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This Ole House

October 2nd 2019

The overwhelming impression of many onlookers, left as an imprint after both main party conferences, is one of unreality. The holding pattern on Brexit is responsible for this strange dislocation. You instinctively feel that something has to give soon and that will frame everything for a generation. Then something gives... a PM goes, we have a new PM... but still we circle around waiting for something else to give...


The fundamentals of the constitutional plumbing of the UK are laid bare after being excavated by lawyers and procedural authorities bringing into the light the Crown and its relationship with both political power and its democratic legitimacy. PM Johnson is relying on the fact of having been asked by the Queen to be PM to give him legitimacy with the added cloak of a three-year-old referendum result to provide democratic decency. This is why his misstep with the Queen over prorogation is a very serious blunder. It brings centre stage elements of unreconstructed Crown rights that will be important in the final inevitable inquiry into the fiasco.

England is due a revolutionary turn, a new settlement not seen since William of Orange sailed into Brixham harbour in 1689. There will be arguments about whether we need written constitution, with or without the Crown, as one possible outcome. Or maybe we will go down another path and begin a slide to authoritarian populism without any fundamental reforms beyond regular referendums on divisive issues such as the death penalty. We feel to be at a fundamental political crux in the Nation’s history. There is a lot of political energy in issues of identity which are posing a real threat to public order. The far right and far left are both mobilising activists at street level. It is difficult to see what turn of events will start to reverse this trend of increasing militancy.

But England, since the catastrophe of the Civil War, has always found a way to dissipate such problems. The Reforms of the 1830s are just one example of how the system was bent to accommodate modern political reality, but not broken. Hopefully, the current political tussles will give birth to their own reforms which will try to create a modern political system fit for purpose in the 2020s and beyond.