HP Source: Democracy is when the people keep a government in check (1)
‘From the wars against disorder
From the sirens night and day
From the fires of the homeless
From the ashes of the gay..’
In last weeks’ feature, ‘Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas and Cornwall’, I highlighted how, as part of the Trade Bill currently going through parliament, the government has included a clause that allows it to sidestep the house, effectively agreeing any trade agreement it wishes.
This, it would appear, is how Johnson and his mob regard democracy, and disregard the electorate that put them there.
Readers will be aware of my scepticism of our first-past-the post electoral system, which seems to prove what Thomas Jefferson wrote; ‘a democracy is nothing more than mob rule, where 51 percent of the people may take away the rights of the other 49,’ correct.
However, it functions, and by and large has served the country well for over 300-yrs. Once we have elected our MP, they are meant to represent our views, although the ‘whip’ system does rein them in when it comes to votes.
‘a democracy is nothing more than mob rule, where 51 percent of the people may take away the rights of the other 49’
In addition, the current government has an 80-seat majority, making it almost impossible for it to lose a vote in the house. However, despite this, it is a betrayal of our democracy for the government to side-line parliament and act in a totally arbitrary fashion.
Worryingly, this isn’t the first time that Johnson has sought to go around parliament and the system to ensure he gets his own way. Almost a year ago, Johnson advised the Queen to prorogue (suspend) the house until the State Opening of Parliament on 14 October 2019.
This suspension was widely regarded as a unconstitutional attempt by Johnson to avoid parliamentary scrutiny of the Government’s Brexit plans in those final weeks leading up to Brexit, it was ultimately ruled to be both justiciable and unlawful by the Supreme Court of the United Kingdom on the 24th September, and was deemed ‘null and of no [legal] effect’.
This failure led to the ‘people versus Parliament’ 2019 election campaign orchestrated by Dominic Cummings, a man who long shown disdain for traditional political institutions, and their old ways of doing things, all that matters to him is the letter of the law.
Other examples of this disregard for our democracy include suggestions to ‘pack’ the House of Lords with hundreds more Brexit-supporting peers, or to advise the Queen not to sign a rebel bill into law. There was even a suggestion that Johnson might refuse to abide by a law passed by Parliament.
Perhaps behaviour of this nature is to be expected from an individual that was formally found ‘in contempt of Parliament’ over his refusal to attend a select committee to discuss the actions of Vote Leave.
‘an individual that was formally found ‘in contempt of Parliament’’
Whilst worrying about government side-lining parliament when it suits its purpose might seem trivial given their majority means they will always win the day, it isn’t. There is more than principle at stake here, it’s the very foundations of our political system.
Like many things this isn’t just about where something starts, it about where it finishes, in this instance how far will Johnson push his desire for power.
An example, all be it an extreme one, is the passing in Germany in 1933 of a law that gave the German Cabinet—in effect, the Chancellor—the power to enact laws without the involvement of the Reichstag, and to override fundamental aspects of the Weimar Constitution.
The Enabling Act gave Hitler plenary powers and followed on the heels of the Reichstag Fire Decree, which had abolished most civil liberties and transferred state powers to the Reich government. The combined effect of the two laws was to transform Hitler’s government into a legal dictatorship.
Johnson’s desire for control and power is also reflected in his choice of allies, whilst there is a clear and open relationship with Trump’s America, there is also a stealthy relationship with Putin’s’ Russia.
‘The recent Russia report paints a grim picture of what is left of British democracy’
Whilst Russian is an erstwhile democracy, one can only look in wonder, or horror, at the ease with which President Putin recently pushed through a package of constitutional changes, which included an amendment allowing him to run again for the presidency in 2024 – and stay in power until 2036.
These constitutional reforms were ratified in a nationwide vote, with a 68% turnout, 78% of those taking part voted in favour of the changes, according to Russia’s Central Electoral Commission (CEC).
The recent Russia report paints a grim picture of what is left of British democracy; Kremlin disinformation targeting our elections, a London laundromat cleaning dirty money, Russian elites buying their way into the British establishment.
What is perhaps more concerning are two paragraphs in the body of the report which reveal that nobody oversees protecting our democracy. Never mind Putin and Russia, it appears anyone with a wad of cash and a vested interest can buy access to our political process.
The two Government agencies nominally charged with ensuring the integrity of our political and electoral system are not able to ‘tackle a major hostile state threat to our democracy’.
