THE EU Parliamentary elections were held in the UK on Thursday, 23 May, 2019, and the following day Theresa May announced her intention to resign as Prime Minister. Presumably she would have made that announcement in anticipation of the election results, which would be announced the following Sunday.
From all the accounts that I heard, her style of leadership was to keep her cards close to her chest, and keep even her colleagues in the dark over crucial issues. The first big wake-up call during her premiership was the resignation of her first Brexit Secretary, David Davis, when she revealed her negotiated deal with the EU at a Cabinet meeting at Chequers.
I think most of us had previously assumed that those negotiations were being led by the Brexit Secretary, or at least that he would have been part of them. Apparently not so. Theresa May’s body language was telling us there was something not quite right; one had to wonder what was really going on in that head as she was mouthing her words.
Then there was a worrying statement made by the co-ordinator of the European Parliament’s Brexit Steering Committee, Guy Verhofstadt, after Theresa May had lost the vote in the Commons for the third time. At a meeting in the European Parliament of the Brexit Steering Committee with the EU’s chief negotiator, Michel Barnier, he stated:
We have seen in the meetings with her chief of staff, from day one, he said: ‘No, no, no, no, no. We’re not going to change our strategy. We’re going to deliver in the second vote because we’re going to buy some Labour votes, we’re going to buy some hard brexiteers’. He outlined, I think more than a month ago in detail what the strategy was to build up a majority. This appeared in the BBC television programme ‘Brexit: Behind Closed Doors. Part 2’, broadcast on 9 May, 2019. The two episodes consisted of fly-on-the-wall filming of Guy Verhofstadt, with his permission, and the Brexit Steering Committee. These episodes didn’t get to the heart of the negotiations, because those were with Michel Barnier, though they did show something of David Davis and talk about conflicts regarding the Irish ‘backstop’. Throughout the two episodes, I thought the Steering Committee seemed rather low-powered, and probably not influencing very much, though it did give the tone of much of the discussions. Then, six minutes from the end of Part 2, Guy Verhofstadt carelessly made his astounding revelation.
This was picked up by Politicalite, who stated “The comments were made inside the European Parliament to a large group of EU bureaucrats who didn’t bat an eyelid at his statement, as if perhaps it was already common knowledge within their circle”.
If that is the case, then it may explain how Theresa May thought that she could repeatedly put essentially the same proposal to Parliament and expect different results. When a senior official for the other side puts things in such terms, in the presence of their chief negotiator, then we really have something to worry about regarding our parliamentary democracy.
Theresa May’s Chief of Staff, to whom Guy Verhofstadt referred, would have been Gavin Barwell. The Chief of Staff is a paid position outside the Cabinet, and is a post introduced by Tony Blair when he became Prime Minister in 1997, presumably with the purpose of running the country while the Prime Minister got on with the spin. One has to wonder whether the Brexit negotiations were being steered from within the Cabinet at all.
The Chief Negotiator for Exiting the European Union was another Civil Servant, Olly Robbins. There were reports of differences between those two Civil Servants and Brexit Secretary David Davis, and that David Davis was becoming increasingly frustrated at being squeezed out of Brexit discussions. It sounds, then as if the decisions were being taken by Civil Servants, and that the Prime Minister’s role was to block discussion in Cabinet and force the legislation through Parliament. Perhaps this explains why not much changes when governments change. Gavin Barwell also served under David Cameron, and Olly Robbins served as Principal Private Secretary to Prime Minister Tony Blair.
In effect, this means that for three years we had in the UK a dictatorship. Any dictatorship has to have beaurocrats and financial backers. Who were they? If Theresa May wasn’t communicating with her own Cabinet, then who was she communicating with? Was it just her Civil Service ‘advisors’? In the end she failed, because too many of her colleagues were prepared to speak out. That could have far-reaching consequences regarding any lobby that was pulling her strings. Some people are suggesting that the issue was wider than Brexit, and that the real reason for her resignation concerned Britain’s role in the US’s Operation Crossfire Hurricane, which aimed to unseat Donald Trump as President of the USA by fabricating claims of Russian collusion in his election. This involved the ‘golden shower dossier’, produced by agents, or former agents, of MI6, including Sergey Skripal, said to have been poisoned with a highly toxic nerve agent, at a time when Boris Johnson was Foreign Secretary and pointing the finger at Russia. So was this the real reason? “Yes, it probably is”, says Nick Kollerstrom, author of ‘The Great British Skripal Hoax: A Beginner’s Guide’. I don’t know, but it’s clear that Theresa May couldn’t deliver on the basic policies that she was required to deliver on by her Civil Service.
