Tag Archives: Brexit

The Longest Revolution?

The only constant in life is change. If anything proves the truth of this saying, it is British politics. Although many regard the recent chaotic shambles, barefaced lies and back-stabbing intrigue of Brexit as a sure sign of the weakness of the British political system, it is not. It is a shambolic yet important example of the very real strengths of Britain’s unwritten constitution.

The reason is clear: any unwritten set of rules is more flexible and adapts to reflect the wishes of the people far better than any written constitution set in stone.

Professor Vernon Bogdanor (Research Professor: Centre for British Politics and Government at King’s College, London) once said he made ‘a living of something that doesn’t exist’. He also quipped that the British constitution can be summed up as: ‘Whatever the Queen in Parliament decides is law.’ This is basically true – and Brexit has suddenly brought the shadowy patchwork that represents the British constitution to public attention.

The late Tony King (former Professor in the Department of Government at the University of Essex), a well-known election-night commentator for the BBC, concluded: ‘The British constitution is a mess, but it’s a mess that works because it can evolve as society changes.’ He was adamant that we should leave well alone, because any attempt to draft a set of rules – creating a ‘written Constitution with a capital C’ – might only make matters worse.

For example, what exactly did the famous Founding Fathers of the United States of America come up with 232 years ago in their famous 1787 written Constitution on contentious subjects like abortion, slavery and the latest – the 27th Amendment – which prohibits laws on ‘delaying new Congressional salaries from taking effect until after the next election of Congress’? In the British context, would MPs’ salaries really require an amendment to a national constitution?

Nevertheless, only four other countries have unwritten constitutions: Israel, Canada, New Zealand and Saudi Arabia. Of those, the British constitution is regarded as unique. Two questions then arise:

  1. What are the main characteristics of Britain’s peculiar constitutional arrangements?
  2. How has the British constitution got to where it is today and altered in response to the changing nature of politics over the centuries?

British history has been a long and bloody tale, characterised by a simmering state of rebellion, insurrection and even revolution. The Norman barons first clipped the King’s wings in the Magna Carta, signed at Runnymede in 1215. Wat Tyler’s Peasants’ rebellion of 1381 – with its catchy slogan, ‘When Adam delved and Eve she span, who was then the gentleman?’ – demanded a reduction in taxation, an end to the slave labour of serfdom, and the removal of the King’s corrupt lawyers and officials: it changed how England was ruled. The battle for control culminated in cutting off King Charles’s head in 1649 for trying to rule like a dictator and causing a civil war. Historically the English have always – eventually – rebelled against unjust authority and the abuse of power.

The ‘Glorious Revolution’ of 1688, when Parliament kicked out the last Stuart King and invited a foreigner to reign, can be seen as the root of today’s modern constitution. The 1689 Bill of Rights is still the bedrock, even today, of the UK’s constitutional arrangements. That Act settled the primacy of Parliament over the monarch, providing for the regular meeting of Parliament, free elections to the Commons, free speech in parliamentary debates, and some basic human rights, such as freedom from ‘cruel or unusual punishment’. It also sets out the need for ‘the Crown’ to seek the consent of the people, ‘as represented in Parliament’.

So, from the 17th century onward, the primacy of Parliament and the liberties of the subject have been set out, not by a set of constitutional rules, but by the law.

Since then there have been at least three massive changes that have changed British society: the long and interlinked industrial, political and social revolutions, all of which have been reflected by changing parliamentary laws. Those laws have modified the UK’s political arrangements over the years to reflect the real changes in society. In that legal flexibility and ability to react to change lies the real strength of Britain’s unwritten constitution.

The present Parliamentary shenanigans over Brexit are a perfect reflection of both the problem and the solution. By pitting Parliament against the people, the squabbling MPs are merely reflecting the deep divisions in society at large. Rarely has public disillusionment with Britain’s warring two main party-political tribes been so deep and angry. Tribal loyalties may sustain the political status quo temporarily, but ignoring the wishes of the majority of taxpayers and voters will not solve the problem.

The great tectonic plates of Britain’s constitutional arrangements are shifting before our eyes, never mind beneath our feet. It is quite clear that Britain is changing and the two main parties, and indeed the electorate, are splintering into at least four different parties (Labour Remain/Labour Out and Conservative Stay/Conservative Quit) plus God knows what other mix of single issue, special-interest groupings from the Greens to the SNP.

