Prime Minister in Name Only

Boris Johnson went into Parliament yesterday with a majority of one. Dr Philip Lee MP, crossed the floor as the Prime Minister rose, joining the Liberal Democrats. Then, carrying out a threat, the Conservative whip was withdrawn from 21 other MPs who voted in favour of last night’s motion. His administration is now 43 votes short of a majority.

Mr Johnson is now calling for an election before the October 31st Brexit deadline, to give him the mandate to get over the line. But, in any near-term election, Tories will be wiped out in Scotland again, and suffer at the hands of the Liberal Democrats in the South and West of the country. This may be offset by gains against Labour in the North of England, but the path to a majority relies on getting the Brexit party out the way. This will only be possible IF the election is before October 31st, and even then, Nigel Farage’s goons will likely stand against any “suspect” Tory MPs. If the election is after 31st October, then I suspect Farage will cry “betrayal” and stand against all Tories, splitting the Brexit vote and delivering the keys to Number 10 to Jeremy Corbyn at the head of a coalition. I think no party looks like gaining a majority.

But the date of the election is out of Mr Johnson’s hands. Under the terms of the Fixed Term Parliaments Act, he requires a 2/3rds majority for an election, and so this route is closed. He could repeal the Fixed Term Parliaments Act, but he probably lacks the votes for even this.

The leader of the Opposition, who it must be noted is actually behind the Tories in the polls, has been calling for an election for a year, wants an it after the 31st October, for the same reasons Mr. Johnson wants it before. Jeremy Corbyn will win this battle. Let’s assume for a bit Jeremy Corbyn is a competent politician. (Shut up, stop guffawing and bear with me, I know this is a big assumption). He will want the Prime Minister to stew in his own juice for a while. Minority administrations are weak and cannot achieve anything, and in any case Parliament will not, thanks to the Prime Minister’s proroguation, be sitting much. Corbyn may have few qualities, but he is at least patient in the persuit of his goals.

So, election then?

Eventually yes. Minority administrations always end with an election. I no longer expect this parliament to last until 2022. But there is one rabbit the Prime Minister may pull out of his hat before that election which Johnson will struggle to win: a second referendum. This solves most of Mr Johnson’s problems, and I think a lot of the “we might as well stay in the EU rather than that deal” rhetoric coming from Farage and Ress-Mogg is softening up for this. The election talk could be a smokescreen.

The ins and outs of what will or will not happen are less important than something else that changed last night. Never has a Conservative Prime Minister expelled members who include 2 former chancellors and 6 other former cabinet ministers for voting with their consiences. The Brexiters have got control, but such is their overreach, they looked lost. The normally magisterial public performer “Boris” looked rushed, confused and at the mercy of powers outside his control. Which he is.

Prime Minister Johnson behaved like a man with a 100 seat majority, but had his bluff called. Worse though than the Prime Ministers witless pugnacity was the arrogant, entitled and smug performance from the leader of the house, Jacob Rees Mogg as he lounged about on the Government front bench. What story does this image tell: These people think they’re playing a clever parlour game, not wrecking people’s livlihoods.

I met Mr Rees-Mogg in 1997 when he turned up with his nanny to fight a working-class seat in Scotland. I thought then that this man represents everything wrong with the Tory party, and nothing has changed my view since. I will enjoy watching his return to the backbenches and I will never again vote for any party that has him in it.

This mendacious and utterly incompetent government is a necessary step in stopping Brexit. A government of Brexiters, by Brexiters, for Brexiters must fail, and be seen to fail. Brexit is the impossible being delivered by the incompetent for the uninformed. There can then be no further insinuation that the impossible project failed because Government isn’t committed enough. Reality is now smashing the Brexiters’ populist rhetoric. ‘No Deal’ won’t work because we need a deal with the EU, or face being much, much poorer. All that happens on November the First is the UK re-enters negotiation to find the financial settlement, the Irish border and regulatory equivalence demands look much as they did before Mrs May negotiated the withdrawal agreeement. There is no way the EU will offer more favourable terms to a third country than they will to a leaving member. The deal painstakingly negotiated represents the hardest Brexit realistically possible, and the Brexiters who’d thought of nothing else for 30 years, rejected it.

The Brexiters have raised the referndum result to be the perfect embodiment of democracy. They had their chance to deliver on it. Three times. But was Brexiters votes stopping Brexit.

The referendum delivered a narrow mandate to leave the European Union. This is a much harder and more involved process than was sold by either of the ‘Leave’ campaigns, and it certainly wasn’t a mandate to rip the UK out of its principal trading relationship and leave everyone much poorer. At the very least, the Public deserve another referendum on Brexit now we know it isn’t a walk to the pub, on a path lined by flowers and freshly laid tables of cream tea, but rather a dangerous, steep path with long drops either side, surrounded by clowns throwing lego, rollerskates and banana skins in your path. It is not “undemocratic” to call it a day there and revoke Article 50.

Now, battered and confused, the Party that incubated this absurd and poisonous movement has been destroyed by it. I suspect those expelled yesterday from the Tory party will find themselves the eventual winners. The next Tory Government will be formed of a party that has purged the European research group of Europhobic headbangers, or the party will deservedly fade into obscurity and die.

Whether this takes 5 years or 20, I don’t care. Brexito Delanda Est.

