Tuesday 3 September 2019
MPs, please say "No" to Brexit and "No" to an election
This week, perhaps even today, is likely to be the most crucial for UK politics since the Second World War. In the Commons no one is quite sure what will happen. It al depends on what the Speaker permits, how the government wriggles to get round it, how many Tories have the courage to rebel and how many Labour (30 under Stephen Kinnock?) support Johnson (would you believe it?)
The best option, in my view, is for MPs to order the revocation of Article 50 and have done with it.
Since they haven't yet seen the light, the second best is for them to be successful in passing a law to stop a No Deal Brexit, along with an extension of the potential leaving date to 31st January, 2020.
Even if this is passed, and I hope it will be, there is no reason to suppose that the EU would grant such an extension unless we can offer some evidence of a constructive purpose for it, such as a People's Vote or new and realistic proposals for the Irish Border.
Successful or not, I suspect Mr Johnson and his advisor Dominic Cummings will regard the result as an excuse to try to have a general election. It is quite likely that this has been their plan all along: an unrealistic demand for a renegotiation of the May deal, which the EU has refused time and again; to make further negotiations impossible anyway buy demanding the removal of the Irish Backstop, which the EU has said it cannot possibly contemplate; then blame the EU or their intransigence, and have a quick general election in which they will triumph with the Boris Bounce.
This ruse will only succeed if Labour fall into their trap. Since the Coalition's new Parliament Act prime ministers can no longer call an election at their whim. Parliaments must run their full five-year course unless two thirds of MPs support an election, of if the Leader of the Opposition succeeds in winning a vote of no confidence and no alternative government can be found within 14 days.
So if Labour does the sensible thing and holds its horses, the Johnson-Cummings "plan," if that is what it is , can be thwarted. This will be difficult for Labour to do, since Mr Corbyn has repeatedly demanded a general election. However, in his latest statement he has left himself a bit of "wriggle room" by saying "not if it is to enable our crashing out with no deal."
In my view labour should hold back for the following reasons:
1. They probably won't win. Corbyn is encouraged by Labour's better than expected performance in 2017, but then he was up against probably the most inept Tory election campaign in history. This time their campaign will not be led by the intellectually constipated Mrs May and her "strong and stable" mantra, but by experts in the dark arts of mood manipulation.
2. The Tory campaign will be as full of lies as was the Leave campaign. We have already seen how they have prepared the ground. The "magic money tree" has been rediscovered, there are extra funds for education, the NHS, roads and railways, Scotland, prisons, the police, you name it, except for asylum seekers, social security and refugees.
3. If Labour tries to trump (sic) these promises with more funds for social security, Sure Start or children in disadvantaged areas, the existence of the magic money tree will be denied, the effects of 20% or so depreciation of the £ as a result of Brexit ignored, and the easy shroud of Labour profligacy and economic incompetence will be waved vigorously.*
4. General election campaigns rarely stick to the lines the parties initially intend. "Let Churchill finish the job" didn't help the Tories in 1945, nor "Who governs Britain" Ted Heath in his clash with the miners in1974. If MPs haven't the courage to revoke Article 50 then we need a further referendum focused exclusively on whether to remain in the EU or go ahead and leave.
5. Be it a general election or a focused referendum, the Tory spin machine will try to blur the decision with the question "Do you really want to put Corbyn into No10? In fact, they're already doing that: it's about the only argument they have.
In my view the most outcome of a general election would be another parliament in which no party would have a majority, and the largest party would not be Labour. So much better to avoid the distraction of an election and stick to the parliament we've got, and the one key decision we need to make - Leave or Remain.
* In a comment to a previouspost a John Tolson (who may be a forme pupil) draws attention to these details when a newspaper magnate tried to bounce Lord Mountbatten into replacing Harold Wilson as PM and leading a government of busineszmen becasue of Wilson's alleged economic incompetance.
Well worth a look.