Robert Fisk

To postpone a vote – or to “defer” the vote, as Theresa May decided to do this week – is a common enough habit among the dictators and kings of the Middle East . They are always worried that the wrong side may win when the government faces a vote. That’s why Chadli Bendjedid postponed the second round of parliamentary elections in Algeria in 1991. He was worried that the Islamists might win. The people could not be trusted. So he decided to defer the vote. Then he was forced to resign, and Algeria ended up with a civil war.

You get the point. Sometimes – in the “national interest”, of course – there really is no alternative. In Algeria, Bendjedid already had a pretty good idea of who would win the 1991 poll. In the first round of elections the previous year, the FIS Islamic party had trounced all opposition. The army were not going to countenance this. So no second round. End of "democracy". And the end of Bendjedid as well.

Hosni Mubarak, one of the obtuse but more boring Arab dictators, a politically rather dingy man yet supported by the US and most European nations as a force for "stability", deferred Egypt’s 2006 local government vote because he feared they would threaten a subsequent parliamentary poll. The Muslim Brothers were popular. The people could not be trusted. King Abdullah of Jordan deferred Jordanian elections in 2001 for all of two years because of political tensions caused by the second Palestinian intifada. In other words, the people could not be trusted.

As for ‘Palestine’, when the people went to the polls in 2006, they voted for the wrong people. They were meant to support Mahmoud Abbas’ American-supported cabinet in Ramallah, not the Hamas Islamists in Gaza. The people could not be trusted. So what has Abbas done ever since? He has deferred elections.

In Theresa May’s case, deferring the vote had nothing to do with whether or not she could trust the people. The British have, as we are constantly reminded, "spoken". Brexit meant Brexit. The people could indeed be trusted. It seemed it was the House of Commons that could not be relied upon. It was parliament itself which might not abide by the solemn promise made to the people as a result of their referendum vote.

In the Middle East , needless, to say, Arab leaders trust their parliaments because they rig the elections. Thus we see none of the chaos and shouting and impolite behaviour in the parliaments and assemblies of the Middle East’s Muslim nations as we witness in the House of Commons. Arab MPs clap and adore and positively worship (with a few exceptions) their beloved leaders. It is the people the leaders fear.

How May must envy this simple "democracy". For her, it is the British people who are united and it is the British parliament which does not truly represent them. “The country is coming together, but Westminster is not,” she once told us.

Arab governments may face a few dissenters or crackpots, but the vote – 88 per cent or 92 per cent or 98 per cent for each dictator, you can take your pick – will ensure their survival. Postponements and vote-rigging will have taken care of that. Favours too. Like the pots of cash, perhaps, doled out to Belfast for the allegiance of the Democratic Unionist party. But that is small beer compared to real parliamentary corruption. Thus no-one in the Arab chambers of ‘democracy’ shouts abuse at the presidents or autocrats of the Arab world.

Just now, Theresa May must feel some sympathy with Israel’s government for the chaotic parliamentary system it endures and the proportional system of voting which creates constant instability. The Israeli government may veer ever more sharply to the right – at times, to the fascist right – but it is always in danger of collapse. Thus its politicians change sides or become ever more racist or belligerent – or, if they are real liberals, quickly lose their seat in the government or the Knesset – both between and after elections.

Speaking of Netanyahu, historians of various integrity in Britain have, as we know, debated whether Winston Churchill would have been a Brexiteer or a Remainer. Their arguments appear to have settled around two apparently contradictory characteristics of the old boy: Churchill was in favour of a United States of Europe but he was also a fervent free trader. He looked to European civilization, not to Brussels. But I rather think – and how hard it is for me to say this – that Bibi Netanyahu, who treats the Palestinians with bleak and bitter cynicism and has no wish to see a Palestinian state, and thus condemns Israel to more war with its neighbour, might understand Churchill rather better than we do. Certainly in the context of the referendum vote and Brexit, and the deplorable performance of the British prime minister, and the British parliament and the tragedy which the UK has embarked upon.

For Netanyahu is fond of quoting Winston Churchill’s lament about “the confirmed unteachability of mankind”. The Israeli prime minister correctly defined this at the UN as “the unfortunate habit of civilized societies to sleep until danger nearly overtakes them”. But Netanyahu was falsely using Churchill to support his own fantasies about Iran and the “forces of terror” which Iran’s allies might unleash. In 1935, Churchill was talking far more realistically of German rearmament.

But perhaps this is the moment for British MPs – and this includes our prime minister – to recall more exactly what Churchill said about "unteachability" in the House of Commons on 2 May that year. “Want of foresight, unwillingness to act when action would be simple and effective, lack of clear thinking, confusion of counsel until the emergency comes, until self-preservation strikes its jarring gong – these are the features which constitute the endless repetition of history.”

But when will the "jarring gong" be heard? "Self-preservation" may have a lot to do with it, but Wednesday’s failed Tory vote of no confidence has banged no gongs. Nor the survival of the prime minister. Nor the secret cabals of the wretched Tory party. Certainly not Corbyn, who has chosen to remain a politician rather than become a statesman.

It’s not Germany that’s rearming today. Perhaps it is the people. Thus a second referendum – the gong – must clearly be deferred, perhaps forever. Arab dictators would approve.–The Independent