Teaching Comparative Government and Politics

Monday, April 01, 2019

Failed in place?

According to the textbooks' accounts, PM May should have called another election by now. Or at least she should have formed a new government. Why didn't she? And where, in the UK "constitution" is there a provision for a binding referendum? Can "democratic" regime survive in the UK?

‘We’re in the Last Hour’: Democracy Itself Is on Trial in Brexit, Britons Say
The whole world of Britain’s Parliament — its effete codes of conduct, its arcane and stilted language, its reunions of Oxbridge school chums — seemed impossibly remote from the real, unfolding national crisis of Brexit, the process of extricating the country from the European Union…

Over the past weeks, as factions within the British government have grappled for control over the country’s exit from the bloc, the mood among voters has become dark.

Those Britons who wished to remain are reminded, daily, that a risky and momentous national change is being initiated against their will and judgment. More striking is the deep cynicism among those who voted to leave, the group that Prime Minister Theresa May is trying to satisfy. They are now equally bitter and disillusioned, as the government’s paralysis has called into question whether Britain will ever leave.

Parliament’s rejection of Mrs. May’s withdrawal plan… — for the third time — means the turbulence will continue.

In interviews, many Britons expressed despair over the inability of the political system to produce a compromise. No one feels that the government has represented their interests. No one is satisfied. No one is hopeful.

It has amounted to a hollowing out of confidence in democracy itself…

“There’s a fin-de-siècle sense that modern British politics has run out of road,” said Mr. Davies, author of “Nervous States: Democracy and the Decline of Reason.” “Maybe the best thing to come out of this is the recognition that the political elites — people just want them to get off the stage. I don’t know who they want to replace them. But there’s a sense that a reboot would be something people would be in favor of.”…

The referendum question has divided Britain into warring tribes, unable to settle on any shared vision of the future. An ancient, robust democracy is groaning under the weight of conflicting demands — on the executive, to carry out the will of the people; and on the members of Parliament, to follow their conscience and to act in what they believe to be the people’s interest…

“I think people have totally lost confidence in democracy, in British democracy and the way it’s run,” said Tommy Turner, 32, a firefighter. He was perched on a stool at the Hare & Hounds, a working-class pub in Surrey, where nearly everyone voted to leave the European Union. Among his friends, he said, he sensed a profound sense of betrayal that Britain was not exiting on March 29, as promised.

“You’ve got egotistical people in politics, and they want to follow their own agenda,” he said. “They don’t want to follow what the people have voted for.”…

Polling has borne out his worry. Britons’ assessment of their leaders is scathing, with 81 percent saying that Britain has handled Brexit badly, and 7 percent saying it has handled it well, according to data released recently by NatCen Social Research, an independent agency…

Particularly drastic, researchers said, is the souring of Leave voters in the past six months, as Mrs. May concluded her negotiations on the withdrawal agreement and shared the terms of departure with the country. Expectations that Brexit would have concrete effects — by lifting the economy or slowing immigration — have diminished sharply, the data show…

[A]t The Highbury Barn, a pub in North London that offers haddock from the fishmonger across the street and provides pans of water for visiting dogs. In this neighborhood, Islington North, in the constituency of the opposition Labour leader, Jeremy Corbyn, the number of signatories on a petition asking the government to revoke Article 50, the part of the European Union treaty that lays out the terms of Britain’s exit, reached one-quarter of the population.

But people here took an equally dismal view of the government’s performance…

Aidan Hughes, 58, who works in finance, was waiting for a cab in the back of the bar.

“What we’re seeing is that the process the government’s involved in has been effectively hijacked by an even smaller segment of the ruling government, the right-wing element of the party,” he said. He blamed the first-past-the-post voting system, which tends to increase polarization between two large parties and exaggerate geographical divides, setting up stark conflict between sections of society.

He said it was time for Britain to move toward a system of proportional representation, common to democracies that evolved later than Britain’s, which allows smaller parties to enter Parliament more easily.

“We would then have people with different views coming together to compromise, to find a way forward,” he said. “Whereas whoever wins an election now can currently push their views, irrespective of support.”…

In a landscape of pervasive gloom, Mr. Hughes, the finance worker, did see one reason for hope: That Britons, young and old, were passionately engaged, as never before, in the inner workings of their own government. Even if it was because they were so angry.

“This is starting to drag people into an interest in what’s actually happening,” he said. “Clearly it’s a total mess and it’s been handled appallingly by the government. Be that as it may, at least it’s gotten people animated in talking about these topics.”

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