Professor Joe Goldblatt
An anointment. An coronation. Words I have never heard in my lifetime within a democratic system of government were uttered confidently over and over again as though this was the new normal this week by news presenters as Richie Sunak MP became defacto Prime Minister of the United Kindom. Sunak, the first person of Asian descent and the son of a middle class family that owned a chemist’s shop who latterly dispensed billions in furlough aid has a brilliant back story that may resonate positively with many Brits. However, I am deeply concerned.
We seem to be losing the classical definition of democracy in our UK parliamentary democractic system of government through a continuous abuse of power. Prior to his “coronation” Mr Sunak announced “There will not be a general election.” Following a period of intense self inflicted turbulence and wounding the Conservatives are seeking a protracted time of stability. In my view, this anointment will not provide that assurance for me nor I fear for millions of others around the world.
How did we arrive at this sad moment that I characterise as the slow, painful, death of modern democracy? I believe there are three factors that have allowed us to accept the death of democracy as the new norm.
My father, of blessed memory, told me many years ago that the best system of government is one with a benevolent monarchy. However, then would add with a wink in his eye that finding a “benevolent” monarch is impossible.
What we have witnessed in the past few months is the dramatic depiction of the phrase from Lord Acton, the nineteenth century historian. He famously told a Bishop, when describing the role of the Popes, that
“Power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely.”
We are now witnessing these immortal words applied to our Westminster politicians who refuse to grant the people of their land the democratic choice of who shall govern them and when this shall occur. I raised this question some years ago on a local public affairs television show when a conservative politician once more raised the illogical argument that Scots should only be able to vote for their independence once in a generation. I replied that in a democracy, the people, and only the people, decide when and how often they vote to confirm the powers under which they wish to be governed.
In Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar there is a line that is appropriate for today as it warns us that “The greatest enemy will hide in the last place you would ever look.” I believe, as I experienced this anointment and coronation that we have begun to see the enemy and it is our unwillingness as citizens to look, to rise up, to speak out and to claim our individual God given rights to elect the leaders we deserve.
My father always encouraged us to vote in every election no matter how small or large. He warned us that when we fail to exercise our democratic right to vote may get the kind of government we do not deserve. Today, was the perfect example of denial of our democratic rights.
In addition to our own apathy, some citizens also have been led believe that the divine right of our rulers may be superior to ours as individual citizens. We often abdicate our own rights in the hopes that others will be wiser, more experienced, or perhaps more powerful upon our behalf. This abdication has directly enabled this although legal, I believe immoral coronation due to our lack of scrutiny.
Finally, unless our news media return to objectively reporting the news versus in lieu of creating sensational news stories to titilate the public in search of viewers, listeners and readers, it will be difficult for us to sift through the drama in order to find the objective roots of our democractic system.
As Mr Sunak accepted his anointment he woodenly and with a hollow impassionate gaze read from the autocue promising to first unite his party and then the country. It was fascinating to me that he chose to first focus upon his own party and leave the role of uniting the country as a secondary ambition. Perhaps this is because he knows in his heart that uniting the electorate is an impossible goal during a time of dire economic uncertainty. Therefore, he must first seek to try and calm his own family.
Good luck to him. It did not work for Caesar. Perhaps Richie Sunak in his coronation has a better way of finding the enemies hiding his his palace at Number 10. If not, it will, as it always is, up to the people to rise up and demand their democratic rights through demanding a general election.
Professor Joe Goldblatt is Emeritus Professor of Planned Events at Queen Margaret University in Edinburgh, Scotland. To read more about his views visit www.joegoldblatt.scot