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Constitutional Coup d’État?

Well.

Don’t we live in interesting times?

I had been planning a post about the demise of Bury FC. (OK they’re not dead quite yet but it does seem inevitable.)

But our new Prime Minister’s decision to ask the Queen to prorogue Parliament – a request she cannot refuse even though it places her firmly in the political spotlight, a situation she ought not be subjected to – in the midst of the biggest crisis to hit British politics in my lifetime (I was alive during the Suez debacle – only just – but that wasn’t anything like as bad as this) beggars belief.

Parliament has not been sitting for weeks due to the summer recess. The blustering buffoon has been subject to its scrutiny for only a day or so after replacing Theresa May. Yet now – if his plan cannot be thwarted – there will only be opportunity to do so for less than a week before it will be prevented from operating for another five weeks beyond that. And this at the most dangerous time for the prospects of the UK since 1940.

If this is democracy then what on Earth does dictatorship look like?

The Leave campaign in the EU Referendum employed the slogan, “Take Back Control.” If that meant anything it could only mean bringing power back to Parliament, not to the Prime Minister – nor to a small, rabid clique of ultras. It has always been the case that a Prime Minister can only do what Parliament allows him or her to do. A restriction of Parliament’s rights to hold him or her to account is a denial of control, a denial of democracy. If leave voters see Parliament as the problem here then they can not be described as democrats, either that or they misunderstand the UK system of government. (And constitutionally, the last General Election (elected 2017) overrode any previous votes – on anything – as no Parliament can bind its successor. Technically the EU referendum was a creature of the previous Parliament (elected 2015) rather than this one.)

The English Parliament – of which Brexiteers, I suspect, tend to see the present UK one as being a continuation (though in that they are wrong) – once fought a war against a King who stood in the way of its rights, precisely for the point of ensuring those rights. (The fact that the succeeding dispensation under the Lord Protector, Oliver Cromwell, also ran roughshod over the same Parliament’s rights shows how fragile those rights can be.)

It is the duty of Parliament to scrutinise proposed Government measures or intentions and if a majority in Parliament does not like them then to vote them down. A Prime Minister who seeks to deny it that right, for however long or short a time, can not be called a democrat – and is a danger to us all.

Afternoon of the Long Knives

So, as everyone expected it’s the blustering buffoon. Perhaps I ought to capitalise that.

The Conservative (and Unionist) Party has now given us three terrible Prime Ministers in a row. It’s hard to say which is worst though I suspect BoJo – as he’s called – will be the one. I believe our USian friends have a better word to describe him – bozo. He may have been to Eton and Balliol but he shows no sign of ever having learned much.

God help us.

It’s not taken him long to get the knives out for those who opposed him.

I’m reminded of Harold MacMillan’s cabinet reshuffle of 1962 (except this clear out is more extensive and MacMillan had been Prime Minister for a while.) MacMillan only got rid of one-third of his previous cabinet. It still led to the reshuffle being dubbed Night of the Long Knives in a rather distasteful reference to the bloody purge of previously high ranking Nazis in Germany in 1934.

MacMillan’s actions led his successor as PM, Harold Wilson, in a much later exchange in the House of Commons to recollect the time when the “then Prime Minister sacked half his cabinet”, adding, “the wrong half, as it turned out.”

Plenty ammunition here for the Blustering Buffoon’s successor I’d have thought.

A Dismal Choice

The two remaining candidates to be the leader of the Conservative Party and hence the next Prime Minister of the UK show just how the calibre of the country’s politicians – along with the standards of its politics – has fallen.

The choice lies between a blustering buffoon and a piece of rhyming slang.

My comment on the present incumbent when she triggered Article 50 has come true in spades. These are dangerous men.

The buffoon showed himself to be totally unfit for high office in his time as Foreign Secretary when his failure to master any detail of her case led to Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe being all but confirmed in the eyes of Iran as being in effect a spy, or, at least, working against its government.

The rhyming slang, when Secretary of State for Health, was so inept in the post he managed to unite the almost the entire medical profession against him. And have you seen his eyes?

If either of these two is the answer, what on Earth is the question?

On a related point I’ve seen it suggested that if the buffoon does become PM then it is possible he may appoint T Ronald Dump’s pal (well he likes to think T Ronald is his pal) Nigel Farage as UK ambassador to the US.

