Now is not the time to celebrate Boris Johnson’s downfall, instead this should be a time to reflect on what has happened to UK democracy and the lessons we can learn from the events in Parliament over the last few years.
Following a 14 month investigation into whether the former Prime Minister lied to Parliament regarding his knowledge of COVID-19 rule-breaking, the cross-party Privileges Committee published a 108-page report this week finding Johnson guilty and would have sanctioned him with a suspension from Parliament for 90 days had he not quit as an MP.
Whilst debates continue around whether this ‘punishment’ was enough, this focus on the individual detracts from what has actually been going on in Parliament, how this happened, and what we can learn about the state of democracy – and importantly, what we can do to improve the situation.
Johnson has weakened our democracy and our democratic norms, leaving behind a toxic culture of bullying and lying inside parliament. The investigation found him to have both lied, abused and bullied the various MPs involved in the investigation. But again, moving beyond the individual of Johnson, bullying is sadly not unique in Westminster, where we see regular reports of bullying, misogyny and sexual harassment, as Compassion in Politics have done so well to document, highlight and campaign against.
Parliament is the place where our laws are made, where policies that affect all our lives are debated, discussed and agreed upon.
We desperately need reform and a democracy we can trust in, yet, if anything, we are seeing dramatic democratic backsliding. It is now harder to vote, clearly demonstrated at the local elections with the introduction of voter ID. It’s harder to strike, and now it is harder to protest than ever before, with new laws giving police nearly blanket powers to decide what is and isn’t a ‘nuisance’ protest, backed up by new custodial sentencing for exercising basic democratic rights.
On top of this, we are seeing the integrity of the House of Lords being questioned once again, with Johnson’s aides and supporters, being added to the honours list and rewarded for their commitments to public service,, hours before the report into partygate was made public, after he had quit Parliament…
To many of us, it feels as though our democracy is being gradually weakened under these continuing pressures, when what we are crying out for – as repeated public polling shows – is a demand for the exact opposite. What we need is reform and renewal.
The Democracy Network represents organisations who have a number of proposals for how we do just that. We need real solutions and real commitment from our leaders to change, giving more people a voice, opening up Westminster to citizens, reforming it, making it more representative of and accountable to the British public.
Just this week, one of the country’s leading public participation organisations – Involve, have announced proposals for citizens’ juries, to assist government improve and enforce rules for MPs, which would be to build on the decision made today, and strengthen rules for MPs further.
Public opinion shows people currently trust our doctors, pub landlords and community leaders considerably more than many of our politicians, so we must find ways for them, the British people to be at the heart of decision making in Westminster, Holyrood, the Senedd and Stormont
Now is the moment to start to rebuild trust in politics, and build a democracy fit for the 21st century.
If you agree, now is the time to join the network and help to see this vision become a reality.