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Is this what democracy looks like? Parliament prorogation and “the will of the people”

Written by Comment

The years since the Brexit referendum have taught me that if you ask any number of people what democracy means you will get as many answers back.  

I could try to give my own definition or, worse still, just google it and consider it settled. But doing this would not avoid what I’ve come to see as the whole problem with talking about Brexit: the word “democracy” means a different thing from person to person. As a word, it has lost its meaning. The undemocratic back stopthe will of the peopletaking back control and every other slogan or catch-phrase used in the Brexit debate have lost all meaning too. At this point, tweeting about British politics in Mandarin would garner the same level of understanding. 

I have to admit that I have mostly tuned out of the Brexit conversation. I cannot be bothered to talk about how we should try to stop, change, delay, halt it or carry it out, at least not with people whose understanding of the word “democracy” is completely different from mine. 

However, the apathy that I (along with many of us) feel disappeared on Wednesday when I saw that, in the name of democracy, Boris Johnson moved to prorogue Parliament early. As someone who really does dislike Boris Johnson, it isn’t a shock that I, in my own view, do not think this is a democratic move. But that’s not the point I’m trying to make 

The real problem here is that in the mind of most of Johnson’s supporters, pro-Johnson MP, or of Johnson himself, democracy simply does not come into the equation. 

He is the unelected Prime Minister of a minority Government, a month into his term, trying to carry out the most extreme possible result of a referendum which was decided on a margin of two percent three years ago. He is trying to suspend the nation’s main democratic body early and for longer than usual, just as the opposition finally agrees – legitimately – to begin the process of preventing that result through a series of votes.   

He will, no doubt, ignore the petition signed by 1.4 million members of the public, who he claims to be acting on behalf of. He’ll ignore countless protests and even members of his own party to carry out this plan. Is this the behaviour of a man with a noble love of democracy? 

I’m tired of the endless conversation on what “democracy” is. But I have a hard time believing anyone that thinks it looks like this. 

Last modified: 6th September 2019

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