Politics

Boris Johnson is still Prime Minister & Elective Dictatorship

Several friends have written from around the world to ask if I have broken open the champagne to celebrate. I have not. Johnson is still PM, he is still in power.

Some of the candidates to replace him would likely be worse than Johnson.

Already the dominant refrain is tax-cutting – with no transparency about where the spending cuts would fall.

Steve Baker’s parliamentary Net Zero Scrutiny Group has been chipping away at the green agenda. As Helen Horton describes in The Guardian  “the green Conservatives, … seem incredibly disorganised and weak, … squabbling over whether to use the phrase “net zero” rather than putting their case to the nation.”

Martin Fletcher is a former foreign editor of the Times, he has written in the New Statesman: ” Boris Johnson’s resignation ends three long, dark years of national shame and international ignominy. He will leave No 10 this autumn not because of some policy dispute or political gaffe, but as a victim of his own moral turpitude – the first prime minister in living memory forced to resign in disgrace.”  Fletcher goes on “He has wrecked relations with Europe and the US. He has made Britain a global laughing stock. He has all but ruined the economy. He has betrayed millions of imperilled Afghans. He has criminalised hundreds of desperate refugees. He has trashed Britain’s global reputation by breaching solemn international treaties.”

It is important to remember that Johnson did not appoint himself PM – he was elected by Conservative MPs and supported by his cabinet. The cabinet stuck with him through a series of scandals and failures.

While he has been PM Britain has lurched toward a presidential system and the danger of operating without an enforceable written constitution has been evident.

Peter Hennessy Mr Johnson is “the great debaser in modern times of decency in public and political life, and of our constitutional conventions”. more

Lord Hennessy of Nympsfield (HoL 06’07’22 ):  “I am not a politician, but politicians tend to weaponise evidence, do they not? In David Morgan’s phrase, the successful mobilisation of prejudice is what determines political success and failure.”

Andrew Blick, Professor of Politics and Contemporary History and Head of the Department of Political Economy at King’s College London and Senior Adviser to The Constitution Society, has listed them:

  • The spirit and letter of documents such as The Cabinet Manual and Ministerial Code have been violated; and those responsible for promoting them, such as the Independent Adviser on Ministers’ Interests – have been undermined.
  • Brexit had immense consequences for the UK constitution, creating considerable uncertainty and tension about the future of the legal system; and the balance of power between the UK and devolved tiers. It removed the protections provided by the Charter of Fundamental Rights, and was associated with the creation of extensive new delegated law-making powers wielded by the UK executive. Wide-ranging political discussion of the consequences of Brexit is suppressed by a perception that the 2016 referendum in some way settled the argument about EU membership for a prolonged period.
  • Johnson governments passed legislation that reduced the independence of the Electoral Commission and – through individual voter-ID requirements – might have a negative and disproportionate impact on participation in elections.
  • The rule of law and human rights: there has been a critical stance taken towards the role of the courts and their supposedly excessive power; legislation that will reduce the level of general protection for human rights; and restrictions on freedom of protest. Policy towards refugees has challenged basic standards in this area.
  • International law and treaty obligations: UK legislation and policy regarding refugees, as well as seeming to fall short with regards to human rights, appears to violate treaty commitments. The UK has also consistently threatened to pursue courses of action that would represent a break with the Northern Ireland Protocol, the consequences of which for the standing of the UK as well as the peace process could be immense.
  • The destabilisation of the UK as a state: Brexit has undermined the cohesion of the UK, for instance reviving the independence movement in Scotland, and through its impact upon Northern Ireland.

Britain claims to be the mother of Parliaments, although we are the only European state, except Belarus, with a first-past-the-post winner take-all system. Way back in 1976 the former Lord Chancellor Viscount Hailsham – a true Tory – warned against Britain’s slide towards “elective dictatorship”. Hailsham’s concluded his lecture: “My object is continuity and evolution, not change for its own sake. But my conviction remains that the best way of achieving continuity is by a thorough re-construction of the fabric of our historic mansion. It is no longer wind- or weather-proof. Nor are its foundations still secure.”

“Until recently, the powers of government within Parliament were largely controlled either by the opposition or by its own backbenchers. It is now largely in the hands of the government machine, so that the government controls Parliament and not Parliament the government. Until recently, debate and argument dominated the parliamentary scene. Now it is the whips and the party caucus.”

