The State We’re In
It’s tempting to view the debacle of the last few days (or years) as just the soap opera of the Conservative Party with its odd collection of swivel-eyed loons and unlikely characters. Enter stage right Suella Braverman, a woman who makes her predecessor look like a Tofu-eating liberal; or the ghoulish double-act of Jacob Rees-Mogg and Thérèse Coffey. Everywhere you turn there are people who are not just clearly unfit for office but are also just very strange indeed. Jonathan Gullis. But mesmerising as the meltdown is it shouldn’t be seen as a crisis confined to the dysfunctionalities of the Conservative Party.
This is a crisis of the British state, of Westminster and of democracy.
The Westminster media cabal recycle stories and visions of the world which are more like incantations than news reporting. Their craven repetition of the eight words ‘Sir Graham Brady, Chairman of the 1922 Committee’ as if any of this makes any sense at all is an unswerving capitulation.
How is it possible in a supposed democracy for the same group of people to have total control of the process of electing a leader and therefore a Prime Minister? I understand that, given the fixed term parliament act, and given the majority of 80 that the Conservatives have, this is the legal / constitutional position. But it does seem extraordinary that not only was Johnson able to cling on despite a tsunami of evidence of wrong doing, but also that there are no other mechanisms of accountability for the wider parliament or electorate. So much so that we are told tonight that Johnson will be running for leader, again.
“He resigned in disgrace”
Sir Keir Starmer spoke to #BBCNewscast shortly after Liz Truss announced her resignation and reacted to speculation that Boris Johnson may stand to be the next Tory leader…
— BBC Sounds (@BBCSounds) October 20, 2022
There is nothing to stop this rolling process by which the Tories spew out – in rotation – a different candidate every few months to deliver guaranteed failure along a very narrow bandwidth of their right-wing political ideology. These characters come from a tiny gene pool of elite English society and have the characteristic combination of unwavering confidence and virtually no real-life experience.
Then there is the closed-loop of the media rounds, as the embedded inner circle embody a group with the attention span of goldfish. How is it remotely conceivable that Boris Johnson can put himself forward for high office? It is only a political possibility with the connivance of a pliant and docile media.
There’s also the way the centre relates to the other nations. Liz Truss has become the first UK PM since the establishment of the Scottish & Welsh Parliaments who never spoke once formally to the Scottish and Welsh First Ministers. She explicitly said that she would ‘ignore’ the First Minister of Scotland. This open contempt is part of the wider picture of the British crisis and not just the manifestation of Truss as a rude and stupid individual.
But in this there is also a wider problem of how Scotland and Scottish MPs relate to Westminster.
With the British establishment in complete disarray wasn’t this an opportunity for the SNP, the mass ranks of the independence movement to make effective and dramatic interventions? “England’s difficulty is Scotland’s opportunity” as the saying (sort of) goes?
But we didn’t really see that. Kirsten Oswald says in a tv interview: “We can do so much better” with the sort of banal understatement that leaves you gasping in desperation. The SNP should be going for the jugular of this discredited hopeless government – but also pointing to the archaic and dysfunctional systems that are exposed everywhere: the blatantly corrupt lobbying system; the weird Westminster voting systems; and the complete lack of transparency or basic standards in public office. These are not issues confined to the chaos within the Tory party, these are the systemic problems of a broken Britain, littered with institutions and practices not fit for purpose.
There are two options for the Conservative Party. They can cling to office with whatever individual they deem most likely to help them survive for another two years, or they can cut to the chase and go for an election. They will only consider the former.
[By the way all of the suggested candidates Sunak, Johnson, Mordaunt, or Wallace all would play easily into the arguments for independence, for different reasons].
The SNP need to step up to the plate and respond to this unprecedented crisis as if it was an unprecedented crisis. “There must be a general election, it is a democratic necessity,” says Nicola Sturgeon to a BBC interviewer. But the point is that this is not a functioning democracy, so stop treating it like one. Yours is not the job to provide stability, to help steer the ship or calm ‘the markets’. Tory Austerity 2.0 is on the way and the shoring up the reputation of Britain is not in your purview. The task is to find the way to the Exit and ideally lead the way.