The last time Conservatives accused Parliament of defying "the will of the people", they ended up supplying weapons to paramilitaries and threatening civil war. My latest for the @NewStatesman on the lessons for Brexit of 1914. newstatesman.com/politics/uk/20…
2. The trigger in 1914 was a Home Rule Bill, giving Ireland its own Parliament. Like Brexit, Home Rule shattered party loyalties & split the country into rival mass movements. Like Brexit, it stirred convulsive political passions. By 1914, Tory election posters looked like this:
3. Crucially, Tories did not only argue that Home Rule was wrong; they argued that Parliament was defying "the will of the people" and doing the work of England's enemies. Tories urged the King to veto parliamentary legislation and talked of "breaking the parliamentary machine".
4. Andrew Bonar Law, the pugnacious Conservative leader, told a demonstration: "there are things stronger than parliamentary majorities". He almost certainly helped supply weapons to the Ulster Volunteers: a paramilitary army dedicated to armed resistance aginst an Act of Parlt.
5. Bonar Law was almost certainly complicit in the gun-running at Larne, which landed around 35,000 rifles and 3 million cartridges. He warned ministers that if they tried to suppress the Volunteers, "we should regard it as civil war".
6. Tory literature told voters that “the House of Commons does not truly represent the people, nor do its votes represent the opinions of the electorate”. The party pledged to uphold “the Supremacy of the People” against the “paid puppets” of the House of Commons.
7. Tory papers raged against the "coalition of minorities" in a hung Parliament that was driving through the Home Rule legislation. Such laws, the party conference was told, were “tainted laws, of which [Conservatives] did not admit the moral authority”.
8. By 1914, Tory election literature was warning that Britain might soon be "stained by the blood of civil war. No method remains, except armed revolt, by which the country could make its will prevail”. The outbreak of war in Europe may have prevented civil bloodshed in Britain.
9. 1914 was the closest Britain has come since the seventeenth century to civil war. It's a reminder of what can happen when parties reject the democratic authority of Parliament, or set themselves up as the arbiters of "the will of the people". More here: newstatesman.com/politics/uk/20…