Friday 23 July 2021

The system is broken


Earlier this week, referring to some of the comments which Dominic Cummings alleges to have been made by the Prime Minister about coronavirus only killing the over-80s, Nicola Sturgeon said that any leader 'glib about human life' should consider whether they are fit for office. She’s right in principle, but there is a problem with her suggestion in practice, as this simple Venn diagram demonstrates.

A: People capable of considering whether they are fit for office

B: Narcissistic sociopaths

It’s not a fully scientific assessment of course, given that it’s based on such a small sample, but the lack of any overlap appears likely to hold true in general. And it also highlights a serious problem with the UK constitution. There is no provision for dealing with a PM who shows himself utterly unfit for office, even when the result of that unfitness is manifested in tens of thousands of unnecessary and avoidable premature deaths. Instead, the political system hands absolute power to the leader of the party which gains the highest number of seats, even when they are won on the basis of a minority of votes. And he or she then holds that absolute power until either a new election is called or until his or her own party’s members turn against the incumbent. The US has the twenty-fifth amendment which, although very imperfect and with serious difficulties around invoking it, shows that there has at least been some thought given to the possibility of a rogue president. Other countries fall back, ultimately, on military coups to remove failing politicians from power. The UK, on the other hand, not only has no mechanism for removing a failing PM who "lies so blatantly, so naturally, so regularly"D. Cummings), but insists that members of the legislature must always refer to him as ‘honourable', even when he is patently anything but, and that any MP who directly points out an untruth must be excluded. A system which punishes the witnesses and repeatedly exonerates the perpetrator deserves only contempt.

Trump famously said that he “…could stand in the middle of 5th Avenue and shoot somebody and [he] wouldn't lose voters”. It’s the sort of blind loyalty which is expected of Tory MPs towards their leader, no matter how egregious that leader’s behaviour becomes. And whilst they may mount an occasional minor rebellion over some detail or other of policy, it’s the sort of blind loyalty that Johnson is currently getting, to the extent that his MPs and ministers are willing to appear on the media defending something he’s said or done, only to find – just a few hours later – that he’s performed another U-turn. They learn nothing, feel no embarrassment or shame, and repeat the process over and over. A political system which depends on finding a spark of decency and a fragment of backbone amongst the current crop of Tory MPs is broken, and badly so. And the consequences are being felt by the oldest and most vulnerable citizens. Those who tell Wales and Scotland that we should stay and fight for a reformed UK rather than opt out and build better systems for ourselves need to point to a credible mechanism which can allow that to happen, because at the moment there doesn't seem to be one.

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