Johnson has exploited his unassailale majoty to the full. more

At the 2019 general election, the Conservative Party promised to appoint a ‘Constitution, Democracy and Rights Commission’. This body would be tasked with reviewing various aspects of the constitution and producing proposals ‘to restore trust in our institutions and in how our democracy operates’. The promise has not been delivered.


10th July Catherine Haddon, senior fellow at the Institute for Government, writing in The Guardian

“One of the many legacies of Boris Johnson’s government is how it has exposed the vulnerability of our constitution if someone wants to push against convention and ignore precedent and is not worried about the consequences. From the unlawful prorogation of parliament to threats to break domestic law (over requesting a Brexit extension) and international law – twice – over the Northern Ireland protocol, let alone the repeated accusations of misleading parliament – not just over Partygate – is quite the record.

Johnson’s time in office has shown not only how much of the constitution depends on integrity and self-restraint, but also the difficulty in protecting the convention-based parts of it if those in power say “But why?”. If ministers are asking officials: “But where is that written?” or “Can you make me?” it is hard to point even to documents that set out our constitution in writing, let alone those that have the teeth to back them up. Johnson has shown that lack of teeth to be the fundamental flaw in the ministerial code. It covers much of the bad behaviour Johnson’s critics bemoan, but it can only be enforced ultimately by Johnson himself.”


12th July – Johnson has again broken with precedent and denied the Opposition a vote of no confidence. Despite the fact that he was unlikely to lose the vote, Tory MPs are unlikely to support the motion which if it were passed would by convention lead to a  General Election.


12th July – former PM John Major tells MPs that senior ministers share responsibility for harm done to democracy at home and Britain’s standing globally. Major warns that democracy “is not inevitable” and can be undone “step by step, action by action, falsehood by falsehood”.

“the whole country” knew that the government had broken the law in what he described as a “litany” of ways: unlawfully trying to prorogue parliament, ignoring a nationwide lockdown by breaking its own laws in Downing Street and trying change laws to “protect one of their own”

“It needs to be protected at all times and it seems to me that if our law and our accepted conventions are ignored then we are on a very slippery slope that ends with pulling our constitution into shreds,” said Major, who said democracy was “in retreat” elsewhere in the world and should not be taken for granted in the UK.  He added: “What has been done in the last three years has damaged our country at home and overseas, and I think has damaged the reputation of parliament as well.

“The blame for these lapses must lie principally, but not only, with the prime minister. But many in his cabinet are culpable too and so are those outside the cabinet who cheered him on.”



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Peter Osborne on Boris Johnson video
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Post-Johnson
Conservatives / Truss vows to scrap remaining EU laws by end of 2023 risking ‘bonfire of rights’
Levelling up may be over https://unherd.com/2022/07/is-this-the-end-of-levelling-up/
Liz Truss to Party Conference in 2014 

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There is a seismic shift taking place in European politics – this leadership campaign is merely a symptom of it.

Aris Roussinos is UnHerd’s Foreign Affairs Editor writes 13’07’2022

“What is euphemistically termed the “cost of living crisis” is simply the first ripples of the historic shift of wealth and power from Europe and North America to the great Asian power blocs. The rising costs of energy and food resulting from the war in Ukraine will be dwarfed by the plummeting living standards that the great confrontation with China will usher in. The basic underpinnings of middle-class consumption in the West will go, and we will not see them again in our lifetimes.

As the sociologist and political theorist Paolo Gerbaudo observes, the result of the economic consensus of the past four decades is already such that “the remaining members of the middle class in the West, what we could refer to as the ‘middling class’ due to the precarity of their position, are facing the prospect of proletarianisation, or déclassement — being progressively stripped of the traditional tokens of middle-class status, such as home ownership, savings and a good salary following a good education.

How much state is even left to shrink? Try to get a GP appointment; try to get the police to attend an incident of crime, let alone provide justice. Crime is rampant, incomes are shrinking and education is worthless. Our external borders are now purely notional, and the union’s survival is doubtful. We already pay Scandinavian taxes for Mediterranean public services, and all the candidates are offering is a further diminution of state capacity. If Conservatives do not relearn how to run it, then the state will collapse, and deservedly so. As Hobbes wrote: “The obligation of subjects to the sovereign, is understood to last as long, and no longer, than the power lasteth, by which he is able to protect them.” To see Britain through the hard years ahead, we need a leader able to harness the protective power of Leviathan.”

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Hennessy & Wright’s evidence to the HoL Constitution Committee in 2009 on the consequences of the increasing power exercised by the Cabinet Office.   more

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