The State of It

broken flag
Breaking point…

There’s just too much news around right now.

For many weeks, every day we seem to be presented with two or three new stories, each of which would be headline news on a “normal” news day. Examples include:

  • the continuing Covid pandemic (far from over, despite PM’s assertions)
  • 30-year high for inflation, with fuel price rises and a 10%+ increase in NI contributions to come, wages and benefits falling in real terms, all leading to a cost-of-living crisis
  • “partygate” now awaiting the Met Police report and Sue Gray: The Director’s Cut
  • Andrew Windsor’s multi-million pound hush money to spare the blushes of his relatives. And maybe more.

A Running Commentary?

Over the years since I started, this blog has, at times, resembled a running commentary on the current news headlines. On that basis, the events since December 2019 have just about stunned me into silence. One awful thing after another…

Looking back, my original intention had been something slightly more detached from the day-to-day stuff: something a bit reflective, and also more varied in style and subject matter. I have considered a variety of topics affecting the country: the benefits, or otherwise of a written constitution, the UK splitting into constituent parts, surely now with odds-on departures by Scotland and Northern Ireland, the UK or its parts becoming republics, our voting system, our economic prospects and chances of re-joining the EU. Not much to laugh (or even smile) about in that lot.

Governance Emergency

But there’s something altogether more urgent: how to extricate ourselves from the continuing disaster of the present “government”? The Johnson Cabal is the most clear and present danger to liberal democracy in the UK.

First, the question of Johnson himself. Will he stay? Will he go – willingly or kicked out? If so, how soon? What would be the final straw? How much further damage can he (and they) do in the meantime? None of this is certain right now. But this much is clear: the UK’s international reputation is at rock bottom, at least since 1956 and Suez: I was much too young to understand what was happening at that time. The bad faith exhibited by the UK government in trade negotiations with the EU alone has shattered any image of this country as a mature, stable democracy. I don’t expect other countries’ leaders to restore their trust in us during my lifetime. It’s a depressing thought.

Double Ratchet

The Tories, by which I mean principally the Conservative parliamentarians, have changed out of all recognition during my adulthood. Gone are the days of “Butskellism” of the 1950s and early 1960s. There have been two periods of ratcheting the Party in the direction of free market fundamentalism and authoritarianism. The first, in the 1980s, led by Margaret Thatcher and the second since 2019 by Boris Johnson. The party is increasingly divided into cliques, frequently including “Research Group” in their names, each jockeying for the PM’s attention and trying to drag the Party to even further extreme policy positions. For Thatcher, the enemies within were the “wets”. Johnson forced the last remaining sensible Tory MPs out and the 2019 intake demonstrated a further lurch to extreme and unreasoned positions.

In short, the Tories today are more like the erstwhile lunatic fringe parties of the past 30 -40 years: the Referendum Party and UKIP, to name the most obvious. Any resemblance to the party of Harold Macmillan and Edward Heath has vanished.

Dim and Moronics All Round

So what if Johnson is forced out soon, in the coming weeks? Well, we’d then be presented with another round of the tawdry spectacle of a Conservative leadership contest. The final vote (assuming there’s a contest) would be taken by the 150,000 Conservative Party members, arguably the group most regressive and unrepresentative of public opinion imaginable.

And who are the contenders to replace Johnson? Let’s start with the present Cabinet members – or better still, let’s not. In my estimation, every single member is either a deranged zealot or an idiot, or a combination of the two. They were chosen because (a) they were true believers of the cult of Br*xit or (b) so stupid that they would not make Johnson look bad in comparison. Many perform both roles.

There are people for whom it is inconceivable that they would have reached high office under any other PM in the post-war period: perhaps the two most obvious are 18th-Century Mogg and “Mad Nad” Dorries.

Constitutional Convention

Taking all things into consideration, I can say that the UK has reached the lowest point – in terms of esteem – since at least 1955, or more likely, 1940. We need, as a people, to engage in a rigorous analysis of how we have sunk so low. An honest appraisal of our former role as an empire would be a good start. But we can already say with confidence that the whole ramshackle part-feudal, part-democratic “constitutional” order is a broken model, totally unfit for any country in this modern world. (On that point, the days are long gone since Britain/England could bend the world order to our advantage; today we must find the humility to accept that we adapt to the modern world order, not the other way around.)

The model for how to proceed has to be one which will work given our weird situation as four nations, with an overweening England, held together – just – as a single “Kingdom”. One good place to look would be the Irish Republic and how that country engaged in an open debate about abortion reform. A UK government must set up a Constitutional Convention to review all the big issues that have combined to get us into this mess. Topics include:

  • How governance works: balance of power between the executive and parliament, parliament and judiciary
  • enforcement of the rule of law on all players (including Head of State and Prime Minister)
  • Modernising the silly, archaic rules in Parliament, including the nonsense that all members are either Honourable or Right Honourable. If only. Another obvious contender would be to reverse the position whereby an MP, the PM for example, is allowed to tell lies in the chamber without consequence but anyone calling out a liar gets punished. That is clearly nonsense.
  • Voting reform: no, not voter ID where “personation” is a non-problem, but yes: replacing First Past the Post with something that avoids the current “elective dictatorship”. It cannot be right that one party has held power for two thirds of the last 100 years whilst never winning 50% or more of the vote. (In Europe, only we and Belarus use FPTP in national elections.)
  • Abolition of the House of Lords (which is intrinsically corrupt) and replacement by an elected Senate with elected members and NO bishops.
  • Reform of the way we choose our Head of State. Our current system depends on the integrity of the incumbent: the good fortune of the last 70 years cannot hold much longer.
  • Proper, considered devolution of power and budgets to nations and English regions
  • Consideration to lowering the voting age

It’s quite clear that the current administration would never agree to this course of action. Turkeys don’t vote for Christmas; Tories want to keep matters unfair, as they clearly are now. But that doesn’t stop organisations and people with the relevant skills or experience to aim to start a major communication exercise to come up with a prioritised plan for execution when times are more conducive.

But First…

… we need to vote the Tories out of power.

I would hope that a sufficient number of influential people will be sufficiently horrified by the actions of the Johnson cabal to realise that extreme times call for extreme measures. It should be possible, in England and Wales at least, for centre-left and progressive parties to come to some agreement to maximise the chances that the Tories lose the next election. We need some sort of formal pact or informal understanding to clear the way for the candidate most likely to beat the Tories to be given a “clear run” at the next election. There will be purists who will object, but these are dangerous times for democracy. In addition, there needs to be some extra-parliamentary activity to hinder and frustrate the more egregious plans that Johnson and his cabal are threatening us with.

If we cannot organise to do this, the only alternatives seem to me to be worse: revolution or a rapid decline into some authoritarian/fascist pariah state under a Party which is Conservative in name only and in reality something more sinister.

Note: this post has been put together in spare moments over the past four or five days. By coincidence, both lead articles in yesterday’s Observer seem to cover similar points. The articles can be found here and here.