Sunday, 1 September 2019

Britain on the brink of a coup

I am in respectable company when I see parallels between the UK's present situation and authoritarian takeovers in other countries and in other times. The respected veteran reporter Patrick Cockburn writes in The Independent and the i to the effect that: if you thought that a coup couldn't happen in Britain, think again. Cockburn is a man who, by the nature of his Middle Eastern beat, has seen more revolutions, violent or otherwise, than most.

The example he cites is, chillingly, not from the past nor from a nation with a recent history of civic turmoil. He writes:

What we are seeing is a very modern coup in which a demagogic nationalist populist authoritarian leader vaults into power through quasi-democratic means and makes sure that he cannot be removed.

This new method of seizing power has largely replaced the old-fashioned military coup d’etat in which soldiers and tanks captured headquarters and hubs in the capital and took over the TV and radio stations. Likely opponents were rounded up or fled the country. The military leaders sought popular passivity rather than vocal support.

I first witnessed the new type of coup in action three years ago in Turkey when it took place in reaction to an old-fashioned military coup. Part of the Turkish army tried to stage a military putsch on 15 July 2016 and provided the then prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan with what appeared to him to be a heaven-sent opportunity to install an elective dictatorship in which subsequent elections and the real distribution of power could be pre-determined by control of the media, judiciary, civil service, security services and, if people still stubbornly voted against the government, by outright electoral fraud.

He sees Brexit not as an end in itself, but a means to an end:

Less than a year after the failed military coup, Erdogan held a blatantly rigged referendum which marginalised parliament and gave him dictatorial powers. Despite the harassment and silencing of critics, it passed by only 51.4 per cent in favour of these constitutional changes as opposed to 48.6 per cent against. Even this narrow majority was only achieved late on election night when the head of the electoral board overseeing the election decided that votes not stamped as legally valid, numbering as many as 1.5 million, would be counted as valid, quite contrary to practice in previous Turkish elections.

By the day of the referendum in 2017, some 145,000 people had been detained, 134,000 sacked, and 150 media outlets closed. No act of persecution was too petty or cruel: one opposition MP, who denounced the “yes” vote, found that his 88-year-old mother had been discharged by way of retaliation from a hospital where she had been under treatment for two-and-a-half years.

Turkish elections are not a complete farce as in Egypt and Syria, as was shown by the election of an opposition candidate as mayor of Istanbul earlier this year. But the political process as a whole is now so skewed towards Erdogan that it will be extraordinarily difficult to dislodge him. This is a feature of the 21st-century type coup: once in office, leaders are proving more difficult to evict than a junta of military officers a century earlier.

Could the same thing happen here in Britain? This is one of the strengths of the Johnson coup: many people cannot believe that it has happened. British exceptionalism means that foreign experience is not relevant. Few knew or cared that Turkey had a strong tradition of parliamentary democracy as well as a grim record of military takeovers. But it is these slow-burn civilian coups which are such a feature of the modern world that we should be looking at – and trying to learn from – and not what happened in Britain in the 1630s when Charles I sought to impose arbitrary government.

One can see the excuse for a Cummings-Johnson putsch not in the form of a perceived military coup (nobody is going to believe that of our relatively liberal top brass) but as a likely election win by Labour led by Jeremy Corbyn, who now cannot shake off the image created in the minds of Middle England thanks to the Mail, Express, Sun and to some extent the BBC as a Jew-hating, terrorist-loving monster who will seize any opportunity to reduce Britain to the same state as Venezuela.

Will the courts come to our aid? Not if all but the most regime-friendly judges are in gaol. The softening-up process, of persuading people that judges are the enemies of the people, has begun by senior politicians, even Labour ones, and continued by the likes of the Daily Mail.

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