it any wonder they turn off. Get caught up with populism, slogans on and off buses. I weep for friends down south who really have no alternatives. I’ve seen two major theatre events recently which were at heart bleating liberal mourning for the death of the Labour Party and/or Socialism, as of course they are no longer the same thing. But all the time I was screaming inside that doesn’t reflect where I live and at the end of the day is sort of unavoidable.
The devolved administrations have shown an alternative way forward. It’s a way some view with envy, might like to try, might even embrace with a change of scene. But it’s not really up to us to save England from itself any more. Two of the three said a firm NO to Brexit. So let’s have no more nonsense about Scotland, Ireland or Wales wanting to choose a new future, as being somehow undemocratic, or their being no mandate for it. The English version of democracy is broken, so tarnished, and so last century they have no moral high ground left on which to stand and wouldn’t recognise a truly democratic action if it bit them on the bum. And as a result, England’s green and pleasant lands may very well be welcoming back dark satanic forces, if not mills: unless the way of doing business is changed. But now that the neo-liberal genie is out of the bottle, god alone knows what horrors are yet to come.