The Last Few Days Of May

79 years ago, almost to the day, through the last few days of May and into June, a British Expeditionary Force, what was left of it anyway, were trapped on the French coast at Dunkirk, facing bombardment, capture or death. It looked like the end of “our Island story” as Germans closed in on our trapped and defeated armies. Then the Panzers stopped. They’d outrun their supply-lines, so the Luftwaffe took over. But sand dunes are pretty good defence against aerial bombardment. Thanks to the miracle of Dunkirk, the Army, broken and without its kit, was saved. The Battle of France was over, the battle of Britain was about to begin.

Dunkirk is, of course Nigel Farage’s favourite film because he thinks it’s about plucky little Britain standing alone against all those grotty foreigners on the continent. But he misses details. In the opening sequence, the British soldier running through the suburbs of the town, encounters French forces. What were they doing? Fighting the heroic, forlorn and hopeless rearguard action which allowed the British (and a lot of others) to escape. Those french boys fought bravely so that our boys could get home. The film is about the most catastrophic defeat the British Army has experienced in its entire history. “The Miracle of Dunkirk” was a captivating lie. A brilliant piece of propaganda. But because the defeat of the Army, and of the country wasn’t total, we fought on. Although many brexiters are keen students of military history, they often learn the wrong lessons because they pay attention to the people doing the shouting and killing, and not to those doing the planning and logistics.

Those of us who don’t want to leave the EU fought on after the catastrophic, humiliating defeat of 2016. Which brings us to dogged, diligent, dull Theresa May. She has the heroism of Hugh Dowding, who refused to sacrifice any more planes to the defence of France. Which was controversial at the time but with hindsight, probably saved Britain. He too was shuffled off after his victory, in his case to the Ministry of Aircraft Production after the Battle of Britain, and was bitter about it for the rest of his life.

It’s hard to see what Theresa May can realistically achieve by sticking around. Her majority, like her authority is non-existent. Her legacy lies in tatters. But equally, it’s hard to see what replacing her with another Tory, especially one of the Faragist tendency, will achieve. The problems besetting the government will still be there for the next Prime Minister. There will not be a parliamentary majority for any way forward on Brexit, or indeed on anything else. The way to resolve this is through a general election. However thanks to the Fixed term parliament act (a big part of this current malaise, thanks Liberal Democrats…), that requires a vote of no confidence, and that requires that Labour vote for it. Which many of them won’t, not while they’re led by Jeremy Corbyn whom many Labour MPs regard as unfit for office.

There’s a chance this hopeless parliament drags on and on having the same old arguments about Brexit as the rest of the country, with the EU wearily extending and extending until 5th May 2022.

Theresa May will limp on for a while longer yet. But whatever Mrs May’s personal merits, she has run out of road to kick the can down and the Tory party is restless. For those of us who’ve thought that politics today couldn’t get any more farcical, the 1922 Committee has already voted on whether the rules should change to allow Conservative MPs another vote of confidence in their leader, but kept the votes sealed. Sad to say, but I think Gordon Brown Day, when Theresa May takes over from the “clunking fist” as the 35th longest serving prime minister, is the likely target for the Tory machine. Even if they can’t agree on the way forward, Tories can agree to let a powerless prime minister limp on up her own via Dolarosa, in order to spite a former Labour prime minister. By such trivialities are we now being governed.

Clearly someone will have to act as caretaker Prime Minister during the Tory leadership squabble. That could be Mrs May, or it could be someone like Philip Hammond, which would be great because I have him as Next Prime Minister at 50-1. I think Boris will struggle to get to the final two. He’s just not trusted enough by the parliamentary party so I think laying the favourite is a good bet. (Stop sniggering at the back). But if he did get the top job, defections would likely take his majority to below zero. So I think someone from the broad mass of the Tory party – someone who voted remain, but supported the Government loyally will be the final choice. Sajid Javid has long had my money on him, as has Rory Stewart, who also has the advantage of not actually running yet. Tory leadership elections are famously hard to predict.

So what of Mrs May on the eve of her departure from the stage?

I think history will be kinder to her than was the news. Much kinder. When she was selected as Tory leader, I thought she, compared to the alternatives, represented the best hope for liberalism. And she was. She held the line against the onslaught of populist forces. She tried to deliver a Brexit, consistent with the sour, bigoted and miserable mood of the campaign, but failed because of the inherent contradictions within any possible route to leaving the EU. I think Brexit is now nearly over. May was too decent, too reasonable and too diligent to take us out without a deal. Perhaps another Tory leader will waste another couple of years trying to smash an agreement through. Perhaps he or she will be denied a deal, and try to crash the UK out without a deal. But parliament, this one anyway, will not let them.

Mrs May defeat in trying to deliver a reasonable brexit was an honest one, and right now, at the moment of her defeat, she’s probably won. Diligent planning and international co-operation win wars, not bigoted rhetoric and beery farts. That is why we’re still in the EU. Mrs May’s plan was a plan to actually leave the EU and seek our fortune outside, and if we do leave her deal, or something very like it will be the result. But that’s not what Brexiters wanted. Not really. They wanted the war, but without any of the logistics and planning. They wanted revolution. Brexiters gave the order, but without the resources to carry it out. It is the remainers who correctly judged the lesson of Dunkirk. You haven’t lost until the enemy has won.

I can’t see how we actually can leave now. The momentum has gone. Brexiters have no plan and no ideas beyond shouting “democracy” at people who disagree, as if one close, flawed poll three years ago somehow outweighs the fact the Brexiters failed completely and the country can’t really be bothered any more. There simply isn’t the appetite for “Blood, sweat, toil and tears” necessary to leave the EU because, and I really get bored of pointing this out to Brexiters, the EU isn’t Nazi Germany.