Great. Just do it Boris. At least it will get Farage and his poisonous rantings out of this country for a while.

Apparently Jorge Luis Borges characterised the War of Thatcher’s Face as a fight between two bald men over a comb.

The contest between Alexander Boris de Pfeffel Johnson and Jeremy Richard Streynsham Hunt (don’t their full names just tell you all you need to know about them?) is more like two blind men scrabbling over a hearing aid. Neither can or will do much good with it once they’ve got it.

Independence by Alasdair Gray

An Argument for Home Rule.

Canongate, 2014, 130 p.

(This was published in 2014 in the run-up to the Scottish Independence Referendum as a companion piece to Gray’s earlier book Why Scots Should Rule Scotland. I bought it a year or so ago in a second-hand bookshop and took it along on our recent Baltic Cruise.)

 Independence cover

There are many differences between Scotland and the more southerly parts of the British Isles. The geology differs between Scotland and England and land usage is more problematic – one of the factors which led to the Romans withdrawing from what they called Caledonia to behind Hadrian’s Wall. Different attitudes to education (deriving from a desire in mediæval England to keep the lower orders in their place, whereas the Scots valued an educated populace especially after the Reformation in order that the people could read the Bible for themselves) persist to this day. Gray says, “When writer in residence at Glasgow University I was amused when a lecturer in English from Oxford or Cambridge told me, ‘It is amazing that someone of your background knows as much about literature as we do.’ Many Scots friends thought my learning considerable; none thought it strange I had it.” The prospect of a generally poorer standard of living due to agricultural factors led many Scots with a good education to venture abroad.

This book is not an argument that only “indigenous” Scots ought to be allowed to have positions of influence here. Gray is clear about the difference between what he calls settlers who wish to make their lives in Scotland and colonists who will sweep in (and out again) in order to promote their careers. He gives examples. Glasgow European Capital of Culture hired English administrators who did not organise any festivals or exhibitions featuring local or even Scottish authors or artists since they were mostly ignorant of anything good that had been made here. At least two such appointees announced they knew little about Scottish culture but “looked forward to learning about it.” Any such ignorance of English culture on the part of a Scottish administrator wishing to work in England would be laughable – and is difficult to imagine. Nor does Gray ignore the fact that many Scots did very well indeed out of the British Empire.

There is the occasional further barb, “one of those who were then reviled as middle men, and since Thatcher’s time have been praised as entrepeneurs“.

Gray’s argument is well set out but I doubt, in these times, it would convince any who are of an opposite persuasion.

Pedant’s corner:- CO2 (CO2.) “The warlike Irish kings left these monks in to promote their religion in peace” (no [first] “in”; or else, “left these monks in peace to practice their religion,”) Charles’ (Charles’s,) the Scots parliament accepted it and were denounced” (the Scots Parliament accepted it and was denounced,) Burns’ (Burns’s.) “The Jacobite invasion of England by a mainly Highland force, which hoped to succeed with English support, but finding they retreated back to Scotland” (but finding none they retreated.)

Worst Prime Minister

So the tenure of one of the two worst Prime Ministers the UK has ever had is almost over.

(I wasn’t, by the way, convinced by the crack in Mrs May’s voice at the end of her resignation speech. The tone behind it was too like the one she was wont to use in order to indicate resolve and which to me always seemed more like outright refusal to take any notice of alternative viewpoints.)

That the two politicians who hold the (lack of) distinction implied by my first paragraph happened to follow one after the other is merely a reflection of what a state the UK has fallen into.

Not that their position in that top two is secure. As I suggested here, Theresa May’s successor is likely to be even more of a disaster.

O tempora! O mores!

Same Planet?

Not for the first time Ruth Davidson has come to my attention. I have previously noted her resemblance to Benito Mussolini.

It struck me a while ago that she is largely responsible for the present mess that the UK Parliament has got itself into over Brexit. At the last general election – one in which the UK’s future relationship with the EU was the most important issue facing the country – her campaign consisted solely of insisting that the Scottish electorate reject any more unneccesary elections in the form of a second Scottish independence referendum. (The irony that that general election was itself totally unnecessary in that Theresa May had a perfectly workable majority and no need to bother the electorate seems to have been lost on Ms Davidson.)

