Friday 13 September 2019
Things getting better
The Whig view of history is that we're on a path which inevitably leads to greater civilisation, liberty, constitutional government and enlightenment.
That's the picture painted by most of our text books as we "advance" from Magna Carta (1215) through the Glorious Revolution and Bill of Rights (1688/9) the various (electoral) Reform Acts (1832, 1867, 1884), Votes for Women (1918, and 1928) right up to the Fixed Term Parliament Act of 2011 - whoopee, the prime minister can no longer call an election just when he or she thinks the governing party can win.
Roll on Proportional Representation by Single Transferable Vote in Multi-Member Constituencies.
Of course the Whig view of history acknowledges that there are occasional setbacks, and the Johnson government is certainly doing its level best to organise one now.
However, there are two signs that the Brexit debate is moving in the right (rational) direction.
First the Deputy Leader of the Labour Party, Tom Watson, appears to have adopted the sequence advocated by Hilary Benn, as outlined in the previous post: namely, that we we have a People's Vote on Brexit first, and then a General Election.
Sadly, Labour's Leader, Jeremy Corbyn, doesn't yet entirely agree, but even he is moving from the fence to a People's Vote at some stage.
More encouragingly, Jo Swinson, the new Liberal Democrat leader, now argues that parliament simply revokes Article 50 without further ado, no ifs no buts.
That is an approach advocated by this blog for quite some time, with a second referendum regarded as a second best option.
I haven't looked up an accurate record, but I have the impression that for the first two years after the 2016 Referendum the option of cancelling Article 50 was hardly ever mentioned. About a year ago it began to surface and we learned to call it "revoke" rather than just "cancel."
Now the Liberal Democrats are to debate this at our conference this weekend. I shall be both surprised and acutely disappointed if Jo Swinson's policy is not adopted.
In the previous post I have quoted G.M. Trevelyan's views on Charles I's dispensing with Parliament in the 1640s. Now that the courts are involved in deciding whether or not Mr Johnson's prorogation of parliament for five weeks is legal, it's interesting to note that Trevelyan, on the following page, goes on to say:
"If parliament ever revived and conquered royal despotism, the sprit of the Common Law would revive with it and conquer the prerogative Courts. . ."
Fingers crossed that Whig-style progress continues to prevail.