Farewell to the Frank Sinatra Parliament

(Photo: Parliament Live)

How will historians reflect on the UK Parliament which is about to be dissolved?

Some have already started to characterise it as a period of paralysis, inactivity and indecision. Others, by contrast, argue that in fact what we have seen is something of a renaissance in our government system: gone are the days of an all-powerful executive marshalling MPs through the voting lobbies like sheep. Instead, it is suggested, we have seen a resurgence in the power of individual members of Parliament, and an enhancement of the difference each one can make.

Either way, there is another way of looking at the recent history of Westminster – a way that is symptomatic of the age in which we live. And it could be summed up as the 'Frank Sinatra Parliament'. We all know the famous Sinatra song – 'I did it my way' – at least in part if not in full. It's apparently a popular choice at funerals, though if at all possible I veto it without hesitation (for reasons that will become clear). But the lyrics of the title also sum up well what has been happening in the Houses of Parliament over the last few years: everyone sought to do it 'their way' and as a result nothing much was achieved.

We could start with David Cameron: a charming, gifted and able man – but one who peaked in his political career too early, becoming Prime Minister without the years of experience in high office that would have helped hone his undoubted governmental ability. Out of hubris, he seems to have believed he could promise a referendum on EU membership that he would never have to deliver – because he assumed he knew voters would deliver a hung Parliament in 2015 and thus he would be blocked from keeping his pledge by an ongoing coalition with the Liberal Democrats, who would stop it.

Undeterred by the error of that judgement, but buoyed by his unexpected victory in that election, it never seems to have occurred to Cameron that when the EU referendum took place he could actually lose it. So confident was he of winning that he promised to stay on after the vote whatever the result – a vow he promptly broke the morning after the vote went against him. Cameron 'did it his way' – and we are all living with the results of that now.

Then we had Theresa May: a sincere, dogged and devout woman who inherited a reasonable government majority and consistently ruled out calling a general election until the polls were so far in her favour she decided to 'do it her way' and have a vote anyway, albeit one in which she seemed to have few real policies to campaign on. Such hubris led promptly to her humbling – and the loss of seats which have partly at least contributed to Parliament's recent paralysis.

But even then, it would have been possible for Parliament to find a way forward had there been a real willingness to compromise, find consensus, and listen to different views. Instead we have had hubris from both main party leaders: Jeremy Corbyn apparently believing the myth of his own sainthood fostered by his misguidedly devoted supporters ('Oh, Jeremy!') and Boris Johnson seemingly believing the myth of his own saviourhood fostered by his own ego's desire to channel Churchill (less V for Victory, more V for Vanity).

Hubris, hubris everywhere – and not a drop of humility, to paraphrase the Rhyme of the Ancient Mariner: Parliament prorogued, DUP intransigence, Labour infighting, Scottish Nationalist opportunism. Truly, this has been a House of Commons where everyone sought to 'do it their way' and we, the long-suffering British people, have paid the price.

The reason, of course, that I dislike having 'My Way' at funerals is because it is the absolute antithesis of the gospel. A life with 'self at the centre' is the opposite of the heart of the Christian faith – which is a changed heart with 'my way' no longer on the throne.

The gospel is not 'my way' but 'Thy Way' – the person and presence of Christ in the driving seat of our lives directing every area of how we think, decide and act. And that gospel brings with it a message of self-denial, dying to self, taking up our cross and serving others – even when (as it will) it comes at cost to ourselves.

How Parliament might have been different if Arlene Foster had stepped down a few years ago to break the logjam in Northern Ireland politics. How things might have changed had Jeremy Corbyn given way to someone like Sir Keir Starmer over this last summer. We can imagine a different set of circumstances now had David Cameron not made hubristic promises he didn't think he would have to keep; had Theresa May not succumbed to the lure of a strong poll lead to seek enhanced power; had Boris Johnson not prorogued Parliament.

'In those days,' the writer of one Old Testament book lamented, 'there was no King... and everyone did what was right in their own eyes' (Judges 21v15). Everyone did it 'their way'.

Today, with Britain having forsaken the one who is rightfully sovereign – Jesus Christ – it is much the same here. To use the title of another song Sinatra sang: 'There's something missing' – and it's missing from our nation's heart.

David Baker is a former daily newspaper journalist now working as an Anglican minister in Sussex, England. Find him on Twitter @Baker_David_A