Wednesday 11 September 2019

Courting Disaster

This Wednesday morning was going to be less than normal as far as British politics is concerned anyway. A reverberation of discontent after the final day on the farm, a routine scabby intervention from Labour deputy leader Tom Watson, and Scotland's Court of Session virtually certain to turf out the legal challenge brought by Joanna Cherry and others concerning prorogation. What happened next was your reminder that there is no such thing as certainty in these febrile times.

The judgement handed down by Lords Carloway, Drummond Young, and Brodie was as astonishing as it was damning. Beneath the legalese of the written decision (full verdict will be released on Friday), the judges agreed with the litigants that Boris Johnson's prorogation of parliament was unlawful. The stated reason his government put forward, to effectively clear the decks so Johnson can have his Queen's Speech and unveil his legislative programme was bunkum. Instead, closing down everything - remember, prorogation involves shutting down select committees and other parliamentary business, not just the chambers - was a measure "to stymie parliamentary scrutiny" and an example of "failing public authority standards". Though it isn't spelt out in blunt language, the judgement suggests Johnson lied to the Queen when he asked for prorogation. As well known lawyer David Allen Green puts it, "For the first time a court - and not just any court, but the highest court of one of the constituent nations of the United Kingdom - ruled that the Prime Minister had knowingly misled the Sovereign." And if next Tuesday the Supreme Court upholds this verdict, Johnson is toast of the most carbonised kind.

On The Andrew Neil Show this evening, Kwasi Kwarteng was wheeled out to bat for the beleaguered government to castigate the judges for "interfering". As if the venerable judges of Scotland's highest court were interfering because they felt like it. Nevertheless, there are interesting politics about why this was brought to the Court of Sessions and, to use the vulgar language of everyday managerialism, it was always going to be a win-win for the SNP. If our bewigged adjudicators had found in Johnson's favour, the SNP were in a position to criticise the unionist establishment for backing an undemocratic decision against Scotland's interests. Because they backed Cherry's petition, it can now be spun as Scotland vs the UK government. If the Supreme Court say on your bike next week then it's the UK establishment giving Scotland the brush off, and if they find in favour the SNP get the kudos of engineering Johnson's downfall. If you're interested in bourgeois politics played well, the SNP are worth more your time than any cosplay Malcolm Tucker haunting Portcullis House.

But, but Phil, doesn't this play into Johnson's hands and Dominic Cummings's elaborate master scheme? After all, we know their desperation to provoke a general election has seen the most calamitous recklessness, and this fits into their people versus plan. Which they think would give them a handsome majority when the election does materialise. Does today's decision give them the advantage Cummings has supposedly foreseen? Of course it doesn't. The hardened Brexiteers will lap up the grievance gruel, but it's not particularly likely to win over new people. In fact, the specifics of the case - the lying to the Queen thing - won't exactly endear the Johnson project to the pearl clutching, Hyacinth Bucket end of leave opinion. And there's the problem. If you want to do the populism, introducing division into 'the people' you're organising sets your project up for failure.

Ah, and yes, the Queen. "He lied to the Queen." Which of course is Very Bad. But let's not pretend we're dealing with some ingenue here. She's been the family firm's gaffer for 66 years and has piloted the Windsors through choppy waters and significant cultural change, to the point where she and the institution have recaptured some measure of reverence and are barely questioned by mainstream politics. The Queen herself is a smart operator, and is in receipt of the very best legal and constitutional advice available. We are then expected to believe this woman, the beating heart of the British establishment, didn't have any idea Johnson was pulling a fast one. That she and her flunkeys were unaware of his character, the chatter in the press and internets, and the transparent obviousness that prorogation was anything other than a ruse to avoid scrutiny is cobblers. Thanks to convention she wasn't in a position to knock back Johnson's request, but neither should we be making excuses either. How much did she know? What was the "advice" Johnson dispensed and was in turn dispensed by her advisors? We are told she "serves" the people, so don't we have a right to know about her deliberations on an issue this crucial?

