Populism and Parliament

One of the most disquieting signs of our times is the recent poll, conducted by the prestigious and authoritative Hansard Society, showing that a majority of the British population has little faith in parliament or politicians, and would favour ‘a strong leader who breaks the rules’ to govern them: https://edition.cnn.com/2019/04/08/uk/hansard-strong-leader-brexit-poll-gbr-intl/index.html. I imagine that this is exactly what Boris Johnson and his Machiavellian adviser Dominic Cummings are relying on to see them through the present constitutional crisis in Britain, and explains the surge of support that welcomed Johnson’s prorogation of Parliament last week. A similar feeling in America must have contributed to the rise of Trump.

So far as Britain is concerned, the seeds of this were sown years ago, mainly by the Right-wing press, helped by political satirists and many MPs themselves – e.g. the expenses fiddlers – who have been undermining the respect we used to have for at least some politicians in days gone by. The ex-proto-Fascist Daily Mail was usually in the vanguard of this movement, joined now by the Express, the Telegraph and the Murdoch papers, which over the last three years have been ratcheting up their front-page attacks on the ‘traitors’ and ‘enemies of the state’ sitting in Parliament. For people who know very little of politics apart from these press headlines, all this must be having an effect. Politicians now are objects of hate, in an age when the feeling of hate is becoming so widespread in society.

Cummings is being presented as a psephological genius. I don’t see it. His insights into politics are not especially clever: anyone can see how propaganda can work and electorates manipulated. It’s just that most of us are too decent to want to go along with this. What distinguishes Cummings from the rest of us is not intelligence, but sheer amorality. He has already designed the next election, when it comes, as one to be fought between Parliament – or the ‘elite’, or ‘the Westminster bubble’ (boo!) – and the ‘People’ (hurrah!). It’s a well-known device, used successfully in the past by the likes of Hitler, Mussolini and Trump. All were ‘populist’ politicians. Which isn’t of course to imply any other comparison between these three and the Old Etonian Boris. (Although Hitler did, incidentally, have a great admiration for the British Public School.)

About bernardporter2013

Retired academic, author, historian.
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2 Responses to Populism and Parliament

  1. Pingback: Democracy on Trial | Porter’s Pensées

  2. Tony says:

    It’s not just respect for MP’s and Parliament that has been undermined by the right wing press, but also the judiciary, the courts and the assaults on the so-called ‘liberal establishment’ as opposed to the tax evading right wing establishment including the press owners, Harmsworth, Berkelely brothers, Murdoch, and Johnson. Some legal figures have also contributed, including judges, by arguing that the Law has acquired too much influence over politics, and against the Euro rights law, which ties in with ‘taking back control’ and reasserting parliamentary sovereignty ( oh, the irony of proroguing of parliament in the cause of taking back sovereignty). But surely the courts are essential in an unwritten constitution based on convention, precedent and statute, and it could be argued they have been too timid.

    Liked by 1 person

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