This political dogfight is potentially extremely dangerous. Pitting the people against the Parliament and ignoring the voters’ wishes can only end in tears. Historical precedent shows that unresolved politics of this kind tend to make a nation essentially ungovernable by consent. Once trust has been lost in normal politics, many turn to darker forces.

It is all too easy and convenient to forget the foment of the 1930s, when large sections of British society and political elites were drawn to – and openly supported – Sir Oswald Mosley’s Nazi solution to the nations’ economic problems. It took a revolution in British life, in the form of World War II, to restore national unity.

If we go back to 1911 there is an earlier revolutionary change in British politics, which was swiftly resolved by an unwritten constitution enshrined in laws. When the House of Lords’ rejected Chancellor of the Exchequer, David Lloyd George’s ‘People’s Budget‘ in 1909, the House of Commons demonstrated its dominance over the Lords by holding new elections and tabling a Parliament Act to limit the power of the Lords. The peers threw it out. Following a snap general election, the Act was passed in 1911 with the support of King George V, who threatened to create enough new peers to outvote the Conservative majority in the Lords. This was nothing less than a constitutional revolution, solved by using new laws to change the balance of power.

Something equally drastic may be needed to undo the damage of Brexit. We should not under-estimate the potential trouble that could lie ahead. Brexiteer peers warned Remain-backing MPs they risked the possibility of a violent uprising by voters if they refused to accept the result of the 2016 EU referendum. Lord Lawson, the former chancellor, said there was a danger of a ‘very ugly situation’ arising because ‘insurrectionary forces’ could be left feeling ‘they cannot trust Parliament’.

A worried Lord Forsyth, a former Conservative Scottish Secretary, in April 2019 said a ‘revolutionary action’ had taken place in the Commons. Today, we are actually living through Britain’s long-running constitutional revolution. Whatever your personal views on Brexit, we should all be deeply concerned at the rift between Parliament and the people, specifically Westminster’s refusal to accept the people’s judgment in the referendum, despite clear promises to abide by it by successive Prime Ministers.

It’s not just the rat-infested, antiquated House of Commons that is letting us down with its squabbling MPs, but a Prime Minister who has lied consistently to the voters. Who can trust any politician these days? That’s a serious challenge to the way UK is governed. The question can be easily summed up: do the political elite still believe in people’s democracy – or do they have the power to overturn the result of an election majority?

The long revolution continues; Brexit is already changing Britain’s constitution.

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Fog in Channel over Brexit?

‘Fog in Channel – Continent Cut Off’ was a famous headline before the World War I. However, it still captures the deep-rooted insularity of the British.

This attitude towards Europe has skewed Britons’ understanding of Brexit, because Britain’s decision to leave the EU doesn’t just affect the UK. Britons tend to forget that it also came as a shock to the 27 remaining EU countries and, above all, to the unaccountable, corrupt Commission with its feather-bedded officials, living well on foreign tax payers’ money.

Commission dreams of ‘The Project’ and unstoppable progress towards ‘ever closer union’ and a ‘United States of Europe’ have come badly off the rails since 2016. It is timely therefore to examine just what Brexit means for Britain’s European partners and how Britain’s departure is viewed from the Continent.

It is not a happy scene.

As with most divorces, the first quarrel has been about money. Grandiose EU plans are doomed if the UK refuses to pay the £39bn settlement; it’s PM May’s most potent weapon. Brexit therefore confronts ‘Europe’ with a massive problem. Losing one of the biggest financial contributors to the EU means that the Commission’s budget will have to be rewritten and a lot of expensive projects shelved. (However, the Commission will fudge it: no honest accountant has signed off the EU’s ‘audited’ accounts for 21 years.)

The squeals of pain from the 27 have already started. Beggar-states such as Bulgaria and Romania are furious at not getting their handouts from Brussels for ‘EU-funded’ projects, and the net contributing countries – not many left, with the UK gone –  aren’t happy either. Germany, Holland and the other contributors to the Brussels money tree are reluctant to cough up more to balance EU books. If you don’t believe that, listen to the German car manufacturers, the Spanish fishermen or the French farmers. They are distinctly disgruntled and alarmed by what Brexit means for them.

The truth is that Britain’s exit from the EU has proved a devastating blow to the founding fathers’ dream of a European superstate, run by unelected civil servants, because Brexit affects other nations, politics, people, and challenges the Brussels-based Commission’s control.

