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If only we could “dissolve the people and elect another”

Eighteen-year-old Sharon Nathan votes for the first time in 1970. Ian Tyas/Getty

I’ve raged against all our recent prime ministers, says Matthew Parris in The Spectator. I called Theresa May the “death star of British politics”, Boris Johnson a “moral toad”, and Liz Truss a “planet-sized mass of over-confidence and ambition teetering on a pinhead of a political brain”. Soon we’ll all turn on Rishi Sunak, too. But while anyone could compile a long list of “stupid little blunders”, it’s hard to think of a single “big thing” any of them did that made the country worse. The problem is that they’ve all been saddled with the impossible task of making Brexit work, which is the fault “not of our politicians, but of the British people.”

It’s not just Brexit, says Janan Ganesh in the FT. Something odd happens when elites talk about the crisis of Western democracy in general: “No one wants to fault the public, at least not in so many words.” But where the public is concerned, “some blame is due”. In a recent poll, British voters agreed by a large margin that “economic growth does more good than harm”. But at the same time, they opposed “almost every single thing” that spurs growth – including immigration, housebuilding, and spending on science instead of pensions – even when they were explicitly confronted with the trade-offs.

So yes, “the past three UK prime ministers were dire” and much of the governing class is “unserious”. But “what is anyone meant to do for an electorate that both obstructs growth and resents its absence”? Voters are no better in America, or in countries commonly “fancied to be grown up”. When Germans were asked in 2019 if the country should use force to defend a Nato ally in the event of Russian attack, “60% said no”. Sadly, no one can “Dissolve the people / And elect another”, as Bertolt Brecht put it. But the people certainly deserve their share of the blame.