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 Then, carrying out a threat, the Conservative whip was withdrawn from 21 other MPs who voted in favour of last night’s motion.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.