The remaining 27 member states have been forced to confront their own membership of the EU; and we tend to forget the mess that most European countries are in.

The EU was already heading towards a crisis even without Brexit. Across a continent beset by mounting problems, Britain’s departure is a stinging vote of no confidence in Europe’s collective future. Ken Clarke’s wish for Westminster ‘to become mere provincial council chamber in Europe’ has proved false. People across the Continent want to rule themselves, with their own borders and as individual nations. They are fed up with the EU meddling in their lives.

Now the suppression of nationalism, which has always been the bedrock of Euro-federalism, is being challenged. By its own admission the EU has suffered one of the most disastrous years in its history. It needs to reform quickly to avoid a head-on challenge, as governments throughout the continent face a backlash of anti-EU votes.

The EU’s leaders – Emmanuel Macron and Angela Merkel – have already seen their popularity ratings plummet to record lows. In Italy things are worse, as Rome’s government, one of the EU’s Big Four (France, Germany, Spain), now represents a serious anti-Brussels majority. Italy’s new ‘government of change’ openly defies Commission edicts on any Euro-budget, and refuses to accept EU immigration policies. Hardly surprising, as, thanks to the stranglehold of the German Euro, Italy’s economy is little bigger than it was 20 years ago, and youth unemployment is 32.5 per cent. The national debt stands at almost €2.5 trillion — over 130 per cent of annual GDP. That money can never be paid back and so Italy is heading for bankruptcy.

Italy is not alone with economic woes. Spain is in deep trouble, too. More than a third of young Spaniards have never had a job. This human tragedy is directly linked to membership of the EU, because the Euro has rendered large tracts of the Spanish and Portuguese economy hopelessly uncompetitive.

In Athens, the birthplace of European democracy, the long-running Greek tragedy continues. Membership of the Eurozone has ruined Greece, wiping out businesses, jobs and entire industries. The Greek economy has actually contracted; shortages and hardship stalk the streets, whilst Brussels dictates orders from afar.

Inevitably this growing economic crisis has now spilled on to the streets of Europe. In France, President Macron’s unpopular ‘reforms’ – like increased petrol tax – have encouraged citizens to protest in the traditional French way. The gilets jaunes (yellow vests) are rioting on the streets. But their protests are about more than just France. They are also about the EU, because Macron has become the main cheerleader for the EU now that Angela Merkel’s long Chancellorship is heading for the German knacker’s yard. Macron’s capitulation to the rioters with his curious cocktail of police brutality and concessions to rioters shows that the greatest crisis for the EU is the spreading challenge to Brussels from despised ‘ordinary voters.’

Spain’s experience reinforces this view. The bitter internal dispute between Madrid and the Catalan separatists – whose leaders either await trial at home or are in exile abroad – has exposed the simmering power of ‘the people.’ Brussels’ snub to the breakaway Catalans will not be easily forgotten. Like all the other unrest across the Continent, it spells out the EU’s dreaded ‘N word’ – Nationalism.

Even in safe, comfortable Germany, the nationalist far-right now poses a menacing threat to the cosy CDU-SPD order, with the electoral successes of the anti-EU Alliance for Germany (AfD) party. Also, In Belgium, ‘capital of Europe’ and headquarters of the EU, a political shambles is taking shape. Prime Minister Charles Michel resigned just before Christmas and now leads a caretaker government until fresh elections can take place in May 2019. He is leaving the screen whilst ordinary Belgians worries about chronic unemployment and Islamic immigration are stoking serious public unrest.

However, the most direct challenge to the authority of Brussels and the Commission comes from further east. There the situation is much more menacing, with the rise of openly far-right parties. The Visegrad Four: Poland, the Czech Republic, Slovakia and Hungary are in a state of open mutiny, mainly over unpopular immigration diktats from Brussels. Hungary in particular presents an increasingly authoritarian alternative to the EU model of liberal politics.

Elections for the European Parliament in spring 2019 may prove a nasty shock to the EU elite as right-wing parties look likely to score significant gains. New populist politicians will emerge, making Nigel Farage look like a hand-wringing local vicar. Suddenly Marie le Pen’s vision of an alternative Europe – even a ‘Frexit’ – is becoming a possibility.

There is no question the EU is confronting a serious crisis – and Brexit is only part of it. In 2019  we are entering truly troubling times, with the EU heading towards a showdown as some of its member states may elect openly nationalist governments intent on defying Brussels. The problem is that the EU Commission is terrified of reform, still believing that every crisis is just another opportunity to push for ‘ever closer union’.

