Monday 2 September 2019

Will Fortune Favour the Knave?

Where has the weekend of bullying and bluster got Boris Johnson? Saying Tory MPs who vote against the government in the Commons tomorrow will be deselected has, at least at the time of writing, firmed up the Tory refuseniks. Imagine, a Prime Minister who models himself on Winston Churchill drumming his actual grandson out of the party. Not great optics for the history books our vainglorious leader hope to dominate. And now we have the threat of a snap election pencilled in for 14th October if, as Johnson put it outside Downing Street this evening, parliament knocks the legs away from the government's Brexit negotiation strategy. He emphatically said he doesn't want an election, but among his waffle and piffle were laid out rhetorical devices designed to get him off the hook if he calls for one. High stakes and risky moves then, but how likely will fortune favour the knave?

Johnson and Tony Blair (yes, him again) have reckoned now is the best chance for the Tories - which is why Johnson is keen to flash around his keenly not-keen posturing, and Blair is warning against supporting one in the Commons. Clearly, while the polls are moving away from the four-party result of the EU elections it is far from complete. On average the Tories are in the mid-30s with Labour languishing in the mid 20s, and the LibDems between 15-20% and the Brexit Party on 10-15%. With a split opposition, First Past the Post would, depending on how the votes fall, allow the Tories to get a thumping majority. The 1980s are a reminder of the stark consequences of what happens when opposition is divided, and 2017 a moment when the Tories were nudged into permanent crisis thanks to anti-Tory sentiment solidifying behind Labour.

Johnson is gambling this won't happen again. Stuff like the summer's big blowouts and incessant sniping from the right inside Labour has catalysed an anti-Tory and anti-Corbyn constituency that will put pay to the hopes of one of these forces - and, Johnson reasons, it won't be the Conservatives. Once the huge machinery of the Labour Party moves which, in and of itself, is an electoral factor because of its sheer size and reach into every street, workplace, and friendship group in the land we shall have to see, but this is largely invisible from Johnson's and Cummings's standpoints.

Nevertheless, while Labour might be fighting a two-front war, so is Johnson. Flush from their EU election victory, Nigel Farage has gone so far as to declare terms to the Tories. Having now aligned the Brexit Party explicitly with no deal, he has said it would only stand its candidates down if Johnson adopts this as his preferred objective. While Johnson is quite prepared to countenance no deal to keep his wretched party together, he knows polling consistently finds majorities against no deal as well as the small matter of the damage it can do to the country, and more importantly the Tories in the medium to long-term. If he does persist with the fiction he's negotiating hard for a deal, which is the line he fed into tonight's speech, BXP will stand but he'll be hoping for a repeat of 2015 where UKIP's four million votes disproportionately hit Labour's hopes in the marginals. However, what Johnson can't rely on whereas Dave could and did is the Tory centre-leaning EU-friendly voters: the LibDems scooped them up in the Brecon by-election and are zeroing in on them. Not two fronts for Johnson then, but three - and thanks to his stupid no deal rhetoric he's already raised the white flag on one of them and is practically inviting his opponents in.

So much for the Tory position, but Labour's? As Blair was giving his speech earlier warning against an election, I lazily dismissed him as being always wrong. As the day has worn on, I've reluctantly conceded he may have a point. Obviously, Labour wants an election to get shot of the Tories: no more no deal idiotics and theatrics, and no more cruelty and stupidity would be a fine thing, but a general election in all circumstances? To get an election, Johnson simply cannot call one. His option is, as per the Fixed Term Parliaments Act, a vote in the Commons with a two-thirds majority - which is the route Theresa May used to secure hers. Or, as Stephen Bush rightly notes, a government motion requiring a conventional majority using a form of words in which the Fixed Term is bracketed and bypassed works just as well. Either would pass as Jeremy Corbyn would whip for a vote, but this does require some strategic thinking before we go there. Electoral politics is more than just mobilising for victory, a strong gambit must aim at simultaneously disadvantaging and disorganising one's opponents. Something Blair also understood during his time in office. However Johnson goes about calling an election, he needs Labour's support, and Labour should be prepared to offer some red lines of its own. A line such as, for example, safeguarding the national interest by extending Article 50 and proposing a longer election date so the issues underpinning this important and fateful election can be fully thrashed out. Reasonable requests, yes, but existential crisis time for the Tories if conceded. The "elephant trap" Blair has identified can be turned against those who set it if Labour plays its hand skilfully.

