Thursday 31 October 2019
Election in the bleak mid winter.
As argued in the previous post, my strong preference is (now was) for this parliament to continue scrutinising Johnson's Brexit Bill, hoping for an amendment to put it to a referendum, and then, after the referendum, and whatever the result, have the General election.
Alas, that is not to be.
I regard the Fixed Term Parliament Act (FTPA) as the one great Liberal Democrat constitutional gain of the 2010 Coalition (the other two, for electoral reform and House of Lords reform, were both scuppered by combinations of Tory deceit and Labour pusillanimity).
The purpose of the FTPA was to make our politics fairer by taking away from the incumbent prime minister the right to call a General Election just when he/she felt the governing party had the best chance of winning. It is a sad irony that we Liberal Democrats, instigators of this splendid act, should be the first to drive a coach and horses through it.
The argument is that the Liberal Democrat and SNP leaders had concluded that there was no longer any possibility of obtaining a majority for a People's Vote amendment from the existing MPs. Well, they are more in touch with their parliamentary colleagues than I am, so they may well be right. but I can't help thinking they were somewhat premature. All that was needed was for the Labour leadership to change its mind, which, now that the election has been called, they have done.
Admittedly, they want a People's Vote on a Withdrawal deal that they have negotiated rather the Johnson deal they may have amended, but it is a move in the right, if somewhat hypothetical, direction.
Mr Johnson was keen to label the existing Commons as a "zombie" parliament," simply on the grounds that it could not be relied upon to do what he wanted. That, of course, is the function of parliament - to scrutinise the government's proposals, and, where they are felt to be lacking, propose improvements.
The British constitution was working well.
To make a comparison with Johnson's much admired America, the US president can't just sack Congress because it doesn't jump to his wishes: he (not yet a she) has to wait for the Constitution to take its course. And, with Donald Trump in the presidency, thank goodness.
However, we are where we are and must make the best of it.
Happily our Liberal Democrat message is clear: we will do all we can to "Stop Brexit." It could be best to stop there, and maybe that is what our campaigns team will decide. Or we may be forced to complicate matters by giving "further and better particulars": that in the(unlikely but not impossible) event that we win an over-all majority we shall simply Revoke Article 50, and if we need to work with others less determined we shall support a People's Vote which contains the option to Remain.
Al least this twin policy will be easier to explain than Labour's.
A winter campaign puts both Labour and we Liberal Democrats at a disadvantage, since our strengths are in "boots on the ground" prepared to canvass. But with darkness falling around tea-time effective canvassing time is seriously reduced. The Tories by contrast, have few members but bags of money for targetted mailshots and the even more invidious super-targetted digital messages. Fortunately one of the social media on which these "dark arts" can be practised has decided to outlaw them, but so far (the larger?) Facebook hasn't.
It will not be an easy campaign for anyone except the SNP, who seem destined to sweep the board again in Scotland.
In England Labour are hoping for the sort of boost they achieved under Mr Corbyn in 2017, but part of that was due to Mrs May's ineptitude. Johnson may be a philanderer, serial liar and opportunist, and totally unsuited for the office of Prime Minister, but he is (or was) an effective campaigner. He won the London Mayoralty not once but twice, and London is a Labour-leaning city. Here's hoping he will not be so effective on the larger scale.