Battle for democracy

Submitted by AWL on 5 September, 2019 - 10:08 Author: Colin Foster

Parliament does not decide when it does or doesn’t sit. The Queen, on the advice of the Prime Minister, does that.

Parliament does not decide what Bills can or cannot be debated. The government largely does that, with some small rights of input from the official Opposition.

Only in situations where the government does not have a majority, and where the governing party is in the process of splitting, like now, does that open up more.

It looks like the Johnson government will not dare go through with it, but it is possible for a government simply to refuse to recognise a law passed through Parliament. Michael Gove, on behalf of the government, pointedly refused to accept that the government would be bound by the Brexit date-delay Bill now going through the Commons.

Parliament does not choose the government. Boris Johnson could not have won a vote in Parliament to become prime minister. He became prime minister only because the Tory party voted for him.

The rule that the Queen appoints the prime minister seems only ceremonial and formal, and it is in fact so when one party has a clear majority in parliament. In other cases, it could be used to thwart a left-wing Labour government.

In 1975, Australia, with a very similar parliamentary system to Britain, saw a “coup” when the Queen’s representative, the Governor-General, unilaterally dismissed the Labor government and put the conservatives in as a caretaker government until a general election (which Labor lost). Exactly the same process is no longer possible in Britain, but something similar could be done.

If Theresa May had not miscalculated when calling a general election in 2017, and the Tories still had their parliamentary majority, probably the Tories could push through a “no deal” Brexit now, claiming the authority of the 2016 referendum although no one, no one at all, voted for “no deal” then.

The electorate would have no chance to call the Tories to account for that until their five years were up. The electorate has no power to call MPs to account before their five years are up, even if they change party and politics.

The Tories no longer have a majority in the House of Commons. But an entirely unelected majority in the House of Lords has the power, if it wishes, to scupper legislation like the anti-no-deal Bill put through the Commons.

Boris Johnson’s poundshop-Mussolini act has dramatised some of the ways in which Britain’s parliamentary democracy falls miles below a democracy which really lets the populace decide.

In 1934 a big fascist street demonstration amidst dire economic crisis made the labour movement fear for the life of France’s parliamentary democracy. In fact six years later that democracy would be extinguished by the parliament voting “full powers” to Marshal Pétain, who did a deal with the Nazis.

Britain is not, or not yet, in a 1930s crisis, and Johnson is a poundshop Mussolini, not a real one. But what Leon Trotsky wrote about that crisis is timely today.

“We are firm partisans of a Workers’ and Peasants’ State, which will take the power from the exploiters… As long as the majority of the working class continues on the basis of bourgeois democracy, we are ready to defend it with all our forces against violent attacks from the Bonapartist and fascist bourgeoisie...

“Down with the Senate [equivalent of House of Lords], which is elected by limited suffrage and which renders the power of universal suffrage a mere illusion!

“Down with the presidency of the republic [equivalent of the monarchy, though elected] which serves as a hidden point of concentration for the forces of militarism and reaction!

“A single assembly must combine the legislative and executive powers [so the elected assembly chooses the ministers, chooses when it meets and doesn’t meet, chooses what it debates]. Members would be elected for two years, by universal suffrage at eighteen years of age, with no discrimination of sex or nationality.

“Deputies would be elected on the basis of local assemblies, constantly revocable by their constituents, and would receive the salary of a skilled worker.

“This is the only measure that would lead the masses forward instead of pushing them backward. A more generous democracy would facilitate the struggle for workers’ power.”

The same approach should inform the labour movement today.

Democracy also includes what the “classic” bourgeois democrats of the French and American revolutions called “the right of rebellion” — the right of the people to rise up against their governments.

That right is crippled today in Britain by laws, mostly dating from Thatcher’s day, which outlaw strikes and industrial action except in the most hemmed-about circumstances.

Labour Party conference has voted unanimously for the repeal of all those anti-union laws, and to establish the right to strike and take solidarity action. But the Labour leaders still won’t commit a Labour government to carry out that repeal.

We must force them to make that commitment.

Price of no-deal? ÂŁ110 billion

Appearing before a parliamentary committee on 4 September, Bank of England governor Mark Carney said the economic hit of “no deal” Brexit might not be as bad as he previously thought.

He had previously reckoned it as £160 billion, 8% of GDP. He now said £110 billion, 5.5% of GDP. He also said that prices of imported food would rise by 5% or 6%. Two-thirds of Britain’s food is imported.

Some of the economic hit will be to profits. But the Tories would make sure that most of it was to wages, benefits, and public services.

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