- The Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport – responsible for tackling a torrent of political disinformation online – ‘is a small Whitehall policy department’.
- The Electoral Commission is ‘an arm’s length body’, embattled and under-resourced.
Whilst our approach might charitably be described as light touch, the US has a far more robust approach, i.e. you can go to prison for breaking electoral law, e.g. Michael Cohen.
In the UK, the maximum fine our Electoral Commission can impose is £20,000, the equivalent of a table at a Conservative party fundraiser.
Unsurprisingly, the Tories last year opposed strengthening the elections regulator so it could impose bigger fines, allowing party donors to sidestep transparency requirements to funnel hundreds of thousands of pounds into key Labour ‘red wall’ seats during the 2019 general election.
This is typical of modern Britain, the rules apply only to those who don’t have the means to the bend the rules, as evidenced by Dominic Cummings repeatedly refusing to appear before a DCMS select committee enquiry, or accept the lock-down rules. He is still a senior adviser to Johnson.
‘If you can play on the fiddle
How’s about a British jig and reel?
Speaking King’s English in quotation
As railhead towns feel the steel mills rust..’
Obviously, the current rules suit the government, a situation confirmed by the Cabinet Office minister Chloe Smith, who told parliament that consolidation of Britain’s outdated electoral laws, with the exception of amending the Fixed-term Parliaments Act was ‘not a priority’.
Johnson went even further, declaring that the imbroglio over the Russia report was a plot by ‘Islington remainers’.
I won’t bore readers with the numbers (2), suffice to say that a roughly half the polled electorate believe that Russia interfered with the EU referendum and last years general election, the only deviation was Remain voters and Lib Dem and Labour voters were more convinced than either Leave or Tory voters
‘roughly half the polled electorate believe that Russia interfered with the EU referendum and last years general election’
Of course, nothing will change as it suits Johnson and his Vote Leave entourage to maintain the current status quo, beyond this the reality is that the security problem is that Johnson, the PM himself, appears to do only what is in his best interests, and, in the case of Russian interference in our elections, specifically the EU referendum, Johnson’s best interests are Russia’s best interests, therefore both parties disregarded the findings of the report published by the intelligence and security committee (ISC).
Johnsons’ view on the report was dismissive; ‘This is about pressure from Islington Remainers who had seized on this report to try to give the impression that Russian interference was somehow responsible for Brexit,’ Johnson said, in response to a question that had nothing to do with Brexit.
For the record, Johnson was, until 2016 was an Islington Remainer too.
At this point we enter interesting territory and one that is yet another threat to our democracy. The ISC does not act like other committees, it is both non-partisan and independent.
‘roughly half the polled electorate believe that Russia interfered with the EU referendum and last years general election’
The findings of the report were endorsed by its current and previous Conservative chairs. By rejecting its findings, the government has allowed a foreign policy win for Russia, and one which undermines parliamentary democracy.
Julian Lewis, the committee’s new chair, said on Tuesday ‘This committee has been subject to unprecedented delay and dislocation, this must never happen again.’ But what can be done to prevent it? Nothing.
However, whilst Johnson maybe the public face of this, and the US and Russia the major beneficiaries, it is to the enabler, roughly half the polled electorate believe that Russia interfered with the EU referendum and last years general election.
As Alex Younger, head of MI6, said in December 2016; ‘The connectivity that is the heart of globalisation can be exploited by states with hostile intent to further their aims.[…] The risks at stake are profound and represent a fundamental threat to our sovereignty.’
Or, as a Senior intelligence analyst said in April 2017; ‘It’s not MI6’s job to warn of internal threats. It was a very strange speech. Was it one branch of the intelligence services sending a shot across the bows of another? Or was it pointed at Theresa May’s government? Does she know something she’s not telling us?’
This is whole of issue of data mining is covered in great depth in a previous article in the Guardian (3), however, in brief, what is clear is that the businesses behind it are ultimately owned by influential Americans billionaires, at least one on which is close confidant of Trump. This should be of great concern when a post-Brexit Britain appears to be tying its future to America.
‘When the dogs
Get their bones
Remember they’ll be howlin’
Money’s never wrong..’
