A rolling coup, 2016 to 2019

Prorogation is only a cap on it

by Ira Straus

Chair, Center for War-Peace Studies

4th September 2019

The prorogation is not an ordinary coup, but it is indeed a part of a coup d’etat. It is not a quick-topple coup in the classic mold, but a multi-year process, growing through cumulative phases into a coup far more radical than the usual military take-over.

The coup grew out of the unanticipated consequences of the referendum. Politicians felt compelled to stick to their lines about implementing the results of the referendum, which were originally throw-away PR lines as they expected the result that they supported anyway. This compulsion — partly a political PR compulsion, partly as with Theresa May a psychological compulsion — grew into an attack on the traditional British political norms: deliberation, parliamentarism, and the most basic of all freedoms, the freedom to think again. A series of red lines, or public mental blocks, was set forth.

Suppression of parliamentary deliberative norms grew month by month. The PM came to pit “the people”, meaning the fraction of the people who agreed with her, against the Parliament.

It was this practice, accompanied by an increasingly demagogic anti-parliamentary language on the part of the PM and inherited by the new PM, that was carried to a new level with the prorogation of Parliament. It gave a punctuation mark to the coup.

Was this the punctuation point that we find in the theory of “punctuated evolution”, one in which a gradual accumulation of specific changes morphs, with a sudden jerk, into a change in the overall character of the animal? Does it raise the prospect of undoing the British tradition?

It does raise this prospect, in two of the three major parts of the tradition:

First part: Does it threaten the parliamentary representative system of government? Probably not, although it has done harm not easily reparable to the balance of the system, and even more harm to the civility between factions.

Second part: Does it raise the prospect of undoing 800 years of the evolution of the country from England to Britain to Great Britain to the United Kingdom? Yes. The odds are worse than even for the survival of more than the lesser Britain.

Third part: Does it raise the prospect of undoing the traditional moderation and progressing evolutionary course of the country? Yes. We can see this already in the two leading parties.

An internal rolling coup has been going on in both major parties at the same time. Their extreme wings and outside related extremist groups have been infiltrating, taking over, and expurgating each party of its traditional views and leaders. This began before Brexit and helped motivate the Brexit referendum, among Conservatives motivating the holding of the referendum and among Labour motivating Mr Corbyn’s failure of campaigning for Remain. It was in turn raised to a qualitatively higher level by the outcome of the referendum and the subsequent Brexit processes.

Nevertheless the final outcome of the coup remains uncertain. It is in the hands of Parliament to decide whether it will acquiesce in its undermining, and in the undermining of the United Kingdom whose patrimony lies in its trust. It is aware of its other options, and of the need to act on the harder of them not just easier ones that risk failing. And it knows from the coup itself that it has only days, no longer months, to muster the will to act on them.