The FT on Boris

If you thought things were bad in the US, consider the UK. Here’s the FT:

If Mr Johnson’s prorogation ploy succeeds, Britain will forfeit any right to lecture other countries on their democratic shortcomings. The UK’s constitutional arrangements have long relied on conventions. The danger existed that an unscrupulous leader could trample on such conventions. That has not happened, in the modern era, until now.

Parliamentarians must seize their opportunity next week to assert the will of the Commons against that of the prime minister. . . .

Mr Johnson might seek to ignore such a vote and try to hang on until after Brexit. This would be an even greater constitutional affront than his actions this week. It would confirm that Britain has a despot in Downing Street.

Two days ago, I said this about the US:

We like to believe that American presidents are not dictators, which may be true.  But that’s not because they lack dictatorial powers, rather it’s because they were too embarrassed to fully exercise those powers.  Over time, that reluctance has been gradually breaking down.  



16 Responses to “The FT on Boris”

  1. Gravatar of ChrisA ChrisA
    29. August 2019 at 00:17

    You need to be more skeptical of media nowadays, you cannot rely on them being balanced and fair. Even in the quote you provide there is evidence that democracy is not being denied with the suggestion that Parliamentarians can oppose this measure if they choose, they can even require a general election. The problem for the opposition to Johnson is that they know he would likely win such an election, i.e. it is them that are afraid of the democratic will.

  2. Gravatar of Joe Joe
    29. August 2019 at 01:51

    It is an afront on the Constitution in the same way Republicans in the US dragged out and denied the sitting President the ability to choose a Supreme Court Justice.

    The reset of Parliament takes about a week. Boris wants to drag that out to 5 weeks or so to get to an election.

  3. Gravatar of Tim Worstall Tim Worstall
    29. August 2019 at 03:07

    You need a little societal background here. The FT is definitively, actively, pro-Remain. To the point that anything will do.

    As to proroguing Parliament. It’s something that’s done near every year. It brings this parliamentary session to an end, begins the next one. As with Congress and only slightly different rules bills that haven’t passed by the end of a parliament (congressional session) fail and have to be reintroduced again.

    Parliament would go into recess anyway for the party conference season. The actual effect of this from Johnson is somewhere between – no one can quite calculate it – the loss of 4 and 8 sitting days.

    Parliament has been prorogued before to tide us over some unpleasantness as well.

    Now, of course, it’s a cute trick being played. But it’s not as outrageous as the more hysterical commentary seems to suggest.

  4. Gravatar of Benjamin Cole Benjamin Cole
    29. August 2019 at 03:52

    “Queen Elizabeth Approves Boris Johnson’s Request to Suspend Parliament Ahead of Brexit”–headlines

    The Queen? Huh? The 93-year-old Queen? I thought her position was ceremonial.

    Well, the world will adjust.

  5. Gravatar of Cove77 Cove77
    29. August 2019 at 04:57

    BJ is on thin ice. The EU is not going to negotiate anything with an unelected PM who’s afraid of his own parliament

  6. Gravatar of Brian Donohue Brian Donohue
    29. August 2019 at 05:19

    Thanks for the context, Tim. Not familiar with the specifics myself, but quite familiar with the “Chicken Little” style in which it is couched.

  7. Gravatar of Justin Justin
    29. August 2019 at 06:20

    I don’t have any real love for democracy. It is useful, in that it appears fairly effective for allowing peaceful transitions of power. Beyond that, my preference is that the will of the people should have very little political influence.

    Most people don’t know enough to be able to contribute politically in a competent way. Many don’t understand economics, foreign policy, climate change, health care or any other major issue well, and nearly none of us are experts on even one of these topics. If we lack understanding, how can we be trusted to make good decisions regarding who will represent us on these very questions?

  8. Gravatar of Ewan Ewan
    29. August 2019 at 07:43

    Proroguing parliament is customary. This prorogation is not. Hence the fuss. It is an obvious ruse to reduce the chances of members of the Lords and Commons blocking a “no deal” Brexit. Great Britain has no written constitution, so such ruses that exploit convention are not unknown. There is a question whether the Queen had, by convention, to go along with it. The answer, I think, is no. The Queen has, by convention, to accept the guidance of her Prime Minister. But, by convention, she should invite to form a government only a party leader who can command a majority in the House. The whole point of the ruse is that Mr. Johnson cannot command a majority in the House. The Queen should not have appointed him. The counter-argument of the Brexiteers is that those in parliament seeking to thwart them are subverting the will of the people: the result of the referendum was to leave the EU; the subsequent general election returned a majority for leaving; and that majority voted to trigger the “clause 50” that started the EU process of leaving; at no point was there a stipulation that a “no deal” Brexit was not allowed. It is a moot point which side is honouring the democratic conventions least.

