Authoritarian populism threatens to destroy UK democracy

For a long time Brits have comforted themselves with claims that the UK is a democratic country with robust and accountable institutions.

Recent events show that many of the institutions of democracy are medieval rather than modern. 

He Who Must be Obeyed

Like a medieval king, Prime Minister Boris Johnson requires MPs to slavishly obey his orders.

Last week, 21 Conservative MPs dared to defy Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s order to support a No Deal exit from the European Union (EU).

They were immediately thrown out of the parliamentary party without any hearing or right of appeal.  There is no electoral mandate for leaving the EU without a deal.

Dominic Cummings, unelected main adviser to the Prime Minister, reportedly told an MP: “When are you MPs going to realise that we are leaving on 31 October?” before adding: “We are going to fucking purge you.” 

Cummings is former director of the official Leave campaign and has been held to be in contempt of parliament after failing to appear before MPs investigating fake news. Now he rules the roost over elected MPs and enjoys security clearance to roam the Houses of Parliament.

In the words of former Chancellor Philip Hammond: “the Conservative Party has been taken over by unelected advisors, entryists and usurpers who are trying to turn it from a broad church into an extreme right-wing faction.” 

The September session of parliament was of special significance as the government is committed to leaving the EU on 31 October. But the Prime Minister is not keen on parliamentary scrutiny and privately said that parliament was a “rigmarole” designed to show MPs were “earning their crust”. 


Johnson’s Conservative Party has no working majority in the House of Commons and he was elected leader of the party and Prime Minister by less than 100,000 members of his party.

Around 15/16 August he secretly made the decision to prorogue parliament, but continued to make public statements to the contrary.

Former Work and Pensions Secretary Amber Rudd said that that the Cabinet was not given the legal advice on prorogation and she only found out about the suspension of parliament on the morning it was announced.

The formal power to prorogue parliament rests with the Queen, the unelected head of state.

Many people will have reservations about permitting a 93 year old to sign important documents but on 29th August the Queen approved a five-week prorogation of parliament, the longest period since the Second World War.

She was guided by her Private Secretary Edward Young, a former advisor to the Conservative Party.

Parliament cannot vote on the Queen’s decision. There is no public document to explain the prorogation reasoning offered by the Prime Minister to the cabinet, parliament or the public.

Members of parliament cannot bring the Queen to any parliamentary committee to seek information about how the Sovereign exercises her powers. MPs are not permitted to raise matters relating to the Sovereign in the UK parliament. 

People fund the Monarchy but have no way of finding information about its operations. The Freedom of Information Act 2000 enables people to secure information about some operations of the state, but the Act exempts matter relating to communications with the Sovereign and other members of the Royal Family.

Danger signs

Like medieval kings, Boris Johnson cannot guarantee that he will comply with the law of the land.

The European Union (Withdrawal) (No. 6) Bill 2017-19, now law, ensures that the UK does not leave the EU on the 31 October 2019 without a withdrawal agreement, unless Parliament approves such a course of action. 

It provides that if parliament has not approved either a withdrawal agreement with the EU or a statement that the UK is to leave the EU without an agreement, the Prime Minister is obliged to ask the European Council for an extension to Article 50(3) of the Treaty on European Union. The Prime Minister has refused to confirm that he will abide by the law.

For years, the UK press built the bogey that left-leaning politicians are somehow a danger to parliament, rule of law and democracy.

Now we see that the coup is from the right-wing which increasingly wraps itself in garbs of nationalism.

For this, much of the tabloid press lauds Boris Johnson. If the opinions polls are anything to go by, he enjoys considerable support for his practices and is particularly supported by the far-right groups.

Minorities are becoming a convenient scapegoat for UK’s political failures and racism is increasing.

Haven’t we seen all this before? In the 1930s, authoritarian populism enabled the Nazis to take power and destroy democratic institutions in Germany.

The current BBC series ‘The Rise of the Nazis’ shows that authoritarian populism and the intolerance of dissent, an essential ingredient for renewal of democracy, resulted in xenophobia, destruction of society and much more.

The danger signs are flashing. The inexorable descent will continue unless people unite in resistance and transformation of institutions of democracy to secure a better future for all.

Prem Sikka is a Professor of Accounting at University of Sheffield, and Emeritus Professor of Accounting at University of Essex. He is a Contributing Editor for Left Foot Forward and tweets here.

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Young people and Brexit: the implications for the far-right and Scottish independence

rakib ehsanSince the EU referendum, the narrative of an inter-generational divide has emerged, with the country’s older pro-Leave generation thought to be at odds with a younger, pro-Remain generation. Rakib Ehsan (Henry Jackson Society) investigated these intra-generational differences and suggests that failure to deliver Brexit may provide a boost for far-right organisations, but that a disruptive no-deal Brexit has the potential to inject considerable youthful energy into the Scottish independence movement.