This is an information war; the technology used these firms effectively manipulates people emotions. Research by Tamsin Shaw, an associate professor of philosophy at New York University, found, ‘this is military-funded technology that has been harnessed by a global plutocracy and is being used to sway elections in ways that people can’t even see, don’t even realise is happening to them. It’s about exploiting existing phenomenon like nationalism and then using it to manipulate people at the margins’.
I recently read an article which dismissed much of the influence of social media on either the Brexit referendum or the 2019 general election, saying that mainstream support for both came from older voters who are less computer literate.
I disagree for two reasons; firstly, there are ‘silver surfers’ who are computer savvy, and many use Facebook. Ask any ‘hip aware’ 20’something and they will tell you they deserted Facebook, and other social media sites years ago as they were being taken by ‘your lot’, the over-50s.
Secondly, the ‘don’t care generation’ (over-60’s) were already yearning for yesteryear and Leave was pushing on an open door with them, and with exception of those in the ‘Red Wall’ were traditional Tory voters anyway.
And, as I highlighted earlier ‘Russian money’ was poured into the seats in the ‘Red Wall’ to buy a Tory victory
Social media was used to great effect by Cummings and this was aided by company’s that exploited data mining., In his blog, Dominic Cummings writes that Brexit came down to ‘about 600,000 people – just over 1% of registered voters.
Cummings’s strategy was to target people in the last days of the campaign and Vote Leave gave one of the smaller Leave groups £100,000 in the last week. A small number of people they identified as ‘persuadable’ were bombarded with more than a billion ads, the vast majority in the last few days.
‘its an attack on what we know and have cherished for hundreds of years’
This has left Britain looking increasingly like a ‘managed’ democracy, paid for by US billionaires, using military-style technology, delivered by Facebook. Our governments side-lining of the ISC allows this to happen and encourages rogue states such as Russia delve deeper into our system.
Parliament is one of the few things left of our precious democracy, and it is clearly being sidestepped by Johnson and his cronies who have no respect for its checks and balances, in their pursuit of power.
This goes far beyond party politics, its an attack on what we know and have cherished for hundreds of years. This is about fighting to retain a form of government that was respected throughout the democratic world. It’s what you expect and trust a government to fight to maintain, not to defeat.
‘Oh when there’s no future
How can there be sin
We’re the flowers
In the dustbin..’
- A quote by Aung San Suu Kyi, a Burmese politician, diplomat, author, and a 1991 Nobel Peace Prize laureate
- Almost half the British public believes the Russian government interfered in the EU referendum and last year’s general election, according to a poll. The latest Opinium poll for the Observer found that 49% of voters think there was Russian interference in the Brexit referendum, with 23% disagreeing. Some 47% believed Russia interfered in the December general election.
Remainers were more likely (63%) to think that the Russian government interfered in the EU referendum than Leavers (39%)
Asked about the 2019 general election, 70% of Lib Dem voters and 62% of Labour voters believed the Russian government interfered, compared with 39% of Conservative voters. However, even Conservative voters were more likely to believe that the Russian government interfered in that election (39%) than not (33%).
A rather different piece from Philip this week and one that brings together a number of familiar threads, but comes to even more frightening conclusions.
Culminating in the ‘Russia Report’ Philip pieces together a number or seemingly disparate events and comes to some fairly catastrophic conclusions about the very foundations of this country, believing Boris Johnson’s actions undermine our very democracy, and drawing parallels with 1930s Germany.
When an article contends that ‘overall, it’s scary, we have never seen a government like this before’ and that technology has rendered us vulnerable to attack to a degree that threatens our very sovereignty, then it’s a must-read.
Pretty generous on the lyric front, with twenty points on offer, although I won’t be joining those of you rushing to get your entries in by Monday’s deadline.
First off the rank ‘one of the great singer songwriters, but one that is often overlooked, perhaps because people found him depressing?’ three points apiece for Leonard Cohen and ‘Democracy’; next ‘one of the great protest bands’ – 3 pts for The Clash and 3 for ‘Straight to Hell’,
Thirdly ‘one of the most influential and least understood of 1970s US bands. Always an underlying edge to their songs.’ three apiece for Devo and ‘Dogs of Democracy’; lastly, this week’s gimmie is The Sex Pistols and ‘God Save the Queen’. Some worrying conclusions, but enjoy the tracks.
Philip is a great believer in meritocracy, and in the belief that if you want something enough you can make it happen. These beliefs were formed in his formative years, of the late 1970s and 80s