Europe’s diverse countries with their infuriatingly democratic electorates now seem intent on keeping their national identities and to hell with Brussels. Ironically, the unsustainable EU’s flagship euro is the weakest link. The Centre for Economic and Business Studies warns that the ‘internal contradictions’ of the euro will eventually force the Eurozone to either integrate completely or break up.

European law professor at UCL, Ronan McCrea, sums it up: ‘Brexit on its own isn’t the existential threat to the EU that other things are. Migration, a crisis over the rule of law in Hungary and Poland, and the Eurozone’s future – all three of these could destroy the EU ….’

With or without Brexit, the storm clouds are gathering. For the smug fat cats of Brussels an unhappy year has begun.

On Blowing Up Parliament

‘Remember, remember
The Fifth of November,
Gunpowder, Treason & Plot.
I see no reason
Why Gunpowder Treason
Should ever be forgot.’
17th-century Nursery Rhyme

The desire to blow up the occasional politician is a thoroughly understandable one. In the final stages of Brexit’s vexatious and bad-tempered Uncivil War in November 2018, this notion seems particularly attractive. However, it has already been tried – unsuccessfully.

That old monster Henry VIII really caused the original attempt. The Gunpowder plot of 1605 stemmed from Henry’s decision to change his wife – and England’s religion – 70 years previously.

Henry desperately needed a son to carry on the Tudor monarchy’s line. His first wife, Catherine of Aragon, failed to produce an heir and in 1533 Henry decided she had to go. This was always going to be tricky. Spain was the superpower of the day, so ditching a Spanish princess was guaranteed to annoy the King of Spain. The Pope, ever anxious to curry favour with ‘His Most Catholic Majesty,’ refused to agree with Henry and blocked any divorce.

However, Henry couldn’t wait, so broke away from Rome, declaring himself in 1534 the ‘Supreme Head on Earth of the Church of England’. This proclamation conveniently enabled him to annul his marriage to Catherine and to marry Anne Boleyn. (It also allowed him to dissolve the Catholic monasteries and grab their land and money.)

But Henry VIII was no real fan of Luther’s ‘Reformation’, any more than he was of the Roman Pope. He clamped down on all religious fanatics, executing Catholics and Protestants alike. After his death the country slowly polarised into political factions: Catholics on one side; Protestants on the other. Henry VIII’s reforms turned out to be the Brexit of the day.

His Catholic daughter, Queen Mary, tried to turn the clock back. Protestants were persecuted, with 283 burnt at the stake for heresy. When Elizabeth I finally came to the throne she tip-toed carefully through the political and religious minefield she had inherited, declaring she was against ‘making windows in men’s minds’.

Unfortunately she was forced into persecuting Catholics because Rome’s Counter Reformation encouraged numerous plots to murder her and restore Catholicism in England. The Catholic Church, the Pope and Spain desperately wanted to replace Elizabeth with a Catholic monarch – Mary Queen of Scots, for example.

In England every Catholic was now viewed as a probable traitor. The Elizabethan establishment passed savage anti-Catholic laws. Jesuits were ordered to quit the kingdom on pain of death. Catholic priests were fined for saying mass and imprisoned for life. Anyone harbouring a priest risked hanging. Catholics were forbidden to move more than 5 miles from their residences.

It was against this explosive background of what was shaping up to be a religious civil war that King James VI of Scotland inherited the throne in 1603.

James Stuart was viewed with suspicion by his new subjects. Catholics and Protestants were literally at daggers drawn; plots abounded on every side. However, James managed to sign a peace treaty between England and Spain. But Spain and the Pope were still determined to restore freedom of worship for Catholics in England. Ironically, James was distrusted abroad for the repression of Catholics yet at home for being far too tolerant towards them. So, he was always a target. Catholics were plotting once again, this time to put James’s Catholic daughter, Princess Elizabeth, on the throne. The authorities clamped down hard, but a new and deadly plot was brewing.

Robert Catesby, a minor Catholic aristocrat was the mastermind. He had taken part in a rebellion against Elizabeth in 1601 and then fled to the Spanish Netherlands where he began to recruit allies for a new attempt to kill England’s monarch.

