How charismatic populism is a threat to the survival of democracy in Britain

Today the UK Parliament enters upon an extended period of suspension, of prorogation, in the midst of one of the biggest crises the British state has encountered since the crises of the Stuart era in the 17th century. Such is the evolution of the current crisis over Brexit that we now have a struggle for power between the executive and legislature as happened in that earlier era. What has stood out recently is how the act of prorogation has been another measure of what an observer has called “executive exceptionalism” in the name of popular sovereignty against that of representative democracy, but also one where a charismatic authoritarianism risks being allowed at the expense of the requirements of elective democratic consent to the actions of the executive. What is so dangerous is that these actions are teaching people a lesson … Read more

A cliffhanger democratic crisis of Parliament versus a Brextremist government

This week in the Brexit democratic crisis has been powerfully dramatic, with cliffhanger votes in Parliament, the government taken to court by activists, demonstrations about democracy in danger, threats to act unconstitutionally by the Prime Minister, MPs being thrown out of the Tory party, an opposition Parliamentary alliance in the face of an arbitrary, undemocratic executive, and the government’s loss of its majority. The Brexit crisis is now seriously impacting the very heart of the British system of government. Where will this lead? A bill passes Parliament to prevent a No Deal Brexit on 31 October The House of Commons, the lower house of Parliament, in an emergency debate on 3 September passed a motion to take control of business the next day to introduce a backbench bill, known as the Benn bill after its sponsor Hilary Benn,  to prevent … Read more

How Johnson’s prorogation tactic threatens democracy itself

Why has Johnson’s prorogation of Parliament shortly before Brexit caused such outrage? Non-UK readers might be puzzled but to many observers within the UK, in the midst of the struggle over Brexit that has fractured the nation, it is already being called a “coup”, an “attack on democracy”, and an “authoritarian” action from the leader of the Vote Leave movement who campaigned in the name of democracy. More thoughtful observers say that within reactionary nationalist populism in many countries there is an authoritarian undercurrent, and this is arguably its British manifestation. Democratic outrage Prime Minister Johnson’s announcement of the prorogation of Parliament until shortly before Britain is due to leave the EU has stunned and outraged many democrats. The Speaker of the House of Commons has called it a “constitutional outrage”. Observers should by now be under no illusion that … Read more

The authoritarianism inherent in Brexiter populism nears the surface

It is now hard not to take the view that the ruthless pursuit of the goal of Brexit is now No. 10’s order of the day, “by all means necessary” in the words of the alleged brief given to the effective Chief of Staff Dominic Cummings by PM Johnson and the Vote Leave team now controlling the executive. That ruthlessness has an urgent domestic priority, to break the Parliamentary resistance to Brexit as formulated by No.10. If that means a No Deal Brexit, so be it. In terms of the relationship with the EU, this will not resolve the problems of a breakdown in the trading relationship with Britain’s by-far biggest market. In domestic terms it comes at a massive price in both an economic recession, a failure in Parliamentary democracy and a possible shift towards authoritarianism. It is not … Read more

A constitutional crisis is now in full swing with the attempt to impose Brexit

According to news reports today, the Johnson regime in the UK is risking a “full blown constitutional crisis” by asserting that the UK will leave the European Union on 31 October “whatever the circumstances”. Parliamentarians fear that he intends to do this despite the expressed wish by the democratically-elected Parliament against a No Deal Brexit. This blog has been warning of this threat to the constitution and representative democracy for a long time, that populists would exploit the questionable claim to a mandate from the 2016 referendum to impose Brexit on the UK. Expressions of outrage This latest twist to the Brexit crisis has occurred because Johnson’s “dark arts” advisor Cummings has said that Parliament can now no longer stop Brexit happening on 31 October. A No. 10 spokesperson also stated “The UK will be leaving the EU on 31 … Read more

Forcing through a No Deal Brexit and a “People versus Politicians” election

It was disturbing to read reports over the weekend that under the advice of the master of the dark arts SPAD* Dominic Cummings at No. 10, the Johnson regime is planning to allow a No Deal Brexit to occur under the default principle inherent in the Article 50 process and to hold a “People versus the Politicians” general election soon after to secure a majority and elective legitimacy for his regime. In so doing, Johnson is playing fast and loose with the principles of the British constitution and revealing an arbitrariness that is dangerous. Thus is the mandate allegedly secured for Brexit in the referendum of 2016 allowed to override Parliamentary democracy as populists suggest and despite failing to win the 2017 general election to carry Brexit through to completion. Britain is facing a grim crisis that could tear it … Read more

The dark arts of political advertising as the clouds of a Brexit war gather

I was struck by an image today of Dominic Cummings, the master of the dark arts of campaigning and political advertising, now Johnson’s chief SPAD at No. 10, whom this author describes as a Svengali-like figure. In the 1895 du Maurier novel, Svengali is a figure who seduces, manipulates, dominates and exploits his victim. Behind the jovial, bumbling, jokey but false front of Boris Johnson’s pre-election campaigning (it seems), lurks this arch-manipulator. Perhaps he symbolises what Brexit is about, a fraud on the British people, no doubt sincerely believed in by huge numbers but cleverly sold in 2016 by this Vote Leave team now in power, a massive wrench to the country with no plausible, developed policy and programme, with a claim to being democratic while their behaviour demonstrates otherwise, and with behind them an actual policy of a further … 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

Behind Brexit is a hidden agenda of completion of the “Thatcher revolution”

Behind Brexit lies the hidden agenda of Brexit, except that’s it is not so hidden as that it is so little discussed. People often ask, why are they doing this to the UK? Who can be so crazy as to carry out this act of self-harm? Surely they must realise! The answer might be that “they” do, but choose not to publicise very much, presumably because many people would not be very comfortable with it. Completing the Thatcher revolution This is all about the work of “Thatcher’s children”, completing what they regards as the Thatcher revolution. People like Liz Truss, Dominic Raab, Priti Patel and Kwasi Kwarteng are ardent Thatcherites, ultra-free market ideologues who regard Mrs Thatcher’s work as incomplete. They are part of the political generation who came politically aware during Mrs Thatcher’s time in office and are now … Read more

The Vote Leave Brextremist faction takes power but can they pull it off?

The formation of the Vote Leave Johnson government was stunning in its audacity. Suddenly the politics of stalemate have been replaced by that of a terrifying, focused action. This was a hard right wing No Deal government preparing the decks for action, clear and determined on their goal, a No Deal Brexit. Whatever doubts one may have of Johnson’s leadership capabilities, his competence in government and his ability to manage Brexit seem swept on one side by the daring ruthlessness of a machine being readied for war. After the dust settles a bit, one has to ask cold, hard questions about whether this almost revolutionary cabal can pull it off. Vote Leave faction takes power To be clear, this Johnson government is a Vote Leave regime, so far unelected and trying to assert the constitutionally dubious legitimacy of the 2016 … Read more

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