Accidental spies; useful idiots

It is how it begins, with a friendly conversation in a quiet corner. The deeper conversations which follow are of a pattern familiar to those who may come knocking on your door earlier than you expect:

“I am pleased to meet you, as you have always understood our country and have tried to correct certain misconceptions voiced by your colleagues in Parliament and outside. As you are a member of the ‘Friends of…’ group, I think I may call you a friend. Goodwill in relations between Britain and our country would be of great advantage to both of our nations and to the world, as you understand.”

“It is frustrating that some even in your own party take a negative view of our country. I have never understood it. It is good to know that we have friends. The concerns of others about certain domestic and foreign policies of ours should not sour what should be a partnership of nations with so much in common, when we should be working together. When you yourself are in government, I hope we will. The current opposition must stem from an unfortunate prejudice as they do not apply the same standards to other countries far further from their ideas. I have long appreciated that you take the wider view.”

“Perhaps you could tell me which of your colleagues opposes our country’s policies: then we could tailor our message better. Talk to them. What are their concerns, and who is briefing them against us?”

“Such a treasure of information you have provided. Perhaps we might engage you in a professional capacity as a consultant? Your contacts in the upper reaches of the government machine may provide information that we, with our limited understanding of British political culture, fail to grasp.”

“Your services have been invaluable, and your skills as a researcher impeccable – you might also though be able to tickle some more information from ministers with a question or two in the House, within your professional role? I have taken the liberty of writing a list of possible subjects…”

Well, sir – you have become a paid intelligence agent of a foreign power.

Brecon and Radical Rethink

What just happened?

It must make some logic, in the twisted, bizarre form of logic that Parliamentary politics has taken over the last few years. So we have:

  • A clear majority of the voters of Brecon and Radnorshire voting for pro-Brexit candidates, but splitting the vote to let in a rabid Remainiac;
  • The Brexit Party’s intervention making it more likely that Parliament will cancel Brexit;
  • MPs and candidates speaking most forcefully against a no-deal are preventing a deal, making it more likely that no deal will be reached;
  • (And this after we have seen MPs telling the press that they have always voted against no-deal when their voting records show they have always voted against a deal);

Then we have:

  • The LibDems, who or many years condemned UKIP as a one-issue party turning on the Conservatives as a one-issue party, when they themselves have become just that;
  • Conservative MPs of a Remainer bent hoping to avoid a small economic bump from Brexit by risking putting into Downing Street a mad Marxist team who would make the Great Depression look like a picnic;
  • Opposition MPs growing excited at the chance of toppling the Conservative government even in the knowledge that an election would most likely produce a thumping Conservative majority.

To some it may make sense, but to the average voter it tells a story of out-of-touch politicians producing exactly the frustration which caused the Brexit vote to be so emotional.

Questions for Boris Johnson

Some of the questions we are asking ourselves of the most enigmatic Prime Minster in living memory, and my answers at least:

  • Can Boris Johnson achieve in 99 days what Theresa May and her whole team failed to manage in 3 years?

Yes.

  • Can Dominic Cummings drain the swamp?

Actually, we do not know yet what Dominic Cummings has been called in to do.  Is he a spin doctor-in-chief?  An election campaign strategist? A negotiator with the Brussels Blob?  He is a one who succeeds, but at what task?

David Cameron allegedly called Cummings a “professional psychopath” – good: we need psychopaths more than touchy-feely milksops, and a professional one is all the better.

Taming the establishment has been tried before and failed. The Long March through the Institutions is well entrenched.  David Cameron called Steve Hilton to push “positive populism” to reform the established powers, but he left frustrated. 

If it were done when ’tis done then ’tis well it were done quickly; ministers will go native in their new departments within weeks, and begin to defend them from outside attack. The who were called in as outsiders to reform the system will become insiders. That may include the Prime Minister, though his imaginative, playful turn of mind is a force to be reckoned with by even the most stolid establishmentarian.

  • Is there to be an early general election?