By March 1605 the conspirators gathered in London. Their aim was simply to kill the King and as many of the Protestant elite as they could by blowing up the Houses of Parliament with a huge store of gunpowder. The State Opening of Parliament, with the bishops, lords, Privy Council and judges offered a ‘target-rich environment’, including the monarch’s nearest relatives. It was simple and brilliant: all they needed was enough gunpowder, and the opportunity to wipe out England’s hated Protestant ruling elite at a stroke.

The plotters based themselves at Catesby’s lodgings in Lambeth, where their stored gunpowder could be secretly ferried across the Thames. Meanwhile, Parliament pushed through increasingly harsh anti-Catholic legislation.

The gang leased an unused cellar beneath the House of Lords. In those days the Palace of Westminster was easily accessible; merchants, lawyers, and others lived and worked in the lodgings, shops and taverns within its precincts. By August, 36 barrels of gunpowder had been stored. The opening of Parliament was announced for 5 November. The plot was simple; Fawkes would be left to light the fuse and then escape across the Thames, whilst – simultaneously – a revolt in the Midlands would abduct Princess Elizabeth.

However, by now details of the plot were leaking. The wives of those involved became increasingly concerned and on 26 October, Lord Monteagle, the brother-in-law of one the conspirators’ received an anonymous letter warning him ‘as you tender your life, to devise some excuse to shift your attendance at this parliament’Alarmed, Monteagle warned James’s spymaster Salisbury, who cannily decided to sit on the intelligence and watch events unfold.

On 1 November the King was informed; he ordered a search of the Houses of Parliament. Half the conspirators moved to the Midlands, ready to abduct Princess Elizabeth. On 4 November Catesby set off North to join them.

On that same evening a search party finally discovered a large pile of firewood beneath the House of Lords, accompanied by ‘a simple serving man.’ It was Guido Fawkes. Later that night an armed party returned to search the undercroft more thoroughly. Once again they found Fawkes. He was arrested, giving his name as ‘John Johnson’. He was carrying a lantern and a pocket watch plus fuses, and slow-matches. Barrels of gunpowder were discovered under firewood.

Although Fawkes’s had been caught red-handed, for two days he was the only conspirator arrested. He openly admitted that he had planned to blow up the House of Lords but staunchly refused to name anyone else. This earned him the praise of King James, who nevertheless reluctantly ordered Fawkes to be tortured to name his accomplices. On 7 November his resolve and his body were broken; on the rack he confessed the identities of his co-conspirators. It was now a manhunt for the fugitives.

At the news of ‘John Johnson’s’ arrest, the plotters had fled. Catesby told them that the King and Salisbury were dead, before the gang moved north, eventually holing up in Holbeche House near Stafford. Tired and desperate, they spread out some of their damp pistol gunpowder in front of the fire to dry out. A spark landed on the powder and the resultant flames engulfed Catesby, and two others. The remaining fugitives resolved to stay on. On 8 November the King’s men surrounded Holbeche House, killing or capturing the surviving conspirators.

During the next few weeks, Salisbury’s agents hunted down the rest of the plotters and tried them for High Treason. Fawkes and the surviving conspirators were sentenced to be hanged, drawn and quartered. Fawkes cheated his butchers; moments before the start of his execution, on 31 January 1606, he jumped from a ladder while climbing to the gallows, breaking his neck and dying.

The nation rejoiced. But Catesby’s failed Gunpowder Plot set Catholicism in England back for centuries. New laws were instituted that eliminated the right of Catholics to vote, among other repressive restrictions.

Catesby’s Gunpowder Plot still casts a long shadow. To this day, ‘Guy’ Fawkes’ effigy is burned across Great Britain every Fifth of November and the cellars of the Houses of Parliament are searched to make sure there are no conspirators hiding with explosives to blow up the politicians.

However, sometimes it still seems quite a good idea at times of national constitutional crisis …

Brexit: Another Fine Mess

‘I do declare that no foreign prince, person, prelate, state or potentate hath, or ought to have jurisdiction, power, superiority, pre-eminence or authority within this Realm.’  The Bill of Rights (English Parliament, 1689)

‘Well, here’s another nice mess you’ve gotten me into!’ Laurel and Hardy’s catchphrase seems particularly appropriate as Britain approaches Brexit, due on 29 March 2019.

Few of us can remember a more confused and troublesome time in politics. From Donald Trump’s surprise election as president, to Italy throwing its Euros out of the pram; and from Korea’s nuclear threats to the collapse of ISIS, none of these cataclysmic events has caused as much heart-searching among Britons as the vote to leave the European Union: Brexit.

