Some of my socialist friends have a bad habit of confusing "is" with "ought". Because the Church of England ought not to have any formal influence over secular life, they assert that the Archbishop of Canterbury is a person of no significance. Because the Queen ought not to have any political influence, they assert that she does not have any.
Mr Nigel Farage is an extremely clever man; and unlike Mr Boris Johnson, he doesn't bother to hide it under a thin veneer of stupidity. (I don't think that Mr Donald Trump is as stupid as he seems, but then I don't think that anybody could possibly be as stupid as Mr Donald Trump seems.)
When the duly elected Prime Minister of the United Kingdom resigns, the Queen invites another of our democratically elected representatives to take over the role; on condition that he or she can command the confidence of the House of Commons. Mr Callaghan replaced Mr Wilson; Mr Major replaced Mrs Thatcher; Mr Brown replaced Mr Blair; Mrs May replaced Mr Cameron; and Mr Johnson replaced Mrs May. The People elect their MPs, and the MPs choose a Prime Minister from among their number. That's the system. It might be better; it might be worse.
It is very dangerous to say "It is undemocratic for Mr Johnson to be Prime Minister having secured the confidence of a plurality of MPs but without a General Election".
It is almost equally dangerous to say "It is undemocratic for Mr Trump to be President of the United States, having won the electoral college but not the popular vote."
Both results show up idiosyncrasies in the two countries respective constitutions. As I understand it, the American system was designed and the discrepancy between "Electoral College Delegates" and "Popular Vote" was written in as a feature; whereas the British system evolved over centuries and the capacity for the Prime Minister to change without a popular mandate is a bug which only becomes apparent under stress.
But Mr Johnson is not the product of a coup. Mr Johnson is the product of the outworking of our unwritten constitution in the relatively unusual circumstances of an all-but-hung parliament. To call it a coup is to say that representative democracy is not real democracy; it is to say that direct democracy is the only true democracy; it is to say that there is such a thing as the popular will which is distinct from and maybe contrary to the results of the constitutional democratic process.
It is that kind of thinking which got us into the present mess.
Everyone quotes that essay in which George Orwell complained that people (already, in 1944) were hurling the word Fascist at anyone and anything without regard for what it really meant. Fewer people quote the bit where he says that it's pretty clear what people mean by the term:
"By Fascism they mean, roughly speaking, something cruel, unscrupulous, arrogant, obscurantist, anti-liberal and anti-working-class. Except for the relatively small number of Fascist sympathizers, almost any English person would accept 'bully' as a synonym for 'Fascist'."
Well: I think that all fascists are bullies, but I don't think that all bullies are fascists. I think that all fascists are racists, conservatives and authoritarians, but I don't think that all racists, conservatives and authoritarians are fascists.
A judge was once asked to define pornography, and replied "I can't define it, but I know it when I see it." This was not very helpful.
But it would also be unhelpful to say "Since we can't agree on a definition of pornography, dirty books obviously don't exist."
Boris Johnson is not a Fascist.
Boris Johnson is not a conservative, or a liberal, or anything else. I doubt very much if Boris Johnson has a set of political beliefs in the way that Margaret Thatcher and Harold Wilson presumably did.
Boris Johnson, like Tony Blair, is an artificial construct with no purpose except to become Prime Minister. In 2016, he claimed to be 50/50 on the European Question; but he has chosen to portray himself as a kamikaze Leaver for personal electoral advantage. (Jeremy Corbyn once said, under pressure from an interviewer, that he was 70/30 on the Question; a form of moderation and nuance which the right-wing media still attempts to portray as equivocation.)
It is not clear whether the entire political landscape is reducible to "Boris Johnson believes in Boris Johnson" or whether the Johnson-construct is being deployed on behalf of persons or organisations who do have a recognizable political ideology.
The Left use the word "Orwellian" to describe the Right; and the Right use the word "Orwellian" to describe the Left. If either of them had taken the trouble to read Nineteen Eighty-Four they would know that Orwell was describing how political power always and necessarily works. The Party is indifferent to individuals and ideology; the Party exists only to keep itself in power.
