John Harington, a well-known Elizabethan courtier and writer, famously (and cynically) noted:
Treason doth never prosper: what's the reason?
Why, if it prosper, none dare call it treason.
It's hard to see what happened yesterday in Britain's Parliament as anything short of treason, in the sense that it was a deliberate, widespread disregard of the will of the British people, clearly expressed in a referendum, by professional politicians who were (and are) certain that they know better than those who elected them. In doing so, they abdicated their role as representatives of the people, and - in so many words - arrogated to themselves the role of arbiters over the people, without so much as a "by your leave".
As one letter-writer to the Telegraph put it:
SIR – The BBC has reported the current situation in Westminster as a battle between Parliament and the Government. That is wrong. It is a battle between Parliament and the people, with the Government on the side of the people.
We voted to leave the EU and there was no question of conditions of any sort. We then elected some 85 per cent of the current MPs on the basis of manifesto commitments to comply with and implement the referendum result.
What gives MPs in a supposedly democratic country the right to ignore the wishes of those people who elected them on those manifestos?
That, indeed, is the question. British parliamentary democracy took a body blow yesterday, from which it'll take a long time to recover . . . if, in fact, it does recover. From now onward, there must inevitably be a profound distrust from the electorate towards the elected.
Of course, Britain's not alone in that. The US Congress and Senate are filled with members who promise the sun, moon and stars to get elected, but once they're in office, immediately disregard the wishes of their constituents and pander to special interests and partisan political priorities. Personally, I think flogging's too good for them. As one American writer put it, in a different context:
What is happening, in short, is that today’s Paul Reveres are being muzzled by the Benedict Arnolds who are running the show.
We might think that events in faraway, formerly great Britain aren't really of concern to us. Unfortunately, that's not true. There's a reason that Britain, and its system of government, is known as the "Mother of Parliaments". There will be any number of US politicians and pressure groups watching what happens there, and planning to thwart the will of the American people, just as British politicians and pressure groups are trying to do right now. The same will be happening in other countries around the world. The consequences are likely to be far-reaching, and potentially very damaging.
Personally, I think Oliver Cromwell said it all when he dismissed the Rump Parliament in 1653. His words may be found here.
It is high time for me to put an end to your sitting in this place,
which you have dishonored by your contempt of all virtue, and defiled by your practice of every vice.
Ye are a factious crew, and enemies to all good government.
Ye are a pack of mercenary wretches, and would like Esau sell your country for a mess of pottage, and like Judas betray your God for a few pieces of money.
Is there a single virtue now remaining amongst you? Is there one vice you do not possess?
Ye have no more religion than my horse. Gold is your God. Which of you have not bartered your conscience for bribes? Is there a man amongst you that has the least care for the good of the Commonwealth?
Ye sordid prostitutes have you not defiled this sacred place, and turned the Lord's temple into a den of thieves, by your immoral principles and wicked practices?
Ye are grown intolerably odious to the whole nation. You were deputed here by the people to get grievances redressed, are yourselves become the greatest grievance.
Your country therefore calls upon me to cleanse this Augean stable, by putting a final period to your iniquitous proceedings in this House; and which by God's help, and the strength he has given me, I am now come to do.
I command ye therefore, upon the peril of your lives, to depart immediately out of this place.
Go, get you out! Make haste! Ye venal slaves be gone! So! Take away that shining bauble there, and lock up the doors.
In the name of God, go!
Need one say more?