Things happen slowly. Sometimes, like the proverbial frog, you don’t realise until it’s too late, and the water is already boiling.
We look at other countries in Europe, at Hungary and at Poland, with anti-LGBT politicians, and replacement of judges with the party faithful, and we think “Oh, that could never happen here.”
But has it started already? Are we taking our first faltering steps along the road to becoming another state where the rule of law is collapsing, and nationalist politicians push a social agenda that seeks to actively exclude marginalised groups? It may seem far-fetched, and we’re a long way from Orbanisation, but take a moment to consider some of what’s happened since Johnson became Prime Minister.
The “Equalites Minister” believes we should stop worrying about items she deems fashionable, which include gender and racism. She’s even claimed that when she was at school, teaching about racism was prioritised more than basic reading and writing. She’s also repeatedly kicked reform of the Gender Recognition Act into the long grass. Most people who responded to the consultation were in favour, but she’d rather listen to the voices that want to make life harder for trans people.
During Black History Month, no less, the government trotted out another minister to make the astonishing claim that teaching people in school about white privilege, as a fact, would be illegal. For good measure, she described Black Lives Matter as an anti-capitalist group. And you don’t have to look far to see many other examples of the Johnson government pushing back against anti-racism movements.
They’re even attacking the National Trust for researching links between properties they own and slavery. And, in doing so they’re bizarrely claiming that history is being changed. Sharing extra information is hardly changing something that already happened, but it appears the Johnson government, for all its talk about freedom, would actually rather people don’t have facts, if they don’t suit the agenda.
In the realm of criminal justice, the Johnson government routinely shows disregard for the law, and for those who try to stop them breaking it. The Home Office attacks lawyers for doing their jobs and stopping the deportation of those who have not been treated according to the rules. It is not “activist” to suggest that the government follows the laws that it created.
Yet again and again, ministers and official spokespersons make statements attacking lawyers for doing their job — to the extent that some have had to take extra security measures, after receiving threats.
A recent trial had to be paused, and the jury instructed not to pay attention to statements made by politicians, after the Home Secretary tweeted material that, had it come from anyone else, would likely be considered a contempt of court.
It’s not just lawyers that are threatened by our politicians. The Johnson government is clear that it wants to restrict the ability of judges to hold them to account too — and maybe even to consider how they are appointed. The rule of law should — in a free, democratic state — not be subject to politicians or tame newspapers attacking judges for upholding laws. But Johnson would rather have a pliant judiciary, one that would allow him for instance to suspend Parliament, rather than risk having it debate things he’d prefer to present as a fait-accompli.
Not content with trying to stop the courts from insisting government follow the laws, Johnson has also created a huge number of peers, so the UK now has over 800 unelected law makers — a number that dwarfs those directly elected. These people are there for life, and many have been appointed solely for their party loyalty, and loyalty to Johnson’s Brexit agenda. They include serial liars, apologists for terrorism, and other sundry idiots.
It’s four years until the next general election. With a sizeable majority, and a divided opposition, who knows what illiberal attacks upon our society Johnson or his successors will make next?
And long after the Johnson government has gone, for decades, those unelected cronies in the Lords will still be bringing their bigotry and illiberal ideas to bear when it comes to shaping the laws of the United Kingdom.
So, are you really so sure, when you look at what’s happening in Poland and Hungary, that it could never happen here?