Category: Party politics

Party politics

The unity candidate

The Sunday Times reports,

Jeremy Corbyn ‘would support John Bercow as unity PM’

This is some new meaning of the word “unity” not previously known to me. I do not believe I am alone in preferring the honest fanatic Jeremy Corbyn to John Bercow.

Jeremy Corbyn has privately told allies that he will step aside and allow someone else to become prime minister if Boris Johnson is forced from power.

Sources say the Labour leader has concluded that he would not win the support needed to lead a government of national unity. Corbyn has signalled to allies that he might support another candidate as long as it is not a Labour or Conservative MP.

John Bercow, a Tory MP before becoming Speaker of the House of Commons in 2009, has emerged as the Labour leader’s favoured compromise candidate after he ruled out Kenneth Clarke, the former chancellor, who was expelled from the Tories last month.

I suspect that this is a trial balloon designed to make Jeremy Corbyn look good by comparison, but if John Bercow does “emerge” his way into being Prime Minister it will make his decisions made as Speaker during the last three years look as if they were nothing but a conspiracy to gain power, a process of emergence from the shadows brought to the threshold of completion by his recent meeting with the EU’s President-of-whichever-bit-of-the-EU-he’s-president-of, David Sassoli.

And fortune, on his damned quarrel smiling, Show’d like a rebel’s whore

The Independent‘s John Rentoul is scarcely likely to be happy at what the latest poll by Opinium says, but dutifully tweeted it anyway:

Opinium poll for Observer, Cons back to 15-pt lead:
Con 38% +2
Lab 23% -1
Lib Dem 15% -5
Brexit 12% +1
Green 4% +2
2,006 UK adults 3-4 Oct, change since last week

So after all those Remain victories in Parliament and the courts, Boris Johnson’s Tories are slightly more popular and the Liberal Democrats are significantly less popular? How can this be?

He Who Fights Monsters

As Guido reports, the speech that Guy Verhofstadt, the European Parliament’s Brexit Coordinator, made to the Liberal Democrat conference was rapturously received.

He said,

We cannot continue, dear friends, with a Europe that is always acting too little and too late. In the world order of tomorrow – the world order of tomorrow is not a world order based on nation states or countries; it is a world order that is based on empires. China is not a nation, it is a civilisation [inaudible word]. India – you know it better than I do – is not a nation. There are two thousand nations in India. There are twenty different languages that are used there. There are four big religions. At the same time it is the biggest democracy worldwide. The US is also an empire, more than a nation. Maybe tomorrow they will speak there more Spanish than English, I don’t know what will happen. And then finally, the Russian Federation. The world of tomorrow is a world of empires, in which we Europeans and you British can only defend your interests, your way of life, by doing it together in a European framework and in the European Union.

Some people objected to Guido’s description of this speech as saying that the EU needed to become an empire. Fair enough, he never said that. But he certainly seems to think that in order to survive among a world of empires the EU must become more like an empire than it is at present. And – how shall I put this? – neither he nor his audience seemed unhappy at the prospect. Liberalism once meant something different from this.

What value parties?

Almost 50 MPs (almost 8% of the house of commons) have changed party since the June 2017 election. (Some have changed several times, so there have been 73 switches of party overall – like divorce, party infidelity rates can seem higher if one forgets that a smallish number of people contribute a lot of the statistics.)

For better and (often) for worse, parties, not personalities, have been how we vote for three centuries. Burke wrote that he

was quite sure he rested wholly on the Whig interest and would not obtain a single Tory vote (in point of fact he did obtain but one)

in Bristol in 1774 – and few MPs have done better. Manifestos, not our local MP’s opinions, are most of what we vote for. Party leaders, not local MPs, are most of whom we vote for. And parties are how MPs are disciplined to pay attention to these things – and therefore to our votes, and therefore to us. It doesn’t work at all well – but the alternative is relying on MPs’ consciences. That works well sometimes – but fails often.