Orwell also liked a nice cup of tea, and thought that pub landlords ought to keep a supply of second class stamps behind the bar. In Animal Farm, Trotsky is presented as one of the good guys.
I grew up in the 1980s: everyone called Mrs Thatcher a Fascist, but she pretty obviously wasn't. She wasn't even particularly Right Wing by today's standards but that's the responsibility of that nice Mr Overton. Americans might be surprised to consider how strongly Mr Reagan's friend supported socialized medicine and how firmly opposed she was to allowing private citizens to own guns. She personally supported the death penalty provided she didn't have to take responsibility for restoring it; she was a big fan of corporal punishment but it was abolished on her watch. And she was a supporter of the European Union, although she thought it badly needed reform. If you had asked her how much she liked it, I like to imagine that she would have said "Seven out of ten."
The Right say that the Left call everyone they don't like Fascists. The Right call everyone they don't like Communists. The far Right are probably best thought of as performance artists, acting out a parody of a Left which mainly exists in their own minds. ("We think that you think that everyone you don't like is Hitler, so we will say that everyone we don't like is Stalin. That'll show you!") Rupert Murdoch's front pages, which literally depicted Boris Johnson as the Unconquered Sun are best understood as caricatures of what the editor imagines communist propaganda to be like.
I was quite shocked to hear Mr Enoch Powell's infamous Rivers of Blood speech when it was reconstructed on Radio 4 a while back. I had previously only known it by reputation, and had somehow absorbed the idea that "it made some fair points about immigration and integration in unnecessarily provocative language."
The speech is in fact nakedly racist. It takes racism for granted; as a premise and a starting point. Granted that no-one would want a black person living next door to them or indeed on the same street and granted that no-one would want to rent property to a black person, then it follows that the 1965 Race Relations Act (the one which made "No Dogs, No Blacks, No Irish" signs illegal) was as oppressive to white people as slavery had been to black people. This is literally what he said. This is what people who defend Powell as a conviction politician who spoke his mind are defending.
But for all that Powell was a parliamentarian and a constitutionalist. He had complicated ideas about national identity and how it worked. Not great ideas: his theory of the Virtuous Institutions was only slightly more useful that Mr Norman Tebbit's Cricket Test. But he would not have understood the idea that a Popular Will existed separately from the Crown and the Commons and the Lords.
His essays on the New Testament are still well worth reading.
Mr Farage has described Mrs May's compromise European withdrawal agreement as "the greatest betrayal of any democratic vote in the history of our nation." He specifically compared it to the treaty of Versailles.
This is very strange language for a British politician to use. An Englishman might very well see Versailles as a disastrous misjudgment: if only we had been more magnanimous after the catastrophe of the First World War than perhaps the rise of Hitler and the greater catastrophe of the Second World War might have been averted. But to describe it as a betrayal: isn't that specifically what the Nazis believed? Wasn't that indeed the whole point of the Third Reich (and the actual reason that they had little skulls on their helmets)?
And then we see Mr Farage walking onto platforms at rallies with air raid warnings playing in the background. This is not how British politicians behave. Give Mr Corbyn his due, he doesn't come on stage to hammers and sickles and the strains of the Internationale. Mr Farage is consciously portraying himself as the Little Guy who will stand up to the bullies and and get his revenge on the politicians who betrayed us in Brussels.
Folk music is the kind of music listened to by people who say that they like folk music. Science fiction is the kind of literature read by people who say that they like science fiction. Fascism is the ideology espoused by people who identify as fascists.
There are no substantive arguments in favour of Brexit: or if there are, Mr Johnson and Mr Farage are not interested in making them.
The European Union is a very complicated collection of trade agreements and tariffs and employment practices and mutual immigration procedures which a non-specialist can't really have a very strong opinion on. Until twelve months ago no-one without a 2:1 in PPE had the faintest idea what the World Trade Organisation even was.
