It was announced last week that the scaffolding that surrounds Big Ben is to be slowly removed, unveiling months of restoration work. This symbol of both time and heritage is a steady reminder of our political state. However, that golden façade of the Elizabeth Tower is re-emerging into a landscape it will not recognise. For all the intricate work devoted to it, the quality of those who operate in its shadow has greatly deteriorated. Our politics has lost its basic principles.
The term ‘good governance’ is an unlimited concept. Like most political theories, the theory of what makes a government ‘good’ depends on an ideological viewpoint. However, at the heart of good governance is the basic principles of democracy. Thomas Jefferson used this theory as a basis of what a republican government should do for its citizens: life, liberty, pursuit of happiness. He wrote, ‘the care of human life and happiness and not their destruction is the only legitimate object of good government.’ This liberal principle should still be at the heart of any democratic government. Though recently, decisions and machinations in Westminster have made this a rickety concept.
Brexit is a right-wing political endeavour which has infused itself into the blood of our politics. It will not simply fade away whatever the outcome may be. The distinction between Theresa May’s Brexit deal and Boris Johnson’s attempts are a concerted effort to balance opinions in her party, whilst maintaining a link with the EU to maintain friendly relations and trade. From what we’re seeing regarding Johnson’s potential deal, the economic effects are worse than that of May’s negotiations and leading to higher potential economic costs.
Those who will bear the misfortunes are citizens of low wealth, already struggling with finances. How can this be seen as a ‘good’ move for the people of the UK/EU? May’s deal wasn’t perfect, certainly breaching good governance in its own right. But at least it attempted a mitigation of the economic problems that would arise from leaving the EU.
It goes beyond Brexit. Boris Johnson’s leap to power has dragged with it a notably sinister mist of ideology and politics. The Queen’s Speech included several measures which directly contravene he principles of good governance. For example, changes to the act of voting would see hundreds of thousands, if not millions, struggle to put a pencil to a ballot paper. Introducing photo ID is a despotic act, without necessity or remorse.
Only a tyrant looks to remove the franchise from their citizens. Equally, the immigration changes which would flat-out end freedom of movement for UK/EU citizens. There are millions of citizens living in the EU and UK who have benefited from the freedom to travel and work under EU law.
On Saturday, a protest occurred in London crying out to show the sincere plight of these five million people, who are at risk of losing their rights overnight. Another American president, Andrew Johnson, said “Without a home there can be no good citizen. With a home there can be no bad one.” Stripping the right to live, love, and prosper for UK citizens, and for those currently in limbo, isn’t about fairness or respecting the will of the British people. Again, it’s the act of a tyrant.
But good governance should stretch beyond those that are holding power. The actions of all British political parties in this Brexit crisis has been shameful. Obviously, the Conservatives are heading the formation of this disaster-prone display team. Though if you look to the Opposition benches, you cannot deny a frustrating lack of attention paid to the act of good governance.
Labour are awaiting a verdict from the EHRC on an antisemitism crisis which threatens to cripple their party, both financially and morally. A small cadre of Labour backbenchers are also keen to accept a Brexit deal – which in the light of seeing the Boris Johnson deal, is hardly following a utilitarian principle.
The Liberal Democrats too, for all their confidence and spritely revival, have harmed what democracy is at its heart. Both Labour and the Lib Dems are embroiled in a pointless and despairing war of words, threatening a disenfranchisement to rival the MPs expenses scandal of the Gordon Brown government. If those in power are awful, and the opposition is failing to do its absolute best to heal this crippled country, it’s a damaging prospect for political apathy. Citizens need to be engaged and informed for democracy to work.
It will take more than Brexit to completely disintegrate the political state, however many constitutional crises Boris Johnson wishes to plunge us into. But the concept of a utilitarian government, one which works for the interests of its people above all else, is one we are not witnessing. For governance to be ‘good’ it must shield the people, champion their interests, improve their lives. In 2019, amid the fiery tornados in Westminster, our politics is failing on its basic duty: protection.