I have followed British politics since I was able to vote for the first time in 1990. At that time I was a student, full of fiery idealism, but understanding the need to accept and engage with a range of opinions – the hallmark of a healthy, pluralistic democracy. Of course, my choices at the polls haven’t always won, and there have been scandals, and politicians have made mistakes or behaved dishonourably. But despite all that, it still felt like a system worth defending, believing in, even promoting.
More than three decades later, and after a truly torrid period that laid bare a deep rot at the heart of power, I feel only resignation, despair and a nihilistic desire for permanent disengagement. What’s the point of it all if those who make the laws break those laws or find ways around them and yet cling to power (Boris Johnson defies calls to step down after he and Rishi Sunak were sentenced to a fine, on April 12)?
Worse still, they – and their supporters – seek to hide behind the smokescreen of war and humanitarian tragedy elsewhere to avoid doing the honorable thing. Ensuring that those who lie, break the law or seek to act with impunity do not retain power and are forced to face real judgment is a sign that the democratic values we claim to believe in matter. It is a sign that we, as participants and guardians of our democracy, care enough to preserve its integrity. This is what sends a message to the Vladimir Putins of this world. If some in this country can’t see that, we’ve already lost.
It is striking to note the fallacious argument that because there is war in Ukraine, it means that the Prime Minister should not be replaced. History shows that on many occasions we have replaced the Prime Minister in wars in which we have been directly involved. For example, in May 1940 Neville Chamberlain resigned after British efforts to liberate Norway failed. In December 1916, at the height of the First World War, Lloyd George replaced Herbert Asquith.
More recently, Margaret Thatcher resigned in November 1990, with Iraq invading Kuwait in August of the same year, which led to the Gulf War. Add to that the changes of prime ministers during the war in Afghanistan, the second Boer war, the second Opium war and the Crimean war, and it is clear that this is not unprecedented in times of conflict.
Law makers cannot be said to be breaking the law and it is barely believable that Boris Johnson, who has now lost the last shreds of any moral authority he had, can retain the country’s trust and remain in office. .
As your editorial says: “The integrity of the British government is now in the hands of Conservative MPs” (April 12). Could any of these members explain to us how, in a moment of international tension, this reassures our allies and intimidates potential enemies that this country will continue to be led by a politician who is universally recognized as a serial liar and Who doesn’t keep promises or sign legally binding agreements?
I have a lot of sympathy for the Conservative members. They face a difficult dilemma: conscience or ambition.