We’re living in dangerous times. The UK has a government of liars, of charlatans, of law-breakers, who are totally shameless about their disregard for the law, for the courts, for parliament, and for anyone who does not agree with their naked power grab. This is a government of posh boy bullies who display their entitlement as a badge of pride. This is a government which broke the law and which reacted by using the language of contempt and disdain, and acted as it were those who had found them out who were the moral transgressors. Yet perhaps even worse than any of that, this is a government which has signalled that it is quite prepared to break the law again.
We saw Attorney General Geoffrey Cox boorishly boom that it was the opposition parties who were morally bankrupt even though it was his own faulty legal advice that encouraged the Prime Minister to break the law. We saw Michael Gove oleaginously slime his way through non-answers to serious questions about the preparedness of the Government for a no-deal Brexit, glibly playing to the Tory backbenches as though the highest stake was a prize in a students’ debating society and not the fate of thousands of jobs and livelihoods. But not Michael’s job or livelihood. He’ll be just fine, and his lack of concern and care oozed out of every pore in his oily persona.
And then we had the main event. Alexander Boris de Pfeffel Johnson appeared before Parliament, refusing to admit that he had done anything wrong even though the judges in the highest court in the UK had unanimously ruled that he’d broken the law. He thinks the judges are wrong, not him. And with that statement we saw his entitlement in the raw. He believes that he knows the law better than the judges of the Supreme Court. He believes that their ruling shouldn’t apply to him. He believes that the greatest wrongdoing of all is that his wrongdoing is called out and checked. How dare anyone seek to hold him to account.
He used words of division, deliberately, calculatedly. His tactic is to stir up public anger, to create an artificial atmosphere in the coming election of the people against the parliament where the upper middle class Eton educated cousin of the Queen poses as the champion of the common man and woman. He destroyed the last vestiges of the dignity of his office in his pursuit of a General Election at a time and a framing of his choosing. He has unleashed the beast of right wing populist English nationalism, and now is worshipping at the altar of the mandate of the EU referendum, sacrificing democracy, the rule of law, and tolerance to nourish the flames of the ERG’s hatred. He used the language of surrender when referring to the bill compelling him to ask the EU for an extension, framing his self-inflicted predicament in terms of warfare with him as the action hero. Those who oppose him are enemies of the people.
Watching him speak, you could see the goddess of democracy shrivel and die with every lying self-serving word that he uttered. And those so-called moderate Tories on the back benches applauded him, cheered him on, gave succour and comfort to the death of those British traditions of democracy, moderation, and tolerance that they keep telling us they hold dear. Authoritarian governments don’t get into power solely on the strength of fascists and bigots. They do so with the help of those who do nothing to stop them because they’re more interested in their own careers and their own selfish interests. They fancy their chances of advancement in the authoritarian right wing state that Johnson has in mind for us all. Even when confronted with clear, undeniable, unequivocal evidence of this Prime Minister’s authoritarian rule of law denying agenda, they say nothing. We’re looking at you, Scottish Conservatives. We’re recalling your promise to be a strong voice for Scotland within the UK. Your electoral day of reckoning is coming.
The Prime Minister’s performance was a truly shocking exercise in arrogance. He boored. He bloviated. He blustered. There was no hint of contrition, nothing to suggest that he could even intellectually grasp the proposition that he was in the wrong when he prorogued Parliament unlawfully. Nothing to suggest that he understood that in a democracy, the Prime Minister cannot silence those who disgree with him. Nothing to suggest that he grasped the concept that as a Prime Minister without a majority he has no right to ram anything through a democratically elected legislature. His speech represented his unassailable and unshakeable right to rule unchallenged by bothersome MPs who insisted that they possessed a democratic mandate from their constituents.
Yet he managed to trump even his own trumpian ditch digging. Labour MP Paula Sherriff raised her concerns about the death threats that she has been receiving, threats which echo some of the language used by the Prime Minister and his supporters. It’s language of betrayal, of treason and traitors, of surrender or victory, and threats that if those MPs don’t comply then they will be dealt with violently. And this Prime Minister dismissed those fears as humbug, even though a woman MP was shot and killed by a right wing extremist who used the style of language that the Prime Minister so cynically deploys. He even suggested that the only way for MPs to be safe was for them to ensure that Brexit goes ahead. Think about that for a second. We have a Prime Minister who really believes that the physical safety of MPs should be conditional upon how they vote.
The language of Brexit harks back to the days of Empire. It’s language of conquest, of victory, of colonialism, of masters and slaves. There is no room for democratic debate with Brextremists, just as there is no room for democratic debate between a colonial power and the people it has colonised and exploited. They cast Europe as a coloniser, because in a world view with no shades of grey there can only be villains and saints. If the England of their imaginations cannot be at the pinnacle of power, then it must be enslaved and colonised. When you accept that view, then any action becomes justifiable in order to remove the source of the perceived injustice.
Alexander Boris de Pfeffel Johnson deliberately panders to that infantile reactionary English nationalism. He nurtures it. He seeks to enrage. He wants to inflame. He knows that under the skewed and flawed system of Westminster elections he only needs to secure the support of a third of the electorate who bother to vote in order to win a majority in the Commons. That’s why he wants an election and not another referendum, because he only needs the support of one third in order to pursue the no-deal Brexit that his backers crave, not the support of more than half. And in pursuit of that goal he will lie, he will cheat, he will connive, he will dissemble. God knows what he’ll do if he does win a majority in the Commons.
It is incumbent upon any serious and responsible politician to weigh their words with care, to reflect upon how those who do not necessarily support them might perceive what they say. It is their duty as public servants to reach out and to heal the divisions that their campaigns might have created. We’re not going to get that from this Prime Minister. He is neither serious nor responsible. Alexander Boris de Pfeffel Johnson thinks that being Prime Minister means never having to say that you are sorry. Because he’s not sorry. He’s interested in one thing and one thing only, the pursuit and maintenance of his own power, and he doesn’t care who gets hurt, who gets trampled on, or who suffers in the process.
The ultimate loser will be British democracy. Back in 2014 anyone who tried to argue that Scottish independence was necessary in order to protect and defend democracy itself would have been laughed at. Now the defence of democracy has become the most important and pressing reason for independence. Democracy is endangered in the UK. Look at Bolsonaro’s Brazil, look at Erdoğan’s Turkey, look at Viktor Orbán’s Hungary. Wrap that in a union flag and you can see a future that’s coming here all too soon. Yesterday in the Commons, the Etonian Erdoğan announced its arrival. We’re living in dangerous times.
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