Writing this in the aftermath of the attempted coup in Washington on Wednesday is difficult and perhaps premature. Difficult because I, like I am sure many of you, am still processing what’s happened, the enormity of it. Premature because President Trump is still President and still wields a great deal of power, both domestically, but perhaps more alarmingly, at the global level. There are still 12 days before President elect Biden takes over. But I feel compelled to write something, as usual. It’s probably for my benefit rather than yours, but you’re welcome to read it.
It’s interesting that the BBC feels reluctant to call a spade a spade, currently describing what happened as a riot. Now I have been present at a few riots – and these were always peaceful demonstrations that became riots as a result of police brutality. Riots do not involve inciteful speeches from the leader of a country telling his armed followers to attack the parliament just as it’s going through the legal process which ends with that same President having to leave office because he lost a democratic election.
That is the very definition of an attempted coup. It doesn’t have to involve the army turning up with tanks – although in this case it’s becoming clear that someone within Trump’s circle made sure that the forces of law and order were chillingly absent, or complicit with the coupists. Where was the National Guard, who had been so brutally evident at so many Black Lives Matters protests through last year? Evidence is also emerging that ex-military personnel had some serious plans for hostage-taking, which were not successful.
Speaking to a friend yesterday who has followed US politics for decades as a journalist/broadcaster, his view was that the Republican Party will now split into a Trumpist extreme right wing party and a rump Republican group looking back to the golden days of Bush and Reagan, and seeking to maintain the neoliberalism that has dominated America for the last 40 years. I think this is very plausible.
The question remains to what extent the Trumpist group will work within or outside the law, or indeed adopt a Sinn Fein/pIRA approach of Armalite and ballot box. SF/pIRA had a clear goal of uniting Ireland (and thanks to Brexit that may now be much closer), but what are the goals of the Trumpist movement? White supremacy is clearly a key element of their beliefs, but alongside this are other weirder beliefs such as the QAnon conspiracy theorists, and the out and out neo-fascists/neo-Nazis – it’s unclear whether the US christian evangelical right which had ridden Trump’s coat-tails for the last five years will stay with him or go with the rump Republicans. Perhaps the Trumpists’ ultimate goal is the destruction of liberal democracy in the USA. If so, this failed attempted coup, alongside all the other damage wrought by Trump on the structures of the US state, is a good start for them.
Meanwhile back home Brexit has happened. It’s finally happened. Except of course it hasn’t finished, it’s only started. We have now left the EU and the transition period is over. I’m not going to dwell on what is becoming clear – that businesses and individuals are now discovering just how much we are going to lose as a result of leaving the EU. That’s old news and we are really only just at the beginning of the process. Although now the fishing industry is discovering that perhaps they were better off inside the EU than outside of it. What I wanted to explore a bit is the way it was done and what else is happening to our democracy. The deal was agreed at the very last minute and perhaps it always was going to be – partly because of negotiating tactics and partly because Boris Johnson cannot resist creating political theatre, wanting to present himself as the great hero of the hour. If that was what he was planning, his theatrical flourish was completely blown away by the dramatic increase in Covid19 cases which was happening at the same time. But this last minute essay crisis approach to negotiating the Trade Deal meant that the legislation making it law was rushed through Parliament without anything more than a rubber stamp.
As other much more expert commentators have pointed out, in the process the Government gave itself executive powers to retrospectively change whatever laws they felt like changing, in order to maintain the Level Playing Field with the EU which underpins the Trade Agreement. Readers will recall that the previous Government made extensive use of the same “Henry VIII” powers to amend legislation with minimal Parliamentary scrutiny, as a result of us leaving the EU. Readers will also recall Johnson’s very deliberate ploy of announcing that the Internal Markets Bill would be illegal under international law, and his illegal shutting down of Parliament last year. Perhaps less well known are the Johnson’s Government’s plans to remove the rights of individuals and organisations to take Public Bodies to Judicial Review, as a way of seeking legal redress (and indeed forcing changes to legislation). There are other examples of plans already in place to erode the legal basis of our Parliamentary democracy and I recommend you keep on eye on David Allen Green’s blog for updates on these.
Add to this the appalling stench of cronyism and corruption which swirls around Johnson and his Government, just as it does around the Trump Crime Family. In addition to the eye-watering sums handed out in secret contracts to Tory party friends and family as a result of the covid pandemic, just the other day the BBC announced that in addition to its new Director General being a conservative activist, the new chair will be Rishi Sunak’s old boss from Goldman Sachs, who has given considerable amounts of money to the Tory party. As former Tory Leader in the Lords Baroness Stowell finishes her stint at chair of the Charity Commission, we can no doubt expect another political appointee to replace here, to continue her culture war attacks, discouraging charities from doing their work to change society for the better, and concentrate instead on helping poor souls in difficulty – as the Victorians would have seen Charity. Perhaps Toby Young is available. Or if Andrew Neil isn’t too busy setting up Brexit TV, he could have a go.
And this is the rub. While it seems more likely than not that the US will rid itself of the toxic influence of Trump and his extremist followers – at least from positions of power – we are stuck with Johnson and his cronies, pursuing their Brexit agenda. Brexit was always about removing the regulatory influence of the EU from the UK. In that sense it is by definition a deregulatory agenda. On tuesday Johnson asked business leaders (£) for their suggestions about what regulations – many of which are there to protect citizens and employees from malign business activity – should be culled.
Those of us who happen to believe in the rule of law, in the rectitude of regulation as a force for good, protecting the environment, protecting workers, making people’s lives better, are not going to storm Parliament. That isn’t how we work. Ironically the only non-terrorist group who have attacked Parliament in the last 150 years were the Countryside Alliance, protesting against the Fox Hunting ban.
But it does strike me that there is more than a little linking this Government’s actions, systematically stripping away the layers of Parliamentary democracy and Governmental accountability, that have built up over centuries; with Trump’s attempted coup and everything else he has done to lead up to this point.
Of course many will point out that Brexit and Trump are inextricably linked – through Steve Bannon, the self-styled far-right revolutionary; Cambridge Analytica and the “Bad boys of Brexit” – Farage, Banks et al. If they have a long game, it appears to be to turn the UK and the USA into pariah states, just short of Rogue State status, as far as the rest of the democratic world is concerned.
I certainly don’t want to live in a Pariah State. So the fight goes on, through legitimate means.