“I think it would be a good idea” – Apocrypha attributed to M. Gandhi on his being asked what he thought of Western civilisation.
The UK Government’s handling of Brexit continues to be veer somewhere between being a shambles and a criminally negligent disaster.
From its position on customs which remains something like “We have no idea what we want and we’re damn sure we’re not going to lift a finger to plan for it.”
Through its tearing away from anything even remotely connected to the EU – including Euratom (which means good luck running a nuclear power plant or obtaining a medical radiological), the Gallileo satellite system (to which the British response was a petulant “We’ll build our own…somehow”) and fundamental human rights which protect us all from the whims of governments that act a bit like the current UK one does.
And don’t forget its absolute travesty of an attitude towards what passes for a UK constitution by deciding that the foundational principle of devolution (that everything not explicitly reserved is devolved) wasn’t worth the paper its written on and that whilst it required “consent” from the devolved governments to strip them of devolved responsibliities it could define “consent” as those governments saying “Yes”, “No” or nothing at all.
I once wrote a parody of the Brexit process, imaging what it might look like had Scotland voted for independence in 2014 but had done so after a campaign darkly mirroring the EU referendum. I mean to write another chapter satirising the negotiation process but, by any god who’ll listen, is it actually possible to parody this mess?
Here. Have a Royal Wedding. A bit of pomp and ceremony. Look at all the nice nationalists patriots having such a good time that they’re all sleeping on the streets while waiting for it. Try not to look at the people who have nothing BUT the streets to live on and who were cleared away like litter. Try not to think about the fact that for less than 1% of the cost of the event, more than 70 people wouldn’t have burned to death in their homes less than 30km away.
And while you’re all watching that, definitely try not to watch the last bastion of political sense in the UK fight to take the edge off the Brexit Bill by voting against the worst of Tory decisionmaking.
We are, of course, talking about the House of Lords.
Now, I’m certainly no fan of that institution. It has no place in the 21st century. The UK would do better to replace it with an elected body or reform the UK itself into a Federation. Better yet, it could do some actual democracy and create a Citizens’ Assembly to scrutinize legislation. We trust citizens to sit on juries and decide whether or not someone has transgressed our laws, so why not ask our citizens to decide if the laws themselves are just?
It should come as no surprise that sentiment towards the Lords amongst the UK government has declined sharply since the former started voting against the latter. Funny that.
So does that mean that the Tories have decided to give us another set of elections to worry about?
Don’t be daft. Their “solution” has been to elevate a bunch of former MPs and other loyalists to pack out what is already the world’s second largest legislative body after the National People’s Congress of China – which manages to be somewhat more democratic that the UK’s in that it doesn’t contain any formal hereditary positions.
And, of course, Labour followed suit by appointing some of its own, their principles giving way to the need to keep up the legislative arms race. Fair play to the SNP for refusing to compromise in this manner and long may that continue. It’s a supreme irony that one of the major objections towards the EU was that it was “undemocratic” and much ire was drawn (not entirely without justification) towards the EU Commission and the state representatives there who are appointed rather than elected.
Less often mentioned, however, was the fact that the UK happily appointed its own commissioners yet could equally have happily elected them if it wanted.
So where are things heading now? The best case scenario is one where the UK ends up applying the backstops it agreed to back in December and ends up remaining in the Single Market and Customs Union for the duration of the Transition Period. This Transition will be technically time limited but will be extended until the UK has built the capability to actually leave the Customs Union, which – as it won’t bother actually building the border infrastructure, will be never.
So the UK will end up losing its representatives in the elected EU Parliament and the “unelected” Commission but effectively applying all EU law but losing all say over said laws. It won’t be a formal member of EFTA so will remain technically “leaving” so won’t have any clout to influence those laws.
Meanwhile, the Lords will be packed to the gunnels with compliant rubber-stampers who will ensure that anything else May comes up with will handily go through and I’m fairly certain that the objections of that place beyond The Wall will simply keep on getting ignored. Westminster will never “normally” overrule Scotland…but no time is ever “normal”, is it? And the slide away from public scrutiny and accountability continues inch by hard-fought EU standard centimeter.
So, after this week, what do I think about British democracy?
I think it would be a good idea.