One of Churchill’s reasons for praising the oblong shape of the house of commons was that when you changed party in Britain you “crossed the floor” (something he did twice but, as with other aspects of his career, that was unusual). Everyone saw Churchill cross the floor – and Churchill was very aware of himself doing it. In the continent’s universal semi-circle, representatives could gradually move their sitting positions leftwards (or rightwards) without ever facing such a moment of public admission.

However when “everybody’s doing it” and SW1 approves, the effect is weakened.

That the great realignment sees a breakdown of the old party structures is hardly something to complain about. But until we can get something better – until we can get not just a few who are better but 632 who are better – I fear we need either a new party or a purged one with the same discipline – or both. If the current crop of Tory MPs are purged to the point that we can safely rely on MPs’ consciences to deliver Brexit, not party discipline, then well under half will be in the next parliament.

Failing, flailing, and doing surprisingly well in the polls

I read everywhere that Boris Johnson’s government is flailing and failing. They have been soundly defeated in the Commons. It looks like Boris will be forced to ask the EU for another extension, and according to the Times it has been pre-approved:

Rebel Tory MPs and opposition leaders received private assurances from European leaders that a request by parliament for a three-month Brexit extension would be granted in one last attempt to break the deadlock.

The Times understands that senior figures behind the bill to force an extension on Boris Johnson cleared their plan with EU capitals before it was published this week. They received reassurances that the European Council, which is made up of EU leaders, would not stand in the way of one final extension if it was approved by parliament.

Amber Rudd is but the latest high-profile Tory to resign the Conservative whip, to the delight of her brother Roland Rudd, the chairman of the People’s Vote campaign.

Yet…

“If Parliament is unable to decide on Brexit it would be better to have a snap General Election”

Agree: 50%
Disagree: 18%

-Tweet from the “Britain Elects”, quoting a poll by ComRes carried out from the 4th-6th September. It is not the only such result. The Independent‘s John Rentoul has observed,

Average of 3 polls this weekend (Survation, Opinium, YouGov)

Con 33%

Lab 23%

Lib Dem 18%

Brexit 14%

A purge long overdue

Johnson threatens Brexit rebels with party expulsion

Sayeth that bastion of anti-Brexit sentiment Reuters. But what I find more interesting is this:

House of Commons Leader Jacob Rees-Mogg said any wise party would prepare for an election and that the rebel legislation would be considered a matter of confidence in the government. “It is important for the government to establish the confidence of the House of Commons and this is essentially a confidence matter: Who should control the legislative agenda, Jeremy Corbyn or Boris Johnson?” Rees-Mogg said.

As I have said before, the way to get Nigel Farage (not Jeremy Corbyn, that is a canard) in No.10 is for enough of the Château-bottled shit who make up much of the ‘Conservative’ Party to prevent Boris from delivering a clean Brexit. That is the magic ingredient which transforms Farage from a remarkable political outlier into a political kaiju who will flatten London (well, Westminster specifically). The Brexit Party exists almost exclusively to rip the two main parties apart (but particularly the Tories) if we end up with No Brexit or Brexit-in-name-only. There are enough adults in the Tory Party to have figured out that out too, meaning they understand that certain ‘Big Beasts’ like Ken Clarke and several dozen others need to be purged from the party utterly, completely, unambiguously and unapologetically, or the entire Parliamentary Tory party will be able to drive to the House in three or four black cabs after the next General Election.

They have it within their power to make the Brexit Party pretty much just go away, and they would have to be cretins not to see how to do that. Sadly, if we have learned anything in the last three years, Parliament is awash with cretins. I always used to think it was a mistake to assume my enemies were idiots, but… well, we will see.

The real reason Jeremy Corbyn wants Brexit

Andrew Lilico of the Telegraph does Jeremy Corbyn an injustice. He writes,

Jeremy Corbyn will not stop no-deal, because he believes it’s his only route to power

Given that Corbyn could have forced a pre-no deal general election by holding a confidence motion on July 25, but his not doing so has made no deal hugely more likely, why didn’t he?

Here I must interject that unlike Lilico I do not believe for a moment that Corbyn could have won a Vote of No Confidence on July 25. For Corbyn to have won a VONC, several Tories would have had to side with him. For a Conservative MP to vote out a Conservative Prime Minister literally on his first full day of office would have been too spectacular a reversal of their loyalties.

