Brexit; We Need Radical Policies Urgently, Not Ignorant Careerists

Article50

The most shocking thing about the Brexit vote has not been the result but the collective failure of the political class to give any sort of coherent leadership.  Instead, we have witnessed, by turns, politicians frozen like rabbits in headlamps.  Look at the facts, chief dissembler Boris Johnson, supposedly intelligent appeared the morning after the vote, said nothing and scuttled away.  David Cameron blubbed to the media and similarly retired hurt, but bear in mind he still has responsibility as Prime Minister! Chancellor George Osborne simply did not appear at all until Monday morning when he popped up with neither clue nor plan but long on soothing platitudes. The rest of them including Michael Gove just responded by a starting to think about their careers and a leadership election.  Some commentators have called it Machiavellian, but having spent a little while looking at the work of ‘Old Nic’ I reckon he would most probably have been appalled at the incompetence! All the Parliamentarians, including the Labour party self declare as democrats but are prepared to risk leaving a dangerous power vacuum.  There were even calls, not serious ones admittedly, for the Queen or Army Generals to take temporary charge! A few weeks later and their democratic credentials look even thinner with the Conservative Party preparing to elect a new leader and thus Prime Minister from an electorate of only 150,000 without the guarantee of a General Election and the possibility of rowing back from the Brexit vote (Article 50 will not now likely be triggered until at least 2017).

A Failure of Planning and Understanding

A almost incredible facet of the referendum result was the total lack of planning for a leave vote.  Racist incidents soared, the currency and stock markets collapsed and international collaboration immediately started to freeze or be terminated.  But no one took control and we are far from out of danger, in fact the danger will actually intensify. This was the inevitable outcome of the debate which was criticised in earlier posts here and here. I do not buy the argument that we will experience some volatility before things settle down. As things transpired only the SNP in the shape of Nicola Sturgeon were anywhere near prepared for the result.  No wonder the SNP virtually monopolise Scotland, a state of affairs which does them credit but bodes ill for contestable politics in the UK.  Here is why I think this is the case.

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That Children Are Not Born Equal is a Stain on The Character of 21st Century Britain

The words with apparently straightforward meanings are often the ones which cause the greatest confusion. As I mentioned in a previous post (such as this one on the Press), the thinker Isaiah Berlin identified over 200 users of the word freedom making it almost useless for practical purposes! Another word is equal, fine when used in an arithmetic sense but when applied in a social justice domain things become opaque very quickly. Republic group’s #bornEqual campaign resonated with a lot of people, but also inevitably caused some confusion. ‘But we are not all born equal’ some members of the public assured me. So some clarification is in order.

The phrase Born Equal could either mean a declaration of the biological condition of our birth or, alternatively, an aspiration of the kind of society we wish to bring about (we should all be born equal). For most of us being born equal can be a statement of physiological fact, possessing a brain, two arms, two legs and so on. Some objections to born equal, however, arise from differences in the extent we come into the world with innate abilities in such matters as visuo-spatial or intellectual abilities. Debate still continues as to the extent to which ability is the result of nature or nurture but what is certain is that a person born with significant talent but with no opportunity to develop or use that talent will not realise its potential. This leads to the second sense in which people claim we are not born equal since we are all born into different circumstances. Our parents have, for example, different skills as parents and hugely vary in terms of wealth and social standing. But a progressive social system must be able to help those without the environmental advantages to flourish.

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‘Oh Dearism’; Start to Tackle it by Abolishing the Monarchy

As a Republican trying to persuade my fellow Britons of the need to remove the monarchy I sometimes encounter a kind of fatalism which says that even if we get rid of the queen we will still be controlled by rich and powerful elites essentially beyond our control. This is partly a problem of powerlessness, a kind of despairing acceptance of fate which the documentary filmmaker Adam Curtis has termed ‘oh dearism’. Now while I fully agree that the removal of monarchy must only be the beginning to the reform of our system, I nevertheless believe that it makes an excellent starting point. This is for a number of reasons, some constitutional and some psychological. I want to look at just two in this blog.

Firstly, the existence of a monarchy entrenches the position of a powerful political elite via the Privy Council. In fact, the system actually views the British Cabinet (supposedly our Government) as a sub-committee of the Council  (I’ve written more about these arechaic powers in this post) and we can see the importance of this to the financial elite in one example. The Crown Dependencies are managed under the auspices of the Privy Council and thus the tax havens of the British Virgin Island and the Caymen Islands to name but two are allowed to thrive. More widely the relationship between politicians and royals facilitates a taxpayer funded Prince Andrew (then supposedly a Trade Envoy) the opportunity to try and broker the selling of state assets to foreign oligarchs, thus cementing his position amongst a wider, global elite.

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The Royal Oath; An Invidious and Deceptive Anachronism

An oath is a formal declaration or promise to carry out an action or maintain a pledge. Many oaths call on God or a sacred object to act as a witness and most involve allegiance to a person or cause.  Oaths are made all over the place, many in a legal context. Such is the nature of the oaths which our MPs, military personnel (except the Royal Navy!), police officers and other public officials must make to the Queen. As the Republic group points out it is a complete affront to the spirit of democracy that our elected representatives have to swear allegiance to an unelected monarch. Here is the oath which our MPs must take.

I (MP name) swear by Almighty God that I will be faithful and bear true allegiance to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth, her heirs and successors, according to law. So help me God.

There are some variations which can be taken, such as a non-religious equivalent, but the substance is the same in all cases. Note that until they take the oath they cannot represent you or I and do the job for which they were elected. As I have pointed out earlier, this has been, and still is, a problem for some Irish political parties.

There are two things to note about the oath.  Firstly is the assumption that the monarch embodies the state in person and thus represents us all in a kind of social contract.  The fact is that this is a constitutional figment which has been abused for centuries is beyond dispute (see here,paragraph 3).  The difference is that whereas in previous centuries this abuse has taken the form of political or military oppression, in modern times this privilege takes the form of protections for private interests, such as mineral rights.

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BHA2106 – A Republican Amongst Humanists; Shared Values.

The events of the past week have shown only too clearly the dire state of the UK Constitution and the danger of racism and fanaticism which lurks close to the surface of our society. So, though this post is a little overdue, I decided that the importance of both the Republic Campaign and British Humanist Association organisations made it worth pursuing. Here are my brief impressions of the BHA Conference 2016 held between 10th and 12th June (only last weekend, surely!!).  This year the Conference was held in at the International Conference Centre in Birmingham and the local Republic group seized the opportunity to have a presence by means of a stand in the main hall.  Along with the co-ordinator of Republic Birmingham it was a great pleasure to attend for the Saturday, commitments preventing me attending on the Sunday.

What was particularly significant is that Humanism and modern Republicanism share a common heritage in the Renaissance, inspired by the governmental writings of the classical world, especially Aristotle, Polybius, and Cicero. Indeed, Classical Republicanism was a synonym for Civic Humanism. Since these beginnings in the Italian City States  of the 15th and 16th Centuries  Republicanism and Humanism have drift apart slightly in terms of their objectives, with modern Republicanism placing the advancement of liberty in political and constitutional terms as its central concern. This allows religious groups such as Quakers to espouse Republicanism but not Humanism.

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