The upshot, however, was that the number of Scottish Conservative MPs increased from its previous derisory level to 13. Given that Mrs May managed to lose Tory MPs in the rest of the UK this was something of a triumph for Ms Davidson. However its consequence was that rather than Theresa May losing power those 13 Tory MPs gave her an outside shot at a Parliamentary majority, with DUP help.

The outcome we all know. The Westminster Parliament has been unable to come to any agreement on what the future relations between the UK and the EU ought to be and all is chaos. Without those 13 Scottish Tory MPs there may well have been a different Government – under a different Prime Minister – and an orderly withdrawal from the EU might have been cobbled together. British politics would not then be in its present parlous state. And we have what is arguably another “unnecessary” election.

Yet, what lay in my post on my arrival back from holiday? (A holiday I might add in which my visits to Denmark, Germany, Estonia, Finland and Sweden showed a degree of civic engagement with the elections to the European Parliament sadly not in evidence in the UK in previous years to this – and given the lack of posters on lampposts round my area in this year too. A coincidental mayoral election in Rostock might have added to the interest there, though.)

Well there was a Scottish Tory European election leaflet barely mentioning Europe (if at all) but pleading for votes so as to forestall a further Scottish independence referendum. Ms Davidson it seems has only one tune. Her cupboard is bare. If it weren’t for the prospect of another independence referendum what on Earth would she campaign on? She has nothing to say on any other subject.

Since she has seemingly learned nothing and has forgotten nothing perhaps Ms Davidson is a Bourbon rather than a Mussolini.

A Democrat?

What can you say about a Prime Minister of the United Kingdom who derides Parliament? Who blames MPs for her failure to secure her desired legislation?

It is as if she thinks she is a dictator and that what she says must go. The tenor of her speeches – and her facial gestures – is exactly that of someone who does not tolerate dissent. Trying to suggest Parliament is against the “people” is a dangerous course. I have already suggested that May would be a dangerous PM but even I did not expect such an outrageous comment to come from the mouth of a British PM.

She has already shown many times she is unfit for high office – too rigid, too blinkered, among other things – but if anything proves it, that assertion does.

For that is not the system in which she works. Parliament is not there to do the Prime Minister’s bidding. MPs are not delegates bound to do what they are told. They are representatives, there to exercise their own judgement on the legislation put in front of them. Certainly, they are elected on a broad basis to support the policies of the party under which they presented themselves to their electors but not slavishly to troop through the voting lobbies like sheep.

They have a duty to assess whether any projected law is in the country’s interest and to vote accordingly. It follows that only those laws to which Parliament consents can be enacted. If Parliament does not give its consent the proposed law does not pass – no matter the Prime Minister’s wishes.

Theresa May’s statement that, “It’s a matter of personal regret to me,” that Brexit hasn’t been delivered yet irresistibly reminded me of Neville Chamberlain in his speech on the radio in September 1939 announcing that war with Germany had begun. “You can imagine what a bitter blow it is to me that all my long struggle to win peace has failed.”

Theresa May is not a martyr to MPs. She is the victim of her own folly. Her flagship policy has been defeated in Parliament – twice, by historic margins each time – and yet she still ploughs on banging her head against the brick wall of that same hung Parliament which only came into being because of her hubris in assuming all she had to do was call an election and then bask in the adulation of an adoring public and a landslide victory. Not the first, nor last, of her mistakes. And it left her held hostage to the extreme right wing of her party and to the provisional wing of the Old Testament in the shape of the Democratic Unionist Party.

What has to happen in order for this woman to recognise reality? That her time as PM has been a disaster, that she has brought about chaos, and harmed the country in the process. And for what? To keep the Tory Party together? It looks like that’s working well.

People in Britain used to make jokes about banana republics. That’s a bit out of date these days.

Except for the fact we don’t grow any we’re now the butt of any such joke. A banana monarchy.

Scotland’s Art Deco Heritage 40 (iii): Greenbank, Helensburgh

Greenbank is a classic Art Deco house in Helensburgh – once West Dunbartonshire but now – after the Tories gerrymandered Scottish council areas in 1976 in an attempt to bolster their representation, not that that’s how it turned out – in Argyll and Bute

Strong horizontals and verticals, rounded canopy and balcony, appears to be Critall windows still. They’ve not been “poked out” anyway. It looks more like cream than white rendering, though, but that’s okay:-

Greenbank, Helensburgh

The colour scheme reminds me of Wolverton in Silver End.