Be that as it may, Lilico then argues that,

There are two parts to the answer. First, he may have feared a ‘Boris bounce’ in the polls, if an election had been held immediately upon Boris’ appointment. Some recent polls have shown Labour on barely more than 20 per cent (sometimes lower) and post-Boris polls have the Tories up as high as 30 per cent. Forcing a general election that gave Boris a majority to implement no deal could have backfired.

But the more fundamental reason is that Corbyn really sees no deal as an opportunity, not a threat. He doesn’t actually care whether the UK remains in the EU or not, provided he is not seen as responsible for either outcome. What he cares about is the overthrow of the current economic and political system and the introduction of a True Socialist state. Brexit is intrinsically a distraction, but in practical terms an opportunity.

The best outcome, from the point of view of promoting Corbyn’s vision, is a general election held at the maximum point of disruption post-no deal. He wants an election to be held, if possible, with strikes crippling public services, food shelves empty in the shops, medicine shortages at the pharmacies, chaos in Northern Ireland, and lorries backed up at the Channel. Then he can say: Capitalism has failed; give Socialism a chance.

I do not think it’s the case that Jeremy Corbyn is a cynical Disaster Socialist, although he cannot help but be aware that if disaster ensues he will stand to benefit.

But he does want Brexit. Firstly because he has wanted to be out of the EEC/EC/EU all his political life and his conversion to Remain was half-hearted at best, false at worst. But far more important right now is that Brexit – any sort of Brexit – finally happening will, at a stroke, wipe out the biggest reason for voting Liberal Democrat. Brexit will do for Labour what it will do for the Conservatives: destroy their biggest rival’s main selling point.

Most Remainers are left wing. What’s the point of them voting Lib Dem to stop Brexit once Brexit has already happened? To shake their fists at Labour for not fighting harder? That would be a futile gesture, and expensive if their wasted vote allows the Conservatives to gain by splitting the left wing vote. True, a hard core of Remainers will gird their loins and start the long campaign to rejoin the European Union. The Liberal Democrats will become the party of Rejoin, and as such will have a secure niche in British politics for decades to come. But faced with a choice between a long and possibly fruitless campaign and the best chance socialism has had in years, most left wing Remainers will pivot back to simply being left wingers.

Four ways Boris could fail, and in most of them Brexit fails with him

Professor Matthew Goodwin is the author of National Populism: The Revolt Against Liberal Democracy, which I have read and found good. As an academic he maintains an attitude of detachment but it is clear to me that he wants Brexit, partly from fear that if the referendum result is thwarted the result will be a resurgence of the nativist Right, who will have been shown to be correct in their claim that democracy is a sham.

Goodwin believes the most likely thing to happen in the next few months is that Boris Johnson will succeed in delivering Brexit and will win an election on the strength of having done that. In this article, “Boris Wins Big … Right?”, he details four scenarios that end very differently. I approve of that type of thinking.

One lesson of the past decade, as I usually point out in my talks, is that we should always challenge Groupthink. It’s not that I find the above implausible, because I don’t. If things do not change then Boris has a pretty good chance of winning a majority, albeit one that in my view will be much less spectacular than Twitter would have you believe. But it could also go very wrong and we should recognise that conventional wisdom has a dismal record. Long-time subscribers of this bulletin know that it is only by challenging Groupthink that we saw 2016 Leave victory coming. So where could it go wrong for Boris? Here are four things his team need to think about.

Of the four factors he cites, only the first two strike me as big risks. They are:

– 1. He fails to unify Leavers
– 2. Corbynomics remains popular

In all the hullabaloo about Brexit it is easy to forget that a generation has grown up who only know of Margaret Thatcher as a kind of Bogeywoman and who know nothing of the failures of socialism that caused her to be voted in. Corbynomics is indeed popular, more popular than Corbyn himself. Never forget that the hard Left was a vital part of the coalition that won the 2016 EU referendum.