Brexit has dominated mainstream political discourse since the shock referendum result in June 2016. One of the dominant narratives which emerged from the referendum was the inter-generational divide, which is said to pit the pro-Leave older generation against a younger, pro-Remain cohort.

stirling pro-Scottish independence march

Digitally manipulated image from a pro-Scottish independence march in Stirling, March 2018. Photo: Tom Donald via a CC-BY-NC-SA 2-0 licence

It is true that younger people were far more likely to vote to remain in the EU. This has meant that existing research and media coverage has focused on pro-Remain sentiments among young British people. However, there is a notable section of young British people who harbour Eurosceptic feelings – and our collective understanding of their socio-political attitudes is far from developed. Using a nationally representative, pre-referendum (May 2016) survey of 1,351 young British people aged 18-30, I explored differences between young pro-Leave people and their pro-Remain peers.

Figure 1 shows the percentage of the young pro-Leave and pro-Remain subgroups which fell into the following individual categories: being male; belonging to social classes C2DE; holding a negative view of cultural diversity; selecting immigration important issue facing the country; and reporting a primary English identity.

While the young pro-Remain subgroup was almost divided evenly in terms of gender composition (49.9% male; 50.1% female), 64% of the pro-Leave subgroup was male – a gender difference of 28 percentage points. In regard to class, just over 1 in 4 – 25.5% – of the pro-Remain subgroup fell into social classes C2DE. The corresponding figure for their pro-Leave peers was nearly half, at 49.3%.

There was a particularly sharp difference between the two subgroups when it came to their perspectives of the cultural diversity which has come to characterise modern British society. The young people in the survey were asked, “Do you think that having a wide variety of backgrounds and cultures is a positive or negative part of modern Britain?”. While only 6.4% of the pro-Remain subgroup reported a negative view of cultural diversity, this figure rises to 46.7% for their pro-Leave counterparts – a difference of over 40 percentage points.

Young British people who participated in the survey were also questioned on what they felt were the most important issues facing the country: “Which of the following do you think are the most important issues facing the country at this time? Please tick up to three.” Respondents were able to choose from the following policy areas: immigration and asylum; healthcare; economy; housing; Europe; environment; defence and terrorism; education; tax; crime; family life and childcare; pensions; and transport. They were also offered “none of these” and “don’t know” options. Out of the policy issues selected, the largest Leave–Remain gap was on the issue of immigration. Figure 1 shows that while 60.1% of young Leavers selected immigration as an important issue facing the country, only 23.8% of their pro-Remain peers followed suit.

In regard to primary (trans)national self-identification, the young British people surveyed were asked: “Which of the following best describes your identity?” For this part of the report’s analysis, five primary identities were considered: English, British, Scottish, Welsh, and European. Figure 1 shows that 30.9% of the pro-Remain subgroup reported a primary English identity, with the corresponding figure for their pro-Leave peers standing at 46.9%.

Building on the findings over primary identification, Figure 2 shows that the pro-Remain subgroup contained a higher concentration of young people who reported a primary Scottish identity, when compared to the pro-Leave subgroup (7.4% compared with 5.5%). However, the pattern is reversed for those who self-identified as Welsh, where the pro-Leave subgroup contained a larger proportion of young people who did this – in fact, more than double in terms of within-group percentage (7.4% compared with 3.5%).

Unsurprisingly, the pro-Leave subgroup included a far smaller proportion of young people who primarily identified as European when compared to the proportion within the pro-Remain subgroup (2.3% compared with 11.9%).

What the analysis shows is that there is no easy answer to questions over the possible political and social drawbacks associated with Brexit, as I explore further in a recent report for the Henry Jackson Society. Characteristics associated with pro-Leave sentiments among young people – male, lower socio-economic status, anxious over immigration, sceptical of cultural diversity, prevailing expressions of “Englishness” – also overlap with the profile of “target groups” for the recruitment and mobilisation processes of far-right organisations in the UK. Indeed, there is worrying evidence that “Brexit betrayal” rhetoric is being co-opted by far-right nationalist movements. A perceived failure to have delivered Brexit carries the risk of fuelling political disaffection among “at risk” groups traditionally associated with membership of far-right extremist groups.

On the flip side, the majority of Britain’s young people did vote to Remain, with positive views of immigration-induced cultural diversity appearing to be strongly related to pro-EU sentiments. A disruptive Conservative-led Brexit under Prime Minister Boris Johnson could also serve to intensify calls for Scottish independence among young Remainers living north of the border – adding considerable energy to renewed demands for a second referendum on Scotland’s possible separation from the UK. Indeed, a recent poll has shown that more Scottish people would prefer independence to remaining in the Union, with another survey showing that 60% of Scots believe support for Scottish independence would increase if the UK was to leave the EU on a no-deal basis. This is the dilemma that faces unionist politicians who are both pro-Leave (to the extent of supporting a no-deal Brexit) but also wish for Remain-voting Scotland to maintain its place in the UK.

