Some words of comfort to regular readers

29th April 2021

Regular readers of this blog will be aware that things are not well with the constitution of the United Kingdom, or with law and policy generally.

Regular readers will be braced for bad news – even without this blog’s frequent injunction of ‘brace brace’.


There are, believe it or not, some grounds for optimism.

The grand Cummings-Johnson project of pushing prime ministerial power as far as to could go is close to collapsing.

Cummings has gone, and Johnson has few remaining internal allies in government.

Indeed, Johnson seems quite isolated even within the government.

Other parts of the constitution are still twitching with indications of life.

For example: the house of lords, as with the Overseas Operations Bill, has ensured that certain proposed unpleasant provisions will not be enacted – resulting in a minister departing office.

And although few will have high hopes of various inquiries and investigations into what has and has not happened in Downing Street, at least those inquiries are happening and that they are, to a certain extent, beyond ministerial control.

The illiberal 2016 project does not – necessarily – have easy purchase in 2021.

Constitutionalism may still yet reassert itself.

To mimic Johnson – constitutionalists need not be doomsters and gloomsters.

One day – perhaps soon – the constitution of the United Kingdom will still be there, and Boris Johnson will not be.

Even if it is a close run thing.




18 thoughts on “Some words of comfort to regular readers”

  1. This makes me want to cry, with gratitude for a mere glimmer of hope, with relief that I am not alone, with terror that the door is instead closing slowly but surely on the light.
    The Navalny story does not help. We are not so very far from such a scenario. Crossing fingers seems the only hope now.

  2. I think that the traditional affirmation is “from your lips, to God’s ears!” – we can but hope.

    1. Thank you. The echoes of Trump here now can be hard to bear. All glimmers of hope are appreciated.

  3. Maybe this is rose-tinted but perhaps we can draw some reassurance about the health of UK constitutionalism, in its being possible to detect – in the ongoing polled support for Johnson – some DNA of a (domestic-) constitutionalist voter-instinct.

    Support for his signature policy, Brexit and fear of its dilution at the hands of anyone less amorally committed to it, is one explanation for his continued popularity. Were I a Brexiter familiar with public law, I’d argue that, in democratic polities, the only democratic way to mount constitutionalist resistance to vicious majoritarian measures is through ‘speed-bumps’, that’s to say, things like supermajority requirements, express-words-of-repeal requirements, exercise of upper-chamber blocking powers, weak government legislative majorities, and so forth. Bloc-membership, for practical everyday purposes shrank one of the speed-bumps via the ordinary legislative procedure, the breadth of the Treaties, the creativity of the CJEU, and latterly via expanded QMV. While it was possible to see EU membership itself as a form of constitutionalist countermajoritarian constraint, and favour the content of the acquis, one can, if charitable, see in the objections of the likes of Bill Cash, something like a constitutionalist’s desire for domestic scrutiny of legislative change (however unscrutinised it’s since been). Perhaps it was just executivism or something worse, all along, I don’t know. But when the vicious demagogue is gone, it all might be clearer.

  4. Thank you for that strong chink of light despite widespread surrounding political gloom.
    Much of my other reading – books and articles as well as your blog – tends to confirm a world of grey.

    So I wondered whether you’d read one gloomy book the predictions in which seemed on track. And if you had, whether you’ve some thoughts and opinions about Ece Temelkuran’s “How to Lose a Country”. Not only about the loss of democracy in her own country, Turkey – from which she is now in exile – but her fears about the same patterns shown in many other places.

    Trump and Johnson and their backers seemingly examples.

    Best wishes

    Alan Stanton

  5. I would support the permanent employment of a civil servant to perform the role of slave to a triumphant general, in this case PM, (why stop there, one for every Minister) whose job it was to repeatedly whisper “memento mori” in his ear. It might also help to address the hubris / nemesis issue we discussed couple of days ago. An appropriate use of public funds?

    1. I am not sure Johnson would appreciate being seen as a gammon.

      It was not unknown for a Roman General, honoured with a Triumph by the Senate and People of Roman to paint his face red for the ceremony.

      And accept without visible displeasure and in good heart, the mocking of the troops he led into Rome.

      Julius Caesar is said to have endured references to being “… every woman’s man and every man’s woman.”

      Johnson, like many a bully enjoys savagely mocking others, but as he showed at PMQs this week does not enjoy being on the receiving end of ridicule.

