There is a darkness at the heart of our democracy.
There are many of my fellow citizens who would describe an evil presence or some malevolent force at play; I prefer to talk about an ignorance in politics, manipulation, fear, exclusion and dismissal of opinion.
By now you will be weary of the whole brexit saga, but I want you to stay with me, sit back and reflect because you are in control of the off switch.
Taking back control has been the mantra offered for nearly 4 years, a clever PR tool, offering you a higher level of control in your lives, or does it?
As easy as it is for you to reach for that off-switch, how easy will it be for you to take back a political control, believed to have been lost?
To be in control, you not only have to have some ownership in the mechanics of control, but you also have to have facts that will help you rationalise the level of control you may wish to exert.
Now I don’t want you to reach for the off-switch on the basis that you think this is about a Remain position over a Leave point of view; nothing could be further from the truth. Everyone had their reasons for voting the way they did in the Referendum and it is not for the likes of me to cast a judgement about your vote.
I want to take you the listener, on a small journey through Democracy and how that Democracy may or may not offer you some control or information, about the issues that are important to you.
I am a Lawyer by trade and for all of my working life, be that as a Police Officer, a Lawyer or a Consumer Campaigner, my role has been defined by standing up for Rights, helping the weak, challenging authority. To be able to do that, you have to understand what a particular Law says, how and why it was made and how to gain access to the system that made that Law.
What you discover is that the system, particularly at Westminster, is stacked against the Campaigner or Victim or Survivor. I cannot tell you how many times I have enjoyed canapés on the terrace at the House of Commons, to hear an ordinary family, dressed in Sunday-best, recount their terrible tragedy. All too often, just the right amount of sympathy, the right amount of compassion is offered along with a vague promise to do something about it.
I have had victims and survivors come to me during such meetings and say: “they’re not going to do anything, are they?” and I confess that I have struggled to be positive, because of course I knew that Westminster politicians wouldn’t.
How do I know that?
Well, I know one campaigner who has been a thorn in the side of government and industry for some 40 years, desperate to bring change following the death of their son, but I can tell you, not one single comma has been changed in any Law that would have made a difference to other families.
In another example, I attended a meeting at the House of Commons to discuss the death of two children and corporate responsibility. Chairing the meeting was a then-prominent Member of Parliament who, and I kid you not, was completely oblivious to the Police & Criminal Evidence Act and the potential to seek evidence using its powers.
It was not helped by the police officers in attendance, who sat on their hands and feigned some surprise at the possibility of Law.
Which brings me nicely to one David Cameron and his new book, ‘For the Record’, serialised in The Times newspaper. I was struck by one aspect of this political record, summarised by the journalist, Simon Nixon.
In his article he talks about his surprise at just how ill-informed British politicians are. So his premise is that we have a situation whereby the UK is a member of the European Union, and in order to make the rules of the EU work and in particular to keep the fluidity of the Single Market, Member States agree (because they help to make the rules), to follow those rules.
In his memoire, Cameron talks about the desperation of Boris Johnson before the Referendum to change UK Law to make it supreme over EU Law (presumably with Cameron’s agreement), only to be defeated by the legal reality.
Nixon observes and I have to read this to you, that:
“What makes this extract extraordinary, is that it confirms that 6 years after he became Prime Minister and just weeks before he gambled Britain’s membership of the EU in a Referendum, he didn’t understand how it works. Indeed it still appears he still hasn’t grasped that the supremacy of EU Law in the areas over which the EU has competence, is not a bug, but the essential feature without which it wouldn’t work. It is the purity of EU rules and the willingness of Member States to play strictly by them that has enabled open borders and frictionless trade across the continent. Without common rules consistently enforced by a common court, the Customs Union and Single Market in whose defence Mr Cameron sacrificed his political career would not exist”
He goes onto say that:
“His ignorance of the fundamental principles of how the EU operates is testimony to the enduring hold of one of the most powerful narratives in British Politics. The idea that rules are for other people, that the insistence on the integrity of its legal order is an alien and unnecessary continental obsession continues to hold an unshakable grip over a large swathe of Britain’s political class, despite all that has happened over the past three years”.
Powerful stuff and it reveals what I and other Campaigners know and understand about Westminster.
This past few weeks has brought Westminster intimately into the heart of our homes and as one European colleague has told me, into the heart of Belgian homes!
Who could not have been shocked by the extent and brutality of the decision of the Supreme Court? Despite the spin, the court’s decision was carefully crafted, taking great care not to stray into the political, but in my view, laying down important markers for our unwritten constitution, politicians and indirectly, HM The Queen.
