London, Sep 09 (BAN): Why British Asians should be concerned about the direction of UK politics and why we should be leading calls for reform.
On returning from our summer holidays few of us would have been in any doubt that we were about to witness an eruption in British politics. So it is only natural that many would have looked on with little surprise when Prime Minister Boris Johnson made a statement in front of 10 Downing Street last Monday in what was a final attempt to dissuade rebel Conservative Members of Parliament from backing a move by parliament to pass a law making a no-deal Brexit on the 31 October illegal. The unprecedented decision, which was then taken by the government to expel Conservative MPs who backed this initiative, has left us with much to reflect on as a country. These MPs included a former Chancellor of the Exchequer, the Father of the House of Commons and even the great grandson of Winston Churchill. With the passing of another incredible week in British politics, it is worth our while devoting time to having a look at why this has happened and to begin a debate focussing on how our democracy is currently being run, and why British Asians should take an active interest in its future trajectory.
Sadly, what this phenomenon represents first and foremost is a wider trend of intolerance gripping western politics. Britain - a country, which has traditionally prided itself on a range of freedoms, including the right to disagree – seems to be fast moving in a direction where any divergence from the opinions held by those occupying positions of political power must be effectively steam-rolled out of existence. British Asians should be concerned about such political intolerance on the grounds that intolerance of political views does not just legitimize political intolerance; rather it legitimizes the idea of intolerance as a cultural norm. In other words, where you are led to believe that you do not need to accept the right of someone else to hold a different political viewpoint to your own, what makes you think that, over time, you need to accept someone who is of a different religion, nationality, or even race?
As a conservative, I have always been impressed with the Conservative Party’s acceptance of political diversity both across the political divide and within its own ranks. In effect, I regarded the Labour Party as Britain’s only major bastion of authoritarianism where party members who dared to raise objections regarding Labour’s leadership faced serial harassment and, in the case of those holding public office, the threat of being thrown out of their jobs. I fear however, that we are beginning to witness this worrying trend of intolerance infiltrate the corridors of power at 10 Downing Street with the Conservative Party, notwithstanding its long-standing adherence to the principle of respect for traditional political institutions, sanctioning a general intolerance of parliament and of parliamentary democracy.
In addition to political intolerance leading to political exclusion, the increasing professionalization of our politics is also playing its part in inflicting far-reaching damage on our political system. Having worked in the political arena myself for a cabinet minister, Amber Rudd - who has now resigned both as a minister and Conservative MP partly due to the expulsion of her parliamentary colleagues from the Conservative Party - I gained a sense that those who we the people elect are not in fact those who tend to call the shots. Enter the special adviser - known in the Westminster bubble as a ‘SpAd’. The SpAd constitutes a depressing product resulting from the professionalization of western politics where much of what a politician says and does has not in fact originated from the actual occupant of elected office, but rather from an [unelected] official who has been entrusted by the powers that be to suggest a practical solution to any given political problem. The concern with this approach to politics is that SpAds have a tendency to do more than just advise; in many cases they can be very forceful in their views, effectively telling a politician how policy should proceed and, in the worst of cases, assuming full ownership of political issues with little to no input from their ostensible political masters. There is significant evidence to suggest for example, that Boris Johnson’s SpAd Dominic Cummings was wholly responsible for driving through the policy of expelling Conservative MPs who voted against a no-deal Brexit last week.
With this in mind, may I be so bold as to pose the following questions to our political leaders: who really is in charge of the running of Britain’s two major political parties? Is it those who, despite their shortcomings, were elected to lead us in the form of Boris Johnson and Jeremy Corbyn? Or rather is it those who were appointed by said party leaders and who have been entrusted with significant political power - advisers such as Dominic Cummings for the Conservatives and Seamus Milne - Cummings’ opposite number - for Labour? Again British Asians should be concerned that the quintessentially British way of doing politics is being systematically eroded by those who neither we nor any other Briton voted for and who, being unaccountable to the public for their actions, seem to demonstrate little sensitivity in how they go about handling our democracy.
Thirdly and finally, the expulsion of Conservative MPs, as well as the prorogation of parliament by the government, represents part of a wider problem with the general functioning of our politics today. In effect, there is little - if any - consensus anymore as to how politics in this country should function. Personally, I am slightly confused with the current battle line that has been drawn of late by Brexiteers, or that of ‘parliament versus the people’ given that parliament is, and always has been, populated by those who have been chosen among the people at election time to both represent and speak for the people. We have to recognise that British politics has always been run on the principle that parliament, representing UK voters, is sovereign and should ultimately have the final say on political questions.
That said, we cannot however shy away from the fact that, in stark contrast, for many millions of people the result of a referendum constitutes the ultimate expression of the will of the people and should take precedent over and above the will of parliament. Perhaps the time has now come for a reform of our political system so that we can bring an end to the rule of confusion, which has been in charge of British politics for longer than many of us would like to admit. If so, any such reform must represent modern Britain and it is therefore for British Asians to not only push for such reform, but to get involved in making our mark on what will ultimately affect our daily lives just as much as everyone else.
Boris Johnson has said that he wants to unite the country and move on from Brexit. The only way to do so however, would be by first of all immediately doing away with his inner circle’s strong-arm tactics – tactics, which will only work to deepen existing divisions within our society. A sensible way of proceeding would be to begin a debate on the state of our politics and on how we might adapt our constitutional settlement in order to make it more responsive to the needs and concerns of voters. British Asians could not only ensure that we are properly represented in such a debate, and that any resulting change works for us, but could also assume real leadership on this issue and thereby play a key role in bringing our country back together again while at the same time helping to make our politics fit for twenty-first century Britain.