With the prorogation, a thousand-year mutating and evolving constitutional model of governance -- starting with the Magna Carta -- had been summarily stymied
The Magna Carta may be considered the mother lode of Parliamentary constitutions the world over
“Last came anarchy---
And he wore a Kingly crown
And in his grasp a sceptre shone;
On his brow this mark I saw,
‘I am God, and King, and the Law’.”
Percy Bysshe Shelley: “The Mask of Anarchy”
“History has ended”, proclaimed Fukuyama -- a gig intellectual of the last quarter of the 20th century -- with apocalyptic certainty. This assertion was made despite heavy hitters like Hegel, Spencer, Marx, who proclaimed that History was yet vending its weary way, moving ever forward. It has turned out that Fukuyama’s claim was a trifle exaggerated, for History may have ended but it is not over. Even while History’s obituary was being written, it showed signs of renewed life and made a robust return, for, as poet T S Eliot wrote in Gerontion, “history has many cunning passages, contained corridors with twists and turns.” It certainly is not moving to a dead end. Fukuyama could have better adapted the British pairing, proclaimed at the death of every monarch, “History has ended: long live History.”
The visible sign of History’s return, is the counter decision of Britain’s Prime Minister Boris Johnson to advise the Privy Council, to prorogue the House of Commons for a period of five weeks -- effectively suspending Parliament as the highest legislature -- in order to force-pass Brexit legislation, which the Parliament was obstreperously refusing to do. Like Julius Caesar who, when offered the crown three times, had refused these overtures, former prime minister Theresa May offered parliament amended placatory Brexit legislation three times, which were rejected. Theresa May left the premiership in chagrin. Boris Johnson grasped the poisoned chalice with glee, knowing the function of management is to achieve results howsoever, and damn the morality of their levering actions. If Parliament would not play ball, Johnson would play football, but, beforehand, take the precaution of anaesthetising his opponents’ legs. Policy is the art of the possible, implementing it, the science of the relative. It cannot be measured against legal standards as it is a balancing of pressures and judgments,and therefore, lying within a politician’s prerogative to decide and face penalties for failure.
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson
With the prorogation, a thousand-year mutating and evolving constitutional model of governance -- starting with the Magna Carta -- had been summarily stymied. But Johnson was not fazed. He had a job to do, which was to get Brexit - approved by the People in a referendum -- implemented by October 30, 2019. Time was running short, this was not the time to be coy and dither, for, he could hear Brexit’s crushing chariot wheels hurrying ever so near. If it were to be done, it were best, if it were done immediately. But Johnson’s decision to prorogue Parliament was not accepted kindly. “It is a constitutional outrage, an offence against democratic processes and rights of Parliament and People’s representatives,” thundered the Speaker; the Leader of the Opposition said, ”it is the most blatant assault on British constitutional principles in living memory,” former conservative prime minister John Major said the prorogation was, “utterly, utterly, the wrong way to proceed”. Others were no less critical, “an outrage”, “a coup”, “an abomination”, “the country is tumbling into a failed state status, a banana republic”, “Bagehot torn up”. A soberly expressed opinion was that a prorogation can end a Session but it cannot close Parliament. It was a superb example of a conflict between two views of Governance, one, considering elected representatives (MPs) as delegates, the other, of considering them as plenipotentiaries. Jacques Rousseau considered them delegates, since they represent the General Will,Edmund Burke considered them plenipotentiaries, since they exercise independent judgment after election, irrespective of the wishes of those who elected them.
The Magna Carta may be considered the mother lode of Parliamentary constitutions the world over. Before 1215, medieval governance was feudal, where the undifferentiated stem cell of legislation, administration and finance was the king. The ruling aristocrats found this irksome, because of the increasingly exacting financial claims made on them. Since they were paying taxes- with a wry sense of humour calling themselves The Commons -- they gheraoed the weak ruling King John in Runnymede. They refused to budge till an understanding was reached. This understanding was The Magna Carta, which, in effect, placed legislative authority in the Commons. A thousand years later, the same issue has re-surfaced.
The more things change, the more they stay the same.