This post represents the views of the author and not those of the Brexit blog, nor LSE.

Dr Rakib Ehsan is a research fellow at the Henry Jackson Society’s Centre on Social & Political Risk.

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Straight Pride marches in Boston demanding Donald Trump’s wall is built, and it did not go well

A straight pride event with ties to far-right groups has gone ahead in Boston, leading to violent clashes between participants and counter-protesters.

Several hundred people turned up to take part in the controversial event in Boston on Saturday, but the activists taking part were outnumbered by around 1,000 counter-protesters.

The event was organised by activists associated with far-right group Resist Marxism. A large float at the head of the parade featuring the message: “Trump 2020, Build The Wall.”

Organisers said the event was intended to celebrate straight people as “an oppressed majority,” and participants carried signs bearing the slogans “straight lives matter” and “make normalcy normal again.”

Despite denials from organisers that the event would be homophobic in nature, some participants were filmed shouting anti-gay slurs.

Violent clashes

Boston police officers in riot gear encircled the parade as it proceeded through the centre of Boston, attempting to avert confrontation between marchers and counter-protesters.

However, violent scuffles broke out between the two groups, and officers deployed batons and pepper spray to control the crowds.

Marchers take part in the Straight Pride parade in Boston
Marchers take part in the Straight Pride parade in Boston (Photo: Joseph Prezioso/AFP/Getty Images)

There were 36 arrests and four police officers were injured, according to Boston police department.

Speeches by straight pride activists at the event were drowned out by chants from counter-protesters, who shouted “shame.”

Businesses along the parade route had largely shuttered for the event, though many opted to display rainbow flags and messages opposing the parade.

Trolling event

Massachusetts LGBT campaigners largely opted to ignore the spectacle, accusing organisers of “trolling” the LGBT community.

Boston Pride said in a statement: “It has become increasingly clear that the Straight Pride Parade is organised by a group of white supremacists and is an attempt to bait the Boston LGBTQ community, as well as racial and ethnic minority communities in Boston.

“It’s a trolling event, designed to get a rise out of vulnerable communities.

“Boston Pride is not interested in responding to their bait. Our strength comes from directing our attention and energy to helping one another meet the challenges of intersecting oppressions.”

Police protect the Straight Pride Parade in Boston, Massachusetts
Police protect the straight pride parade in Boston (Photo: Brian Snyder/Reuters)

However, groups including Black Lives Matter Cambridge led calls to “show up and numbers to change the narrative of the hatred.”

Democratic Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez noted that the participants in the parade were overwhelmingly male, tweeting: “For men who are allegedly so ‘proud’ of being straight, they seem to show real incompetence at attracting women to their event.

“Seems more like a ‘I-Struggle-With-Masculinity’ parade to me. 🤷🏽‍♀️ Hope they grow enough over the next year to support / join LGBTQ fam next #Pride!”

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Owen Jones attack: Three men arrested over attack on left-wing journalist outside pub

Three men have been arrested in connection with an attack on journalist and political activist Owen Jones outside a pub in North London.

Mr Jones alleged he was approached by four men in the early hours outside a pub in North London.

The Guardian columnist said the men “marched over… and then kicked me in the head” during his birthday celebrations in a pub in Islington at around 2am on 17 August.

When the journalist’s friends tried to intervene, he claims they were also assaulted by the men.

‘Blatant premeditated assault’

Issuing a series of tweets, the columnist alleged he and his friends were attacked.

“Six of us left the pub at 3am, and were saying our goodbyes 30 metres away, then a group of 3-4 men left the pub, made a beeline for me, kicked me in the back, threw me on the ground, slamming my head and kicking me in the skull.

“My friends were punched trying to defend me.

A Met Police spokesman said: “Detectives investigating an assault in Islington have arrested three people.

“A man, in his 30s, was approached outside The Lexington public house on Pentonville Road at around 2am on Saturday August 17th.

Mr Jones was attacked outside The Lexington on Pentonville Road
Mr Jones was attacked outside The Lexington on Pentonville Road (Photo: Wikipedia)

“The man was assaulted by four male suspects. When the victim’s friends attempted to intervene, they were also assaulted.

“None of those injured required hospital treatment or London Ambulance Service.

“Three men aged 39, 34 and 29 were arrested today after they attended a north London police station.

“All three were arrested on suspicion of violent disorder and assault occasioning actual bodily harm. All three remain in custody.”

‘An attack on free speech’

Leader of the opposition Jeremy Corbyn spoke out in defence of the journalist.

