‘They won’t let it happen, y’know’ – so spoke a shrewd Leave-voting friend of mine two years ago, back when the farce to block Brexit was barely twelve months into its record-breaking run. I doubted her word then; I doubt it no longer. Yes, we’ve all come a long way since 2017, let alone 2016. And this week has seen such an action-packed chapter in the saga that it’s something of a challenge to issue this brief summary of events as an up-to-date bulletin because it’ll probably be superseded by other events by the time it appears. From what I can work out at the moment, Boris Johnson has offered the Labour Party precisely what they most desire on a plate – but will they take the bait? This is like Tom popping a slab of cheese before Jerry’s hole-in-the-wall, and Jerry wrestling with the demands of his appetite, knowing from the off that his feline nemesis has set yet another trap.
So, the most vocal Second Referendum proponents won’t consent to a genuine ‘People’s Vote’ after all; no, they won’t let the electorate have their say if there’s a risk that by doing so they themselves might lose their seats. Jo Swinson has gone on the record that she won’t accept the result of another referendum if it ends up being the result she doesn’t want, anyway, so why should we be surprised by this latest surreal development? The Fixed Term Parliaments Act, one more contributing factor towards David Cameron’s candidacy as the Prime Minister with the most damaging legacy on record, is an irrelevant encumbrance to getting things done that should have been repealed the second the Coalition ceased to be. It is entirely responsible for yet another impasse when the loss of the Government’s tiny numerical advantage over its opponents demands the traditional resolution.
We now have the bizarre situation whereby a Prime Minister without a majority has to go cap-in-hand to a hostile Commons, seeking permission to dissolve Parliament – and being refused permission. Of course, Boris’s motivation for doing so is not quite black-and-white (to put it mildly); but the power to call a General Election without recourse to Parliament should never have been stripped from the resident of No.10 – especially when we currently have a Parliament that cannot agree on anything. Well, a majority can agree on something, and that will be demonstrated when the bill to block a no-deal Brexit is fast-tracked through the tortoise marathon of the Lords.
Another episode in this gripping chapter came with the 21 expulsions from the Conservative Party – numerous grandees (including the Father of the House himself) and recent Cabinet Ministers all deselected overnight, rebranded as Independents and prevented from standing as Tories ever again; never before has rebellion against one’s own party been so ruthlessly punished. Boris’s own brother Jo, a serial quitter – how many times has he walked out of the Cabinet now? – has resigned as an MP today, adding further minus marks against this administration’s numbers; the PM has already experienced the choreographed stunt of a dishonourable member crossing the floor of the House in the middle of a speech this week; and while the instant dismissal of the 21 rebels may have been a promised reprisal the Prime Minister was faced with no alternative but to carry out, the authority to govern based on a greater proportion of seats has been completely obliterated now. No Government in living memory has ever been so swiftly diminished, and yet for the electorate to be denied their say as a consequence seems to be one more example of the elected’s blatant contempt for those who elect them.
The sole beneficiaries of the crises eating away at the heart of both the Conservative and Labour Parties are the Lib Dems; having gained a Tory this week, Swinson and her anti-democratic cronies have now secured a former Labour member, albeit one who took the Umunna route from Labour to TIG to CHUK to Lib Dem. Luciana Berger famously quit Labour after well-documented and sustained anti-Semitic abuse, so her decision to walk seemed to be more understandable and worthy of sympathy than some of the colleagues who followed in her wake. But it appears the Lib Dems are now very much the Battersea Dog’s Home for MPs unloved and unwanted by their own parties; the fact that many of them represent Leave-voting constituencies is pure coincidence, of course. No wonder Jo Swinson is so against a snap Election when the sudden boost to her number of seats could be wiped out all over again if the polling stations are reopened for business tomorrow.
Justine Greening, Education Secretary for a while under Theresa May, announced a couple of days ago that she won’t be defecting to the Lib Dems, but will stand down altogether; possibly jumping before she’s pushed, yes, though it’s a sign of these turbulent times that Tory MPs who would previously have been regarded as future prospects with plenty more to offer are deciding their party is no longer conducive to their worldview. The cliché often trotted out about the Conservative or Labour Parties being ‘broad churches’ capable of encompassing a variety of opinions appears to be utterly redundant now.
Reluctant as I am to agree with the Lord of Darkness Peter Mandelson, I actually thought he had a fair point when he reminded people how Tony Blair never expelled Jeremy Corbyn from the Labour Party despite Jezza’s serial rebellions when in his backbench comfort zone; today, whether Labour or Tory, so narrow has the focus of the leadership and the leader’s advisers become that any deviation from the script will not be tolerated. In the end, it is the two parties themselves – whether represented by Labour’s Momentum takeover or the Tories’ capitulation to the ERG – that will suffer as both begin to resemble single issue pressure groups rather than wide collectives capable of addressing all the problems that need sorting instead of just the ones reflecting the interests of the elites at the pinnacle of the pyramid.
So, Boris will apparently put the call for a General Election to the Commons again on Monday, following the anticipated assimilation into law of the bill to block a no-deal Brexit. The majority of Labour’s leading lights want to hold back an Election until yet one more extension to D-Day has been secured, thus preventing Boris from repealing no-deal legislation. That’s what they say, anyway. More than three years after the event, we are where we are because they actually don’t want to do what the majority told them to do; and for all her faults, at least Jo Swinson is being honest. Maybe they won’t let it happen, y’know.
© The Editor