IMAGINE you are thinking of getting an extension done on your house. Having shopped around, you finally decide to go with the quote from one particular firm. They have very impressive brochures and a slick advertising campaign, and they promise cross-my-heart-and-hope-to-die that they can get the work done on schedule and on budget. The paperwork is duly signed and you wait excitedly for work to begin. Soon the dream home the builders have promised you will be yours!
However, a few weeks in, you become uneasy. Things are not going according to plan: it appears that the builders are not following the agreed designs and making a lot of excuses for the lack of progress. At the same time, they are asking for more money than was agreed, much of it for items you never wanted but nonetheless they insist you now need. The project manager seems deaf to your protestations. Finally, you confront him head on.
‘Sorry, guv,’ he says, ‘but we have decided to knock down your house and build a seven-storey block of flats instead. We’ll be sending you the bill, naturally, and what’s more, you can’t kick us off site for five years.
‘There is one thing we can do for you, though. Until now we had to stay for five years at a stretch, but we’ve kindly agreed that if we – not you – decide we should down tools and bugger off early at some point you can have the site back. Of course, we will still be sending you the bill.’
Such a scenario seems as ludicrous as it is nightmarish but that, dear reader, is how we are governed: we elect a government and have no option but to wait it out for five years no matter what it decides to do. Don’t worry, though, our masters have at least graciously decided to revoke the Fixed Term Parliament Act – without consulting us, the mere voters, of course. How noble of them.
Britain has always been, in Lord Hailsham’s phrase, an ‘elective dictatorship’. Once elected, honourable members quickly come to think of themselves as part of a private members’ club, playing their equally exclusive ‘Game of Thrones’. We, the electorate, are reduced to mere spectators: in the memorable expression of a D Walker in the Telegraph’s comments section:
‘[MPs] don’t represent us in Parliament. They represent Parliament in our constituencies’.
For how much longer are we going to put up with this state of affairs? In no other walk of British life would the antics of our so-called representatives be remotely tolerable. Just think of all the radical ways that British society has been changed by politicians in the past 50 or so years:
Membership of the EEC
The Iraq War
Carbon Net Zero
The Authoritarian Covid State
Whether we agree or disagree with any of these measures is not the point: the British people were never properly consulted on a single one of them. Either they were never even mentioned as explicit manifesto commitments or, the case of both entering and leaving the EEC/EU, our leaders and representatives lied through their teeth concerning the ramifications of joining, lied repeatedly down the decades as more and more sovereignty was signed away and lied yet again when they promised to honour the 2016 referendum result. Even for those events that couldn’t have been foreseen, such as Iraq and Covid, governments should have been much more effectively held to account for their reckless responses.
Now, you may well argue that it would be naïve for politicians to spell out radical change in explicit detail within a manifesto, and then be expected to implement it down to the last dot and comma: governing a country is far too complex for that, and even well-intentioned and relatively honest administrations are going to be tripped up by events and competing priorities. That said, we, the public should have the right to make a judgement call if, as so many governments do, use their power to implement unwanted change or renege on their commitments.
Look at the list again – how many do you think governments would have undertaken had they known that at any time they could be unceremoniously dumped by a Right of Recall? At the very least, they would have had to be somewhat more upfront about their intentions.