The reaction in parliament was in many respects entirely predictable, but equally shocking, not because of the fact that parliament was illegally prorogued, but because of the lack of contrition and any attempt to bring the country together. We were treated to an almost pantomime dame performance from the Attorney General, but even he was outdone by the Prime Minister
The Prime Minister showed no guilt or shame, making the case for the Lord Chief Justice rather than respecting the Supreme Court, topped off by the outrageous suggestion that the memory of the murdered member of parliament, Jo Cox, would be some how satisfied by everyone agreeing to Brexit. It got worse; the suggestion was made by the PM and his side-kick, Dominic Cummings, that if ‘we’ wanted to stop the abuse and attacks, then ‘we’ should respect the ‘will of the people’.
It was interesting to also hear this week that Lord Sumption commented that 52% of the people cannot command 100% of the spoils; there had to be an accommodation for the rest of the country. The indomitable Gina Miller, shouted at during last week’s BBC’s Question Time, responded to the notion that parliament hadn’t respected the Referendum vote, quite rightly pointed out that parliament had agreed to trigger Article 50 and that they had also voted in favour of the Withdrawal Act.
But of course these balancing comments are lost in a sea of ineffective or biased media.
The last week has also seen one right-wing commentator, state on mainstream BBC, that not only was he surprised that there had not been riots, but that there should be riots. Did this amount to incitement, or was this another example of the BBC tolerating a so-called balanced opinion?
One member of parliament, one amongst many, have questioned the motives of the Supreme Court Judges and in his case he called for the abolition of the Supreme Court, going back presumably to bring the Law Lords back into the House of Lords, perhaps believing that they could be ‘controlled’ in the Palace of Westminster.
Any trawl through the social networks will reveal an anger and indeed direct actions being taken against those who advocate staying in the European Union.
Who could have believed, a few short years ago, the vitriol expressed by english newspapers, whereby they described High Court Judges as ‘Enemies of the People’?
Who could have believed, that those who seek to challenge the actions of the State, in the courts, are met with howling mobs of people as they leave those courts, surrounded by slick security teams to keep them safe.
One prominent activist barrister recently revealed that following the case in the Supreme Court against the government, he had been advised to wear a stab vest and to consider additional security measures. He also had to contend with a prominent broadcaster, revealing pictures of his home, as an apparent act of public interest. The anger expressed by the barrister revealed an understandable fear for the safety of his family.
In another case, an ex-civil servant spoke about how she was challenged for raising ‘difficult issues’ (trade & brexit) and ultimately she was subscribed by her line managers to apparently having autism. Others, including one journalist. talk about how a prominent figure in government appears to be briefing against them, highlighting that they are suffering from a mental illness.
We also have the ridiculous situation where government politicians are warning about the outbreak of disorder if we do not brexit, forgetting perhaps that within their own Operation Yellowhammer document, they also warn of serious disorder if we do in fact brexit; a real conflict of messaging playing to different audiences perhaps!
Which brings me back to my opening comments
I think we have crossed the rubicon.
It is the rubicon of intolerance, the rubicon of extreme politcs, the rubicon of absolutism.
When I look at the nations that comprise our federal-like state, it is england that poses the most risk to that union. Why? Because it is the general nature of the english not to engage or discuss politics and this has been evident since the latter part of the 20th century. Oh sure, people could point to the poll-tax riots and the march against the war in Iraq, even the EU Remain marches, but by contrast, the english population also stood by as they allowed our body politic to police and decimate the coal industry until it was no more.
Sooner or later, fatalism consumes all these brave souls.
Compare that to the Nations of Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland, where there is a tradition of debate and argument about the world around them; theirs is a debate about survival, dreams and railing against the past wrongs visited upon them by an english state.
In my own Irish family, politics was the source of fierce debate ranging from the black and tans, to Americae, to the raw effect of Thatcherism; you had to be tough to survive.
By contrast, up and down the england, people generally refuse point blank any discussion about politics, for fear of unleashing its inescapable truth, that they are the tools by which a malleable opinion can be shifted and manipulated, to give the gods of the english state that new mandate to rule as they see fit. Welcome to control.
Any attempt to overrule that political goal is now met with a raw street politic, using data and private focus group opinions on key words, determining a language that masks the extremities of politics; a new english order.
It is this stunning ignorance of the methodology of politics that has brought the english state to where it is today, dragging with it, not just the peoples of Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland; not just our near neighbours in the European Union, but also 48% and 52% of english people who believed (and perhaps still do) in a kinder, gentler and more inclusive Nation.
Whatever english peoples beliefs, they have all been sold a falsehood on the back of division and yet more division; the question remains, how far will they want to travel along this road to perdition before it becomes irreversible?
(This article was produced into a 4849 Podcast and can be found on Frank's YouTube Channel)