Added later: I said I admired Goodwin’s willingness to think about how he could be wrong in his predictions and how things could go contrary to his desires. In contrast Polly Toynbee seems constitutionally unable to think for very long about uncongenial matters. She writes, “Only a government of national unity can deliver us from no deal”, without once mentioning the Liberal Democrats. The Lib Dems are as vital to the Remain coalition as the Hard Left are to the Leave coalition; to put forward the idea of a government of national unity (headed by Margaret Beckett of all people) that does not include them is to add an intra-Remain absurdity on top of the wider absurdity of proposing a government of “national unity” to force through something bitterly opposed by half the electorate, as a commenter called “Katherine1984” pointed out.

Lest I be revealed as unable to think of uncongenial things myself, let me say that unfortunately the Remain side includes many brains more flexible than Polly’s. Dominic Grieve, for one.

Boris on Corbyn’s friends

Parliament has a different feel to it today.

He asks about Iran, the right honourable gentleman who has been paid by Press TV of Iran, who repeatedly sides with the mullahs of Tehran rather than our friends in the United States over what is happening in the Persian Gulf. How incredible that we should even think of entrusting that gentleman with the stewardship of this country’s security.

We all know it, but not everyone has been paying attention. I don’t know if it has been put so bluntly in Parliament before. And the rest of Boris Johnson’s answer is equally blunt. He has certainly added some energy to the proceedings. How much of this can Corbyn take?

What would Boris lose by calling an election timed to take place just AFTER 31 October?

There has been speculation everywhere that Boris Johnson will call an election in order to get a parliamentary majority to secure Brexit. Some have said he would need to make an agreement with the Brexit Party before the election, others that the pact would need to come afterwards – but most of what I have read seems to assume that the order of events in the plan is: Call election > Win election (possibly with help) > Leave EU.

Have I missed something? Because it seems to me that Mr Johnson would get a better shot at all his goals by calling an election timed to occur just after Brexit.

The entry for Dissolution of Parliament on Parliament’s own website says,

What happens to Parliament at dissolution?
Parliament is dissolved 25 working days before a general election at a minute past midnight.

The formal end to the parliamentary session is called ‘prorogation’. This may take place a few days before dissolution.

So Mr Grieve’s ingenious scheme to make it harder for Parliament to be prorogued is rendered void. While MPs are locked out of the building, the gears turn unimpeded and eventually the great or terrible hour strikes.

House of Commons
When Parliament is dissolved, every seat in the House of Commons becomes vacant. All business in the House comes to an end. MPs stop representing their constituencies. There will be no MPs until after the general election.

And until after Brexit.

MPs can come into Parliament for a few days after dissolution to clear their offices.

Those who wish to be MPs again must stand again as candidates for election.

They will be standing and campaigning for a seat in the post-Brexit House. The whole political environment will be different, and much more favourable to the Conservatives. If Brexit seems inevitable, much of the justification for the Brexit Party’s existence melts away, and so does the incentive for pro-Remain parties to unite in an electoral pact to stop Brexit. To an exhausted electorate “Rejoin” is a much less appealing message than “Don’t leave”, and the attitude of the major opposition parties to it is more split. The Liberal Democrats would want it, but Labour, especially if Mr Corbyn is still at the helm, would probably be happy to kick it into the long grass as a vaguely worded aspiration.

Role of the Commons Speaker at dissolution

The Speaker is no longer an MP once Parliament is dissolved.

Like every other MP, the Speaker must stand for re-election. The Speaker will stand as ‘Speaker seeking re-election’.

However, the Speaker retains responsibility for the management of the House of Commons as they remain the chair of the House of Commons Commission until a new Speaker is elected.

In the circumstances I have described Mr Bercow’s long-delayed departure would be seen by the Tories as the icing on the cake.

It might be that Mr Johnson could be stopped from holding a general election by the opposition voting to deny the government the two thirds majority that the Fixed Term Parliament Act requires it to have to call an election. But when I try to imagine Jeremy Corbyn or John McDonnell going through the division lobbies to deny themselves the chance of power, or stranger yet to protest that they do indeed have confidence in a Johnson government, I cannot make the vision form.

I probably have missed something quite obvious. Tell me what it is and I will get on with my day.