Democratic dictatorship: the UK as prime exemplar

From the landmark employment tribunal victory of Professor David Miller to the Safety of Rwanda Bill, recent events in the realm of UK law are revealing the political and legal discourses of unaccountable power and control. 

It’s been happening a while, but the transformation of the image of Kenneth (now Lord) Clarke, the former Chancellor of the Exchequer under Margaret Thatcher, from stalwart of the repressive state to radical critic is complete.  Ironically, there is probably little if any change in Clarke’s own positions.  It is the political realm’s shift so far to the right, that has put Clarke somewhere to the left of even the mainstream ‘left’ in the UK, and more committed to human rights than the Labour Party leader Sir Keir Starmer, an erstwhile human rights lawyer.

Clarke’s comments in the House of Lords, explaining why he cannot support the Safety of Rwanda (asylum and immigration) bill have been circulating on social media, and they are worth listening to and understanding.

Key words to note (as quoted in The (UK) Times no less):

“Somebody has already said in this debate that parliament, claiming the sovereignty of parliament, could claim that the colour black is the same as the colour white, that all dogs are cats or, more seriously, that someone who has been acquitted of a criminal charge is guilty of that criminal charge and should be returned to the courts for sentence. Where are the limits?

“I always feared as time goes by in my career echoes of the warnings that Quintin Hailsham used to give us all about the risks of moving towards an elective dictatorship in this country, and the sovereignty of parliament has its limits, which are the limits of the rule of law, separation of powers and what ought to be the constitutional limits on any branch of government in a liberal democratic society such as ours.”


Elective dictatorship.

Clarke’s concerns that the government can override an objective finding of the courts are echoed by The Law Society of England and Wales.  Having lost their case at the Supreme Court, that Rwanda was a safe country to deport those who have arrived in the UK to seek asylum, the government is trying to pass a law to state that, despite even the Supreme Court’s findings, Rwanda is a safe country.  It not only makes a mockery of the international obligations that the UK has signed up to, but exposes the state’s machinations in undermining justice and as the law society puts it ‘manufacturing a reality’.

I differ from Clarke in this: he sees the prospect of elective dictatorship, I believe we have been living it for a long while, something that those of minoritised have felt for a long while.  Take every whitewashing of a police killing accompanied by sycophantic reporting; we have understood that the reality of each killing does not fit with the police and state narrative.  Even protesting the ongoing genocide in Palestine is subject to further restrictions, through the addition of measures to the current Criminal Justice Bill to give police more powers.  The justification for this?  Based on narratives from ‘advisers’, the Prime Minister announced that the weekly protests, though largely ‘respectful’ had seen acts of anti-semitism and glorification of terrorism.  Anyone who has been to a demonstration in the UK will know this is patent nonsense.  But the narrative is gaining traction that to demand freedom for Palestine is akin terrorism. The caption on Rishi Sunak’s post on X / Twitter says it all: “From today we’re going further to bring order back to our streets.”  Nothing good is coming*

Moving on, Professor David Miller’s employment tribunal victory against Bristol University, where he was found to have been discriminated against and wrongly dismissed from his post for ant-Zionist beliefs (which the tribunal considered as protected), has led to calls from the government ‘adviser’ on anti-semitism, Lord Mann who is also from the same parliamentary chamber, the House of Lords, as Lord Clarke, to effectively call for elective dictatorship.  As Professor Miller notes:


This is 2024.  Minoritised communities have had manufactured realties imposed on them by law (see all the counter-terrorism measures), by ministerial powers conferred by those laws (e.g. decisions on extradition cases, listing of organisations as proscribed, citizenship deprivation etc.) for decades now.  Look at foreign policy.  A ‘sexed up’ dossier is all that is needed to launch a war that kills a million people.  No UN resolution required.

Government advisers, including the Commission on Countering Extremism, alongside unaccountable but highly influential think tanks, have been creating lists of organisations, first Muslim, then left-wing, now also environmental and pro-Palestinian, to be at best blacklisted – from media, funding, respectability –  and at worst banned.  The first of the new tranche of bans came in January with the proscription of Hizbut-Tahrir, which I have written about on these pages.

I met with friends from West Africa last night.  Talking about the demonstrations in Europe and America in support of the Palestinians, one of the first things they said to me was this, “There is no pretence that these countries are democracies anymore is there?”  No, there isn’t.


Arzu Merali is a writer and researcher based in London, UK.  Find mor eof her work on this site, or follow her on Twitter and Instagram @arzumerali


*Such claims, have been tried and tested against the annual Al-Quds protest in the UK for going on 15 years.  As with the current protests, nothing could be further for the truth, and those in the pro-Palestine movement and wider human rights community who sought to distance themselves from Al-Quds Day because of political pressure should reflect on the fact that they did so, did not stop them now facing the government’s misrepresentation and harassment.  As Faisal Bodi has pointed out there can be no accommodation with Zionism as either an ideology or a political movement.  Both are morally bankrupt and lead to a failed politics and increased suppression of the Palestine liberation movement.




Original Photo: Number 10 CC BY-NC-ND 2.0 DEED