It is hard, very hard, to see light at the end of the tunnel. Indeed, the darkness seems to get deeper by the hour. This week’s defeat of the government in the Lords seems to herald the start of an inevitable collapse as Theresa May, having failed to steer the ship of state decisively, now finds herself trapped between Scylla and Charybdis. As the rocks approach and the sea foams, the arrogance and glee of the Remainers rubs whole cellars of salt into the wounds.
However, strange as it may seem, the Lords may have inadvertently done us all a big favour.
It is worth remembering that, to the social conservative, Brexit was never just about trade deals and cleanly exiting the EU – vastly important though those things are – but about cultural renewal. The great prize was to forge a new, inclusive and exciting national identity based on our history as a great trading nation, marrying tradition and modernity and in the process replacing the failed political correctness that has culturally depressed Britain ever since the fall of Margaret Thatcher. Had we decent conservative government rather than just a ‘Conservative’ government, the psychological wrench of Brexit could have been used to this effect.
That said, even under the fairest of winds there are major obstacles to this dream which have nothing to do with the EU but the decline of representative democracy itself as a valid system of government. Our original entry into the EU was a symptom of our so-called democracy’s moral bankruptcy, but not its cause: this outmoded system of government has been in decay throughout the Western World for some time now. By and large, the West is economically atrophying as huge, long-term cultural problems such as demographic decline start to bite. Politicians, forever fixed to the medium-term demands of the electoral cycle, unfailingly fail to discuss the herd of elephants in the room.
For instance, for the past two weeks immigration has been firmly on the agenda again, but who among the political class ever discuss immigration in the context of declining birth rates and what to do about them? They will not, of course, because these are partly a function of cultural changes that can take decades to turn round – a timescale useless to the ambitious politician. For most issues that animate social conservatives this is the case. Even worse, the demands of the electoral cycle have meant that Parliament has become a social mincing machine, as politicians win elections by aggressively micro-targeting niche groups to win power at huge long-term social cost.
The unbelievable mess politicians have made of Brexit shows that they are incapable of dealing with very big long-term change that conflicts with their own short-term ambitions. What is needed is a system that allows the people directly to decide long-term direction – as in Brexit – and then FORCES politicians to follow through. What is needed is a system of referenda and the power of recall, with an elected parliament as a subservient institution.
Changing the system, however, has seemed nothing more than a pipe dream: people are generally not all that interested in in constitutional change, and in any case the elites in all major parties would clearly fight it like tigers. Without major constitutional change to our ‘democracy’ even an adamantine Brexit may prove something of a double-edged sword, as enhanced economic prospects brought about by free trade and deregulation – welcome though those are – would obscure many of the long-term social issues we need to confront.
It has been a commonplace this week to state that the Lords have signed their death warrant. It is in fact much bigger than that. What is at risk of destruction is the concept of parliamentary sovereignty itself, especially if the Commons follow their ignoble Lordships’ example.
So cheer up, readers! By behaving with such an astounding mix of arrogance and myopia, politicians may have done us social conservatives a huge and unexpected favour.