Welcome to Part 2 of my conversation with Nicola Sharratt and John Leighton, about Democracy In... The UK.
We ended the last episode talking about the unelected parts of the British government, the House of Lords and the Monarch.
This sparked a debate about how these non-elected bodies were, until recently, seen as a positive balancing force. An antidote to the populist impulses of politicians who might be tempted to sacrifice what's right for what's popular, if they think it will boost their own chances of getting re-elected.
But John argued that this has all fallen apart during this most recent Conservative government, and specifically under Boris Johnson.
John described what he called the "Good Chap Principal" of our unwritten constitution: basically, that there is an expectation that politicians will act in the public interest and according to the spirit of the law.
Johnson, however, has taken advantage of this unspoken agreement and stretched the rules beyond credibility. In this episode we discuss what that means -- not only for Boris, but for the sustainability of democracy in the UK at all.
So what's happened since July?
Since recording this episode in July 2022, Boris Johnson was eventually ousted from power. And yet here we are in August, and he's still clinging on! Shockingly, he agreed to resign but then refused to actually leave until September. A further example of him not being a "good chap".
What this means is that the race to replace Boris Johnson as PM has been able to drag on all summer, while Boris himself has gone AWOL in a protracted sulk.
The UK government is effectively on pause until this whole mess is sorted out... Right when we are in the midst of a truly horrifying cost-of-living crisis.
For context, the cost of basic foods like milk have risen as much as 34% in a single year, petrol (gas) has increased 45%, while electricity costs 54% more than this time last year!
On top of the ongoing effects of Brexit and Covid, the UK is in free fall this summer... but thanks to Boris, there is effectively nothing the government can/will do.
A final note on the Monster Raving Looney Party
We can't leave a discussion of politics in the UK without giving you a little more information about the Monster Raving Looney Party, which John mentions at the end of this episode.
Their official website, including their "manicfesto," is still available on line. And they are still around, adding a surrealist clown element to electoral politics. But alas Screaming Lord Sutch died from depression and suicide in 1999. There is a rare interview with him available online, along with a documentary about his punk career.
Similar candidates who are both notorious and beloved include Lord Buckethead, who stood against an embarrassed looking Theresa May in 2017. And even Elmo, who apparently went up against an un-embarressable Boris Johnson in 2019.
Alas, I have failed in my search for photographic evidence of Miss Moneypenny, standing against Neil Hamilton in 1999. I did, however, discover that she was the creation of drag artist Burnel Penhaul, who sadly passed away in 2002. (Here is a brief description of the event, but be aware it contains outdated language for transgender people.)
Stay tuned for the next country in this series: Democracy In... Mexico with David Palma and Brenda Lopez!
* So, that cartoon. If you are thinking "wt actual f am I looking at??", then welcome to the fine British tradition of satirical political cartoons! You can watch a lecture on the history of this form of political commentary here, or read an interesting essay with illustrations. A round-up of the best from the last few years are available via this New Statesman piece.