For all its strengths, Britain’s current political system seems to be incapable of providing government fit for a mature society. A self-serving, opportunistic culture has developed at the heart of our political establishment which makes good government next to impossible.
Many people find this deeply disturbing but it’s hardly surprising. The democratic system that evolved over the last few centuries has no foundations of its own; it was built, piecemeal, on a feudal framework whose central purpose was maintaining an unequal status quo.
In the past, that feudal framework was never strong enough to withstand the pressure for change but it still provides the underlying structure of our political system, locking in systemic inequality and entrenching the hold of whoever is in power. However, it has now reached a point where those foundations no longer support further democratic development; instead, they underpin rampant misgovernment.
With their response to the Covid-19 virus, the government has taken misrule to new depths. Suspending the normal functioning of society on the basis of a report that had glaring inadequacies, without any analysis of the potential negative impacts of the measures they were mandating, looks like a descent into madness.
When I set this site up three years ago I thought the turmoil following the Brexit vote would bring many other people to see the need for change – as, indeed, it has. Unfortunately, there seems to be a big gap between seeing the need for change and taking constructive steps to bring it about. Perhaps the Covid-19 saga will bring many more to realise that something fundamental has to change. But are our established political processes adequate to bring it about? And can we afford to wait for a new election in 2024, with no certainty that reform parties will win a majority?
There is another way. The existing system depends on the support of the courts, who have it in their power to insist on constitutional reform – and there are good reasons why they might do so. Senior judges have recognised for many years that the UK’s constitution is incoherent and their concern has been greatly reinforced by the recent cases on the Royal Prerogative and the prorogation of Parliament. If the right arguments were put to them, it is entirely possible that they would order a specially-elected Constitutional Parliament to be convened to establish clear rules for how the country should be governed.
As a society, we now have a choice between establishing proper foundations for democratic government (which would allow the underlying feudal framework to be dismantled), or allowing the corrupt culture that dominates at Westminster to spread through the broader democratic structure. If we do not act to bring about reform, we risk leaving the feudal framework in permanent control of the institutions of government – institutions which have been massively reinforced, since feudal times, by the advances that democracy has enabled.
Over the last few months, while normal life has been suspended, I’ve been reminded of the old saying, “Whom the gods would destroy, they first make mad”. I’m still not sure, though, whether their target is the government (along with other governments around the world) or the broader population who have embraced the madness with such enthusiasm. I’ve been campaigning for years for a system that might deliver good government but it is also important that the public should get the government they deserve; if, even at a time like this, people are unable to come together to build a system of government that is fit for a mature society, I think the gods could reasonably conclude they never will.
July 1st 2020