Britain tends to do well in international surveys that look at how appealing a place is to do business. One of the reasons often cited is the stability of its political system - common law and the rule of law, low levels of corruption and a venerable democratic tradition that emphasises evolutionary rather than revolutionary change.
It may seem that Brexit has damaged that reputation, but there is something much bigger afoot, a new radicalism that has coalesced around Brexit, but which seeks to make more profound changes to our constitution than simply leaving the EU.
"This Parliament is a dead Parliament. It should no longer sit. It has no moral right to sit on these green benches." - Geoffrey Cox, 2019.
"You have sat too long for any good you have been doing lately ... Depart, I say; and let us have done with you. In the name of God, go!" - Oliver Cromwell, 1653.
The Civil War may be a long time ago, but it was probably the last time that there has been such a stark division between the executive and legislative branches of our government - precisely because the UK’s constitutional monarchy is designed to make it more or less impossible that the two should be at odds; prime ministers are supposed to command a majority in the House.
In 1653, the division came because Cromwell and his New Model Army had won a series of military victories against enemies of the new regime, which they saw as a sign of God’s providence and support for their ideas - and they wanted the Rump Parliament to pass religiously-inspired, reformist legislation that would enact them. The Rump, however, was socially conservative and primarily concerned with legislation ensuring its own survival.
In 2019, you could replace God’s providence with the ‘will of the people’, as revealed in the 2016 referendum result. Johnson and his supporters claim the rebels who now control Parliament are fearful of the people’s will, and are using legal means (the so-called surrender act and the Supreme Court ruling) to bypass it.
Where Cromwell used force to overcome his Parliamentary opponents, Johnson intends to use an election. His gambler’s strategy, knowing he cannot win in the Commons, is to create a campaigning narrative of the elite betraying the ordinary people, which is designed to outflank the Brexit Party, energise Leave voters, purge opponents from within his own party and carry him to victory against a divided opposition.
If it works and Johnson wins a large majority, then it could be the start of a whole new, radical order, where there is a more direct democracy that resorts more often to referendums, which has an increased role for the executive and a diminished role for Parliament and possibly the Supreme Court. There may be some telling details in the next Conservative manifesto, but it’s clear that the new radicals have no plan just to deliver Brexit then go back to normal. The rulebook itself is up for grabs.
Of course, the PM may not win. What’s unclear but really important is how deep the malaise and mistrust of traditional politics are across the country, and whether that will lead to lasting damage to the two-party system. First-past-the-post does work against that, but it is possible that the rise of the Lib Dems and Brexit Party, not to mention the SNP, are permanent.
In part that depends on whether voters will revert back to pre-Brexit tribal lines once the UK leaves the EU (assuming it does, in fact, eventually leave). Have Remain-leaning Conservative voters in the Southwest or Leave-supporting Labour voters in northern towns been permanently detached from their former political homes? In this way the timing of an election - pre or post-Brexit - will be very interesting.
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