My main concern regarding British democracy was that if tyranny were to come to Britain it would come through some charismatic leader taking control of the Cabinet, and manipulating the parliamentary voting, and eventually bringing elections as we knew them to an end. Such a charismatic leader would not have been possible immediately following the resignation of David Cameron, because any such person would be too controversial in the wake of the EU referendum. Theresa May was not a charismatic politician. At the time of writing the favourite for succession is the clown of British politics. Other charismatic politicians are Nigel Farage and George Galloway, but they were not members of the Westminster Parliament. Had they had ambitions to be leaders of their respective parties years ago they could both have probably succeeded. Instead, they campaigned for issues that would not have secured financial backing from the main backers of their parties. Boris Johnson, however, is a different issue. He is generally regarded as being opportunistic. Even though I agree with much of what he says about Brexit, I don’t know whether I agree with what he thinks about Brexit.
Theresa May hasn’t been the first British Prime Minister to be criticised for lack of consultation with her Cabinet members. Most notably, Clare Short made the same point about Tony Blair during the New Labour years, when she stated that Britain had not had Cabinet government during that period. I think this has been a growing trend since the forced resignation of Harold Wilson in 1976. The more Theresa May talked about ‘British values’ the more I became aware of the lack of the traditional subtlety of her methods. Tony Blair took control by force of personality, with the help, no
doubt, of ‘Tony’s cronies’, as the press dubbed them. It sounds as if Theresa May was simply aloof from the others. If she had followed the style of the British Establishment, she would have made it appear that the negotiations were in the good hands of the Brexit Secretary whilst at the same time ensuring that those pulling the Brexit Secretary’s strings were making him dance to the same tune. Now imagine someone with charisma in that position, perhaps a clown from Eton and Oxford, and a member of the Bullingdon Club.
The alarm bells should have been ringing loud and clear when, as Home Secretary under David Cameron, Theresa May attempted to bring to Parliament her Counter-Extremism Bill. This was a similar story. She wasn’t quite saying ‘Extremism means Extremism’ as she was later saying ‘Brexit means Brexit’, but she would never explain what it did mean, other than developing it into ‘Extremism in all its forms’. That bill was raised three times in the Queen’s speeches to Parliament: twice explicitly and a third time implicitly. There were objections from four leading members of her own party, as reported by the House of Commons Library Briefing Paper: ‘Counter-Extremism Policy: an overview’. All of these four were later critical of Theresa May’s style of leadership as Prime Minister.
David Davis stated in 2014 that the Counter-Extremism Bill would give “quite incredible powers to limit democratic rights”. He, of course, was later to resign as Theresa May’s first Brexit Secretary. Dominic Raab stated in 2014, “[T]he broad powers of proposed Extremism Disruption Orders (EDO) could be abused”. He succeeded David Davis as Brexit Secretary, and he, too, resigned. Former Attorney General Dominic Grieve stated in 2014, “Any restriction on freedom of expression of individuals outside the criminal law is something that has to be approached with very great caution”. On 20 March, 2019, he told the House of Commons: “When my Right Honorable friend the Prime Minister came to the dispatch box today at Prime Minister’s Questions, I confess I think it was the worst moment I have experienced since I came into the House of Commons. I have never felt more ashamed to be a member of the Conservative Party or to be asked to lend her support. She spent most of her time castigating the House for its misconduct and at no stage did she pause to consider whether it is in fact the way she is leading this Government which might be contributing to this situation. … And I’ve come in for quite a lot of flack over the last two years because of my various amendments, but most of my amendments, Mr Speaker, had been designed, not to achieve a specific end, but to try to facilitate process, and each time I put them up, the government has tried to prevent them. So my view is bound to be coloured of the government which seeks to close down debate in this irrational fashion”. Baroness Warsi said in 2014 of the Counter-Extremism Bill: “The plans felt like an attack on the very values we were professing to promote”. In March 2019 she was reported by the BBC as saying that Theresa May had failed to tackle the problem of Islamophobia head on, adding, “She doesn’t listen, she fails to acknowledge when there is a problem. It’s probably symptomatic of the way in which her leadership has dealt with other matters”. Should we be surprised at Baroness Warsi’s statement, considering that at the last count, 80% of Conservative MPs were members of Conservative Friends of Israel?
Close to Dictatorship
This experience should be telling us how close to dictatorship Britain has come. Many ordinary members of the public were coming to similar conclusions from experiences in their own spheres of interest. If such things are possible, without proper scrutiny, then anything is possible. Some were seeing similar things in their own associations or political parties. Now we are seeing people being suspended or expelled from all sorts of groups, and meetings being closed down by the Israel lobby network. We are seeing
marauding gangs of ‘anti-Fascists’ employing Fascist techniques and shouting out mindless slogans. We have to wonder why political charities are allowed to exist.
