Sunday 8 September 2019

After the Week from Hell

Writing about Boris Johnson's record-breaking run of five defeats last Wednesday, it was nigh on impossible to believe his week could possibly get worse. Let's take this opportunity to pick over the ruin and humiliation, then. In addition to the defeats, which included the general election he's desperate to have, he lost one MP to the LibDems before sacking 21 of his fellow Tories, saw his filibuster of the Benn Bill fall apart in the Lords, had his cabinet papers released to the courts, the departure of his own brother because he couldn't stand what was happening, the resgination of Caroline Spelman, the threat he would go to prison if he did not follow the Article 50 extension instruction by October 19th, the resignation of Amber Rudd, and last of all Sajid Javid making the unconvincing case on this morning's Andrew Marr that the PM would never extend Article 50 while saying he would obey the law. Absolutely excruciating. It took Theresa May almost a year to hit the buffers. It's taken Johnson six weeks.

Despite "leaks" from the Downing Street bunker boasting of tactical setbacks to a strategic plan very much on-track, here's no obviously easy way out. Nigel Farage's offer of an electoral pact with the Tories is only something that can be cashed in after 31st October, and even then it could presage more splits in the parliamentary ranks. After tomorrow's session in the Commons prorogation comes into effect, ironically limiting Johnson's room for manoeuvre. The plan therefore is to try and call another election, which is sure to fail. The only alternatives are for Johnson to call a vote of no confidence in his own government, which is unlikely to be allowed on procedural grounds given recent precedent. Deary me.

A cornered beast is at its most dangerous, but what else can Johnson and the Tories do? Toughing it out ahead of the inevitable climb down at the EU summit in mid-October appears the most likely course. The PM will use the next few weeks to call his opponents every name under the sun and then some, and get his press allies to unleash the hounds of hell. The traitor/surrender rhetoric will ramp up and perhaps we'll see a stunt or provocation to try and goad the opposition into an election. None of which will work. The only other option is the kamikaze one that has acquired some traction among parts of politics Twitter. i.e. Resigning and letting Jeremy Corbyn step into the vacuum. The reasoning goes that paralysed by the Corbynphobia of the LibDems, the ex-Tories and continuity Change UK Corbyn will have no choice but to call an election in which Johnson can spearhead a Brexit insurgency, backed by the arrangements Nigel Farage repeatedly offers (to the point of desperation, it has to be said). The problem with this wheeze is despite the repeated baiting of Corbyn and emphasis on never backing Labour in government, it's difficult to see how the LibDems and other noted reluctants, like Plaid Cymru are ever going to say no to a general election or second referendum legislation. Especially with the possibility of the former passing with electoral reform amendments. In other words, a caretaker government wouldn't necessarily implode in the same way Johnson's six weeks in office have done. The second is Johnson's infamous vanity. He knows well there's only one thing the unhinged Tory base fear above else, and that's Jeremy Corbyn in Number 10. The idea he would voluntary cede control of the government to a man the right have relentlessly demonised for the last four years is poppycock. It's one thing for Johnson to get bested by him in the Commons and perhaps even defeated by a left-led Labour Party in a general election, quite another to virtually invite him to form an administration. This is the price they're unwilling to pay for their no deal fantasy, and Johnson isn't about to destroy his chances among them in exchange for a no deal Brexit.

However, Johnson does have other pressing concerns. His purge of the self-described Tory decents has caused a deal of disquiet on the government benches. Enough of his MPs are attached to the constitutional proprietaries of the Commons, and are worried about what his wrecking ball approach to matters might unleash. It's bad enough the Associations have seen all the awfuls who decamped to UKIP half a decade ago return, backed by a new influx of hardened leavers and thinly-disguised Brexit Party supporters. But to top if off with a formal arrangement with Farage's mob is more than too much. Therefore Johnson has to tread carefully lest there are more embarrassing resignations to come. Now this might be a cause for jubilation in the Dominic Cummings galaxy brain, but not from the standpoint of building a general election-winning coalition. Theresa May's own 2017 voter coalition was able to pull the bulk of (old) voters together for whom Brexit was ideological catnip, but her anti-Corbynism and rhetorical one nationism also kept on board the bulk of the right-leaning soft Tory supporters. Indeed, in vote terms the LibDems went backwards. Fast forward 27 months and Johnson's strategy is to build an election winning machine on the basis of Leave voters only. The problem with this is it means abandoning a swathe of marginals in Scotland, the South West and East, and London to the SNP, LibDems and Labour in the hope the Tories are going to take more old industrial seats, repeating the trick May managed when she scooped up the likes of Stoke South and Mansfield. The problem, which May learned to her cost, is the Labour leave vote is less motivated by Brexit than it is other issues. The idea Johnson has the kind of appeal that can reach into these places where May could not is risible.

