For political junkies, there’s been no time like it. The embroiled happenings in Britain, America, and less frequently France, Germany and Russia have turned these days into a kind of madness that hasn’t been seen in decades. The spectacle of democracy falling apart on countless screens in real time, hour upon hour, can bring one close to political overdose.
Many of us would confess to a certain fascination when it comes to the debacle that is Brexit. Some excellent commentary emerged last week about how the pushing back against Boris Johnson’s “hard Brexit” shenanigans by the British parliament, including a number within his own Conservative party, represented the ultimate durability of the constitutional system, along with its brilliance. It was farcical theatre, to be sure, but when it came up against the bedrock of parliamentary convention, even the government couldn’t break it.
All that is true, and in its own way inspiring. That’s about parliamentary tradition. But when it comes to politics the entire affair is a mess. We have observed British politics implode on every screen imaginable. Long-time Conservatives like Winston Churchill’s grandson were summarily kicked out of the party for opposing Johnson. There have been filibusters galore, followed by foul language from the Prime Minister and further defections.
Yes, it was electrifying, but it was also deadening. The Mother of Parliaments was being abandoned by her own children. The government’s majority of one vanished, just like any semblance of functionality. And while the British people have historically built this kind of parliamentary havoc into their historic and cultural lives, the events of the last two years have been both exceptional and decimating.
Consider that, while all this entertaining mayhem has been going on, more then 100,000 citizens have already emigrated elsewhere owing to the uncertainty. A report was actually published on this phenomenon and given the label “Brexodus” – a name now matched with “Brexile”. One of these citizens on her way out of the country confessed, “I don’t recognize my country anymore.” Another, responding to the Independent, described the entire affair as akin to a bereavement. And those moving to Britain have fallen by an alarming rate just in the past year.
And there’s more – much more. It’s been over 1000 days since the first Brexit go-around and both Britain’s future and hoped for prosperity are now more clouded than ever. As one newspaper headline put it: “In a bid to take control, Britain lost it.”
All this has had an effect on a large swath of the British people. In a recent Reuter’s poll, almost one-third say that they no longer watch the news because of the frustrating reports and images originated from Parliament. They still tune in for major developments, but are increasingly “tuning out” of politics altogether. In other words, democracy itself has become a casualty of foolish, hyper-partisan and out-of-control politics. Nic Newman, one of the poll’s researchers, noted, “People feel that the news has become really depressing. They feel powerless to do anything about it.”
And it’s not just citizens and their viability that are at risk. Political parties themselves are rolling the dice to acquire power and are finding themselves increasingly vulnerable. As with the Republicans in the United States, Britain’s Tories are but a hollowed-out version of their historical identity. As Donald Trump has stripped the Republicans of much of their values, Boris Johnson is rapidly succeeding in turning Britain’s Conservatives into the “party of Brexit” and Brexit alone could destroy them. That’s a remarkable decline for a party that has ruled Britain for 50 of the last 90 years.
When politics takes such extreme paths, it runs the risk of destroying the invisible hegemony that once made for more stable government. The increasing display of constant brinksmanship, hyper-partisan behaviour, negative campaigning and just plain ineptitude is making the electorate dispirited. In the end, political parties are running the risk of ruining not only politics altogether, but the ability of citizens to transcend dysfunctional politics with a sense of relevance and connection between public representatives and their constituents. The price is clear for all to see and yet parties are willing to risk it all in their pursuit of power. Ultimately, democracy could fail because our political class were incapable of protecting it and citizens were too distracted or disillusioned to care.