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Tony Benn and the Five Essential Questions of Democracy



I had this tab open in Firefox when I started my computer. I had been writing a film review which had turned, rather inevitably, into a reflection on Brexit. While I was struggling with the piece - and it was a struggle - I took in the news: Boris Johnson had decided to prorogue parliament, to close it down precisely at the moment that it could do something to oppose a no deal Brexit.

That wasn't why the tab was open. It is a piece on Tony Benn and I had searched, I think, for the questions he used to ask of representatives who purport to be speaking for us. This was, I suppose, only tangentially related to the film, and perhaps only tangentially related even to my immediate response to the film which. Most immediately, the film, No Stone Unturned, had prompted me to think about populism, and to think of it with regards to a quote my A-Level politics teacher at Kidderminster College used to repeat with some regularity. It was by Edmund Burke and it related to representative democracy, the system of democracy our parliament and system of governance is built upon. Whatever I had been looking for, I removed the section fearing I had lost control of the piece, that it could, yet again, either become a book length essay on Brexit and all of its ills (these pieces tend to expand because I feel we misunderstand so much of it and also, no doubt because of my temperament and my tendency to detailed analysis), or would have to be beaten into shape.

I have the diaries of Tony Benn upstairs back here in my parent's house in the British West Midlands and several years ago read another book by him, Dare to be a Daniel. Upstairs too, I have the diaries of Richard Crossland. Boris Johnson and his bunch of bastards with their constant strategy of lie and rely - lie, that is, and rely on the media to cover your tracks - are certain that they can continue to convince a majority of the people that whatever they do to prevent the institutions of democracy from working to question anything they do, are not democrats, are not giving the power to the people. Sadly, to see how it looks when that works, and works effectively, we have to go back generations.

That at least, is how I felt opening this this morning, reflecting upon what is happening in Britain and reflecting on the real impulse behind Brexit. Reflecting, that is on Boris's "fuck business"; on the news that British car manufacturing is going through the worst period in decades; on the vox pops with the people of Dudley, many of whom seem to be behind Johnson's actions while noting that the town has gone down hill and that London is another country, people who had never been asked their opinion on the national news until all of this, and who had been forgotten by the core of the three main parties for decades; Jeremy Hunt, at the Health Select Committee, talking about Kaiser Permanenté in relation to the direction the NHS might be taken in. Reflecting on how people have been scammed by people in power, people increasingly from privileged classes and positions who will never have to answer any of these questions. Tony Benn is sorely missed.

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