The blogger, Disappointed Idealist, only posts occasionally, but what he says on his blog often achieves what we all wish we could manage: to provide an overview of a situation while expressing his own views on the issues it raises. His real name is Julian Critchley, and I know him, because he was the Island Labour candidate in the 2017 election, and is our current chair. He is very strong on education, being an ex-teacher, and also has an interest in history, which often provides the context for his posts on current political events.
Today, the Island Labour group held a protest against our joke Prime-Minister’s assaults on democracy. Amanda and I have been away for a week and, I have to confess, I have kept myself in blissful ignorance, avoiding, as far as possible, any news. The anger just hurts too much.
So, we missed the demo today, as we are traveling home. However, I picked up the email notification of Julian’s latest post: the text of his speech at today’s protest.
For the record, as with several of his posts, this could have been written by me, if I were ten times the writer I am. I agree with almost every word of it.
As a history teacher, I always appreciate historic parallels. In the church behind you, can still see where the Parliamentary soldiers chiselled off the King’s name while guarding him in Carisbrooke Castle.
Why did they do that? Because an unelected, arrogant, anti-democratic aristocrat had decided he could simply get rid of Parliament when it refused to give him what he wanted.
What lessons could that offer to Alexander Boris de Pfeffel Johnson, I wonder?
We’re here today not to chisel any pulpits or chop any heads. But that thread of English radicalism, and that commitment to democracy, is a thread which links us to our ancestors four hundred years ago.
There is a great deal wrong with our democracy – an unelected House of Lords, foreign oligarchs and criminals funding the Conservative Party, a press which would make Joseph Goebbels blush. But that makes it all the more important that we fight Johnson’s attempts to suspend the democracy we DO have – our elected representatives in the House of Commons.
You are part of that proud history of English radicalism, and commitment to democracy. You should be proud that you’re willing to get off your backsides to defend it.
You’ll note I said we’re here to defend democracy. That’s why I’m here. No other reason.
The right-wing press and the shocking liars and rogues around Johnson, are lying – as they always do – about our intentions. They want people to believe that we’re here solely about Brexit. They want to portray our outrage about their abuse of our democracy as just another anti-Brexit protest. They want Leave voting-citizens to look away or, worse, to support their assaults on our democracy. They want to drive a wedge through our society as deep as the divisions which separated those Roundheads and Cavaliers all those years ago.
Friends, we must not let them. That is why the Labour Party called this protest. Not as a remain protest against Brexit. But as a citizens’ protest – Leavers and Remainers – against an attack on our democracy.
I honour those Leave voters here today indeed. That, my friends, is real moral courage. That is real principle. To stand up in protest against Johnson’s attack on democracy, even knowing that it is intended to deliver the Brexit outcome you want, is a principled stand which we should all applaud, and I do so now.
Yet let us also be honest with ourselves. There are few Leave voters here, compared to those who support remaining in the EU. On an island on which 62% of the population voted Leave.
Why is that? Are Leave voting citizens any less democratic than Remain-voting ones? I don’t think so. How have we reached a point where so many of our fellow islanders, with whom we agree on so much, feel unable to come to a gathering to defend democracy?
Everyone acknowledges that our society is horribly divided – certainly more divided than any time in my lifetime. This issue of Brexit has divided friends, families, communities and political parties. I am sure I am not alone in cursing David Cameron and his arrogance for unleashing this tempest of division before walking off to leave others in the mess he created.
Yet while we all agree that society is divided, how many of us take responsibility for our part in actually deepening those divisions? How many of us ask ourselves what we have done to try and heal those divisions?
I voted Remain. I would vote remain again. I hate Brexit, it’s causes, its lies and its consequences. I hate everything it says about us as a country. But after my initial grief – and it was grief – I accepted the result of that referendum. I supported the Labour Party’s policy of seeking a compromise outcome which minimised the harm, while recognising the outcome of the referendum.
It’s why I utterly reject any calls to simply revoke Article 50, or to cancel Brexit. The people gave that decision, and only the people can reverse it, either in another referendum or in a General Election. Anything else is just as much an attack on democracy as what Johnson is doing now. Because democracy cuts both ways. It’s not only worth defending when it serves my purposes. It’s worth defending even when it goes against what I want.
That compromise position has been squeezed and squeezed. Not just by the headbangers and fascists of the ERG and Farage’s Brexit Party demanding their hate-filled little-England fantasy. But there has been just as much intransigence, hostility and even contempt from some of those who refuse point-blank to accept the outcome of that vote in 2016.
Many – most, actually – of our politicians have decided that rather than seek to heal the divides and find compromise, they will instead just pick a side, and encourage the escalation of hostility. It is a dangerous game when our political parties no longer even attempt to represent or speak to half the population. It is dangerous indeed when or society becomes two mutually loathing, resentful tribes; occupying the same country, but not sharing it.
We will always have differences. But long ago we chose to manage those differences through democracy. Through regular votes with elected representatives in Parliament, we accept the rule of the majority while still protecting the rights and interests of minorities. That’s democracy. That’s why we’re here. That’s what Johnson, that cynical liar and fraud, is now threatening. And without democracy the future is dark indeed.
I started with some history. Let me end with a quote from the leader of those Parliamentary soldiers who chiselled that pulpit in there, Oliver Cromwell. He had won the war, and was desperate to, as he put it, “heal and settle”, the divisions of the nation. Yet everywhere he turned, on his own side as well as on his enemies, he found a refusal to do so.
Addressing Parliament, Cromwell said : “Here is a great deal of “truth”… but very little mercy. They are ready to cut the throats of one another….Look on this nation. Look on it! ….Every sect says “Oh give me Liberty”, but give it to him and to his power he will not yield it to anybody else.”
To Cromwell, the answer to those divisions was found in one institution. The very institution we are here to protect.
He said “Whatsoever is done without authority of Parliament…. will neither be very honest, nor to me very comprehensible’.
Well I agree with Oliver. The only hope to heal the divisions of our nation is through democracy. The democracy of our Parliament, the democracy of our people and the democracy our ancestors have fought for from the Levellers to the Chartists and the suffragettes.
We are a divided nation, but let us begin the process of healing by uniting around that one, vital principle: our democracy.”