Who can tell?  It would be reckless in the extreme to call an election when the party’s poll ratings are still scraping around the 25% mark and in each constituency contest the conservative vote will be split between the Conservatives and the Brexit Party. Watch Brecon and Radnorshire.

The buzz in the media is talk of a general election, but the media love novelty and excitement: Brenda from Bristol may have other ideas. The idea is growing that if the House of Commons blocks Brexit somehow or mars the form of it then Parliament would be dissolved and election called to secure a Conservative majority on the back of a “Boris bounce”, but that is not realistic until Brexit is secure, not least because until Britain has actually left the European Union the Brexit Party will still be queering the pitch, letting the Liberals and Labour in every time.

After Brexit we are into Christmas. Maybe in the Spring we will see new shoots, but by then the landscape may be very different.

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By Boris Johnson:

Treason, stupidity, recklessness or hypocrisy?

Or possibly all four.  Is there any evidence from signal intercepts that any members of Parliament have been taking instructions from a foreign power, whether the European Commission or a member state government?  Is there any evidence of paid collusion?  Voluntary collusion might be even worse.

There a more dangerous possibility, which I sincerely hope is untrue, but it is becoming an unavoidable conclusion.

Out across the Channel, the European negotiators are laughing.  With little effort from themselves, the British establishment appears to have torn itself apart, and even if it is a minority of the Conservative Party trying to stop Brexit, that is enough when allied with the Liberal Democrats openly trying to stop it and Labour just voting down anything Tory.  They can foresee a reversal, and end to Brexit, and a chance to swallow Britain into ever-closer union.  The actions of Parliamentarians must be seen in that light, and their logic judged by it, and this is where the worry surfaces.

Today, anti-Brexit MPs and those claiming to oppose only a no-deal outcome combined with Labour apparently to prevent a prorogation or suspension of Parliament, and with a view to forcing through emergency legislation to block Brexit from happening without a deal – but since the House has always voted against the deal put before it, that it essentially to block Brexit entirely. This evening it was revealed that leading anti-Brexit MPs are even planning to have the Commons order the Queen to bypass her own Government and ask for a Brexit extension, or cancellation, in person. That is astounding.

These Remainiac plans could not succeed, but they give a message to the European Commission to play hardball:  they will give no concession, because if they present an unacceptable deal they will not face the cliff-edge but the Commons will delay and possibly cancel Brexit.  If those playing games in the Commons were to belt up and leave the Government to it, the Commission would probably crumble at the last minutes, but now they need not.  They can be very few, if any, instances in history, of a powerful faction in the House of Commons actively conspiring with a foreign power to undermine the British Government and harm British interests; at least not since the Civil War.

The extreme rebels, with Grieve and Gyimah and Bebb and others, have at every step said that they oppose no-deal but at every step have voted for no deal and have at every step made no deal more likely.

This then brings me to the horrible conclusion. The reports from the Commons are that the Tory rebels believe that Boris Johnson actually wants a no-deal outcome. There is no way any sane man could come to that conclusion. In this Brexit debate though, sanity has been driven out of the window: ‘Brexit Derangement Syndrome is real.  I have to conclude, painfully, that members of the House of Commons once respected have lost their sanity.

See also

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Military coup in Westminster

The Civil War of King and Parliament is much in vogue today. It is not appreciated how at every stage the rebels in Parliament were staring at failure and how remarkable was their eventual, bloody success.  A parliament is a poor method of decision-making and at many points it should have failed.  Even the original Remonstrance of 1642 complaining, quite justly, of the corruption of the King’s ministers passed only by dishonesty and circumstance – so those far more radical resolutions made war on the King are all the more remarkable.

The recent BBC4 series Charles I: Downfall of a King, portrayed very well the tumble towards Civil War, but the events which followed were not inevitable.