Greenbank, Helensburgh

A side view:-

Side View, Greenbank, Helensburgh

2019

Happy New Year.

Well, I say happy but – apart from my eldest son getting married in February – I can’t see much cause for celebration this new year. Sons are pretty ropy this season (with only the Cup run helping last season to be anything like bearable) and Brexit looks like making life for most people in the UK more arduous then it need have been.

Happy New Year anyway.

End of Empire

One of the lessons of history is that all empires come to an end. The Roman Empire, the Holy Roman Empire (“neither holy nor Roman, nor an empire,” as Voltaire once quipped,) the Mongol Empire of the Golden Horde, the muslim Caliphates, the Spanish Empire, the Portuguese Empire, the Mughal Empire, the Ottoman Empire, the French Empires (Napoleon’s and the later colonial empire,) the Empire of Brazil, the German Empire, the Russian Empire and the later Soviet one, the British Empire – whose last vestige apart from dribs and drabs of territory around the world surfaced in the “Empress of India” proclamation at the funeral of the late Queen Mother – all gone to dust along with so many others.

This Wikipedia list gives only the largest empires.

US President Harry Truman’s Secretary of State, Dean Acheson, once said that Britain had lost an empire and not found a role. I wonder if part of the Brexit vote – not all, just part – was a reaction by older voters to that lack of a role as they can by and large remember when a political map of the world was liberally strewn with pink. I would venture that young people don’t have that feeling.

As for myself I long ago came to the conclusion that empire was a thing the UK was better off without, a delusion of grandeur no longer sustainable. After all, the British Isles constitute a relatively small mass of land off the northwest coast of Europe, not too significant in the grand scheme of things. That the British state should “punch above its weight” in international circles struck me as an increasing anachronism. And why should we be punching anybody anyway?

Membership of the European Union made perfect sense; a close collaboration with neighbours of a broadly similar outlook and goals.

But maybe this was actually a Scottish perspective as there seems to be a streak of belief in the southern parts of these islands – perhaps more prevalent the further south you go – in English exceptionalism coupled with a desire to have as little to do with foreigners as possible. As a newspaper headline supposedly once had it:- “Fog In Channel. Continent Cut Off.”

Scots do have the saying, “Wha’s like us?” (To which the answer is “Gey few and they’re a’ deid.”) But that was always more of a joke, a whistling in the wind, than an assertion of superiority.

That loss of empire (and of the sense that superiority can no longer be assumed) may well have been a factor in the Brexit vote. Clearly, for some in the southern portions of Britain at least, being part of a larger association in which you are neither the top nor the most numerous dog and therefore cannot condescendingly lord it over others (as they historically have done abroad and do still within the UK) is not a role in which they feel comfortable. Some of them still seem to think the UK can be (or even still is) a force on the world stage. Former (is there any other kind?) Brexit Secretary Dominic Raab said sonorously on the Andrew Marr Show on Sunday, “This is the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland,” in the context of what he called “bullying” by the EU as if that assertion still carried a degree of clout. (I note Marr made no attempt to disabuse him of his belief in innate worth. The fact that Raab had been made Brexit Secretary in the first place – and Boris Johnson Foreign Secretary – is an indicator of how impoverished the British political system has become in terms of elected representatives.) Sometimes I could wish that they would get over themselves.

Maybe a period of irrelevance as a North Atlantic offshoot of a more powerful trading block – a truer reflection of the UK’s standing – is just what they need in order to wake up to their reduced capacity to influence world affairs (consider: does anyone in Spain still hanker for the empire they once had?) – but perhaps even that would not jolt their certainties. Indeed, it may even inflame their resentments.

It may be that some of that losing a role sentiment, a sense of imminent decline, is an explanation of why US voters turned to T Ronald Dump two years ago. Decline has not come yet but will eventually – all empires fall in the end – but for now the US is still a preeminent superpower (though facing economic challenge from China in particular.) Quite how a real fall from that state will affect a polity which is used to strutting its stuff on the world stage is now being rehearsed in a compelling but worrying way, as a farce presaging a tragedy.

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