See how they run

When Parliament goes rogue, one must prorogue. It is very popular with the man in the street and only the political bubble has gone into meltdown. For all the storm-cloud warnings over threat to suspend Parliament, in fact it is losing only four sitting days (which Diane Abbott would tell you is almost two months). It is not exactly the Reichstag fire.

Possibly the outrage had been written in advance in the expectation of MPs being sent home for the rest of the year. That has not happened.

The Twitterstorms and inevitable ePetition filled by earnest LibDems, Momentum and their botnets are in overdrive.

The blue benches’ main Rebel Without a Clue has been spluttering in terms where I fear for his health, raving of unconstitutional action, to describe the prorogation procedure which is used every year to end a Parliamentary session: extending the session to nearly three years may have been unconstitutional, but finally ending the resulting zombie session cannot be.

We are assured by the angry folk that it is undemocratic to give MPs another four days off, but not undemocratic to stand for election on one manifesto promise and then use every parliamentary tactic and more to oppose that promise. It is unconstitutional finally to bring in the annual prorogation, but not unconstitutional for the House of Commons to usurp the executive.

Master Hobbes will be republishing here his vital definitions from the First Book of Leviathan (which we must be careful not to call his ‘metaphysics’) but we need a modern political dictionary, which I could begin with:

  • Unconstitutional: Resulting in something with which the commentator disagrees;
  • Undemocratic: ditto.

See also


Have I missed something…?

So, a gathering of opposition MPs in a coalition of chaos has agreed a course of action for when Parliament sits again after the summer recess. I cannot make sense of their decision though. They have declared:

  • They all oppose a ‘no-deal’ and say it would be disastrous, but they intend to vote against the deal.
  • In fact all the spokesmen say that they have consistently opposed ‘no-deal’, but all have consistently voted against a deal.
  • Now they say they will do anything to stop ‘no-deal’, apart apparently from voting for one.

Am I missing something?

Then when their position is threatened, we are assured:

  • It would be undemocratic for Parliament to be prorogued for longer than normal to stop their games,
  • But it is not undemocratic for MPs to launch a coup d’état justified by the government’s failure to achieve a deal, when that failure is only because those coup plotters voted it down.
  • It is also apparently highly principled for the plotters to conspire with foreign governments to ensure no acceptable deal can be agreed, so as to justify a coup.

I must be missing something.

Then there is their other idea, now mercifully squashed apparently, to get Jeremy Corbyn appointed as Prime Minister, in which case:

  • They say a ‘no-deal’ with the EU will be financially harmful (which is presumably why they have always voted no-deal), but
  • They know, presumably that a Marxist Jeremy Corbyn government would make the Great Depression look like a mere blip, but somehow this complete meltdown is better than a potential dip from tariffs appearing on our trade.
  • It would of course be a ‘temporary’ government – which would make it the only Marxist government in the history of the world ever to give up the reins of power voluntarily, but this does not seem to worry some of them.

Then we are told:

  • We are all going to die through food and medicines not coming in, apparently, but they have never explained why they think the government would want to block the ships coming anyway (unless these turbulent MPs are going to beg foreign governments to impose an embargo).
  • The European Union is a happy partnership of equals, but apparently one that wants to starve us into submission.
  • Brexit has to be cancelled because it has caused chaos, when all the chaos has come from those opposing it.

Whenever I hear that the public are frustrated at politicians being out of touch, I just look at this sort behaviour and agree many times over. They have not just lost touch with the nation, but with sanity, or any pretence of honesty. For this, a suspension of Parliament is not just justified but necessary, for the sake of the nation and sanity in the system.

Maybe when Britain has finally achieved the long-delayed exit from the European Union then the poison will have been drawn and some sense can descend on our broken system. If they are capable of such madness though on one subject what is lurking beneath when new topics arise.


Westminster in the exit endgame

Just over two months before Reformation Day and Brexit, and the councils of Europe are in puzzled disarray.

Back in our Parliament, the beasts are restless.  The hyenas are creeping forward awaiting the end of the recess. Labour and the Liberals see a chance for a vote of no confidence, but the polls suggest that any election following it would bring a thumping Conservative majority, if the Brexit Party keep away and do not split every pro-Brexit vote.

Then there are the unknown loose cannons, of which only a few are needed. Oliver Letwin is as Conservative as can be, but has done his damnedest to damage the Government’s negotiations: he has just announced he will not stand at the next election, but does then then open the way for him to resign the whip and vote against his party? Guto Bebb has also said he will not stand again, though he was on the point of being deselected in any case. Ken Clarke is not standing again, and at one point Dominic Grieve was not standing either; his position is uncertain. These are all men with ‘Tory’ written through them like seaside rock but seized with a destructive singlemindedness on one topic.

The malcontents should stop and think. What do they actually want, and what will their actions actually achieve?

Of the Conservative rebels, some explicitly want to stop Brexit entirely, hidden maybe under declarations about a try-again vote, but to cancel nevertheless (Bebb, Grieve etc). Some are content to carry through but want to ensure there is a Withdrawal Agreement in place beforehand (Hammond etc). Labour just want to humiliate the Conservatives, and there is a handful of Conservatives willing to help them to do so.

Cancelling Brexit is unrealistic, and impossible given the timetable and determination at the top, so those seeking that outcome must seek to minimise the loss of their ideology, which should (if logic were applied, which is far from assured) bring them into the Hammond camp.  However the Hammond idea of leaving only with a deal is sabotaged by the Parliamentary games threatened.

