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Raising political consciousness through Brexit

I got a gratifying response to my column from last week – although I fear my respondents didn’t understand the place of irony and deliberate provocation.


Steve Latham


It’s another sign of the extremism that Brexit is producing in British politics; another indicator of which is the interest members of the public are showing in arcane parliamentary procedures.

Rules previously considered out-of-date, and boring, are now (rightfully) regarded as essential safeguards to representative democracy.

In a system without a written constitution, all we have are precedents set by history, to hold governments, once royal now party-based, to account and scrutiny.

Even here, there are innovations. The Speaker, John Bercow, has garnered star status, through his histrionic interventions, and cries of ‘Order!’

But on the Conservative, and therefore government, side, he is suspected of partisanship, breaking the tradition of his office’s political neutrality.

In particular, his use of Standing Order 24 has attracted criticism, for allowing the House of Commons to several times seize control of debates, thereby thwarting the Tory programme.

His use of this Order, however, is an equivalent to the Prime Minister’s prorogation of Parliament, another trick of procedure, in this case to avoid debate.

As the opposition used Standing Order 24 to hold government to account, so the government is using prorogation to stymie Parliament in attempts to do so.

It’s a game of political point-scoring. But it is nevertheless astonishing to see left-wing MPs defending tradition and the past, as guarantees of democracy, rather than its enemy.

There have been scenes reminiscent of the seventeenth century, and the Crown’s attempts to restrict Parliamentary power, which led to the Civil War.

On a wider scale, however, Brexit has produced a renewed interest in politics as such. Protests have filled the streets of many major cities against Johnson’s policies.

These have been entirely peaceful; it has been the far-right, pro-Brexit, factions which have caused (mini)riots against the police.

People avidly follow the 24 hour TV news channels, to gain updates on the constantly changing political situation.

Numbers registering to vote have gone up, especially among young people; those whose future lives will be most affected by any Brexit decision.

Amidst the polarisation, which is ripping our country apart, there is an increased politicisation, and raising of awareness, if not consciousness, about the importance of politics.

This could reverse the apathy and disengagement of the masses towards the official processes. Recent activism on the left has eschewed these in favour of ‘movement politics’.

But, in our system, only change directed at and from the political centre, that is Parliament, can effect significant change.

The question is whether this interest will persist after whatever outcome transpires, or whether the populace will sink back into satiated binge-watching on Netflix. This is the real weapon of the status quo, to unplug us from active engagement; encouraging the loss of trust in institutions that plagues our system.

Meanwhile an eerie silence descends on our prorogued Parliament for the next five weeks, as we await the eschaton.

(Photos: Pixabay)

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