It is important to record two key facts from the start; first, the vote was on the largest turn out in British electoral history, with 30 million voting and a majority of over one million to leave. Second, the very generation that voted the UK to join the European Common Market back in the 1970s was the very generation that voted to quit forty years later. (Under forties mainly voted to remain.)

This poses the question, what has changed? The answer is simply, Europe. What Britons joined as a Common Market has morphed into something quite different. Today’s EU has taken on all the trappings of a superstate, with its own flag, anthem, currency, budget, courts, diplomatic representation, unelected bureaucracy in Brussels, border police, and is even trying to build its own army. What we see today is not the Common Market Britons thought they were joining back in the 1970s. The electorate was tricked into joining Europe – and quite deliberately, too.

We now know from three impeccable sources that what Christopher Booker called The Great Deception was based on a barefaced lie. Sir Edward Heath, the British Prime Minister who took Britain into the Common Market, lied consistently to the British people about the true consequences of joining Europe. He knew he was signing away Britain as an independent power. He admitted it years afterwards. Moreover, his highly classified Foreign Office briefing notes are now available (FCO 30/1048, April 1971) and confirm his lies beyond all argument. Sir Con O’Neill, the Whitehall mandarin behind this astonishing briefing paper, warned Heath that Britain would, by ceding judicial and executive powers, eventually end up as little more than a vassal state taking orders from Brussels. They knew: and so did Heath. O’Neill advised Heath to ‘swallow the lot and swallow it now’, according to the hitherto secret official record of the EEC talks.

Astonishingly, the faceless authors behind the briefing paper made an even more sinister recommendation; they advised ministers to hide the truth from the British public. The result of this deception has been that successive governments have deliberately kept the British public in the dark about what EEC membership really meant, hoping that it would one day be too late to leave. What Heath and the civil service never anticipated was that sooner or later the British public would see though the fraud and vote to quit Europe in a fiercely contested referendum half a century later.

Britons cannot pretend that they were not warned. There can be no doubt that the avowed purpose of the EU has always been to create a single European super-state, governed from Brussels, absorbing formerly independent and autonomous nation states. But don’t just take my word for it. Here are some quotes from European politicians over the years to confirm the point:

‘A United States of Europe is our goal’. Arthur Salter and Jean Monnet, 1923.

‘Europe’s nations should be guided towards the superstate without their people understanding what is happening. This can be accomplished by successive steps, each disguised as having an economic purpose, but which will eventually and irreversibly lead to federation.’  Jean Monnet, 1952.

‘We have sown a seed … Instead of a half-formed Europe, we have a Europe with a legal entity, with a single currency, common justice, a Europe which is about to have its own defence.’ Valery Giscard d’Estaing, President of the EU Convention, June 2003

‘The European Union is a state under construction.’ Elmar Brok, European Parliament’s Committee on Foreign Affairs.

‘We need a true political union … we need to build a United States of Europe with the Commission as government and two chambers – the European Parliament and a “Senate” of Member States … European Parliament elections are more important than national elections …’ Viviane Reding, Vice-President of the European Commission, January 2014

Even the UK politician, Kenneth Clarke, former Conservative Chancellor, in a rare moment of honesty from a British politician takes a similar view:

‘I look forward to the day when the Westminster Parliament is just a council chamber in Europe.’ International Currency Review, Vol 23 No 4, 1996

All this flatly contradicts Heath’s famous 1971 speech on joining the Common Market.

‘There are some in this country who fear that in going into Europe we shall in some way sacrifice independence and sovereignty, even that we shall begin to lose our national identity. These fears, I need hardly say, are completely unjustified and exaggerated ….’

If ever there is proof of a lie to the British electorate, the evidence is clear. Heath arguably committed an act of treason. He deliberately misled the British people and betrayed the Queen into breaking her Coronation Oath. Today’s inevitable backlash from a badly mis-sold electorate is what has fuelled the uncivil battle over Brexit faced by Theresa May.

Unfortunately for her, time to come up with a workable exit EU strategy is fast running out. PM May has just a few weeks to devise a new, mutually acceptable solution because, since Brussels rejected her Chequers proposals, she is trapped between the proverbial rock and a hard place: between her mutinous Eurosceptic party wing and an unyielding Commission, determined not to give an inch for fear of encouraging other increasingly rebellious EU nations. The former ‘arch ditherer’ at the Home Office now has to make a crucial decision. Britain’s timid but stubborn leader must shake off her rabbit in the headlights diplomacy.