More significant for Johnson is what the bloc of ex-Tories in the Commons now do. According to the Express, among others, up to a dozen of the purged are considering running as independent Tories. And would you Adam and Eve it, Jo Swinson is straight in there with a pact to stand LibDem candidates down in those seats. We'll leave the logic of a self-described remain party standing aside for pro-Brexit Tories for now, but what is does point to - especially if more abandon the sinking Johnson ship - is the possibility of a realignment on the right. For all her hypocrisy and opportunism, Swinson realises something the hapless Tim Farron was blind to and Uncle Vince only dimly grasped: that there are better pastures to be found for their politics on the right side of the fence. There is a real chance of affecting a historic split on the right between the populists and racists Johnson is courting, and a more moderate, Cameroon-style new centre right party with the LibDems at its core, or perhaps as its actual form, but with refugees from the Tories and from Labour on board. Embracing the anti-no deal moderate Tories, even if it means sacrificing your LGBT activists, is the game you're in if your eventual ambition is to displace the Tories as a sensible party of government. More expelled Tories mean more resources for Swinson, and more of a headache for Johnson.

After Johnson's week from hell then we find him out of options and out of sorts; a record holder for all the wrong reasons, and a strategy that has paid dividends for his opponents. It can't get much worse than this for the Prime Minister. But we've all thought that before.

Image Credit


1729torus said...

The Alliance Party in NI is similarly effectively trying to displace the UUP as the sensible centre-right Unionist party.

(Alliance are nominally non-partisan and cross-community, but they're a Liberal Unionist Party in practice. They were formed by liberal unionists who split from the UUP around 1970.)

1729torus said...

As for getting worse, I suppose Julian Smith could resign. There would be no way to govern NI then since the House of Commons would be prorogued.

Anonymous said...

Unfortunately an awful lot of what you are saying relies on others creating problems for the Tories, or the Tories doing it to themselves, and not enough on the damage being done by the Labour Party itself. The Labour Party is significantly behind in the polls and if it doesn't do something to convince many Remainers that it is the obstacle to Brexit it will fail to build the vote it needs to gain a majority.

Speedy said...

Terrible week (perhaps) but still 14 points ahead of Labour in the polls (and that's not including the 19 per cent for the Brexit Party).

The reality is that the Brexiters look set to crush Labour and Remain in the forthcoming election.

It would be good to hear some sociological analysis of why this is likely to be the case and why the policies of Corbyn (or Corbyn himself, who incredibly - even for this sceptic - trails behind Boris in the polls) have utterly failed to cut through.

I must say, that if we take selfish Baby Boomers from the south out of the equation, I remain shocked byquite how many former Labour voters are prepared to embrace No Deal. Are they really so stupid? I say this precisely because they are economically and socially likely to be hit hardest, and they are backing Tory shits of the worst stripe.

I can only imagine it has something to do with education, indoctrination, decadence... I dunno. I think in the south it has much to do with affluence (insulation) and anti-immigrant feeling. That, i understand. But this thing in the North...

Dipper said...

@ Speedy. what is you problem with No Deal?

This is a fight for power, not about short-term economic policy. People in the north (I'm a northerner by origin myself) and elsewhere understand this. If we lose this fight, then we will be absolutely fucked. The government in Westminster will be a Vichy government administering the country on behalf of the EU. Just this morning Varadkar has been openly talking about fishing quotas. For the avoidance of doubt, that's about how many fish Ireland can take from British waters, not how many fish Britain gets from Irish waters.

What happens when you have no power? When people know they can do whatever they like to you, and no matter how loud you shout no-one in power will hear? Well, its just over 5 years since the publication of the Jay report when we found out the answer to that. Your children can be sexually assaulted on an industrial scale, and everyone in authority will look the other way.

We know from the sacking of Sarah Champion where Corbyn stands on that. And it's not the side of the victims.

Anonymous said...

“I remain shocked byquite how many former Labour voters are prepared to embrace No Deal.”

I am guessing here that speedy doesn’t know any ‘former’ Labour supporters and even if he does, it is probably less than 5! I also believe he isn’t shocked by all this

. “I can only imagine it has something to do with education, indoctrination, decadence... I dunno”

If only you had replaced all your prevous words with I dunno and you could have saved us and yourself so much time and effort!

“What happens when you have no power? When people know they can do whatever they like to you, and no matter how loud you shout no-one in power will hear?”

You must have missed the 24 hour rolling news on this issue, when every TV station in the world was camped in Rotherham for days on end. You must have also missed the endless newspaper coverage detailing the issue. You must have missed the fact that the Jay report was commissioned by the council and that the people in power took over Rotherham council and replaced its leaders with commissioners.

You must have missed the trials and not noticed that the victims received substantial compensation.

I think you are mixing up the children of Rotherham with the children of Gaza!

Anonymous said...

"14 per cent ahead in the polls"

There were six polls released over the weekend - they showed Tory leads of 3/3/4/5/10/14 points.

Why lie?

Speedy said...

Dipper, you do realise that 'no deal' will not, as the Irish PM said, be the end of it, but simply more of the same? A deal will still have to be struck with the EU and the EU will not provide a deal without the backstop. So the UK will be in the same position, just worse.

The North is ignored largely because the southern-led Tories have been in control for a decade. As a Northerner yourself, to continue your (usual) WW2 analogy, this would make you a 'Quisling'.

WTF - I suspect I am infinitely more informed about the perspectives of present and former Labour voters than you, but keep on trolling.