Every healthy democracy in the world imposes checks & balances on the exercise of power. Those checks may be constitutional, legal, conventional or merely ethical, but they're crucial if democracy is not to become the tyranny of the largest faction. How are they faring in the UK?
2. Since taking power in 2019, the Johnson govt has:
- unlawfully suspended Parliament
- threatened to ignore legislation
- imposed its own chairs on Select Committees
- switched off the hybrid Parliament
- overseen a huge expansion in lawmaking by ministerial decree
3. cont...
- attacked "activist" judges & "do-gooder" lawyers
- tried to lift itself above international law
- sought to curtail judicial review
- torn up the Ministerial Code
- suspended procurement rules
-expelled 22 MPs for disloyalty & pledged a "hard rain" for civil servants
4. [cont...]
- boycotted leading broadcasters
- threatened Channel 4's broadcasting license
- tried to bar critical journalists from the lobby
- toyed with abolishing the Electoral Commission
- threatened to move the House of Lords 200 miles away from government
5. It is hard to think of a UK govt so determined to attack, ignore, marginalise or override any checks on its power. A party that wins 43.5% of the vote is entitled to the loudest voice in our democracy. It is not entitled to sweep aside every constraint on its conduct.
6. As usual, lots of Tory MPs seem to be telling journalists privately how concerned they are. It's time they located their backbones. One day, they will find themselves back in Opposition. And when that happens, they may rue the checks they have dismantled on executive power.
(As for Johnson's view of devolution...) bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politi…

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More from @redhistorian

16 Nov
Important lecture by the Chair of the Committee on Standards in Public Life, warning of a fear "that those in public life no longer feel obliged to follow the so-called Nolan principles of selflessness, integrity, objectivity, accountability, openness, honesty & leadership".[1/8]
2. The speech offers a stark warning of the direction of travel in British politics: "a democracy without ethical standards ... where those elected make decisions solely in the interests of their supporters or paymasters".
3. The outsourcing of public services to private companies poses a particular challenge to the Nolan Principles. Even before the pandemic, 1/3 of public expenditure went on services delivered privately. Post-Covid, that figure will now be much higher.
Read 4 tweets
15 Nov
Britain's uncodified constitution seems more vulnerable to manipulation today than it was in the past. Why? The answer, I suggest, is about two ideas that were once central to British politics - one of which has gone Absent Without Leave. [THREAD]
2. The Victorians embraced two key ideas about the constitution. The first was that it should not be "fixed" or "rigid" but "flexible" & "organic". It should evolve with changes in society, constantly reworked -as Lord John Russell put it- like a sculptor with a favourite statue.
3. Political writers praised the "elastic adaptability" of the constitution & its "irresistible instinct" for "the constant development of its institutions". The history of the constitution, wrote Macaulay, was a tale of "constant change in the institutions of a great society".
Read 14 tweets
14 Nov
This is an excellent article by @davidallengreen. Whatever the merits of a written constitution, it's not going to happen any time soon. So we need achievable changes that can be carried now - like those set out in this article.
There are two things that are unquestionably worse than *not* having a written constitution:
- (1) Having a *bad* constitution, that's hard to change;
- (2) Having a constitution that doesn't command widespread consent. (Imagine a 52%:48% vote in a constitutional referendum...)
Constitutions set the rules within which we argue. When they themselves become the point of contention, the state is in danger. As a highly-polarised society, with powerful interests that wd certainly aim to nobble the process, the UK is not well set-up for constitution writing.
Read 4 tweets
14 Nov
The Johnson-Cummings affair was always likely to end badly. Johnson is a "Bullingdon radical": you smash the pub for fun, then write a cheque to fix the damage. Cummings is a revolutionary who wants to burn the pub down. Their alliance has done lasting harm to UK politics. THREAD
2. Johnson is a rowdy, not a revolutionary. He's the schoolboy who rags the teachers but wants to be Head Boy; who drops stink-bombs in class but loves the old school. Soaked in privilege, he upsets the bathtub for the sheer joy of flooding the dorm below - & Matron will mop up.
3. Johnson's radicalism is about disrupting the system, not replacing it. He'll throw bottles at Parliament, the Courts & the EU, & thrill to the sound of glass smashing. But when the debris has been swept up he still wants frictionless trade, privacy laws & banks of cheering MPs
Read 9 tweets
11 Nov
By my reckoning:

213 Tory MPs have proxy votes. The Whips control 203.

120 Labour MPs have proxies. The Whips control 106.

39 SNP MPs have proxies. The Whip controls all 39.

More than half of all votes in the Commons are now cast by 3 men. No wonder the Whips like this system
Proxy voting during parental leave or sickness is one thing. But its use on this industrial scale is concentrating power in the hands of the Whips, grotesquely strengthening the Executive & making a travesty of parliamentary govt. We urgently need a return to electronic voting.
Interestingly, there's also a smaller left-caucus of 15 MPs, who have all given their proxies to Bell Ribeiro-Addy. They include: Richard Burgon, Dawn Butler, Jeremy Corbyn, Ian Lavery, John McDonnell, Jon Trickett, Zarah Sultana, Claudia Webbe and Caroline Lucas.
Read 4 tweets
5 Nov
Powerful letter from the Commissioner on Standards in Public Life, Peter Riddell, warning of ministerial attempts to "pack" interview panels and reward political allies with public appointments, in ways "expressly barred" by the Cabinet Office Code. assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/upl…
The letter also warns of an increase in unregulated appointments, and the rewarding of political allies with seats on the Boards of Government Departments.
"Some at the centre of government want not only to have the final say but to tilt the competition system in their favour to appoint their allies". Leaking favoured candidates for jobs (eg BBC Chair) discourages others from applying. Letter summarised here: civilserviceworld.com/news/article/w…
Read 4 tweets

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