In 1648, the war was over and the King was captive on the Isle of Wight in Hampshire, and commissioners were sent to negotiate with him.  Here was the danger for the radicals: there had possibly never been a majority in the Commons for the war, and certainly none in the Lords, and whatever the King proposed might achieve a vote in favour. The Commons would never have voted to try and to execute the King. The war was begun by and fought in the name of the House of Commons, but by the end, Parliament was powerless: the real power lay in the New Model Army, who were too steeped in blood to see all they fought for handed away.

The most learned commentator at the time the war raged was Thomas Hobbes himself in his classic work Behemoth:

But Cromwell marched on to Edinburgh, and there, by the help of the faction which was contrary to Hamilton’s, he made sure not to be hindered in his designs; the first whereof was to take away the King’s life by the hand of the Parliament.

Whilst these things passed in the north, the Parliament, Cromwell being away, came to itself, and recalling their vote of non-addresses, sent to the King new propositions, somewhat, but not much, easier than formerly. And upon the King’s answer to them, they sent commissioners to treat with him at Newport in the Isle of Wight; where they so long dodged with him about trifles, that Cromwell was come to London before they had done, to the King’s destruction. For the army was now wholly at the devotion of Cromwell, who set the adjutators on work again to make a remonstrance to the House of Commons, wherein they require:

1. That the King be brought to justice;

2. That the Prince and the Duke of York be summoned to appear at a day appointed, and proceeded with, according as they should give satisfaction;

3. That the Parliament settle the peace and future government, and set a reasonable period to their own sitting, and make certain future Parliaments annual or biennial;

4. That a competent number of the King’s chief instruments be executed.

And this to be done both by the House of Commons and by a general agreement of the people testified by their subscriptions. Nor did they stay for an answer, but presently set a guard of soldiers at the Parliament-house door, and other soldiers in Westminster Hall, suffering none to go into the House but such as would serve their turns. All others were frighted away, or made prisoners, and some upon divers quarrels suspended; above ninety of them, because they had refused to vote against the Scots; and others, because they had voted against the vote of non-addresses; and the rest were a House for Cromwell.

The fanatics also in the city being countenanced by the army, pack a new common-council, whereof any forty was to be above the mayor; and their first work was to frame a petition for justice against the King, which Tichborne, the mayor, involving the city in the regicide, delivered to the Parliament.

At the same time, with the like violence, they took the King from Newport in the Isle of Wight, to Hurst Castle, till things were ready for his trial.

Hobbes does not name Captain Pride, attributing to Oliver Cromwell the authorship of this military coup, but it was Pride who entered the Commons and expelled from Parliament those who would not serve the Army’s intentions, hence the name “Pride’s Purge”.

The rump of members we call “the Rump Parliament”.  Hobbes continues to describe the Rump’s next actions:

The ordinance being drawn up was brought into the House, where after three several readings it was voted, “that the Lords and Commons of England, assembled in Parliament, do declare, that by the fundamental laws of the realm, it is treason in the King of England to levy war against the Parliament.” And this vote was sent up to the Lords; and they denying their consent, the Commons in anger made another vote; “That all members of committees should proceed and act in any ordinance, whether the Lords concurred or no; and that the people, under God, are the original of all just power; and that the House of Commons have the supreme power of the nation; and that whatsoever the House of Commons enacteth, is law.”

All this passed nemine contradicente.

Pride’s Purge, the army’s exclusion by force of members of Parliament to hand power to those favoured by the army, is the only military coup in English history. This is coup is celebrated by fashionable commentators of our day. Heaven help us all, as they have actual power, through their own, silent coup.

“They had, in their anger against the Lords, formerly declared the supreme power of the nation to be in the House of Commons; and now, on February the 5th, they vote the House of Lords to be useless and dangerous. And thus the kingdom is turned into a democracy, or rather an oligarchy; for presently they made an act, that none of those members, who were secluded for opposing the vote of non-addresses, should ever be re-admitted. And these were commonly called the secluded members; and the rest were by some styled a Parliament, and by others the Rump.

I think you need not now have a catalogue, either of the vices, or of the crimes, or of the follies of the greatest part of them that composed the Long Parliament; than which greater cannot be in the world.”

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