Over the long course of history since 410AD, Britain has had a Parliament for a the country nearly the entire time. Groups advised the early English Kings and Norman despotism is more of a blip than the story itself. Certainly since 1215 and Magna Carta some of the people have had influence on the rulers. Indeed, since the 1640's and the last English Civil war, Parliament has been the main vehicle for political activism.
Yet one of the biggest challenges to its supremacy was during the period when Britain globally was dominant. During the early 1800's real desire for reform of the 'rotten boroughs' and even the House of Lords took hold. But it did not take hold in Parliament, the pressing for change came from the Public. Both Whigs and Tories were either lukewarm or malevolent (such as passing the corn laws to protect further the landed aristocracy who made up the members of Parliament disproportionally at this time). Pressure from the people, from the workers and owners of our 'dark, satanic mills' in Leeds and Manchester grew to the point of rebellion. At this point, Parliament moved. The great reform act was passed and although in many ways only a partial fix, it changed the Country to be a more representative democracy. Opinion polls mattered, Political parties had to canvass for wider support. Over time further acts refined the work for Wales, Scotland and Ireland and the work towards Universal Suffrage was completed in the early 20th century.
Across the rest of Europe, despotism ruled more tightly, leading to bloody revolutions in 1848 in order to achieve the progress won a generation earlier in England and here without bloodshed.
I have long thought now of this comparison with the current Brexit mess in which we find ourselves. The political will of the people in the UK has been lukewarm to the EU. Too many of our ancestors have died fighting to free the markets of Europe from despots for the collective of the British people to think that growing a new one is the best idea ever. Of course, if you are Belgian, it is amazing that you can now vote yourself a seat in world affairs! Different histories, different perspectives.
Our political class has long now been in thrall to European power, led by the miserable science of economics and the failure of socialism after the war to think the only way for the UK was to prostrate itself before the EEC, thence EU. Once in the game, the elites benefitted, enjoying tax free status and as the Kinnock family discovered, great wealth from 'EU' service.
As the tension grew Blair made his fatal error as regards immigration and eventually the dam broke. Cameron hoped to repeat his victory over Scottish Independence with referendum device, but failure there has led to a domestic political crisis on a scale with the 1830's.
The referendum genie is also a representative of a big change in society. With the advent of advanced technology, social media and such like, people are both more informed and more engaged. Many challenges such as climate change are global, economic challenges are global and politicians have less ability to control events. Moreover, expenses scandals and successive elections with professional politicians have revealed the venality of the political class.
Again today it is parliament which is conservative. There is not talk of reforming the frankly ridiculous (by 21st century standards)House of Lords. The EU must not be left. Even the boundaries for elections are entrenched by political machinations, long overdue changes for representation. And the crowning glory, the Referendum on Brexit must be ignored or rejected.
In 1832, eventually a way was found through the mess without civil war or bloodshed. Parliament moved decisively to vote for a change not in the interests of many members, but in the interests of the Country. it did not even require the election of extremists to achieve, the body politic adjusted to the pressure of the populace.
Perhaps if May's deal had passed the same would have happened again, but for now I struggle to see the ability of Parliament to come to its senses and listen to its populace. This is about more than Brexit too, it is about high taxes and centralised control, an uncaring state handing out benefits or not...a diminution of local government and of course a government voting for wars few wanted and waves of immigration without consultation.
Farage has few answers to these questions, but he poses the questions correctly which is why he looks again like he will win the EU elections if they happen. Where though are Labour and the Tories in even trying to grapple with these topics, they are lost in identity politics and the low politics of political rivalry. What do our readers make of this, how will this Gordian knot be untied?