Tuesday, July 23, 2024
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Democracy in Decay: Parliament’s Legion of the Damned


EIGHT years ago nearly to the day, on June 23, 2016, the European Referendum was unexpectedly won by Leave, a rare exercise in Direct Democracy that stunned Britain’s liberal establishment. For an ‘unfrozen moment’, to quote the then Labour MP Gisela Stuart, it looked like our voices had finally been heard and that anything was possible.

‘Bliss was it in that dawn to be alive’, as Wordsworth wrote in an earlier context, but we all know eight bitter years on that it was a false one. What was revealed to us in the months and years that followed was how deep the rot had set within the elites, a great many of whom had no intention of honouring the will of the people.  Britain, it turned out, was a Potemkin democracy, with ritualised pantomime elections more notable for what was left off the table than for what they decided, mere exercises in deflection. ‘Europe’, a heavy stone now overturned, showed our politicians not burdened by it like Rodin’s Caryatid, but sheltering beneath: the sunlight revealed them to be grey, small creeping things that yearned to scuttle back into the dark recesses away from human eyes.

As the full enormity of the situation was slowly revealed to the horror of Brexiteers and the delight of resurgent Remain, I wrote an article for TCW warning that a recalcitrant Parliament didn’t seem to realise that it was not just Brexit it was deciding but its own fate: if it did not honour the will of the people, ultimately what remained of its diminished moral authority would be destroyed and a Swiss-style system of Direct Democracy would replace our ancient Representative model.

It was briefly possible to think that, having so thoroughly disgraced itself, Parliament could still avoid its fate when Boris Johnson’s Conservatives were elected on the back of formerly Labour Red Wall votes in 2019. Instead his party doubled down on the liberal agenda and utterly betrayed the spirit of the Brexit vote in the process. For an institution to kill itself once may be regarded as unfortunate; to do so twice suggests not so much incompetence as a death wish. Parliament as a democratic forum has gone and will never return to what it once was. Whatever happens now, when its new MPs are sworn in they will be as a Legion of the Damned, holding power without moral authority, doomed custodians of an Unrepresentative Shamocracy that the people have grown to despise.

Last week was marked by two seminal moments in the history of our politics. The first was the symbolic overtaking of the so-called Conservative Party by Reform UK in a major opinion poll, portending the death of the Tories as a serious political party. Although it was billed as a once-in-a-century event, in fact an occurrence of far greater significance occurred on the same day when Nigel Farage committed Reform UK to Direct Democracy in the press conference when he cheekily announced his party as the new unofficial opposition. (at 18:12)

This is the first time in British history that a major political party – for that is what Reform UK now undoubtedly is – has made so explicit a commitment to fully fledged Direct Democracy during an election campaign. Britain’s 800-year-plus model based on a representative Parliament is coming to end, but it is no great loss: despite Parliament’s long history, perhaps we could be said to be a mature democracy for only the four and a half decades dating from universal suffrage in 1928 until our entry into the then Common Market in 1973. There is no need to mourn the formal passing of the institution’s senile, gibbering wreck when it should have been put out of its misery many years ago.

In the short term, of course, things will continue to get substantially worse: the certain election of a Labour government will no doubt see further gerrymandering of our already deeply compromised system, with votes for 16-year-olds, foreign nationals, stuffing of the House of Lords, further outsourcing to quangos such as the notorious Ofcom and many other outrages. Note also that behind Starmer lurks the malign and ruthless figure of Tony Blair, whose contempt for democracy has hitherto been eclipsed by his other major crimes in office and never fully recognised. Remember that Brexit destroyed his dream of being EU President, and he could well want revenge on Nigel Farage on a personal level. When it comes to our system of government, it has not yet been understood that the next decade in British politics is not going to be Farage vs. Starmer but most probably Farage vs. Blair.

Either way, over the next five years many defeats lie ahead, the future will seem ever darker and hope ever more diminished. However, as Farage himself says, good ultimately will defeat evil, and no matter how much we will mourn the destruction of all we hold sacred, what we have lost and have yet to lose, let us have faith in, build and look forward to the new truly democratic – directly democratic – golden age that our children will inherit.

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Andrew Cadman
Andrew Cadman
IT Consultant who works and lives in the UK. He is @Andrewccadman on Parler.

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