There is also the constant deflection by the mass media whenever certain topics arise. When Nigel Farage was assaulted with a milk shake, some elements of the mass media seemed more interested in the milk shake than in the broader issue. The flavour I detected was that of Hope not Hate, which was sending out emails campaigning to ‘Stop Tommy Robinson’ in the EU elections. On election day I received an email from them stating: “This election has been extraordinary. From Nigel Farage to Carl Benjamin to Tommy Robinson, we’ve seen a huge number of people standing for office on a platform of hatred and division”. This was a hate campaign by Hope not Hate.
It had been put about that Tommy Robinson was associated with UKIP, and the insinuation was that the pro-Brexit candidates were associated with racists. Should we be surprised at such a milk shake incident against the leading Brexit campaigner? Hope not Hate is two associated organisations in one, sharing data as a single party. One of these is registered with the Charity Commission, and so should not be allowed to engage in such political activity. I wrote about that to both the Electoral Commission and the Charity Commission, but with no expectation of a sensible reply. Hope not Hate seems to be doing the work of the Israel Lobby, and Tommy Robinson makes no secret of his love of Israel and his links with Zionism. Collusion?
Electoral System not the core problem
There has been renewed discussion in the mainstream media of changing the electoral system, as if that would solve the current problems of democracy. The advantage of the traditional first-past-the-post system is that it is a simple method of retaining a direct link between MPs and constituents. The disadvantage is that it can lead to a government representing an overall minority of the electorate nationwide. The advantage of a Proportional Representation system is that the government will be more representative of the overall electorate nationwide, but the disadvantage is that is weakens the link between MPs and constituents. In fact, during the EU election campaign in May 2019 I saw no lists of candidates in the local press or on regional television news. I think most people would have had no idea who the candidates were when they went to the polling station. I heard the day before on BBC Radio 4 that regional lists were available on the BBC website, but unless people put themselves out to look these things up, they wouldn’t know. I didn’t look it up because I think the election had turned into a referendum rather than an election of representatives. I had received leaflets from The Brexit Party and UKIP, but none from the others. I assumed the traditional parties would be putting forward candidates, but I didn’t know. When I reached the polling station my first question was how many votes we had. Previously we had had more than one vote, reflecting the number of MEPs to be elected. But now the instruction was to vote for one party. There was nothing to say how many MEPs were to be elected for the region. To me, that looks like a first-past-the-post system, in which we vote for parties rather than for people, the only difference being in the way the seats are allocated. The link with people was truly lost.
So what do we have? We have a first-past-the-post system for the Westminster parliament, which determines the government, and a proportional representation system for the EU Parliament, which determines no government.
I think there are dangers whenever changes are made in a system of democracy when not everyone can be trusted not to take advantage of the situation. All changes need to make sense, and be simple.
There is a possible system that would have the benefits of both the first-past-the-post system and the proportional representation system, though it may be resisted by those who would like to make things complicated. I call it ‘shifted PR’, because it shifts the proportionality from the public elections to voting in parliamentiary divisions. We could carry on with the first-past-the-post
system, thus retaining the personal link between each MP and his constituents, but adjust the voting in parliamentary divisions with a weighting which would be derived from the total number of votes cast for each party in the public elections. So, if Party X has x MPs in a voting lobby, then x is multiplied by the percentage of the total number of people who voted for Party X throughout the country in the last elections. That means that the weighted votes for any government business would be representative of the people as a whole who voted for the various parties, rather than the number of MPs elected. This would ensure that the governing party would be representative of the people as a whole, whilst retaining the personal link with constituency MPs. Such a system would also enable smaller parties to gain a foothold in Parliament, because voters would know that provided they managed to get one MP for their favourite party elected, the votes for that party across the whole country would be taken into account in the weighting.
The People’s Vote
The voting figures for the 2019 EU elections were, of course, interpreted differently by politicians from different parties. Politicians from the pro-Brexit parties were claiming a massive victory for Brexit, whereas politicians for the other parties were claiming that the number of votes cast for Remain parties was about the same as the number cast for Leave parties. I don’t think it’s quite like that, though. They were ignoring party loyalties. The residual voters for the two main traditional parties would probably have been motivated more by party loyalties than by the issue of Brexit. In other words, the Brexit ‘Don’t knows’ would have voted according to old habits. That would not have been the case with the two new parties, The Brexit Party and Change UK. The Brexit Party gained 32% of the popular vote, and 29 seats in the European Parliament, but Change UK got no seats.
Although the EU election had virtually developed into a referendum, the issue of the referendum was unclear. I don’t think it was just Brexit, but Democracy itself. That had become the big issue in the public debate. There is now a massive questioning of just how democratic Britain is, and many are now questioning where loyalties lie, and who is actually running the country. That is what the current realignment of British politics is about, and it has been the main concern of those who have been taking part in the informal network of individuals and small groups known as the ‘truth movement’.
The struggle will continue.