The entire adventure rests on the theory that the People's Will was irrevocably expressed through a binary referendum in 2016. The principal at stake is not how much ice you legally have to include with a mail-order kipper. The principal at stake is which is supreme: the People's Will or the Constitution.
Let the United Kingdom split in three; let violence and civil war return to Ireland; allow Britain to suffer Greek levels of inflation and 80s levels of unemployment; all that, says Mr Johnson, would be preferable to saying that Parliament has the right to go against the Popular Will.
We are too willing to concede this principal. We are too willing to say "Of course the Will of the People should prevail; but the People were misinformed; the votes were badly counted; there was some cheating and corruption; and anyway we know more now than we knew then: so perhaps the Will of the People has changed. Let's ask them."
If democracy means a mechanism by which citizens can sack their leaders and appoint new ones, then I am all in favour of democracy. If it means that the Will of the People is always to be obeyed without question, not so much.
Yes, apparently it really is order to buy a mail-order kipper.
Insert well-known quote from Ibsen's "Enemy of the People" in this space.
Pseudo-Dawkins has been known to wonder out loud whether people who believe in the miracle at Cana or the Prophet's night journey ought to be allowed to vote in elections.
So: there is a job vacancy for a British Hitler. Not an evil goose-stepping Jew-exterminating Hitler, but an heroic Hitler, a Hitler who personifies the Popular Will, who will strike a blow against the bureaucrats who betrayed the country, make the trains run on time, and generally Make England Great Again.
But the Establishment -- the elite, the people who hold the real power, the school teachers and Guardian journalists and nurses and lawyers; not the poor oppressed billionaires who run newspapers and shit in golden toilets -- will never permit a Man of the People to Make England Great Again.
The Speaker of the House of Commons is opposed to the people. The Judiciary are enemies of the people. The House of Commons are traitors. If we are going to overcome the corrupt establishment who betrayed us at Versailles, we are going to have to do it extra-constitutionally.
And that's a problem, because at the head of the British constitution sits the Queen and the one thing you definitely aren't allowed to do is speak one single word against the Queen. Even actual republicans, like Tony Benn, were very reluctant to say anything personally against Her Majesty. In 2015, Jeremy Corbyn stood politely to attention during the singing of the National Anthem while those around him were mouthing the words. Civilization very nearly came to an end there and then.
On August 12th, Mr Farage made a speech during which he pointed out that the Queen Mother had a relatively unhealthy lifestyle (she smoked, drank gin, and was overweight) but still lived to be 101. So, said Mr Farage, let us hope that our present Queen who appears to live a much healthier lifestyle will survive even longer -- perhaps forever -- because that way Charles will never be King.
Because that way Charles will never be King.
As long as it is impossible to criticize the Monarch, you can't go too far in asserting the Will of the People over and above Parliament. The Queen has very little personal power, but the whole Constitution depends on the idea of the Crown. Jeremy Corbyn is the leader of the Her Majesty's Loyal Opposition: one day soon he will kiss the Queen's hand become her First Minister. You can't deny his legitimacy without denying Hers. If you set Parliament against People then you set People against Monarch. Oliver Cromwell understood this.
But the Queen is now over 90. It is not too unkind to suppose that her reign may not carry on indefinitely.
So it is clear why someone positioning themselves as The Man of The People would want to lay the groundwork for attacking the next Head of State and the next Head of State but one while still appearing to praise our present Queen, may god save her.
So how did the newspapers, even the ever so slightly republican and leftish newspapers, report the speech:
Not "Nigel Farage criticizes Prince Charles".
Not "Nigel Farage hints that he may not accept the legitimacy of the next titular Head of State".
Oh no. To a man, they report "Nigel Farage says the late Queen Mother was fat."
Farage incorrectly referred to the Queen as "Her Royal Highness" as opposed to "Her Majesty." He believes that Prince Harry is third in line to the throne (after Prince Charles and Prince William) whereas in fact he is number six.
I'm Andrew. I write about folk music, God, comic books, Star Wars and Jeremy Corbyn.
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