Friday, 6 September 2019

Representative democracy: once more a thing

Image result for commons house images westminsterThe unprecedented madness of the past few days at Westminster – even against the fairly mad backdrop of post-2015 British politics in general – has made commentators run out of superlatives. They have rather stopped, agape, no longer able to predict the slightest thing.

But, in brief summary:

  • Johnson has effectively lost all control and authority as prime minister, having lost all of his first three votes in the Commons, along with his tiny majority.
  • A legal bar against no-deal Brexit is almost certain to be passed into law imminently.
  • Even his own brother will not serve as an MP in a party led by him.
  • Further, unforced errors, such as stills and clips from the parliamentary debates of an angry, braying Johnson and an openly contemptuous Rees-Mogg, have surely helped further damage the government’s standing in the country.
  • And there is almost certainly going to be a general election soon, but probably not before 31st October, meaning that Johnson will have failed utterly in his one overriding goal, to leave the EU by that date. 
Short of ignoring the no-deal bar and attempting to exit the EU anyway – an idea which could scarcely be accepted quietly by the EU itself, let alone Parliament, the public, the Civil Service and even the monarch – he has no way out except pushing for an election which he now looks unlikely to win, at least outright.

There is still a major remaining risk in the current crisis: and that is that the election, when it comes, might not result in a hung parliament. Either a further spell for Johnson or a Corbyn majority would clearly be disastrous for the country. Thankfully, a hung parliament looks more likely than not, although it is not a done deal.

In any event, any true democrat should be pleased with the events of the last week. Parliament has, at last, reasserted itself, remembering that it is not secondary to an advisory plebiscite, unwisely “bigged up” by the government of the day. It has done its job as a check on the executive, a job at which it had until recently showed itself somewhat workshy.

Hopefully, future prime ministers might remember this next time they feel tempted to lurch into another, populist referendum; especially one into which they are largely goaded by their own party and for which there is eminently resistible public pressure. Perhaps, in the style of Lyndon Johnson, they might keep a little sign on their No. 10 desk, saying “Do Not Feed The Monster”. Because populist monsters are always, always hungry.

There is a reason why we elect people to represent us, rather than directly voting on everything, and it is this: our oft-maligned MPs are actually paid to try and master the complexities of subjects which we, the public, lack either the time, the wit or the interest to.

After the last week, we might reflect that it is a system which has, over the centuries, served us pretty well.

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