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SOME of the response to Boris Johnson’s latest gambit has been hysterical overreaction.
Framing recent events as the dawn of some kind of dictatorship risks us losing credibility with great swathes of people in the working-class communities we seek to represent.
Failing to react, however, would also be a mistake.
His cowardly manoeuvre to prorogue Parliament is the latest attempt by the Conservatives to use Brexit to entrench the power of the executive.
Before Johnson became prime minister, there was controversy over the use of “Henry VIII” clauses which allow the government to dodge scrutiny by Parliament while changing primary legislation.
Then the Tory government itself was found to be in contempt of Parliament after it failed to publish legal advice on the proposed Withdrawal Agreement.
We now hear talk of the government ignoring any vote of no confidence, or even disregarding any law that is passed.
If “taking back control” is to have any meaning, we cannot allow the Brexit process to be used as an excuse for boosting the power of the executive and watering down the accountability of government.
That historic vote to leave the EU — arguably the largest democratic mandate in the history of our country — was largely driven by a sense that the EU is undemocratic, unresponsive and out of touch with the lives of ordinary people.
It is true that the EU’s institutions provide a bolthole for the governments of member states to make important policy decisions away from the scrutiny of their national parliaments.
To say that the EU has a democratic deficit is uncontroversial.
However, leaving the EU is not enough in itself to bring about the kind of democratic renewal the country needs. What we need is a socialist government committed to redistributing both wealth and power to the many.
That is why I am calling for a general election to resolve this political crisis.
We urgently need to have a national debate about our country’s future; our democracy, our economy and our public services.
We need to make the electorate the final arbiter, not with a single-issue vote that keeps the Tories in power but with a genuine choice.
In the meantime, opposition to Johnson must be led by the people — not by Parliament — and it must not be exclusive to those who voted Remain.
Otherwise, we will fall straight into Johnson’s trap and set the stage for the “People vs Parliament” showdown that he wants.
There are many who are understandably frustrated at what they see as a defiant political class pursuing their own agenda.
If we are not careful, we risk pushing these people into the arms of the charlatan right-wing populists. We must be the ones to champion popular sovereignty.
Johnson cannot be allowed to masquerade as a defender of our democracy while doing everything possible to avoid putting his plans to the electorate.
Labour must be a voice for those who are concerned about the consequences of Johnson’s reckless plans, for which he has no democratic mandate.
But if we allow this to simply become about narrow opposition to Brexit, I fear the consequences.
Tonight, I will be addressing a rally in Parliament Square where I will continue to oppose both those who defend the neoliberal status quo and those phoney right-wing populists who play up to the anti-Establishment mood while defending the interests of the elites.
Laura Smith is Labour MP for Crewe and Nantwich.
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