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Response to muriel_volestrangler (Reply #1)

Fri Jan 18, 2019, 09:38 AM

2. Sure. But this is the context, nevertheless,

within which things are falling apart and the centre cannot hold...

... What we see here is a 400-year history of parliamentary democracy trying to ignore the brick wall it’s heading for. Terrified by the impotence conferred on it by an EU referendum that’s smashed the very idea of representative government and replaced it with the blunt rule of plebiscite, the House of Commons retreats in this scene into its own forms, rituals, atmosphere. Look at the wood, the leather. These stagey perfomers are not just trying to catch Corbyn out. They are trying to pretend the Commons is still the stage where British history is made. Think of the legendary moments of parliamentary drama that fill history books and films, from Charles I bringing troops into the House to try and arrest his critics to Pitt the Elder’s seizure in the chamber to Arthur Greenwood speaking for England in 1939. Is this where it all ends – not with a bang but with an argument about a whisper?

All the sense of history, all the decorous debating skill of parliament are on display – but it’s so trivial and tiny compared with the realities that need to be addressed. Not because a potential misogynist slur against the prime minister doesn’t matter, or is somehow OK if it was uttered by a socialist against a Tory. But because the hour is truly desperate, and with the executive staggering towards a no-deal Brexit, the Commons appears in this photograph to find its own theatricality more interesting than seeking a way out of the nation’s terrifying impasse.

This picture shows what we love and hate about parliament – its aura of history. To anyone who’s considered that long history, things are now looking scary. The scale of our crisis, with Brexit theatening to consume the very way we govern ourselves, resembles the kind of breakdown last seen in the 17th-century civil war. If MPs can’t solve this, their fate may be sealed. They will be locked up in their chamber to have their meaningless impassioned arguments while the country move on – to what? A citizen’s assembly, say optimists. But it’s hard to see how the destruction, by plebiscite, of the world’s most enduring representative system is somehow going to result in a new dawn for democracy. This picture shows us MPs fiddling while British democracy burns.

• Jonathan Jones writes on art for the Guardian


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