Rolf Norfolk Blog | Fighting Talk: Brexit And Civil Disorder | Talkmarkets - Page 3
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Rolf is an Oxford-educated British IFA, now retired. Rolf has been a bear from the late 90s on, hence the byline "Sackerson" (a famous 16th century bear on London's animal-baiting circuit). Rolf runs the Broad Oak Magazine blog; originally named "Bearwatch", it was set up ... more

Fighting Talk: Brexit And Civil Disorder

Date: Wednesday, March 13, 2019 7:15 AM EDT

Ian Geering QC’s piece this week on the Bruges Group site (10 March) follows this tradition.[xxiii] It is a normative political philosophy – this is how we feel things ought to be, rather than how they have been for most of recorded history. Did the Americans complain of taxation without Parliamentary representation? Leeds, Birmingham and Manchester shared their plight, while Old Sarum had seven voters and two MPs.[xxiv] Up to the twentieth century, only a fraction of the adult British population could vote at all, and had to resort to other means to register their dissatisfaction: as Tony Benn observed at the time of the Maastricht capitulation, “Riot has historically played a much larger part in British politics than we are ever allowed to know […] Unless we can offer people a peaceful route to the resolution of injustices through the ballot box, they will not listen to a House that has blocked off that route.”[xxv]

And that, as of last night (12 March 2019), is where we are: watching a cloth-eared Parliament rejecting an "open prison" Withdrawal Agreement yet fighting against a clean break, either way negating what the people decided upon.

Yes, the people are divided – by their very nature, votes are divisive; the key to peace is to accept them as decisive. But those with access to power and the media have worked hard to jemmy the cracks wider. The process of re-radicalisation has started, and this time the State seems either unconscious of the peril, or (like George III) sure of its ability to patronise and repress.

Britain nearly had a conflagration in 1789. The philosopher Richard Price, a friend of Paine, gave a French Revolution-inspired speech: "A Discourse on the Love of Our Country", looking at the fundamentals of politics and, like Paine, rooting power in the people. The reception was enthusiastic (a term with distinct connotations of danger, in those days.)

The State was alive to the danger, and acted. Certain gentlemen came to advise Price on his future conduct. Burke began to compose a justification for the British Constitution in rebuttal. 1789 marked the last time a woman was burned at the stake (in London, for coining.) Radical groups such as the London Corresponding Society were infiltrated by government agents and ultimately suppressed; yet even with the brakes on, the vehicle of power was pushed inch by inch, over the next century, towards electoral reform and democratisation.

Answering the radicals who took revolutionary France as their model, Edmund Burke articulated a pragmatic scheme for the Parliamentary government we now have, a balance between the royal Executive and popular representation, and between constituency representation and mere delegation. This circumvented the bloody conflict of first principles that played itself out on the other side of the Channel.

But Burke was addressing the problem of how we govern ourselves, not whether we should be able to govern ourselves at all; even pragmatism has its limits. And on this latter issue, the people - firmly assured by their representatives that this vote would be decisive - made their determination. The task of their representatives was then to carry it through, while closing the divisions among the people as they went forward. They have failed on both counts. The issue has now turned from UK versus EU, to people - a confused, disunited, squabbling people - versus Parliament itself.

All our democratic progress is in danger of being thrown away.

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