A profound political gap underlies the Brexit storm and the right-wing shift

For some time there has been a profound political gap between the excitement of the UK politically engaged and the indifference or rejection “out there” beyond the Westminster bubble. For those willing to take a closer look, the attitude of the latter towards the Brexit crisis, and its origins, goes a long way to explain why the crisis is evolving as it is now. This detachment from, and in some parts of the country an outright rejection of, liberal democracy, can help explain Johnson’s current belligerent and almost anti-democratic tactics. Johnson is firing up his base To many in the Westminster bubble and the politically active sections of society, there is a massive struggle going on over Brexit, in which Johnson has recently prorogued Parliament to, it is assumed, limit debate and reduce the chances of Parliament obstructing his strategy … Read more

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

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

Political parties in the UK now operate on a narrow political base and are vulnerable to challenge

A very important underlying trend in UK, European and US politics has been the increasing isolation of a “political class” or elite from the mass of voters. It shows itself in a wide variety of features, but from the perspective of our main political parties it is a potentially dangerous trend in times of upheaval or change such as the current Great Recession, as it opens up the ground for challenges from populist and more extreme parties with widespread support. The risk this trend runs is of a mass political vacuum which others might fill. Mass-based parties Arguably the model of 20th Century democratic politics was the mass-based party, agreed on a set of ideological principles or enough to form a coalition of interests and beliefs. In the UK, we had a Conservative party that had emerged out of its … Read more

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