Each plot has simply persuaded Brussels to sit tight and laugh, assuming that Britain will come crawling: this lessens the possibility of reaching a deal, and it hardens the attitude of those Spartans who want a no-deal outcome. This in turn may convince the Hammond wing that this is the desired outcome, against all evidence to the contrary.

The malcontented should consider that we are not where we were two years ago, nor does the ship of state have a timid, pliable hand at the wheel as it did them, nor is Number 10 staffed by those happy to undermine Brexit – and by all accounts the presence of Dominic Cummings has energised a new purpose to the Cabinet office team.

The calendar pages turn and it will soon be October. If there were a vote of no confidence and a new general election, it could only happen after Exit in any case, and so achieve nothing but a no-deal outcome and strengthen Boris’s hand in its result. As to overturning Brexit entirely, even the most dreamy Remainiacs must realise that is not achievable, and the Government will pull every string and more to ensure no further slippage: the best they can hope for is a close continuing relationship with the EU, and games will only endanger that.

Mr Grieve might ponder an irony: the main thing that has stopped a deal being signed and may stop a deal being signed, is Section 13 of the Withdrawal Act which he forced through. If he wishes to avoid the cliff-edge, he should try to repeal that section, if there were time.

What to do with to bring the renegades on board is a matter of delicacy. The idea of frying their brains with electricity as Alan Ashworth suggested yesterday (with tongue in cheek I hope) in Conservative Woman, sounds tempting. but out shall come some carefully orchestrated whipping, threats, promises, discussions in dark corners and frankly banging their heads against the wall until they are convinced that all they are doing is actually bringing about the reverse of what they want.

The sorry fact is that the awkwards and Boris want the same thing, namely a favourable or at least acceptable deal with the European Union, leading to an equal trade deal.

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Securing the exit endgame

There are too many metaphors, which brings endless amusement, but the words of Thomas Hobbes must come to mind at every step:

To these Uses, there are also foure correspondent Abuses. First, when men register their thoughts wrong, by the inconstancy of the signification of their words; by which they register for their conceptions, that which they never conceived; and so deceive themselves. Secondly, when they use words metaphorically; that is, in other sense than that they are ordained for; and thereby deceive others.

Word-games must stop and straight talk be turned to action.

The time is passing swiftly and two breeds of beast are bellowing in the herd: the hell-bent opponents of Brexit and those who accept it but are most fearful of a no-deal result. Both are panicking, because in just over two months, the clock stops ticking (mixed metaphors, sorry) and Britain is free of Brussels, with or without a transition arrangement and with or without a trade deal.

Exit Day (courtesy of Mrs May’s dithering) is now 31 October; the date Martin Luther nailed his 95 Theses to the door of the church at Wittenberg and began the Reformation: that date is celebrated across Protestant Europe as Reformation Day, and it should be introduced in the churches of Britain too. This metaphor was the start of an insightful article by ‘His Grace’ on the Cranmer blog this morning.

It should not be hard to fix the Withdrawal Agreement, dead as it may have been declared, but as far as the Eurocrats are concerned it is not dead but resting. The terms of Boris’s ‘Three Theses’ suggest a reformation of Mrs May’s agreement rather than burying it, but it needs fixing. The question then is how to persuade those in Europe to take him seriously.

Firstly, there is no single European mind: “Brussels” is a collection of bureaucrats, politicians out to grass and needy national politicians, each with their own ideas and their own sources of information, or misinformation, each with a greater or lesser understanding of how Britons think and how our political system operates, each with their own personal priorities and each with variant degrees of devotion to or cynicism towards to the Projet européen.

The hope is that the various powers in Brussels will see sense at the last minute, concede enough to allow Boris Johnson to sign something he might get through Parliament, and all breathe a sigh of relief and start taking about the long-term trade agreement presaged in the Political Declaration. If common sense governed, then this would follow easily. Common sense though is a particularly British phenomenon.

Those in their seats in Brussels may be afraid to step out of line publicly and be seen to let the side down. National leaders may be more pliable. Frau Merkel is looking shaky for one, but is unpredictable (not something frequently said about German leaders). The Italian government, to the extent Italy has a government, is an enigma even to itself. When you get to Austria Hungary and thereabouts you realise how diverse the backlot of Europe is, and how easy it is for smaller countries to take their lead from the larger.

One key would be cracking the unconvincing unity of the main parties in Eire. They at least have British common sense, which one would hope will surface when they see they are about to bring about that which they most want to avoid.

Whom they listen to is crucial. If it is the likes of Elmar Brok, spouting on Newsnight last night, the position is hopeless: they do not believe Boris after all he used to write about them in The Telegraph, they think he really wants a no-deal hard Brexit and that he would be overturned by the House of Commons anyway. For giving Brussels that impression so as to shut their ears, Members of the House should be shut in the pillory for months (that need not be a metaphor). Herr Brok sounded honest and plain-speaking: he genuinely believes he position he set out.

Brok also repeated the figures, long since discredited, for the effect of a no-deal Brexit as an argument that Britain must concede. One good point he made though was that the Backstop wording was a British proposal; it is indeed written in Mrs May’s voice. The point though is that it was rejected and its author was rejected, defenestrated as they say in Prague, albeit metaphorically.

That is just one voice though. Others must surely be more worried by the coming European recession. Even a temporary arrangement to carry both sides over will help their economies (which presupposes that they care about their economies).

Westminster is another game.

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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.