In the mean time, the events of the last week remind us politics is not a spectator sport. One of the reasons Johnson and Cummings have doubled down on the heavy handedness is because their ruse comes from the same place of weakness that bedevilled May after she lost their majority. Whereas she tried placating the European Research Group and the hard right, Johnson is trying to bulldoze his critics and irreconcilables. While his shenanigans play out in Number 10, in the whip's office, on the WhatsApp groups and in the theatre of the editorial office and briefings to favoured hacks, we can be ready for whenever the storm breaks. There is a huge, angry, and deeply politicised movement out there raring to go. It cannot win an election by itself, but Johnson would be a fool to underestimate how a mass of active and motivated people can thwart his schemes.

Image Credit


Speedy said...

To win, Labour would have to enter a similar pact with the LDs as the Brexit Party will with the Tories. Is that going to happen? Not in a month of Sundays.

Also - in 2017 believe it or not, JC and his line on Brexit were still viewed favourably. This is not the case now. MOre for his lukewarm demeanour and perceived prevarication than anything.

You recognise this when you bow to the wisdom of Blair, which must stick in the throat!

Personally, I feel Labour's position is reasonable and nuanced. But reasonable and nuanced does not survive this polarised world - these are civil war conditions. You only have to look at how the extremists finally grabbed power in Northern Ireland (and became the new mainstream) to understand that.

The UK is divided into No Deal Brexit or No Brexit. Labour needs to:

- Simplify its position. 'No no deal, give the people the final say' (which is its position but dependent on the second clause, thereby aligning itself with People's Vote)
- AND do a pact with the Lib Dems.

If this happens, put simply Remain will win. If not, you're right, the Tories will have a crushing victory and all will be lost. Which way do you think it will go?

Dipper said...

Speedy is right.

Just to be clear, because as a Leaver I'm a bit dim, Parliament called a referendum, said they would implement the result, are now saying they won't implement the result because they are representatives not delegates and refuse to be mandated by referenda, and are now going to push for a referendum so they can be mandated by the electorate to confirm they can ignore the results of referenda. Have I got that right?

Anonymous said...

“Parliament called a referendum”

Yep, the same illegitimate parliament that called the referendum is also trying to thwart it, which makes the whole thing illegitimate by my reckoning. I guess if you agree with the principle of parliament calling referendums you should be comfortable with them then refusing to implement the result. All power to the parliament!

Thing is they are not exactly the same parliament are they (there is not Pitt the younger anymore for a start), as they are now configured slightly differently. So it would be more accurate to say, irresponsible Tory party, to placate part of its base, threw in a promise to have a vote on the EU without giving it any thought whatsoever or considering for a moment the possible consequences. (and they say Corbyn is a threat to national interests!). They carried out this ill thought through promise, believing it would be voted down and to their shock and horror the vote went leave. Then all hell broke loose, May called a general election believing she could get a majority to push through a Tory friendly deal but she did far worse than expected. She then negotiated a alienate all sides deal with the EU and was forced to leave office.

Politics being politics the politicians now have to circumvent around the problem of the voters being an unthinking, stupid mass of tabloid brained imbeciles whose decision making should not go beyond deal or no deal by pretending they really want the masses opinion all over again (politics = flattery). In America the politicians got round this problem by projecting the stupidity of the American Trump supporters onto Russia.

“Have I got that right?”

To be honest you were not even close.

Dipper said...

"the problem of the voters being an unthinking, stupid mass of tabloid brained imbeciles"

and there we have it.

Anonymous said...

"and there we have it."

That and you were talking out of your backside.