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25th September 2019

The Conservative Party’s disdain for the law marks the beginning of its end

George Walker analyses the implications of the Supreme Court decision for the Conservative Party.

Boris Johnson’s prorogation of Parliament, at a time of huge political instability, was ruled as unlawful by the UK’s Supreme Court.

Supreme Court president Lady Hale said the suspension “had the effect of frustrating or preventing the ability of Parliament to carry out its constitutional functions without reasonable justification”.

Boris Johnson responded in typical brazen form, saying he accepted it but “profoundly disagreed” with it.

This judgement has significant consequences for Boris Johnson and the UK’s constitution as a whole. The conclusion essentially sets a legal precedent. The Supreme Court may, in the future, intervene should the Executive try and prevent Parliament’s constitutional role of holding the former to account.  It also confirms that Parliament is the senior partner, and the Executive its junior.

Where does this damning indictment of Boris Johnson’s government leave the Conservative Party? Remember, this is the Conservative and Unionist Party, the representation of business interests, the monarchy, an independent judiciary, the Union, and the rule of law. It seems that the question of Brexit has driven the party into total ideological turmoil, curiously abandoning key historically British conservative principles without notice for their political project in the current, and the future.

It was only two weeks ago that Conservative business minister Kwasi Kwarteng brought into question the legitimacy of the independent judiciary. In an interview with Andrew Neil, he said people are questioning the impartiality of judges and many “are saying the judges are biased”. Although he didn’t explicitly undermine the judiciary, we all know the politics woven into this words. 

Without its historical principles the Conservative Party is a busted flush: the party has given up its legitimacy in an attempt to grapple to power. They lack any sort of radical political agenda to transform the country for the better, losing their way in the quagmires of Brexit.

Compare this to the vibrancy of their opposition. At this year’s Labour conference, a whole host of new transformative policy proposals were made. These included: a commitment to a Green New Deal and zero carbon emissions by 2030, a commitment to halve food bank use within one year of government, £60bn of investment for free loans of electric cars to ordinary people, and the abolition of private schooling.

Across the dispatch box, ideas and inspiration for a Conservative political future are bereft. Their principles abandoned, reputation tarnished, and membership ignored, they currently resemble a rabbit in the political headlights. It’s not as if they didn’t see this coming: top figures in this government have said how a prorogation of parliament would spell an end for the Conservatives.

In a leadership debate this year Chancellor Sajid Javid said proroguing Parliament would be the actions of a “dictator”, and that you “do not deliver democracy by trashing democracy”. When the Tory grandees proclaim the end of democracy on their own terms, you know they’re finished.

Let’s be clever enough to fully grasp the historical moment taking place here. Edmund Burke, the intellectual harbinger of British conservatism, once proclaimed: “Society is a partnership of the dead, the living and the unborn,”, but I doubt he foresaw the recklessness with which a certain Mr Boris Johnson would govern in order to cling onto power, at the expense of his party: past, present, and future. 


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