There we have it then, another day and Johnson's grip on Number 10 has got looser again, and caught the royal household up in his flailing. How delicious. At the weekend, I asked what happens after the worst week? Well, the Prime Minister has supplied the answer: an even worse week.


Anonymous said...

The Queen's constitutional functions with regard to Prime Ministerial "chats" are to be consulted, and then to advise and/or warn.

You can bet your bottom dollar that she's already warned Johnson in tones that would freeze the Sun, if she got the slightest whiff of anything untoward when they spoke. But if Johnson lied to her in a non-demonstrable fashion, then the monarch has to take what she is told on faith, and at face value.

As a last resort, she could always sack the Prime Minster. But the last time this happened was in 1834, when William IV sacked Viscount Melbourne due to the King's vehement opposition to alleged "radicals" in the Cabinet.

The current Queen has less leeway than that, but if it's shown that Johnson knowingly lied to her, we should rule more in than out the prospect of the PM's dismissal. It's an outcome she would do anything to avoid, because of the heat it would generate from republicans, but if push came to shove, and she was constitutionally cornered, she would do it.

If nothing else, it could so easily be spun into a selling-point for the monarchy: the legendary time the Queen stepped in, to protect her nation from a rogue government.

But we're probably some way away from a step like that becoming necessary.

Jim Denham said...

I'm no fan of Watson, but since when has disagreeing with JC been "scabby"? Do you mean that seriously, ie as in scabbing, strike-breaking, breaching fundamental principles of working class solidarity? Seriously?

Dipper said...

Every Leaver in the country is wondering when Remainers are going to end up in court for all the lies they told about accepting the result of the referendum, about breaching the promises they made to electors in their manifestos, we want to see the transcripts of the conversations Starmer, Corbyn etc had with Barnier, see all of Olly Robbins emails.

Obviously none of this is never going to happen because it would reveal the obvious truth that they never meant to Leave. Impartial my arse.

Dipper said...

Part I:

to repeat my comments from the previous post, what is meant by misleading?

lets assume the following exchange of mails.

D: I think we should prorogue parliament so we can get a no-deal brexit.
N: You cannot just do that. You can only do that for prescribed reasons such as Queens speech,
D. Well we could do with a Queen's speech. Lets prorogue for that.

Is this evidence of lying about motivation? Or evidence they have done it properly?

Part II.

If the above is guilty of lying, considerate following:

PM 'I'm going to prorogue Parliament for a Queen's speech'

I don't believe this the reason. The PM clearly wants to do this for a different reason. Because of the Johnson case he would clearly never put anything in writing, so this mail is designed to decide. Guilty of lying.

asking courts to decide not on whether an action is illegal but to determine what the motivation was and whether it was illegal is highly dangerous. your opponents will spend lots of energy putting you through this Kafkaesque nightmare.

PlebJames said...

Yes Tom Watson's actions are scabby. Pure scabbiness of the lowest order. He would sooner see the Labour Party disintegrate and the Tories wreak havoc on the working classes of Britain for another five years, than see Corbyn succeed. His intervention smacked of desperation as his grand plans slip between his fingers.
What are the rules for getting rid of him again?

BCFG said...

Tom Watson's very politics are a breach of the fundamental principles of working class solidarity. I.e. being verty much Tory lite in every goddam respect.

In fact so are Denham's, as he seems not give a flying fuck for the vast majority of the worlds working class, who he would have slaving to produce for the West in perpetuity.

In fact Denham won't be happy until the West have carpet bombed every advanced nation on Earth 10 times over.

Then you have his fellow traveller Boffy, who believes the best that Marxists can say about amazon is they create jobs! This is hardly workers of the world unite stuff now is it!

Ian Gibson said...

The point about Watson's intervention was that its primary purpose was to undermine the Corbyn project by giving the all-too-ready press a welcome diversion from the multiple pile-up car crash of a government. He knows there aren't the numbers for what he proposed to have a chance of becoming party policy, and he knows it would be fatal to a considerable number of Labour seats: gaining traction for that policy was never what his intervention was about. Scabby indeed.