Thursday 29 June 2023

Rishi Sunak's Good Bad Day

Not the best day for the government. The Appeal Court said no to the Tories' obnoxious Rwanda plan, and they ruled it was not a "safe country" to transport refugees to. This morning, as expected, the Privileges Committee put out a report naming a handful of prominent Tory MPs as being in contempt of parliament. And sloshing away in the background has been the bankruptcy of Thames Water and the will they/won't they speculation about whether the government will nationalise it. The Tories have a choice of adding its debt to the state's balance sheet, or allowing the South East to run dry. And yet no decision has been made.

All three of these speak to an acute vacuity at the heart of government. Which shouldn't come as a shocker, considering Rishi Sunak began the year promising to do absolutely nothing. But even on these risible terms, he's failing. There is a school of thought that the Rwanda scheme, dreamed up by Priti Patel as one of myriad culture war substitutes to fill the hole left by Brexit, was never designed to be implemented anyway. This is state money being chucked on a wholly intentional strategy of tension, in the hope the Tories would find themselves on the right side of political opinion and Labour's "lefty" lawyer at odds with the British people. Amazing to think any of them could mistake Keir Starmer for a man who cares about liberties and human rights. The problem is that a wheeze cannot last forever, and if you keep promising you're expected to cough up the goods eventually. It might be good news for Suella Braverman, seeing as she gets another crack at laying out the ground for her leadership campaign. But for Sunak, it's a disaster. His hand-wringing criticisms of the judgement make him look powerless, and he's got to know it as well. Short of repealing the Human Rights Act and withdrawing from the ECHR, which is unlikely given the company he'll be keeping, his policy now relies entirely on the Supreme Court deciding in his favour. And if the Appeals Court have found the government at fault because they've breached the law, simply arguing the same thing again isn't likely to cut it.

Coming after disappointment in court, the Privileges Committee report must have come like a kick in the pants. Having ducked out of one vote to pronounce on Boris Johnson, Sunak will be hoping for a vitally important meeting with a foreign leader to pop up in the diary. The Privileges Committee report into the conduct of Johnson cheerleaders accused 10 parliamentarians, seven MPs and three lords, of trying to undermine its work. Nadine Dorries and Jacob Rees-Mogg are on the hook for impugning the integrity of the committee and orchestrating a campaign against its Conservative members. Also in the dock are Andrea Jenkyns, Michael Fabricant, Brendan Clarke-Smith, Mark Jenkinson, and Priti Patel. The report will go before the Commons on 10th July, and MPs will have a free vote on the fates of this most motley of crews. Sunak will avoid expressing a view, no doubt. But the rest? Some of the briefcase brigade would happily see these incur the 10 day suspension penalty, which will mean a slew of by-elections the Tories would lose. But on the bright side they could make the case they've shut the door on the Johnson era and get on being "sensible" and "grown up" without their theatrical distractions. There are good right wing reasons to get shot as well. Of the gang, Patel is in the safest seat but a big drop in her vote would harm her leadership ambitions, benefiting Braverman and Kemi Badenoch both. Not only would a potential rival be knocked down a peg, the riddance of the rest leaves their residual support up for grabs too. And for the right wing attention seekers who remain, like the always appalling Jonathan Gullis, that means more media opportunities. The situation has something for everyone!

Whatever happens, Sunak will take a hit if the Tories close ranks, or if they pave the way for suspensions and by-elections. Surely even he has to realise that the last few weeks have definitively shown there's no coming back for his party. It's not a question of whether they'll lose, but how much by. And it might just be the case that by-election pain in the Autumn could allow for a quieter life between now and the election, and maybe, just maybe, save a few more seats from the coming bloodbath.

Image Credit


Ken said...

They must be thinking an Autumn election would be the best of the options, from the not terribly good to the absolutely awful.

Dipper said...

If you just see politics as about Labour v Tory then you miss the point.

What the courts are doing is over-ruling a democratically elected government from exercising a basic and necessary function of the state, which is to control borders. Everybody I know is looking on in absolute disgust at the court's actions.

The issue for the Tories is that the one-nation Tories pitch is that they can govern in the national interest. But increasingly the Blob is simply ignoring the government, implementing their own policies and sending out elected politicians to explain. This is creating a crisis in Conservatism as their fundamental modus operandi is in tatters.

The state of democratic politics is, in many people's eyes, broken. And that is a problem for the whole country.

Anonymous said...

You have a very poor understanding of democracy.

Andrew C said...

@Dipper: I’m not sure who you know, but the people I know think that it is the purpose of legal institutions to uphold the law, which is also an essential function of governments (in this case, international legal agreements to which British governments have signed up.) The only other government that has decided that the best way to deal with migration issues is performatively is the Austrilian conservatives. And we know which other governments decide they should be unstrained by the ECHR, and they’re not attractive bedfellows for anyone.

Anonymous said...

Given Dipper's role as the local voice of the Telegraph, "everybody I know" may not have quite the cachet that he thinks it does.

The state of democratic politics is certainly broken in many people's eyes. But the ones who react to this obvious brokenness with grotesque fantasies of leaving the ECHR and thus enabling the government - which they somehow think is both irretrievably broken, and also trustworthy to perform its function if only its hands were untied; a position undoubtedly predicated entirely on the fact that they personally voted for it - are a very particular collection of peoples. Specifically, all the ones for whom "checks and balances" are something that should only apply to people who disagree with their own privileged (and propertied) opinions, bolstered by a large swarm of those whose political opinions are simply whatever the red tops scream at them from the newsstand.

Everyone else with an opinion on the matter sees courts overruling the government and understands that it's what they are for. If the courts couldn't or didn't overrule the government, then we'd have a state far closer to Russia under Putin or Turkey under Erdogan than anything that could be called Western.

No doubt these same people are also breathing a substantial sigh of relief at the fact that the country in which they live hasn't yet degraded to the point where the government can't just do whatever it likes to any sufficiently weak minority just as long as there are some votes to be had from it.

If the Telegraph and red top crowd of orcs - or at least those among them with more than a couple of years of oxygen filchery left to them - are actually the more numerous, outside the fantasies of Tory pollsters, then the whole country has a serious problem.

Dipper said...

the usual lefty piffle in the comments. 'Rule of law' now meaning 'Rule by judges'.

UK judges are using broadly written and vague statements to impose their own political opinions. They have no democratic basis for this.

My sons have been unable to apply for internships because they are white. An absolute clear case of racial discrimination. Yet somehow the judges don't see fit to stop that.

Anonymous said...

"My sons have been unable to apply for internships because they are white. An absolute clear case of racial discrimination." - Dipper

Well that is quite an incendiary anecdote, isn't it. Even though it is also homeopathically weak whataboutism in the discussion at hand. Would Dipper perhaps have any evidence for it having happened in the real world?

Being generous enough to assume for the moment that it is based on a real story, I'm sure that we'd also be interested in any relevant context. E.g. Are there other reasons why Dipper's sons might be particularly unappealing to a potential employer? Were they applying for these internships at the local mosque, or the local clan-run Indian takeaway? And so forth.