Does Johnson plan to “protect our democracy” or fatally weaken it?

As people shake off some of the post-Christmas lethargy and blearily contemplate the new year and even, God forbid, the new decade, Britons may be variously still celebrating their decisive victory over “Remoaners”, reeling from the drubbing they received at the hands of a brilliantly organized and delivered Johnson campaign, or a certain relief from interminable Brexit news. At one level, Johnson can now “get Brexit done”, with all the flaws in that promise still to be revealed, and Europeans heave a sigh of relief that at last the troublesome British have finally agreed with themselves and can go away and leave them in peace. It might be that simply getting “Brexit done” will restore peace and harmony and enable people to live better together, and yet the thoughtful observer might wonder about that notion, if they pause to reflect … Read more

Brexit has exposed a big weakness in Britain’s political system and culture

What is going on in Britain that has paralysed its politics and led to a near-civil war amongst the political elite? One might very reasonably think that it’s about EU membership and a near complete and equal polarisation between Leave and Remain, but if one steps back to take an overview, there are also more fundamental issues about the British political system and political culture that can strike more detached observers. The UK is entering its third general election in 4 years, called by PM Johnson to try to break the deadlock in Parliament and secure his deal just agreed with the EU and leave the EU on 31 January 2020. Attention naturally shifts to the offerings of the parties and who is likely to emerge the victor, the Leave side led by Johnson, or a mixed bag of opponents … Read more

Democracy itself is in danger over Brexit and reactionary populism

Across the world, democracy is in crisis or has or is being eroded and replaced by authoritarian systems. It seems that revisioning politics is becoming a right wing project. The question should be asked as to whether it is safe to leave a democracy crisis in the hands of reactionary, nationalist populists. After all, we all know where the last project in extreme nationalism ended, or we should do. The conflict over Brexit poses just such questions. It goes right to the heart of democracy. Brexit is a reactionary populist project, dominated by Farage, an unelected but very influential politician. It is the fear of the threat posed by Farage that has driven the Tory party to the right and to embrace the extreme medicine of a No Deal Brexit. Is Brexit the right medicine for the national malaise? Brexit … Read more

Electoral law is being undermined and this is a risk for democracy

An important sign that a democracy is less than healthy must surely be when people cease to follow the rules which sustain it. Today has revealed yet more evidence that the Leave campaigns in the 2016 UK referendum broke electoral law. It is crucial to democratic elections that they observe the law, that there is no undue influence exerted at any stage, and that money is correctly spent. The risk in today’s febrile climate is that if the law has been broken, especially as in this case where the result was so narrow, people will start to question the legitimacy of the result. Thus faith in the system can be undermined and in a very severe crisis resort be made to further illicit activity. In the case of the UK referendum, the evidence is that spending limits were breached by … Read more

Britain is experiencing deadlock politics

To the outsider, watching Prime Minister May struggle to make constructive proposals and secure agreement on its exit from the EU, it must seem as though the UK has suddenly gone mad. This is certainly what my neighbours here in South-West France think! That would however misunderstand the complexities that the UK – and all the other 27 members of the EU – are faced with. The current difficulties the UK faces in trying to extricate itself from the EU are due to a perfect storm of mutually contradictory political forces. One might almost call it deadlock politics. The impact of the 2016 Referendum and the 2017 General Election Others in the EU have been greatly frustrated by the lack of political vision coming from the UK side. “What do you want?” they keep asking. The answer must surely be … Read more

Brexit risks – Bad things happen when good people do nothing

The Brexit risks multiply. As Theresa May and her team consider their options for Brexit, and lawyers prepare their arguments for next week’s Supreme Court hearing on Parliamentary sovereignty and the Brexit trigger, the clock ticks closer to the moment when Article 50 will be set in motion and the count-down on Brexit will start. More and more observers agree that we are faced with an enormous and unprecedented political crisis. It could be one of those seismic moments in history when the metaphorical political ground shifts under our feet, and everything is changed. Western Liberal Democracy in crisis Those watching closely the unfolding drama in Britain and the US could be excused for thinking that we are experiencing the opening stages in a major political crisis for western liberal democracy. Brexit and Trump have emboldened the Right wing in … Read more

The murder of Jo Cox is a wake-up call for our political culture

The MP Jo Cox was by all accounts one who was very kind, devoted and compassionate, the epitome of the conscientious MP that is a model of an elected public servant. And she happened to support Remain. Yet on Thursday she was murdered while going about her constituency business. The main suspect seems to have had far-right leanings, although this has yet to be proved. This tells us something very serious about what is happening to our political culture, the glue that hold democracy together. Political irresponsibility Today’s referendum has been called and is being conducted in a way that suggests political irresponsibility. We have had very few referendums in the UK nationally. They are not part of the constitution. However they are used when a governing party can’t agree on an action and passes it on for others to … Read more

The strange death of the post-war British political order

When major change happens it can be hard to see what’s really happening. All is flux and uncertainty. In the British 2015 general election fundamental change is happening before our eyes and yet we can’t see what it is. We persist in thinking in terms of the old model of the political order when it has already gone and things have shifted beyond what we can conceive. It will take time for the new dispensation to make itself clear. What has happened is that the traditional post-war model of the nationwide two-party system elected by the “First Past the Post” (FPTP) electoral system in a unicameral, centralised state has finally hit the buffers and no longer works. Yet politicians and to an extent voters still think in those traditional terms when actually a fundamental re-alignment of the political order is … Read more

A UK political system in crisis

Today UK politics is confronted by the challenge of the breakdown of the two-party system and is struggling to come up with behaviours to deal with the new reality. A UK political system predicated on the First Past The Post electoral system and the long-term historical dominance by two main nationwide parties is arguably ill-equipped to respond to a multi-party situation, made more complex by a trend towards nationalist parties in some of the component “nations” of the UK. It was said that Britain “does not love coalitions”, and yet it might be said that that is exactly what she is going to have to do. A hung Parliament again As opinion polls are currently showing us, it is very unlikely that one party will be able to form a government after the May 2015 general election. As in 2010 … Read more

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