Authoritarian populism threatens to destroy UK democracy

The PM's adviser has been held in contempt of parliament - they don't care about democracy.

For a long time Brits have comforted themselves with claims that the UK is a democratic country with robust and accountable institutions.

Recent events show that many of the institutions of democracy are medieval rather than modern. 

He Who Must be Obeyed

Like a medieval king, Prime Minister Boris Johnson requires MPs to slavishly obey his orders.

Last week, 21 Conservative MPs dared to defy Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s order to support a No Deal exit from the European Union (EU).

They were immediately thrown out of the parliamentary party without any hearing or right of appeal.  There is no electoral mandate for leaving the EU without a deal.

Dominic Cummings, unelected main adviser to the Prime Minister, reportedly told an MP: “When are you MPs going to realise that we are leaving on 31 October?” before adding: “We are going to fucking purge you.” 

Cummings is former director of the official Leave campaign and has been held to be in contempt of parliament after failing to appear before MPs investigating fake news. Now he rules the roost over elected MPs and enjoys security clearance to roam the Houses of Parliament.

In the words of former Chancellor Philip Hammond: “the Conservative Party has been taken over by unelected advisors, entryists and usurpers who are trying to turn it from a broad church into an extreme right-wing faction.” 

The September session of parliament was of special significance as the government is committed to leaving the EU on 31 October. But the Prime Minister is not keen on parliamentary scrutiny and privately said that parliament was a “rigmarole” designed to show MPs were “earning their crust”. 

Unaccountable

Johnson’s Conservative Party has no working majority in the House of Commons and he was elected leader of the party and Prime Minister by less than 100,000 members of his party.

Around 15/16 August he secretly made the decision to prorogue parliament, but continued to make public statements to the contrary.

Former Work and Pensions Secretary Amber Rudd said that that the Cabinet was not given the legal advice on prorogation and she only found out about the suspension of parliament on the morning it was announced.

The formal power to prorogue parliament rests with the Queen, the unelected head of state.

Many people will have reservations about permitting a 93 year old to sign important documents but on 29th August the Queen approved a five-week prorogation of parliament, the longest period since the Second World War.

She was guided by her Private Secretary Edward Young, a former advisor to the Conservative Party.

Parliament cannot vote on the Queen’s decision. There is no public document to explain the prorogation reasoning offered by the Prime Minister to the cabinet, parliament or the public.

Members of parliament cannot bring the Queen to any parliamentary committee to seek information about how the Sovereign exercises her powers. MPs are not permitted to raise matters relating to the Sovereign in the UK parliament. 

People fund the Monarchy but have no way of finding information about its operations. The Freedom of Information Act 2000 enables people to secure information about some operations of the state, but the Act exempts matter relating to communications with the Sovereign and other members of the Royal Family.

Danger signs

Like medieval kings, Boris Johnson cannot guarantee that he will comply with the law of the land.

The European Union (Withdrawal) (No. 6) Bill 2017-19, now law, ensures that the UK does not leave the EU on the 31 October 2019 without a withdrawal agreement, unless Parliament approves such a course of action. 

It provides that if parliament has not approved either a withdrawal agreement with the EU or a statement that the UK is to leave the EU without an agreement, the Prime Minister is obliged to ask the European Council for an extension to Article 50(3) of the Treaty on European Union. The Prime Minister has refused to confirm that he will abide by the law.

For years, the UK press built the bogey that left-leaning politicians are somehow a danger to parliament, rule of law and democracy.

Now we see that the coup is from the right-wing which increasingly wraps itself in garbs of nationalism.

For this, much of the tabloid press lauds Boris Johnson. If the opinions polls are anything to go by, he enjoys considerable support for his practices and is particularly supported by the far-right groups.

Minorities are becoming a convenient scapegoat for UK’s political failures and racism is increasing.

Haven’t we seen all this before? In the 1930s, authoritarian populism enabled the Nazis to take power and destroy democratic institutions in Germany.

The current BBC series ‘The Rise of the Nazis’ shows that authoritarian populism and the intolerance of dissent, an essential ingredient for renewal of democracy, resulted in xenophobia, destruction of society and much more.

The danger signs are flashing. The inexorable descent will continue unless people unite in resistance and transformation of institutions of democracy to secure a better future for all.

Prem Sikka is a Professor of Accounting at University of Sheffield, and Emeritus Professor of Accounting at University of Essex. He is a Contributing Editor for Left Foot Forward and tweets here.

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6 Responses to “Authoritarian populism threatens to destroy UK democracy”

  1. nshgp

    17.4 million reasons why you are wrong.
    MPs should do as they are told when the public are permitted to give them an order

  2. steve

    “… unite in resistance and transformation of institutions of democracy to secure a better future for all.”

    Fair enough but even our political parties are not democratic. The Labour elite imposes Blairite PPCs on us because that’s what the elite wants. And in the EU elections we had candidates parachuted in who campaign against Labour policy.

    All that matters to the elite is getting on the gravy training, staying on the gravy train and getting their mates on the gravy train.

    Democratisation can only develop from the bottom-up. And the best place to start this process is in the Labour Party.

    Get rid of the Blairite deadwood and bring on the ordinary people.

  3. Michael Fitchett

    Why not read the Constitution of the United States, translate into English English, and incorporate it wholesale into British Law. Then we will know exactly who is allowed to do what.

  4. Patrick Newman

    Michael, the prime minister is not independent of the parliament and depends on the support of his/her M.P.’s that are in the governing party. Trump’s election was entirely separate to that of the Senate and House of Representatives. There are questions about how the President of the whole country can be elected when receiving fewer votes than the unsuccessful candidate (Clinton got 3m more than Trump).

  5. Patrick Newman

    nhsgp – M.P.’s are representatives not delegates and that is our constitutional convention. You cannot govern by referenda especially when the Leave mandate is characterised by illegality and corruption in the use and source of finance and data. Will of the people – my arse!

  6. Domhnall

    Michael Fitchett: the US Constitution is no impediment to fascism, to racism, to corruption, to corporate power, to mass incarceration, to ceaseless war, to voter suppression, … it does precisely nothing to curtail the family Trump from vandalising the country to benefit themselves and their wealthy backers. Just what are we to imagine are the potential benefits of borrowing a Constitution put together by slave owners and genocidal land speculators?

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