It’s good entertainment, but that’s all it is. Seeing Boris Johnson ritually dismembered in parliament might make us feel better, but nothing changes. He still has an 80-seat majority, though less than 30% of the electorate voted for the Conservatives. We are reduced, for five long years, to spectators.
Our system allows the victorious government a mandate to do what it likes between elections, without further reference to the people. As we have seen, this can include breaking international law, suspending parliament, curtailing the judiciary, politicising the civil service, attacking the Electoral Commission and invoking royal prerogative powers to make policy without anyone’s consent. This is not democracy, but a parody of democracy.
By contrast to our five-yearly vote, capital can respond to government policy every second, withdrawing its consent with catastrophic consequences if it doesn’t like its drift. There’s a massive imbalance of power here. The voting power of capital, with modern trading technologies, has advanced by leaps and bounds. Electoral power is trapped in the age of the quill pen.
The problem, in other words, is not just Johnson. The problem is the UK’s political system, which presents an open invitation for autocratic behaviour. In the past, people warned that a ruthless operator could make hay with this system. Well, that moment has come.
Labour has long been part of the problem, refusing to contemplate even a change to our preposterous first-past-the-post elections, let alone any wider surrender of power. And it is tragic to watch it now, still playing by the old rules. These state that a party should not show its hand until a few months before the election. That’s four years away, and the power grab is happening now. We urgently need a stirring alternative vision, a call to democratic arms. Instead, we get forensic dissections of particular government policies: admirably done, but unmatched to the moment.