}

Wednesday, July 24, 2019

Is Boris bad enough?

Last night (NZ time), Alexander Boris de Pfeffel (Boris) Johnson, age 55, was chosen to be the new leader of the United Kingdom’s Conservative Party, and so, will become that country’s next Prime Minister. A mere 0.24% of people in the United Kingdom decided he should get the job. Critics often call Boris the UK’s equivalent of the current occupant of the USA’s White House because of his frequent lying and buffoonery, but unlike his American counterpart, Boris is quite smart and a career politician. With the fate of the entire UK in the balance, is he as dangerous as everyone supposes?

Boris is certainly capable of becoming a demagogue if he wants to, and some are suggesting he wants to on one issue alone, the one he’s constantly lied about: Brexit. He vowed that the UK will leave the European Union by October 31, “do or die, come what may”. That could mean a so-called “no deal Brexit” in which the UK crashes out of the EU with nothing in place to deal with the resulting economic and political chaos in the UK, not the least because it may spur pro-EU Scotland to vote for independence form the UK, and Scotland First Minister Nicola Sturgeon suggested as much today in a series of Tweets.

Theresa May, the soon-to-be ex-Prime Minister, tried to get a deal through Parliament three times and failed three times. A large bloc of Conservative Party (Tory) MPs oppose a no-deal Brexit, and would not support Boris going the no-deal route. In addition, the Tories have a tiny majority in the House of Commons, and will end up with just two votes to spare if, as expected, the Remain-supporting Liberal Democrats pick up two seats in upcoming by-elections.

To get around this problem, Boris is supposedly thinking about proroguing Parliament, that is, briefly suspending it so he can do as he wishes without risking Parliament voting against him. This is widely considered unconstitutional, it’s obviously anti-democratic, and it would be a bad faith move. Would he risk it? Or would he decide to go to an early election it the hope of winning a mandate?

Bets are being taken on both outcomes.

The whole process of Boris’s elevation has been anti-democratic. 159,320 members of the Conservative Party—the pro-Brexit party, of course—were the only ones who could vote. That works out to about 0.24% of he population of the UK who got to choose the next Prime Minister. The Conservative Party’s demographics don’t come close to being representative of the UK: The Conservative Party is 71% male, the highest proportion of any party in the UK. Its members’ average age is 57, the oldest of any political party. So, a small number of people who are more male, older, and concentrated in southern and southeast England, determined who the Prime Minister would be for the entire United Kingdom.

Conservative Party membership went back up in recent years, after a long period of decline, suggesting the party is attracting hardline conservatives, especially nativist/anti-immigration/racist folks. The party had lost about a third of its members after ex-PM David Cameron pushed through marriage equality in 2013, and that further suggests the party has moved more hard right than it was, which would make it more conservative than the general population.

Yet Tories alone, totally unrepresentative of the UK, were the only ones who got to elevate Boris.

In most Westminster-style systems, the party caucus chooses the replacement for a party leader, which also means the prime minister if they're leading government. Ordinarily, it's because the party leader has been rolled, but this is the second time in a row that the Tory Leader/PM has resigned and then been replaced. The normal procedure gives at least a theoretical possibility that the government will fall and fresh elections will be called so that the people can have a voice. In this case, older, white, richer conservative men decided for the entire country, and a Tory MP who defies the will of the party membership would be very, very foolish, and almost certainly committing political suicide.

I should add that I don't have an issue with a party in Opposition consulting its members—NZ Labour did that twice, though the membership only got a share of the total weighting, not the final say. Labour were the Opposition at the time, and who their Leader was didn't matter to government—obviously, because neither party leader chose in this way became NZ Prime Minister.

Still, it's possible that the chaos that will result when ego meets political reality will spark fresh elections called in a few weeks or a couple months. Boris believes in himself more than anything, apparently, he’d want to go for a mandate form the people. But with the Liberal Democrats winning all over the place on a pledge to hold a new referendum, he shouldn't count on holding his razor-thin majority. Whatever happened in the even of a new election, at least the people would get the voice they have been denied.

Is Boris as dangerous as everyone supposes? Potentially, absolutely, however, absolutely nothing is certain. He may try to play games by proroguing Parliament, he may call fresh elections, or for all we know he might get so frustrated by not getting his way that he just storms off.

The fate of the entire UK is in the balance.

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