The Labour leader tweeted: “I send my solidarity to Owen Jones and his friends who were attacked last night.

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Far-right activist from Generation Identity serving on Trident nuclear submarine

A member of the far-right Generation Identity group was posted to serve on the submarine carrying Trident nuclear missiles, anti-extremism campaigners have alleged.

The revelation surfaced in Hope Not Hate’s wide-ranging report into the identitarian movement, which advocates a conspiracy theory that “white people are being deliberately erased through immigration and racial mixing.”

Undercover reporter Ben van der Merwe spent five months infiltrating the UK branch of Generation Identity, uncovering links to proscribed neo-Nazi terror group National Action.

It was at the UK branch’s conference in London on 27 July that the reporter learned at least two members are currently serving in the Royal Navy.

Nuclear submarine

Mr Van der Merwe explained that the infiltration “was meant to be a long-term, factfinding project,” but decided to blow the whistle after learning that one of the men was set to take up a position “as a sonar engineer on board a Trident-armed nuclear submarine.”

He said: “[It was] shocking that two members of a group with such dangerous links, and whose openly-stated end-goal is the ethnic cleansing of Europe, could serve in the Royal Navy, one of them aboard a nuclear submarine.”

A spokesperson for the Department of Defence told The Observer: “It would be inappropriate to comment specifically on these allegations.

“We take allegations of this nature very seriously and would always carry out investigations into such matters when they are made against service personnel.”


Hope Not Hate collected extensive details about the far-right group’s membership, communications and operations.

The anti-extremism group explained that while the Generation Identity UK branch has “less than 50” active members, “one can never judge the threat of a far-right movement by its scale alone.”

Activists from Generation Identity at the Conservative Party conference in 2018
Activists from Generation Identity at the Conservative Party conference in 2018

Its report adds: “It only takes one radicalised person to plant a bomb or attack a mosque, and when it comes to exploring the threat posed by GI, one has to go beyond the number of activists it musters for demonstrations and stunts and explore the reach and influence of its ideas.

“Indeed, their modus operandi is influencing public debate through media-savvy campaigns and actions.”

Read more:

Arrests of white far-right extremists rises to highest number in 15 years

Mr Van der Merwe said: “Over the five months that I was inside Generation Identity, I uncovered some truly chilling examples of crass racism and violent rhetoric.

“In contrast to the slick, respectable image that the group works so hard to cultivate, it is clear that they are happy to associate themselves with the most extreme elements of the far right when out of the public eye.”

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Journalist Owen Jones attacked in ‘pre-meditated assault’ as he celebrated his birthday

Journalist Owen Jones was attacked in what he called a “pre-meditated assault” by a gang as he was celebrating his birthday.

Mr Jones, who describes himself anti-fascist, Socialist, says he believes the attackers were far-right thugs.

Police confirmed to i that they are investigating a reported assault outside a pub in Islington, north London.

“Local CCTV footage will be reviewed. A number of witnesses have also been spoken to and further statements will be taken in due course,” a police spokesperson said.

In a series of tweets, Jones describes the attack.

‘Kicked me in the skull’

“This is a bit dramatic, so firstly I’m fine, but last night – when I was celebrating my birthday – I was attacked, along with my friends, in a blatant premeditated assault.

“Six of us left the pub at 3am and were saying our goodbyes 30 metres away, then a group of 3-4 men left the pub, made a beeline for me, kicked me in the back, threw me on the ground, slamming my head, and kicked me in the skull. My friends were punched trying to defend me.

“The group then scarpered: I don’t know if they said anything in the melee. I’m fine other than a big bump on my head and a cut back.

“Given the far right attacks I’ve had in the streets, and generally escalating far right threats I’ve had, I’m in no doubt as to what this is.”

Owen Jones at a rally against austerity in January (Photo: Daniel Leal-Olivas/AFP/Getty)
Owen Jones at a rally against austerity in January (Photo: Daniel Leal-Olivas/AFP/Getty)

‘Dangerous’ times

Jones has previously found himself the target of verbal abuse from pro-Brexit supporters.

He was subject to homophobic abuse from hecklers at an anti-austerity rally , the Huff Post reported in January.

He says the far-right threat is growing and it is not the first time that they have found him.

After his latest trouble, Labour front bencher Diane Abbott tweeted: “Shocking to hear about this attack on you & your friends. The times we live in are increasingly dark and dangerous. You have all my love & support. Solidarity.”

The Met Police confirmed a man in his 30s reported an attack by four people outside a pub at 2am on Saturday.

They added that no one needed hospital treatment and no arrests have been made.

In line with long-standing practice, police do not confirm the identify of victims.

They refused to say if it was being investigated as a hate crime but added that inquiries are continuing.

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