As 10 Downing Street’s exterior walls were smothered with projected illuminations, the United Kingdom officially left the European Union just a month ago. Yet, perhaps, Theresa May’s infamous words have never been more reflective of a situation: whilst Brexiteers hope to ‘take back control’ of fishing, waters and our borders, almost everything remains the same as we enter this so-far rather uneventful ‘transition period’. In a time when some rejoice and other commiserate over the inevitable changes that will occur, one should not neglect those which have always been accessible to us regardless of our membership (and I’m not talking about the transportation and packaging of kippers), but rather our domestic democracy and how it works (or perhaps doesn’t).


One major criticism of the European Union has always been its perceived undemocratic nature. From the early days of the European Coal and Steel Community in which Labour-Prime-Minister Clement Atlee branded it as “utterly undemocratic” to the modern-day accusations hurled by the likes of Nigel Farage and Boris Johnson, democracy and the EU have always caused great divisions. Indeed, even Margaret Thatcher – who in the first EU referendum of 1975 supported the ‘Yes’ campaign for remain – fiercely attacked the EU in her famous 1990 “No! No! No!” speech against European central control. However, in a country with a ‘First Past the Post’ electoral system and a complex and often blurred political system of ministers and advisors, are we at liberty to point the finger at other or should we be taking a look closer to home?



The ‘First Past the Post’ electoral system in the UK simply requires a party to gain the most votes in a majority of constituencies for it to be able to lead a government and seats are allocated depending on the number of constituencies they won. This means the number of MPs seen in the House of Commons for each party often differs considerably to the public opinion of each party. Indeed, despite Boris Johnson’s “landslide victory”, under a proportional representation system, there would be a hung parliament as the Conservative Party only won 43.6% of the popular vote. It is for these reasons that many condemn the First Past the Post system as it often gives certain well-established parties disproportionate power, whilst subduing and oppressing smaller parties with still rather substantial backing such as the Green Party who would have 18 seats in a proportional representation system. However, a Proportional Representation system is also somewhat problematic in its rare ability to create a majority. Without a majority, governments can achieve very little: indeed, look no further than the previous years of Brexit chaos or “dither and delay” as Johnson’s electoral slogan described it almost every public appearance. The lack of a majority can also lead to extremes; for example, one would not be completely outrageous to claim the Proportional Representation system of Weimar Germany was of significance in facilitating Hitler’s rise as such systems allow extreme parties a constant platform. Despite this Proportional Representation works well in several well-established countries and this does not stop the UK moving towards an Australian-style Preferential Voting system which seems to balance out the need for a majority with the satisfying of most of the electorate.



Another recently exemplified domestic, democratic issue is that of political advisors, summed up perhaps most aptly by former-Chancellor Sajid Javid’s jibe over the “Cummings and goings” of the recent cabinet re-shuffle. Love or loathe him, Prime Minister Johnson still has something of a right to his current status as – whatever your opinion of the recent election – Johnson still did win the most votes. However, recent revelations of how Dominic Cummings has made Boris Johnson sign a contract to give “jurisdiction” over government projects and his expansion of power to the treasury, which saw Sajid Javid being forced out of the Treasury for not allowing Cummings’ advisors to replace treasury officials, surely begs the question as to whether Cummings is – in actuality – the de facto Prime Minister. Throughout political history advisors have had perhaps somewhat disproportionate such as the likes of Alistair Campbell previously referred to endearingly as “the real deputy prime minister” to Tony Blair; however, few seem to have become as controversial as the character of Dominic Cummings. Whether his controversy centres around his peculiar views or his growing power remains unseen as his full power is as of yet unknown.



As we near a complete break from the EU, we must not take our eye off the ball over our domestic affairs. Whilst Johnson settles into his new home with his new family what remains to be seen is whether his so-called ‘People’s Government’ is just that or who it truly represents. And as the months progress, perhaps it will become truly evident as to whether Boris Johnson’s role within it is that of a puppeteer or puppet.


By Alexander Chopra of Wilson's School