Thursday 18 April 2019

Can the UK parliamentary system reform again like 1832?

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?


Matt said...

You only have to look at the likes of Jess Phillips to see why we have a massive problem with MPs.

Or the verification of Saint Jo and the cult of the Westminster bubble.

Dragging them out of the Commons to the nearest lamp post is too good for a lot of them.

david morris said...

What Matt said

Nick Drew said...

@ "the damn broke"

Are the Damn' Broke like the Precariat or the JAMs? When will the DB rise and break their shackles??

seekerofthetruth said...

Hmm. I somewhat incline not to lamp posts, but rather to locking them in while renovations are ongoing.
Is that a little inflammatory of me?

Anonymous said...

I think it's a little unfair to Europe to describe our politicians as being in thrall, if anything the EU has been a handy little human shield for an ever decreasing pond of capable politicians, and a correspondingly increasing pond of useless shits.

Policies are crafted more to provide a message than a solution, and when one goes awry, first we have denial emanating from the Sir Humphries, followed by deceit from the Minister realising they're holding a bag of shit in an attempt to retain their position and finally arse-covering by the Government, read from a battered old card with the faded writing of "something something, lessons learned"

Of course the government knows it is generally the young more willing to go out and waggle placards, and they've still not figured out what a wobbly jenga tower of bullshit UK politics has become.

And by the time they've reached the point where they'd cheerfully see the lot of them tossed over a cliff, they've also reached the point where life is a rut of awaken-work-telly-sleep, only broken by commuting as a phone zombie.

Government ought to fear the workers moving to 4 days weeks, or less, and automation meaning more time off, as it'll give the middle aged the breather to get pissed off again.

I think we'll also see PR in the next election-but-one, and - depending on how Brexit turns out - either more TIG type groups (if we leave, and lance the EU boil) or AfD and Golden Dawn types (if we don't, and the festering is played on by the far right) which should shake things up for good or ill.

Once I'd have been wary of that, but the damage done by New Labour means FPTP is only ever likely to offer hung parliaments and minority governments for the foreseeable, so may as well try something new rather than cling on to the rotting safety blanket.

Anonymous said...

Oh, and I see Guido has finally lost it.

His Burgon/Sacred Reich post is pure Alan Partridge.

andrew said...

Well at least he did not post about the bands drummer mysteriously dying whilst trying to jump a tricycle over a pool of sharks somehow being linked to richard burgon.

Not that mr burgon is not a bit of a pig and pastry vendor.

jim said...


The Reform Act of 1832 was driven by survival, keeping one's head attached to one's body. Revolution was in the air and it did look a possibility even in the UK. The very rich were forced to concede a little power to the middling classes.

Our present mess is not existential. The rich and powerful will survive whatever happens and there seems no chance of revolution whatever the more hot headed blogs say. From the perspective of parliamentarians there is no real need to change. Salary, expenses and jobs on the side continue to roll in. Not to say we will avoid some argy bargy over Brexit but whatever happens it will make little difference to parliament and MPs. Some will shuffle around a bit, that is all.

As for 'the people', surely the majority don't care much what parliament says, just as long as they don't screw up too badly and leave everyday families alone. There are big issues to face, how we make our way in the world, where people live, how the NHS runs, can our young people get a job and somewhere to live. Brexit seems irrelevant to these questions, surely no one believes in the sunny uplands any more. Brexit merely kicks the can along, a diversion.

No revolution, but a slow burn realisation that Brexit was a con. Whatever happens on October 31st a long slow drift down the pan looks likely to continue. That looks likely to lead to trouble but not for a few years yet. Perhaps parliament will then invent some new diversion.

hovis said...

Good comment Jim - I'd concur.
By 1832 things had been brewing with depression for what 10 years, long term discontent and violence in the air -one example being earlier Captain Swing riots.
Also there were some radical MP's that supported reform (e.g. Cobbett)
We have none of the above - just slow decline and certainly no one in parliament.

So have mumbled about the Civil War, but there is no grouping, that is cohesive or radical that can seriously challenge the Political Class /Deep State. Recently read
John Adamson's a Nobel Revolt which shows how the groupings came to be and eventually to blows - we are nowhere near either the audacity, intelligence or cohesiveness of those at that time.

as Also no starving workers riotous workers ( as per 1832 a