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Thursday, 29 August 2019

Boris Alexander DePfeffel Johnson is, currently, Prime Minister of the United Kingdom thanks to the votes of the tiny minority of the UK population who paid to be members of the Conservative Party. Does the phrase “rotten borough ring any bells here? If not, Google is your friend. He is also  a great admirer of Winston Churchill and, by all accounts, regards himself as something of a Churchillian figure. Does the phrase “Dunning-Krüger Effect ring any bells here? If not, Google is your friend. Today, however, Johnson did something that Churchill never did. he ordered the suspension of Parliament.

So let’s examine this contrast between the fanboy and his hero. Churchill led the UK through the biggest crisis the United Kingdom had faced for many generations - certainly since the Napoleonic wars. Under his government the country faced the serious prospect of invasion. Bombers were levelling parts of our cities. Children were being evacuated to the countryside. If anything constituted a national emergency, this was it. And through it all Churchill insisted that the proprieties of Parliamentary government should be observed. This country kept its pledge to democracy - a pledge that allowed us, perhaps with hubris, to describe our parliament as ‘the Mother of Parliaments’.

The problem with hubris is that it is generally followed by a fall, and how far we have fallen! Today our parliament - the body of people that we elect to represent our interests - will be suspended. Not for any national emergency. Not because we are threatened with invasion or because there is fighting on the streets. Not because some natural disaster threatens our homes or because the Martians have landed on Horsell Common. It’s because we have a weak Prime Minister. We have a Prime Minister who fears that he cannot persuade our parliament to back his plans. Because he cannot bear the possibility of failure because it would offend his ego.

What today’s events tell us is that Johnson is - as many of us thought - not a leader. He is a weak, desperately insecure man who needs to use the arcane procedures of an unwritten constitution that is a brik-a-brak medley of traditions and conventions to shut down argument and debate. To shut down opposition. Those four words ought to chill you. They ought to evoke thoughts of other ‘leaders’ who have shut down Parliaments.

I don’t think Boris Johnson is an evil man. There are blessedly few of them just as there are very few saints. He is a man who has been promoted beyond his abilities to a position of power in which he can, because our constitution is an archaic mess, suspend democracy in this country. And because he is scared and insecure, and because he suspects, deep down, that he is not up to the job, he has done just that. Instead of trying to secure support or his policies among MPs, like a scared horse he has refused the jump because he is scared of failure. 

And that is what makes the difference between a leader and a tin-pot demagogue. It’s what makes the difference between a statesman who shoulders the burden of the fate of their country and a two-penny hack who writes inflammatory columns in newspapers. It’s what makes the difference between a Prime Minister like Churchill and a convincing raconteur.

So that’s where we are. Be afraid. Be very afraid. Today a Rubicon was crossed. Today it was established  that a Prime Minister can suspend Parliament to try to ensure that his/her policies will be enacted. Today it was established that the views of the people you and I elect can be circumvented by suspending Parliament to ensure that a Prime Minister’s policies become law. Today it was established that the votes you cast to elect your MP to Parliament mean nothing if a Prime Minister, chosen by a tiny minority of the population who have coughed up cash, chooses to silence your MP’s views.

Alexander Boris dePfeffel Johnson may, or may not be, an evil man. But today he assured any authoritarian drum-banger and jingoistic tub-thumper who comes to power that they  can shut down Parliament to suit their needs. There’s a word for where that leads and it isn’t ‘democracy’.