John Harris

Journalist & Author

Any new prime minister is doomed if they don’t fix Britain’s democracy | John Harris

If we are to avoid the kind of dystopia that now haunts not just politics but popular culture, great change is imperative

Presented with Brexit, a political system apparently breaking apart and the central importance of online networks to just about everything, it is tempting to ignore the past and focus on what seems to be a very modern picture. It is always difficult to zoom out from the daily hurly-burly and understand the true nature of a crisis. But what is happening actually reflects a rule that dates back many centuries: that if an economic slump and its aftermath combine with deep social and economic disruption, people will usually start to loudly question the way they are governed – chiefly because insecurity and uncertainty always focus our minds on questions of control.

Of late, when not asking members of the public about their views on the Brexit mess, I have been rereading Christopher Hill’s The World Turned Upside Down, a masterful history of the ideas and movements that cohered around the time of the English civil war. For all that it describes an exotic world of Diggers, Ranters and Familists, its story has loud echoes now: the 30 years from 1620 to 1650 described “as economically among the most terrible in English history”, with the aftershocks of the Reformation and the first stirrings of the transition from agrarian feudalism to capitalism combining to drastically undermine England’s systems of power.

Related: ‘Mini-Trump across the Channel’: EU media on Boris Johnson as British PM

The urge to get Brexit ’sorted’ and the machinations of our newly assertive parliament verge on the antithetical

Related: Anyone who wants to be prime minister should have a course of therapy first | George Monbiot

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