Kenneth Clarke and Burke
We’re always keen to hear Burke quoted in Ireland, the one place on Earth where it’s normal and comfortable to champion Burke and Paine at one and the same time. Indeed, ever since the eighteenth-century, Burke and Paine have helped define the cocktail of poetic nostalgia and resolute republicanism that has spurred Ireland’s ongoing development.
And over in Westminster was a bravura performance from Ken Clarke, granted the freedom of old age to say whatever the hell he truly believes in. In the coming years, as fascistic insanity beckons, we will need to build bridges beyond traditional party barriers if any salutary “not being a completely vicious xenophobe” alliance is ever going to save our world. And in that spirit, I felt a lot of love for old Ken, the old Tory.
Yesterday, most UK MPs voted for something they don’t believe in, because they are in awe of “Junocracy”, the sacred and eternal authority of an opinion poll taken last June – a poll now so absolute and binding that it makes the Ten Commandments look like a draft discussion document. The “debate” yesterday was Baudrillardian in its foreclosure. The Great Brexit Debate Did Not Take Place.
We are told that the Labour plan, to derail Hard Brexit by way of amendments is the better way, the more plausible strategy… but yesterday still an ignoble spectacle. A representative discursive chamber that is feels too constrained to discuss anything freely. Ken Clarke of course, who will never hold high office ever again, was free to ask the fundamental question – is this a representative or a delegative democracy?
Burke’s Speech to the Electors of Bristol (1774) was well referenced and I’m always delighted to hear public figures recommend its perusal. However, the actual situation in 2017 is radically different in a key respect. Burke argued that as an MP he had a duty to consult a national, indeed, international interest. He was not there to sponsor the narrow interests of Bristolian merchants, unless those interests turned out to be congruent with a larger interest. Parliament should be discussing the common good rather than a squabble for local advantage. Now, if the delegative democracy that Burke refuted had actually been applied in the House of Commons yesterday, then every MP from a Remain voting constituency would have voted not to trigger Article 50 yesterday.
So what we saw yesterday was neither a representative nor a delegative vote but rather a Junocratic vote, a vote where the Tabloid accusation of “Treason” is so potent and overwhelming that neither local nor national interests can stand against it.
Britain is over as a functioning nation, too concerned with the political capital it has invested in fear and loathing to cohere into any viable commonwealth. MPs (other than Ken Clarke) could have gone out like Emperor Constantine Palaiologos, who went out to meet the Turkish army sword in hand, in a blaze of remembered glory. But no, the extinguishing of Britain is to be permitted no dignity at the last.