Johnson’s ‘deep state’ conspiracy theory has, quite rightly, attracted a lot of negative comment. This article identifies some of the collisions his government has had with people and institutions who stand in its way.
This government has consistently acted against people and institutions which seek to subject government action to scrutiny and accountability.
Here are some examples… and there are many more.
First, Parliament. The prorogation (held by the Supreme Court to be unlawful) is the prime example. But we’ve also seen Henry VIII clauses, limited time for scrutiny of legislation, failures to attend select committees, and ‘interesting’ appointments to the House of Lords.
Next, the Ministerial Code, rewritten by the PM minus the Nolan principles, and the position of the civil servants close to Johnson, including the ethics advisor. There has been a determined effort to align the civil service with the government’s political agenda.
Around elections, which are obviously fundamental for the maintenance of power, we’ve seen the repeal of the Fixed Term Parliament Act, new rules ‘to combat voter fraud’ which will disenfranchise many, and the co-option of the Electoral Commission.
The government has also acted to reduce the power of courts, most recently with the Bill of Rights Bill. When judges, or indeed juries, decide against the government, they are subject to threats and abuse (‘enemies of the people’ etc). So, too, are lawyers.
Next, the media. The government has gained a measure of control over the BBC and OFCOM. It looks set to privatise Channel 4. It has an all too close relationship with the right wing press. It shirks close scrutiny (eg on the likes of Newsnight, and in detailed interviews).
The government has also taken determined action to restrict the right to protest via the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Act.
And it is now acting further to curb the power of trade unions to take industrial action.
On the international plane, the government has left the EU. It is now weakening the effect of the ECHR. It is quite prepared to breach treaty obligations (Internal Market Bill, NI Protocol Bill, Rwanda), and quite unprepared to face up to the consequences of such breaches.
The Covid-19 pandemic raised questions about the making of ’emergency’ legislation, procurement contracts, cronyism and fraud.
Partygate raised questions about legality, the Met Police, and honesty.
There’s the Russia report, too.
I could go on – and it would be interesting to go back and look at the language used each time the government has faced opposition, and see how often the government’s opponents are cast as an ‘elite’ seeking to obstruct the delivery of the people’s priorities – but that’s enough for now.
The point is that government has had a lot of collisions with all of the above groups, who have on occasion sought to prevent it from delivering its policies. Typically, government responds not to the substance of the arguments, but by railing against the existence of scrutiny.
The idea that those who scrutinise the Govt’s action, and hold it to account are ‘enemies of the people’, or now agents of the ‘deep state’, is both dangerous and wrong.
Instead, scrutiny of government action (by parliament, the civil service, the courts, the media, the public, the international community) is a vital part of a healthy, pluralist democracy.
The Johnson government never subscribed to that view.
I’m not expecting much to change under the new PM. But, it must be possible that the new government will be more honest, and that it will be more open to scrutiny. The bar, after all, has been set really low.
This thread has, rightly, been called depressing. It is, I'm afraid pretty much, factual – these, and other, collisions have indeed occurred.
Here are three things which make the situation worse (I’m sorry…).
First, the tendency of the government, and the PM, to seek to evade constraint, has been obvious from the start. The Tory Party didn’t call it out while it was polling well. And it was only #partygate which prompted Labour to move.
Second, the government has deliberately and vigorously leant into confrontations with Parliament, the civil service, the media and the courts (see especially Rwanda). There is no sense from the government that they play a legitimate, let alone a constitutional important, role.
It has threatened their independence and their capacity to act. It has pledged to enact swingeing cuts. It acts as though they are enemies it must defeat.
It doesn’t seem to realise that these institutions play a key role in its ability to deliver its agenda.
And third and last, saying that mechanisms of accountability are vital to good governance in a pluralist democracy, is one thing. But it is perhaps better to illustrate with examples. There are many.
Might the Withdrawal Agreement and NI Protocol have benefited from closer scrutiny in Parliament?
Or perhaps the Rwanda plan, based on an unevidenced claim that it would deter refugees?
Or the COVID rules?
At least some of the many policy U-turns may have been avoided.
And, for better or worse, there may have been no #partygate had the civil service and police done their job properly, instead of being in thrall to the government.
It is dangerous to give any person or institution too much power. Yet, and I’m not sure why, many people seem profoundly unconcerned that the government is doing so much to weaken the (all too weak) checks and balances which exist in the UK.