Brexit exposes a system unfit for purpose
Several times in the last 30 years the UK has had governments completely unfit for power, visibly exhausted and devoid of ideas.
There have been four general elections that intellectually bankrupt governments deserved to lose: the Conservative administrations in 1992, 1997 and 2017 and Gordon Brown’s Labour government in 2010.
The ridiculously adversarial system of UK politics and the brutal, invasive tabloid media appears to exhaust politicians and forces repeated retirements of talented ministers. Numerous skilled operators, mostly women, are dissuaded from entering politics by the long hours, poor provision for childcare, rudeness and the prospect of wasted years in fruitless opposition.
The Palace of Westminster is literally crumbling and unfit for purpose. The fire at Notre Dame has shown the dangers of ignoring the upkeep of glorious buildings. The structure should be converted into a museum and UK politicians moved into another chamber. This could be horseshoe-shaped rather two sets of benches, famously separated by two swords’ lengths, that fosters confrontation.
Brexit has shown the extent to which the country needs to re-establish political consensus and stable government. This will is unlikely to happen with the current voting system and in a crumbling building designed for adversarial politics.
The archaic, appointed House of Lords could also be replaced by a new upper house, elected by proportional representation, capable of holding MPs to account. Currently, the Lords is too easily dismissed as a group of aged, ermine-clad eccentrics who lack democratic legitimacy when they challenge the lower house.
The former Democrat mayor of Chicago, Raul Emmanuel, said, “You never let a serious crisis go to waste”, and the UK has experienced no crisis like Brexit since 1945.
If any good can come from the most self-destructive, divisive process in UK history that has torn families and communities apart and forced the economy to the brink of collapse, then it might be electoral reform.
A glance at the voting breakdown of the 2017 general election illustrates that the UK first-past-the-post system is failing voters. Regional parties – the Scottish National Party, Democratic Unionist Party, Sinn Fein and Plaid Cymru – received around 1.67 million votes and were rewarded with 56 MPs. The third, fourth and fifth biggest national parties, the Liberal Democrats, Greens and Ukip, secured about 3.49 million votes but only gained 13 seats.
There is no justification for this imbalance. Millions of UK voters who live in safe seats know exactly which party on their ballot paper will win in their constituency every time they vote. For many UK citizens, the 2016 European Union referendum was the first time they had seen a ballot paper where the outcome was not obvious.
Voter turnout declines in correlation with age and it is hard to explain to a young voter why they should take the time to cast their ballot if they live in a safe seat that has been held by one of the two major parties for decades.
For example, take the Birmingham Hall Green constituency of Labour MP Roger Godsiff.
A non-resident, Godsiff was offered the safe seat after a career in the trade union movement. He campaigned for Brexit in 2016 but represents one of the largest remain-voting areas in the country. Godsiff voted against gay marriage and has publicly praised an aggressive Muslim boycott of schools in the constituency that have included a teaching awareness of LGBT equality on their syllabus.
But Godsiff is in no danger of losing his seat because he has maintained the support of the constituency’s large Muslim community.
On a national scale, it has been pernicious for many remain voters to be represented by a series of prime ministers who refuse to acknowledge the deep divides running through the nation over Brexit.
Theresa May consistently made remarks that appeared to 100 per cent diverge from the reality on the ground.
Soon after taking office in the wake of the 2016 referendum, May declared that “The country is coming together, but Westminster is not”. However, the nation is literally breaking apart with the real prospect of Northern Ireland and Scotland leaving the union within a decade.
The embattled premier told the nation that, no matter how it voted, people now wanted MPs to get on and deliver Brexit. Huge areas of the country feel no such thing and regard the 2016 referendum as a democratic travesty fuelled by lies and xenophobia and funded illegally by sinister business interests.
After the pro-remain Green and Lib Dems parties gained more than 900 council seats in this year’s municipal elections, the enfeebled May declared she had understood the “Simple message… get on and deliver Brexit”. The results appeared to point to the diametrically opposite conclusion. It has been corrosive to know people like this are representing the UK on the world stage.
And now the UK has bungling Boris Johnson in Downing Street.
It is now a question of whether the electorate can draw the dots between the current cabal of ex-public schoolboys who run the UK’s print media and government and the Brexit crisis that they created. People like Johnson and the Brexit Party’s Nigel Farage repeatedly tell voters that only they can resolve the Brexit crisis for which they are responsible.
There is a sensible cabinet waiting to be formed among the opposition, including figures like Labour’s Keir Starmer and Hilary Benn, sacked Conservatives like Dominic Grieve and Ken Clarke and the lone Green MP Caroline Lucas, along with the LibDems and the Scottish nationalists.
The UK needs hope, not Brexit or another divisive general election.
There is already a parliamentary majority that could push through some of the political reforms that the country desperately needs.
Anti-Brexit protesters in London on Saturday. Picture credit: Eurasia Times