Saturday, 5 November 2016

Brexit & the Gunpowder Plot: Very British Cock-Ups

"Anyone got an umbrella?"
Today is the anniversary of the Gunpowder Plot by which some English Catholics planned to blow up the House of Lords on 5th November 1605. The plot failed because the gunpowder had been rained on. This was England in November after all.  Total cock-ups relating to the sovereign power of parliament are going strong today.

I am so confused by the questions BREXIT has raised this week that I have written this four-point attempt at clarification to protect my own sanity.

ONE. The UK is a parliamentary democracy. Our 650 MPs, elected by British citizens, do have far too much power relative to those citizens.  But the way to change this is through education of our young in their own constitution, which would produce pressure for reform, not by disregarding parliament at an incendiary  moment when the future of the country is at stake.

Heroes of the Week: 
TWO. The immediate problem lies with the role of the Prime Minister, whom we do NOT elect. S/he can arbitrarily decide to ignore the representation system and hold a referendum (as David Cameron did so irresponsibly over membership of the EU), for any reason, including a desire to consolidate personal power within their party.

THREE. This is not democracy but despotism: referendums allow one individual to over-ride the entire legislative system which has taken centuries to evolve. That is why referendums are not legally binding and no British PM ever used one until 1975. 

How dare Theresa May consider using ‘royal prerogative’ to stop our elected parliamentary representatives voting on when Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty 2007 can be triggered? I thought that kind of crazy autocratic language was halted forever with the execution of Charles I in 1649. Thank god for the High Court judges who this week made it rain, if only temporarily, on her undemocratic parade.

FOUR, the vote on 27th June 2016 to leave the EU was made by British citizens, most of whom can’t tell you the name of their own MP, and who understood nothing of the legal and constitutional practicalities which a ‘leave’ vote would entail. Given the boring bureaucratic evasiveness of Article 50, we can see why audience-pleasing newspeople avoided analysing its implications in favour of covering the puerile scrapping between Gove and Johnson. But this meant that most Britons had zero understanding of the power which a ‘Leave’ vote would put not in their hands but in those of the Prime Minister.

We did not even know then who the PM would be. We did not know that, for all her much-cited integrity as the pious daughter of a virtuous vicar, she would not be above using ill-informed anti-immigration rage, as expressed in the popular right-wing media, to circumvent hard-won constitutional imperatives. Despite also being a vicar’s daughter, I find myself agreeing with Oliver Price in Robert Graves’ 1936 novel Antigua Penny Puce when he says to his sister that women can be surprisingly immoral, 'Especially the daughters of the clergy'.** Let it rain, let it rain, let it rain.

**Thanks to Professor Mark Golden for this reference 

4 comments:

  1. I've looked back to your posts before the Brexit decision in June. I could find no railing against holding a referendum to decide the in/out question. Are you guilty of Trumpism - happy while things are unfolding as you want them to but calling foul when you don't like the outcome?

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    1. Dear Editor--in an ideal world I would like a direct democracy with an independent judiciary rather than a representative one where there is almost complete alienation between voters and their representatives, but I dislike unelected PMs having too mucb power, including the power to call referenda when THEY don't like what Parliament opines even more. I think everyone is guilty of Trumpism to be honest.

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  2. Mr A. Dennis emails me thus: I agree with some of what you say, but not the tone of Point four, which I think was a bit harsh.The claim you asserted that most voters wouldn’t have known the name Of their M.P. , however true it may have been, sounded to my ears a little condescending, which, I think, may have been hidden in your criticism of May’s “how dare she” use Of the “royal prerogative.”
    In essence I agree with some of your points, but the way you delivered Them did nothing for my “sanity” on this occasion.



    A Dennis

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  3. I apologise for any condescension you inferred. I feel angry not with people who don't know the name of their MP but with a system in which citizens are so alienated from parliament.

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