The fundamentals of democracy

The UK Supreme Court has ruled that the prorogation of Parliament was unlawful. The rs21 Steering Group argue that we need a General Election, but we also need a far more radical democratisation of our society.

We need the Tories out. They have imposed years of austerity, created a vicious hostile environment for migrants, and have squandered a crucial decade for addressing the climate catastrophe. Photo: Steve Eason. 3 September 2019.

On 24 September the Supreme Court ruled that the prorogation of Parliament was unlawful, and is therefore void and of no effect. Parliament has not been prorogued, and immediate steps should be taken to allow both houses to meet. 

The ruling stated that by preventing ‘Parliament from carrying out its constitutional role for five out of the possible eight weeks between the end of the summer recess and exit day on 31 October’, the government took an unjustified action whose ‘effect on the fundamentals of democracy was extreme’.

Boris Johnson must now resign. He has no democratic mandate, no majority. He is desperate to avoid scrutiny. Just this weekend he has been dodging questions about having awarded public funds to a close friend. The Tories have always tried to hide behind ‘national security’ and arguments against negotiating in public in order to protect the interests of ‘a propertied minority’. 

We need a General Election. We need the chance to replace the Tories who have imposed years of austerity on us, created a vicious hostile environment for migrants, and have squandered a crucial decade for addressing the climate catastrophe. Only yesterday, they let the banks that they had bailed out pull the plug on thousands of jobs with the collapse of Thomas Cook. We need them out now. We will be joining the demonstration outside the Tory Party conference in Manchester on 29 September.

We need a radical, reforming Labour government that delivers on the Green New Deal plan to decarbonise by 2030, ends austerity and the hostile environment, and we need a mass movement outside the Labour Party to push it to go further.

Labour has voted for a Green New Deal to decarbonise the UK by 2030.

As revolutionary socialists, though, we do not place our trust in either Parliament or the courts to defend and expand democracy. 

An obsession with the parliamentary system has been one of the defining features of the British Labour Party. As Ralph Miliband put it in 1961:

Empirical and flexible about all else, its leaders have always made devotion to that system their fixed point of reference and the conditioning factor of their political behaviour.

We believe politics is not and should not be constrained to Parliament: we believe democracy is best defended and expanded when people take strike action, march in the streets, organise in their schools, universities and communities.

In fact, it was only through working class action that parliamentary democracy was won in the first place, often in the face of brutal repression, from Peterloo, through the Chartists to Sylvia Pankhurst and the Suffrage Movement.

We think that there is a risk of relying too much on the unelected judiciary and the courts. The way so much of the energy of anti-Trump has been squandered on legal battles should be a warning.

Nonetheless, we welcome the judgment today, and are under no illusions that the attacks on MPs and judges as ‘enemies of the people’ from the right-wing press and senior government officials reflect a dangerous and authoritarian trend. 

As James Meek put it in a recent article, we can see the direction where politicians like Nigel Farage or Jacob Rees-Mogg want to take this:

a low-tax, high-inequality consumer capitalist society that offers a trickle-down cascade of patronage, demonisation of outsiders and militarist-nostalgist spectacle as a substitute for common wealth.

But our best defence against such a vision can be found in our workplaces, schools, communities and on the streets. We saw a glimpse of that with the climate strikes last Friday. We hope to see many of you on the streets in Manchester this Sunday.

Protest the Tory Conference. Manchester, 29 September 2019. 12 Noon – 5 pm.

1 COMMENT

  1. “We believe politics is not and should not be constrained to Parliament: we believe democracy is best defended and expanded when people take strike action, march in the streets, organise in their schools, universities and communities.”
    …or vote in a referendum.

    It’s telling that few on the left of politics who are currently animated by notions of parliamentary sovereignty seem to have any time for the democratic principles upon which parliament rests. General Elections call power to account. The powers MPs have are on loan. When MPs agree Government can hold decision making referenda, to overturn the result is anti democratic.

    ‘The Parliamentary democracy we have developed and established in Britain is based, not upon the sovereignty of Parliament, but upon the sovereignty of the People, who, by exercising their vote lend their sovereign powers to Members of Parliament, to use on their behalf, for the duration of a single Parliament only — Powers that must be returned intact to the electorate to whom they belong, to lend again to the Members of Parliament they elect in each subsequent general election.’

    Tony Benn (January 1975)

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