As for the Europhiles, Britain must be punished, if only pour décourager les autres.

Frau Merkel has said so. She and France’s latest would-be Napoleon, President Macron, dare not back down. To do so would unleash a flood of anti-EU challenges, starting with Italy and its dodgy Euro, to be followed by the rebellious ‘Visegrad Four’ nations of Eastern Europe, who don’t want any more ‘refugees,’ thank you very much. The EU line must be held, at all costs. The European Commission agrees, warning that the political and economic damage inflicted by Brexit simply presents too great a risk to the EU.

Because Brussels recognises that the defection of the UK could be the capstone that collapses the EU’s arch. The loss of 10% of the Commission’s budget alone is a grievous blow: but the threat of mass defections and an unravelling of the whole European project terrifies the EU Federalist elites, let alone the nervous European banks. Their gravy train could hit the buffers.

The irony is that this bitter and protracted struggle to stifle dissent and lock the stable door is caused by an organisation that was meant to foster European harmony. The Europhiles and the Commission appear to have allowed their dream of a united Europe to over-ride the genuine concerns and anxieties of democratic voters in free nations. They don’t understand, for example, that the annexation of Northern Ireland into the EU means political suicide for any British PM.

What is now clear is that the biggest change to the unwritten British political constitution since 1689 was based on a politician’s lie and the British electorate was deliberately deceived. It was also legally questionable, according to the Bill of Rights.

Whether you agree or disagree with Brexit is immaterial. Brexit goes to the heart of what the UK is. Will Britain be self-governing? Or part of a new federal state?

That’s why it matters.

Democracy?

Sir Winston Churchill famously growled, ‘Democracy is the worst form of government – except for all the others.’

The great man had a point. He understood the dangers of ‘the tyranny of the majority’ very clearly, even adding on one occasion, ‘the best argument against democracy is a five-minute conversation with the average voter.’ Despite this, Churchill was a genuine democrat. He believed in the people and accepted their judgments.

‘Let’s do this the Democratic way …. Hands up all those who agree with me?’

This is highly relevant today, because democracy is under attack. The most obvious is Britain’s undeclared civil war over Brexit, where a narrow majority of voters – albeit on the biggest recorded electoral turn out – voted to quit the European Union. The subsequent uproar and the blatant attempts to pervert and obstruct the people’s decision to leave have shown that the democratic will is only recognised by some when it suits them. That is profoundly undemocratic. But, as in some many things, it all depends on what you mean by ‘democracy.’

Democracy as a political idea dates back to ancient Greece. Literally, it means, ‘rule by the people.’ The word comes from the Greek word dēmokratiā, which is a combination of ‘the people’ (demos) and ‘to rule’ (kratos). The first major exponent of the system was the city state of Athens, around 400 BCE. Not every Greek agreed with the concept. When a Spartan aristocrat argued for more democracy, he was put down firmly by the retort, ‘I’ll believe it when you run your own family as a democracy!’

Since then, both the theory and the practice of democracy have undergone profound changes.  What worked for certain types of male citizens of Athens centuries ago (women, slaves, foreign residents and children under 18 years of age had no vote) clearly does not work for hugely diverse countries like the USA or complex modern societies like the UK.

However, the idea of the people as ‘sovereign in their own affairs’ persists at the heart of democracy. Lincoln spelled it out simply in his Gettysburg Address: ‘… government of the people, by the people, for the people shall not perish from the earth’. From this, three principal systems of democracy have emerged; ‘direct’; ‘delegated’; and ‘representative’.

  • Direct democracy means every voter has a direct say via referendums. The Swiss and Californians like these.
  • Delegated democracy means that the people elect an individual to carry their views to a governing body such as a Senate, as in Ancient Rome. British Trades Unions are a modern example. Shop stewards are given instructions from their members and send delegates to the TUC with ‘a mandate from their members’.
  • Representative democracy means that elected officials represent a group of people. This is the theme of the rest of this article.

Colonial America favoured a system of representation because of the new country’s enormous size and widespread population. The Constitutional Convention (1787) realised that ‘the People of the United States’, could only govern themselves at the national, Federal level by electing Congressmen to go to distant Washington DC to represent their wishes.

