In one respect Gina Miller is right. Today’s Supreme Court decision is bigger than Brexit. We are now in a civil war without bullets – between two sides who both claim to be fighting for democracy but who have very different ideas of what it entails. In the one corner are those who believe that democracy is where the electorate vote for something in a plebiscite and then government carries out its instructions; in the other corner are those who believe that democracy is Parliament and the courts acting together in what they see as the best interests of the people.
As I have written here before, the correct term for what the latter group advocate, and what was demonstrated in the show of power by the Supreme Court this morning is Kritarchy, rule by judges. Maybe there is an argument to be made for a system of government which involves token input from the general public but in which the real power rests with a parliament and judiciary acting in accordance with human rights charters and the like. Trouble is, I think it might be a bit of a hard sell to the half of Britain which feels increasingly outraged at the way the referendum vote to leave the EU is stealthily being put aside.
You would not gauge this anger, however, by listening to the news today. The dominant narrative being spun out on the BBC, and also some newspapers, is that we have a rogue government which is being caught out every time by Parliament and the courts, and whose commitment to leave the EU with no deal on 31 October is looking ever more in question. To appreciate the other side of Britain you have to look to the opinion polls – which perversely seem to take an upward jolt for the Conservatives every time the government suffers an embarrassment, Just think of that: we have had perhaps the most chaotic government of the past century – and yet not only is it leading in the polls, but it is increasing that lead.
That is why today’s decision from the Supreme Court is not necessarily bad news for Boris Johnson. It has helped hugely to reinforce the narrative that he has been trying to spin – that we have a Parliament and courts which are acting against the people. I doubt that many people will bother to ingest the intricacies of the Supreme Court’s ruling. Many people will simply see a bunch of judges standing in the way of the government’s plans for Brexit – and an awful lot of Remainers cheering them on. When we do finally have an election – and the decision of opposition parties to frustrate that is not doing their reputation as fighters for democracy any good – you can expect Boris (assuming he is still Tory leader) to milk the Supreme Court ruling for all it is worth.
The Conservatives’ lead in the opinion polls is not overwhelming. There is no guarantee that they can win an election. But ultimately I have a feeling that today’s Supreme Court decision will have increased rather than diminished their chances.