I hate it when politicians insult my intelligence. When they speak and act in a manner which implies that the voting public are no more than gullible poll fodder it undermines their credibility and damages the democratic process.
Not that the current prime minister had much credibility to start with. Boris Johnson is infamous for his deceits, distortions, half-truths, vacillations and outright lies in pursuit of political ends which are clearly designed to serve only the interests of Boris Johnson.
His latest porky is the claim that proroguing parliament has nothing to do with the Brexit debate. That is so obviously false. It is right up there with the NHS bus, floods of Turkish immigrants, dismissal of the Irish border as “not a problem”, having our cake and eating it too, and the assertion that the German car industry will be on its hands and knees grovelling for a deal.
The Johnson government claims that using the tactic of an early Queen’s Speech to prorogue parliament in the middle of the run-up to the No Deal deadline of 31 October is perfectly normal. It will, says Johnson, have no impact on parliament’s ability to debate Brexit. “Nothing to do with Brexit,” says Michael Gove. “A bit boring actually,” claims Jacob Rees-Mogg.
More accurate was the comment from Father of the House Ken Clark: “I don’t know how they keep a straight face.”
It is no coincidence that most ministers are being kept off the small screen in the wake of the prorogue announcement. So far only the three already mentioned have stuck their heads above the parapets, and that was only to issue a quick soundbite before ducking back behind the castle walls. No government minister has dared to subject themselves to a grilling by the likes of Andrew Marr, John Humphrys or Kirsty Wark.
Of course if any one of the above ministerial trio did deign to subject themselves to a thorough grilling, they would probably refuse to provide any answer which did not include the phrase “the will of the people” or “fear factor.”
The fact is that the fear factor is becoming extremely frightening—and we have yet to leave the EU. The pound is dropping. Jobs are disappearing. Foreign investment has slowed considerably. NHS waiting lists are lengthening because much-needed foreign doctors and nurses are staying home and British-born doctors are going elsewhere. Back in 2016 the Brexiteers said none of this was going to happen. It was all part of the Remain conspiracy to scare hardy Britons into staying in the EU.
As for the “will of the people,” what am I and the 16,141,241 who voted to remain in the European Union? Orangutans, chimpanzees, single cell amoebas? No, much worse, we are “Remoaners” who appear to be the British equivalent of German untermenschen or Indian untouchables.
The new political strategy—whether it is British, American, Italian or Hungarian—appears to be to identify a large dissatisfied group who perceive themselves to be unrepresented members of society. They are then promised their heart’s disease regardless of the damage to the national interest, and the rest of the population are sent to political hell with a string of oaths and insults.
Gone are the days when the government’s job was to unite political factions and represent the interests of the entire nation in foreign councils. Or, as Boris Johnson said: “F**k business.”
Seeking consensus has historically been one of the purposes of parliament and especially the Opposition. Parliament is currently deadlocked. But it should be clear that the deadlock is a reflection of the bitter divide within the country at large. As for the Opposition, its divisions and useless leadership has cleared the way for the ascendance of the Tory extreme right.
In one respect, Boris Johnson is right to treat parliament with contempt. It knows what it doesn’t want—No Deal. But it has no idea what it does want. In that situation the solution does not lie in circumventing the legislature. It lies in dismissing it and going back to the people to ask them to elect a parliament that does know what it wants.
* Tom Arms is the American-born membership secretary for Tooting Lib Dems. His Observations of an Expat appears regularly on Lib Dem Voice and in a number of US newspapers. He is the author of “The Encyclopedia of the Cold War”.