Filipinos Should Not Mistake British Self-Deprecation For a Repudiation of Parliamentary Politics

Britain and The Philippines may have one very big thing in common: self-deprecation. In Britain, this expresses itself through a total restraint on articulating positive feelings. Likewise, most in Britain are quick to complain about mild difficulties as though they were catastrophic. In each of these cases, sarcastic humour tends to play a big role in shaping the dialect.  For example, phrases in British English which indicate a supreme sense of appreciation or joyous approval such as “it was okay” or “that was quite good”, can often confuse the most fluent English speakers who are more familiar with American English in which even the mildest source of pleasure might be described as “terrific” or “fantastic” (Donald Trump is a major example of this).

While Filipinos do not share Britain’s self-deprecating rhetoric or sense of sardonic humour, Filipinos tend to be very self-deprecating when it comes to reflecting on the future of their own country. The palpable pessimism with which far too many Filipinos greet discussions about political and economic reform causes one to hear phrases like “nothing will change”, “it’s too corrupt”, “people are not informed enough”, when trying to detail the benefits of major positive changes to the Constitution of The Philippines. That being said, the sustained popularity of President Rodrigo Duterte has at least inspired some optimism in Filipinos who now see with their own eyes that positive change is possible. That being said, far too many still think that further changes are just “too good to be true”.

While Singapore’s political model is generally the one that is best suited to be an influence on the nature of federal-parliamentary and pro-FDI (foreign direct investment) reform in The Philippines, as the British Parliament is often called “the mother of all parliaments”, naturally many Filipinos interested in the parliamentary system will be watching the current Brexit debates in the British Parliament.

At present, political divisions in Britain over Brexit have caused a country famous for rhetorical pessimism and jokes about how bad everything is, to go into overdrive. Thus, when Filipinos hear British commentators saying “both parties are rubbish”, “Brexit is crap”, “I don’t care what any politician says” – one should take it with a pinch of salt as frankly it is difficult to remember a time when British people didn’t say such things about their government. The only differences is because the stakes are higher due to Brexit, the rest of the world is paying far more attention to what is being said in London than at any time since the collapse of Britain’s empire.

The fact of the matter is that Britain’s parliamentary system is just about the only thing that is still functional in the context of Brexit, insofar as the system is functioning exactly as it was intended to do. At present, each of the two biggest parties are internally divided over Brexit, but this has not stopped the ruling Conservative party from standing behind their leader, Prime Minister Theresa May – a woman who is still more popular among Conservative backbenchers than Jeremy Corbyn, the leader of the largest opposition party, the Labour Party.

This means that party politics is progressing as usual on every issue except Brexit. But whilst Brexit is universally acknowledged to be the biggest issue facing the UK as a whole, this hasn’t been enough to change party loyalists in parliament. Here it is a question of numbers and while May’s Brexit plan lost spectacularly, she just barely survived a vote of no confidence in her government. Had she lost, an new election would have been inevitable.

As a result, moderates from all parties are attempting to speak with one another about a compromise approach to Brexit. If this does not work, a snap election will still be inevitable sooner or later, as parliamentary systems have this as a tool to end the deadlock that in the American style presidential system, cannot be ended by taking the matter directly to the people.

In this sense, the parliamentary system continues to provide a security blanket to the politically deadlocked UK in the way that the presidential system cannot in the politically deadlocked US. In this sense, it will be instructive for reform minded Filipinos to see how the parliamentary system leads either to natural compromise or to a new election in Britain, while in America, a forced compromise is literally the only way out.  In a parliamentary system, when all else fails, the people will have their say. In a presidential system, they have to wait years to have their say and due to artificial term limits, they may not even get to have the kind of say that they want.

Going back to the shared sense of self-deprecation among British and Filipinos – Filipinos often under-estimate their own national worth and sadly mean what they say, while the British do the same but only at a rhetorical level. Deep down, most people in the UK know that there will be no crisis no matter what happens with Brexit and one of the reasons for this is the stability created by a time tested parliamentary system.

Like with all things in politics, listen not to what politicians say but observe how they act.

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