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Boris Johnson bows out

Image to show empty parliament in reference to Boris Johnson resigning

Although Boris Johnson’s historic resignation has left governmental departments in chaos and turned Parliament into even more of a live theatre than it usually is, Johnson can take comfort in an extraordinary statistic. He has achieved something that no Prime Minister has secured since Ramsay MacDonald in 1932: a record number of resignations, totalling over fifty members of government. Yet in the midst of the excitement and buzz of College Green and our Twitter feeds, life continues as normal. The healthcare system is still quaking under pressure, the cost-of-living crisis continues, and the effects of COVID in all their forms are still being felt. Signs of stability are few and far between.

Although the mass resignations, the speeches of MPs of all colours and the witty, sensationalist commentary of our favourite journalists are succeeding in capturing all our attention, it is important that we don’t let ourselves become too distracted from what is happening around us. With the Chancellor, the Health Secretary, the Education Secretary, the Northern Ireland Secretary, the Welsh Secretary, countless ministers, and parliamentary secretaries resigning within twenty-four hours of one another, there is no doubt that many major departments that we depend upon to keep pivotal services running smoothly (or at least not faltering completely), have been thrown into an unwelcome chaos that ultimately serves the interests of quite literally nobody.

A brief political history

So, with the upcoming battle for the leadership of the Conservative Party and a potential general election looming (anything could happen by this point), it is worth thinking about what we should expect from a democratic political system. Although, as Boris Johnson highlighted in his strikingly up-beat resignation speech, just three years ago the Conservative government won the biggest share of the vote since 1979, a government with an extraordinary parliamentary majority has proven to lack any sense of unity, coherence, or dependability. And if we cast our minds back to recent political history, we find that Johnson’s resignation is hardly an anonymous case.

In 2019, Theresa May resigned after just three years in the top spot, and just three years prior in 2016, her predecessor Cameron resigned following the narrow success of the “Vote Leave” campaign. Johnson is now joining the ranks, then, of an ever-growing club of politicians that bit off more than they could chew.

Why change is needed

While we have become used to thespian-style resignations and governments that keel under pressure, there is no reason for Westminster to continue with “business as usual” by continuing to make the same mistakes. So, if Johnson’s resignation can teach us one thing, it is that politics need to change. We can’t keep voting in Prime Ministers who lose the trust of their Cabinet and voters well before their expected five years in office ends, and we can’t just accept that politics has always been this way so there is no point in hoping for serious change. Although typing out an angry tweet demanding change or creating memes that sum up the incompetence of major political figures is a short-term way to express our dissatisfaction, much deeper, structural change is necessary. The light at the end of the (at least ten-year long) tunnel is that there is no shortage of people who will not tire of demanding change until Westminster gets its act together.

What needs to change

Yet how, exactly, can such a mammoth task be achieved? Clearly, the way that we recruit our politicians requires improvement. Many of them crop up during election time emblazoned with promises that seem, and most probably are, too good to be true, only to go under the radar for a few years while we get on with our lives and they with theirs (that for better or worse are entangled with ours), and then re-enter our lives a few years later when they need our support again, complete with a bundle of smiles and new promises. Another issue on the list is that often the MPs who make it to the government lack experience in the very departments that they run, while those with plenty of years of experience to their name like teachers, transport workers and nurses struggle to get a word in edgeways.

What to expect from a healthy democracy

While politics is always going to generate disagreement and anger and upset, it should also be generating more of the opposite: satisfaction, healthy debate, and high expectations. While a greater effort on behalf of Westminster to reach beyond the confines of London, instead of simply claiming that they will while continuing to alienate large swathes of the country, would help, much more is needed. More education in schools about what to expect from a healthy democracy- like a government that clearly communicates its policies and delivers on its key manifesto promises while continuing to genuinely listen to the concerns of people in between elections would be a good start.

A more pluralistic politics where Westminster is not the be-all and end-all of major decision-making, and a voting system that is not wildly disproportionate and which gives smaller parties a chance is essential. Many among us are tired of hearing the major parties talk over and past one another while missing the key point: politics should not be about one-up-mans-ship, jeering in the chamber, bureaucratic confusion, and power-grabs. Instead, it should be about healthy debate and effective, well-informed policy formulated by MPs who secured their fair and proportional share of the vote.

Looking to the future

While, as in any walk of life, there are good and bad politicians and many in-between (it is all in the eye of the beholder after all), one thing is certain: we should have and are fully capable of having a good and healthy democracy whereby the current cycle of resignations, weak governments and empty promises no longer defines the world of Westminster. Granted, the drama of it all may never go away, and we may secretly not want it to, but some effective policy implementation and government performance interspersed between the theatrics is hardly too much to ask for.

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