The key word is ‘represent.’  Whereas a delegate is merely a mouthpiece, a representative is sent to use his (or her) best judgment on behalf of his constituents. The English political thinker Edmund Burke described his role as an MP to the voters of Bristol in 1774: ‘Your representative owes you … his judgment; and he betrays, instead of serving you, if he sacrifices it to your opinion.’ This explains why, for example, hanging is not put to the popular vote. Polls show that any referendum of the people would reimpose capital punishment, but Britain’s elected representatives in Parliament disagree. MPs think they know best, so they use their judgments to represent their constituents; they do not take their instructions from the people between general elections, which gives rise to the saying: ‘If you don’t like me or my views, then you can vote me out.’

Democracy therefore can mean different things to different people. What is clear, however, is that representative democracy requires mutual trusttrust of the representative by the people; and trust in the people by their elected representatives. Somewhere in the past 20 years that trust has begun to break down. We live in a world where politicians spout democracy – but do everything in their power to overturn it when the people give the ‘wrong answer’ at elections.

Nowhere was this more in evidence than the 2008 farce of Irish voters rejecting the Lisbon Treaty, only to be sent back to vote again after EU officials’ behind-doors deal to force a second referendum. Similar European Commission’s contempt for democratic majorities – and for democracy itself – has been seen in Denmark and France. For Brussels, ‘the people’ cannot be trusted and must be forced to vote again until they come up with the ‘right answer.’ This is dangerous stuff and reflects Bertholt Brecht’s sardonic comment on Communist elections: ‘Would it not be simpler, if the government simply dissolved the people and elected another?’

Closer to home, the UK’s Brexit referendum and Trump’s election in the USA sent shock waves through liberal elites, by coming up with the ‘wrong answer’. The chattering classes were horrified. What these events revealed across the Western world is a widening chasm in far too many countries between voters and the cosy governing class represented by the likes of Davos, the Bilderburg Group, Brussels, Westminster, Washington, politicians, intellectuals and civil servants. This gap is made worse by the refusal of these elites to accept the will of the people; vested interests do everything in their power to block resolutions using non-elected institutions, such as supreme courts and the European Commission, to clamp down on dissent and liberty. For the EU it’s the (deliberate) ‘democratic deficit’; for the chatterati it means finding some way to ignore or neutralise voters’ wishes.

So, when added to the alternative-fact extremes of frightened metropolitan-elite politicians who wish to bash the masses using phrases like ‘post-truth politics’ to control the ‘unqualified simpletons of the great voting public,’ something sinister and profoundly undemocratic is emerging.

Democracy itself is under attack across Europe and the USA, a fact becoming plainer with every daily headline. The idea that the ‘common people are too ignorant and too driven by base emotions to really understand what they voted for’ has gained ground in political circles ever since Trump was elected and Britain voted for Brexit. This is sold as defence of human rights, and especially minority rights against the ‘tyranny of the ignorant majority’. These days it’s not the aristos who fear the mob – it’s the ivory-tower academics and intellectuals who think only they know what is best.

Their solution? ‘Ordinary people are too ill-informed to know what’s best for them – leave it to the experts.’ Well, the experts of the IMF, CBI, the EU, most of the media, the Chancellor and the Bank of England forecast instant ruin, famine, unemployment and plagues of frogs if Britons dared to leave the EU. They’re still waiting.

Another chestnut touted by the new anti-democrats is that ‘Democracy leaves semi-illiterate voters at the mercy of fake news and media lies.’ The high-minded BBC naturally does not agree; but heartily agrees that Fox News and the Daily Mail’s ‘propaganda’ only confuses ordinary, simple folk – quite unlike the BBC and The Guardian, of course ….

The truth is that democracy itself is under attack. Nowhere can this be seen more clearly than in today’s struggle over Brexit, but showing contempt for the masses can only end one way.

As Chairman of the Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Select Committee, Sir Bernard Jenkin MP has said he ‘dreads to think’ what will happen to British politics if the Establishment fails to implement the people’s verdict in the Referendum. He warned: ‘That’s not what democracy looks like in my book. Of course, the EU has always tried to reverse every adverse referendum … but if they defeat the British people in this endeavour, that would be a disaster for our country.’

And for democracy? Watch out for forthcoming variations on the ‘I’m a democrat, but …’ theme before politicians and bureaucrats then ignore the will of the voters. Be very careful; the ‘post-Democratic’ age is being touted as the way ahead.

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