There are moments in politics when the national mood fundamentally shifts. One of those moments was yesterday – and it’s just the beginning.
On the morning of 28 August Boris Johnson sent Jacob Rees-Mogg to Balmoral to tell the Queen to shut down parliament.
And the people made their feelings clear – they took to the streets, all around the country. The Defend Democracy protests were organised hours later by a broad group of campaigners that work with Another Europe is Possible.
The movement is growing, with a crowdfunder urging activists to give what they can to help fund action in the coming weeks. The campaign aims to reverse the prorogation of parliament, to stopping Johnson driving our country off a cliff economically and politically, and to making sure the country has the time and space to deliberate and consider its political options.
Everyone wants an end to this national crisis no matter how they voted in 2016, but the current leadership of the country cannot be trusted to put the people first, nor respect the sovereignty of parliament or the standards of British democracy.
Everyone wants an end to this national crisis no matter how they voted in 2016, but the current leadership of the country cannot be trusted to put the people first, nor respect the sovereignty of parliament or the standards of British democracy. This new emergency demands a different approach.
There were three reasons last night was different. First, the majority of speakers who said they were “just” citizens, and the quality of their spontaneous speeches were among the best I have ever heard at rallies. The MC Laura Parker set the tone for the night by putting the main focus on getting people in the crowd to speak out, and putting the spotlight on ordinary citizens whose stories were anything but.
There was Lana from Chechnya, a woman whose family died in the Holocaust, a guy on his way home from work who had “never been to anything like this” before, and a Leave voter queueing up for his say.
Another speaker, Jacob, opened with: “You don’t know that my middle name is William. I never met my Great Uncle Bill. His Lancaster bomber was taken down and they never found his body. There is a gap in our family tree. And I am sure in many of yours. I am here to defend the democracy he gave his life for.”
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Stories were told in less than two minutes that conveyed more heart and soul than the thousands of prepared speeches from Boris Johnson and his cronies.
Second, it was about all political parties and none at the same time, and went way beyond Brexit. People from across the political spectrum are united in their outrage at the blatant contempt Johnson has shown for the mother of parliaments and the British history he claims to be so inspired by. Johnson is using his power to stifle debate, and leave parliament with the same kind of non-choice Theresa May put before MPs three times.
Johnson is banking on MPs either being bullied into accepting whatever deal he fancies in order to avoid no deal, or Europe caving in because of the lack of parliamentary protest, thanks to his convenient shut-down.
He is also counting on the people flocking to him in an election, after they are fooled by his lies on the NHS, the money he will elicit from his magic tree and the impossible trade deals he will concoct. Our citizens are not daft, and he is unwise to underestimate them so deeply.
Thirdly, this matters on a whole new level. There are many who denounce marches and demos as pointless expressions of virtue signalling. But when demos are organised with four hours’ notice, attract thousands, including many who come as first-timers to public protest, we know the stakes have risen even higher.
There is an energy to be harnessed and a movement to be built. Whatever our views on Brexit, no one voted to provide cover for crushing British democracy. But now we see that’s exactly what Johnson, Rees-Mogg and friends have planned: an Eton mess on a national scale with deadly consequences and a terrifying political agenda.
Parliament was not consulted. Most members of the prime minister’s cabinet were not consulted. Boris Johnson thinks he can trample over the little people in the country like he’s falling out of an Oxford Union bar trussed up in full Bullingdon gear, giddy with the power he has always expected to wield.
With the help of endless cash from corporate and vested interests, Boris Johnson has put together a team of extremists to hold British democracy to ransom and seize power for their own benefit. But we have something money can’t buy—people power.
It’s time to show him that he has underestimated the citizens of the UK and that our democracy, our values and our standards are not for sale. We will not be bullied and threatened into submission, we will not see our rights snatched away by louts in pinstripes. We will stand up and we will fight. Take a stand, sign up, give what you can. The stakes have never been higher.