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Downing Street, Camley Street… and real democracy

25 July, 2019

Boris Johnson

THE gush of adulation by many newspapers and TV channels for Boris Johnson is, perhaps, the most revealing feature of his coronation.

It should open up a debate on who owns the media – and whether its proprietors will gain from the political adventures Mr Johnson will embark on.

As an independent ­news­paper, without shareholders to determine or influence editorial policy, we are in a reasonable position to judge this extraordinary twist of fate.

At the heart of it, lies a nation whose political leaders have banned democracy from the realm – that has allowed the head of a government to be chosen by a small number of people of a particular party and rubber-stamped by the parliamentary system.

In one sense, there is nothing new in this. It occurred in 1963 when Sir Alec Douglas-Home was appointed as prime minister on Harold Macmillan’s retirement. In those days, however controversial the appointment, the PM’s role was entirely different – it was that of a chairman of a decision-taking cabinet.

But in the era of 24-hour news and the infantilisation of politics by the media, and the careerism of politicians and MPs, the PM’s role has become more and more “presidential” with powers and the shaping of policies – often presaged by TV sound­bites – evolving at No10.

Unelected power has now been transferred to Boris Johnson. Although some consider him lightweight and a bit of a buffoon, in fact he is a clever politician who knows what buttons to press on the public pulse. In the London mayoral election his opponent, Ken Livingstone, underestimated him – and lost.

Running as a thread through these entangled times, is the question of the importance of democracy. And here in Camden, more parochially, we come to the cold shoulder the Labour group can sometimes turn towards it.

Recently, nine councillors asked the group to endorse a “call-in” of a proposed scheme for the redevelopment of Camley Street.

Sadly, the leadership took umbrage, criticising these councillors for, in effect, daring to question their pro­gramme. Of course, it wasn’t dressed up like that.

They were told it was a “serious breach of group discipline” – that there was no need to attack each other in public.

Now, the council has found itself forced to do a U-turn, following a warning letter from that waspish firm of solicitors, Leigh Day – presumably on the advice of counsel who would have advised the council that a judgment at court could go either way.

Fortunately the spirit of democracy has prevailed.

It seems both the council and their opponents, existing businesses in Camley Street, have convincing programmes.

But let the matter be aired in public. The more debate the better. Allow real democracy to prevail.

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