      We learnt a few weeks ago from an article in the Evening Standard, written by Tom Newton Dunn, that Johnson now wishes to become the weathered Father of the Nation, a Caesar Augustus for the 2020s. An allusion beyond Newton Dunn’s ken.

      That would be the Caesar Augustus who, after the bloodbath that secured him on the throne, placed a very heavy emphasis on family values, personal morals and probity in public life.

  6. David I hope you’re right. Anne Applebaum detailed Poland’s march from a liberal conservatism to populism in her book Twilight of Democracy. Britain seems to be following the same path.

    We’ve watched Johnson purge the Tories of any dissent or talent, and worse, populate a civil service with apparatchiks, the civil institutions that we depend on to stay above the ideological fray, and keep us going despite out governments.

    Britain’s problem is that it has no memory of an authoritarian government. Perhaps if it did, it’s voters wouldn’t be so casual about watching their rights being whittled away in Parliament.

  7. I wonder. Listening to the 7.00 BBC news on Radio 3 (all upbeat b*****t) and seeing the front pages of the papers on the BBC website left me depressed this morning. We are in the grip of a propaganda war. The mask slipped for a couple of days, and at PM Questions, but this morning we are back in the fantasy B-word advertising land where everything’s going great and just a bit of fun, and these are only minor rules, and rules are made to be broken aren’t they, and John Lewis is my favourite store. The front page of the Sun has a picture of the Prime Minister’s mistress, claiming she could be on Strictly to get the funds to pay for the flat refurbishment. It’s all a bit of laugh, isn’t it? The news that the Prime Minister took time out from his chock a block diary of photo-engagements with is it three official photographers? to phone the newspaper editors to tell them Cummings was the chatty rat shows both his priorities and how deep we are into the propaganda and misinformation war.

  8. Yes, sooner or later Johnson will go but the constitution on his departure will be considerably different from the one he inherited. There are surprises in store. Who, in 2016, could have predicted the state of the British polity in 2021? So what might we predict for 2026? By then the UK might be even closer to disintegration, whether in Scotland or Northern Ireland. The only effective check, at least for parts of Britain, upon a populist prime minister might be the break-up of the UK. Where would that leave the English. There are too many ‘perhaps’ and ‘might’ and ‘maybe’ to be confident of the future.m

  9. Where there’s life there’s hope.
    “Hope is a lover’s staff; walk hence with that
    And manage it against despairing thoughts.”
    William Shakespeare, The Two Gentlemen of Verona

  10. There are precious few deep thinkers or cultured folk at the top of today’s Tory Party or else they might have reflected before setting out on their mission of tearing down our laws on a particular scene from The Man For All Seasons:

    “William Roper: “So, now you give the Devil the benefit of law!”

    Sir Thomas More: “Yes! What would you do? Cut a great road through the law to get after the Devil?”

    William Roper: “Yes, I’d cut down every law in England to do that!”

    Sir Thomas More: “Oh? And when the last law was down, and the Devil turned ’round on you, where would you hide, Roper, the laws all being flat? This country is planted thick with laws, from coast to coast, Man’s laws, not God’s! And if you cut them down, and you’re just the man to do it, do you really think you could stand upright in the winds that would blow then? Yes, I’d give the Devil benefit of law, for my own safety’s sake!”

    Johnson’s Faust, we have learnt in this last week fears the law mightily. Why? We do not yet know.

    But we may find out on 26th May when Cummings is scheduled to make his next public appearance in front of Parliamentary committee.

    The injunction to brace, brace should perhaps, on this occasion, be addressed to Alexander Boris de Pfeffel Johnson and his consort?

    Who knows they may need the law’s protection in the coming months.

    Incidentally, there is a rumour on the front of today’s Sun newspaper that Ms Symonds, still waiting for her fairy tale wedding ceremony, may be invited to submit herself to a particularly searching public inquiry in the autumn as a contestant on the BBC’s prime time, Saturday evening series, Strictly Come Dancing.

  11. I want to feel reassured, but the current ministerial groupthink comms line is the equivalent of Melania’s “I RLY DON’T CARE, DO U?”. Sickening.

  12. Johnson was elected by the Tories and could have been removed at any time, but the Tories are Johnson and Johnson is the Tories, they are one of the same, so no excuses.

  13. The only thing left in the box was hope.
    Then along came Boris Johnson.

    What is left after hope has gone. Wishful thinking and a belief that the dying embers are sparks of life is futile.

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