  9. Gravatar of Christian List Christian List
    29. August 2019 at 16:18

    Scott sometimes reminds me of some of my older patients. From now and then they also tell me quite alarmistic positions, which on closer inspection are mostly political hackery and show fights. I often react like this: “Grandpa what happened? I know you quite well, such an alarmist position? This isn’t you.”

    So Grandpa’s eyes are getting bigger and bigger. Look to the right, look to the left. He is fumbling around, digging in a large pile of papers, finally finding a transparent sheet in which, cut out relatively carefully, there is a newspaper article. Then he says with the triumphant face of a secret confidante: “Here boy, I read it in the newspaper!”

  10. Gravatar of ssumner ssumner
    29. August 2019 at 17:00

    Everyone, Most of the comments here are answered by the FT, so there’s no need for me to repeat what they said.

    Justin, Let me guess, you want to personally be able to choose the dictator. Or are you happy with a Mao, Hitler, Stalin, Pol Pot, Idi Amin, etc.?

  11. Gravatar of Benjamin Cole Benjamin Cole
    29. August 2019 at 20:27

    Many moons ago, I was a reporter in Dc (think Carter, Reagan). I became aware there were several layers of Washington stories, the deeper ones, nuanced ones, and headline stories too, and then also premature stories, sophisticated PR stunt-stories, spun stories, and planted op-eds, etc. Perry Mason would have left town with his tail between his legs.

    This guy below just wrote an op-ed for The Hill. Maybe he is a mouthpiece for someone now. But he more or less says Trump has actually made huge gains in trade talks with China, and so should declare victory and call it a day. His op-ed strikes me a a measure deeper than others.

    Donald Gross is founding partner of Donald Gross Law, an international trade law and strategy advisory firm in Washington. He worked on U.S. negotiations with China during the Clinton administration as senior adviser to the Under Secretary of State for Arms Control and International Security Affairs from 1997 to 2000, and advised on China negotiations as counselor of the U.S. Arms Control and Disarmament Agency from 1994 to 1997. He is the author of “The China Fallacy: How the U.S. Can Benefit from China’s Rise and Avoid Another Cold War” (Bloomsbury, 2013).

    Of course, it is one thing to win negotiations in terms of agreements, contracts, regulation or law. Implementation and enforcement, in the global arena, are mountains tops away.

  12. Gravatar of Tom Brown Tom Brown
    30. August 2019 at 11:02

    “Most people don’t know enough to be able to contribute politically in a competent way. Many don’t understand economics, foreign policy, climate change, health care or any other major issue well, and nearly none of us are experts on even one of these topics.”

    Dictators don’t know much about these things either most of the time.

  13. Gravatar of Justin Justin
    30. August 2019 at 12:55

    Scott, what does that list of people have to do with any of the points I made? I don’t love democracy so I must be okay with having Hitler or Mao run things? It’s a strawman.

    Yes, I agree that ideological socialist/communist leaders are disproportionately likely to turn about to be disasters and all but one of your list fit that bill. And yes, there are bad
    authoritarian governments but there are also tolerable ones and also good ones. You yourself have sung the praises of Singapore, which is far more authoritarian than the US or UK. Something closer to Singapore would probably be ideal in our era.

    Democracies, such as the US, have committed their fair share of moral atrocities too as plenty of progressives will be quick to tell you. Hitler came to power democratically, and was quite popular with the German people. Democracy and popular support is not a talisman that always wards off bad government. Democracy also is likely to have plenty of less tragic but still sub-optimal effects for reasons outlined well by Bryan Caplan.

    Tom, rulers have governance as their full time job, and have regular access to all sorts of different advisers who do have such expertise. That’s a critical difference.

  14. Gravatar of Carl Carl
    30. August 2019 at 13:56

    Singapore is more authoritarian than the US but it’s definitely democratic. It is also a tiny country. The government of Singapore faces much smaller knowledge problems than does, for example, the US Federal government.

    Which large dictatorships support your claim?

  15. Gravatar of ssumner ssumner
    30. August 2019 at 16:43

    Justin, You said:

    “I don’t love democracy so I must be okay with having Hitler or Mao run things? It’s a strawman.

    I never said you favored them, I wondered how the dictators would be selected, to prevent that sort of person taking power. You didn’t have an answer. Are you going to select them? If not, who picks them?

    As for Singapore, their leaders are elected. So what’s your alternative selection process.

  16. Gravatar of Dan Culley Dan Culley
    31. August 2019 at 15:39

    I’ve always thought the primary benefit of constitutional monarchy is that, by essentially never intervening in politics, the monarch is able to reserve intervention for particularly important moments such as this. But if suspending the legislature to effect a permanent and irrevocable change that a majority is opposed to isn’t an occasion on which she can decline a prorogue request, then there is no point in having a monarchy. Except tourism I guess.

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