Has everyone gone absolutely mad? Seriously? This is the new big idea, is it? A “government of national unity”? A temporary, caretaker Prime Minister to extend, or even revoke Article 50? This is what we’re going with now? Was the second referendum that was quite obviously never going to happen not implausible enough?
The Brexit saga has obviously been a continuous, rumbling exercise in absolute stupidity, in which otherwise intelligent people with a vested interest in seeing their particular vision of how the whole affair should play out — on both sides of the remain/leave divide — posit increasingly unlikely and self-sabotaging ways in which they can achieve their desired political ends. However, while the leave side is at least able to implement its ends, being as it has had effective control of the executive since August 2016 and also happened to win that referendum everyone keeps banging on about, the remain side have spent their time thinking up new and more ludicrous ways in which we can all just try and forget that this whole sorry affair even happened. Performative remainerism has now given way to primal scream therapy remainerism, and this “government of national unity”/”caretaker government” bollocks is final proof that anyone on the more vociferous remain side has completely and totally lost the fucking plot.
The core issue, as ever, lies with Parliamentary arithmetic and our decrepit constitution. Simply put, the numbers are not there for any end that involves Parliament actively voting for something. The political will from within the executive is also not there for implementing anything Parliament votes for that it does not feel like implementing. In fact, Parliament has little to no remedy for an executive (one led by, say, Boris Johnson) that flatly refuses to implement what Parliament wants him to. All Boris Johnson — or anyone else who wants no deal — needs to do is absolutely nothing at all, and it will happen by force of law at 11pm on the 31st October.
In a rational world, we would have sought to change the Parliamentary arithmetic the first time Theresa May’s withdrawal agreement got voted down in late 2018. There would have been a general election to solve the Parliamentary deadlock, which after all is about the only way you can resolve such a thing, and it would have been over and done with well before the initial Article 50 date of 29th March. That’s what you’re supposed to do if your government can’t pass legislation. However, because this general election would have had a non-zero chance of returning a government led by Jeremy Corbyn (who at this point appears to be some totemic figure of Brexity evil in the minds of too many self-described “moderates”, to a level far in excess of any of his actual evidenced misdeeds), May wouldn’t do it, the DUP wouldn’t budge, and the Lib Dems prevaricated. So we were effectively stuck with the 2017 parliament, which won’t vote for anything beyond kicking the can down the road until it has to make an actual decision.
It’s worth pointing out at this juncture that back in those heady days of late 2018, Labour called a vote of no confidence in May’s government, and it failed. If that vote had succeeded, the “Tory rebels” shown even the slightest semblance of a spine and May’s government fallen, we may not be guaranteed to be in a better position right now, but we almost certainly would have a far different parliamentary makeup to allow the passage of some other legislation to secure a better outcome. Instead, assorted People’s Voters repeated their usual yarn about how what we really needed before and instead of literally anything else was a second referendum, which Corbyn had actually voted and whipped for but failed in the Commons. The idea that an election is a precondition of any outcome that is not inaction didn’t seem to cross their minds.
But what then, they say, if we don’t change the parliament, if we just change the Prime Minister, to gain an amenable executive who will extend Article 50 and avoid us going over the no-deal cliff edge? Leaving aside that this still doesn’t grant any further parliamentary votes to any positive outcome — which, to reiterate, is an overarching problem with any proposition that will only be conclusively solved by a general election — nobody is going to agree on who this Prime Minister is, and how they get into office in the first place.
This is where we are now. The main talking point of the Liberal Democrats, now led by Jo Swinson, seems to be that they want Boris Johnson gone, but they also don’t want Jeremy Corbyn as Prime Minister. This is at least a comprehensible thing for a Liberal Democrat to say, however Swinson’s frankly idiotic demand completely torpedoes any chance of a good outcome for anyone except Boris Johnson. Corbyn, like him or not, agree with his politics or not, is the legitimate leader of the Labour party. He whips around 250 MPs. His and his party’s support is therefore totally and utterly crucial for virtually any outcome that does not come with the blessing of the Tory whip. But, Swinson says, Labour should instead vote in a different Prime Minister — she posits today Ken Clarke or Harriet Harman, two figures about as likely to win a vote of confidence as literally any breakfast cereal mascot you could care to think of.
Swinson is on crack. She must know that this is an unreasonable demand, and even a lot of rank and file Lib Dems (including those who, having apparently not learned the lessons of 2010, defected from Labour in search of a more “principled” party) seem to bristle at the extreme self-defeating idiocy on display here. There is no way in hell that Labour would, or should be expected to, rip their party apart to make Ken Clarke Prime Minister. The concept is just ludicrous. It is about as likely as waking up one morning to discover that the Honey Monster is running the country. It is complete and total horseshit on a very base level.
As the contributor of the most votes to this putative arrangement, it is completely right, fair and with abundant historical precedent that Corbyn leads any alternative government, no matter how short-lived. Again, you may not like him, but he is not Boris Johnson, he is the rightful leader of the opposition, and his is your only ticket out of this bullshit. All of this talk of different non-Corbyn putative prime ministers — Clarke, Harman, Hermon — is deranged and anyone entertaining it seriously for even a second is on as much crack as Swinson is. None of the other options are plausible; all roads lead to or go via Corbyn. A government of national unity led by Corbyn may only have a 10% chance of happening, optimistically, but one not led by Corbyn has an absolute zero chance of happening because the votes — already parlous for Corbyn as it is — are not there and never will be, because any vote by Labour MPs to put in place a Prime Minister that is not the Labour leader is going to irrevocably destroy the party. Once again — you may not like this state of affairs, and you may think it’s very terribly selfish that the opposition party won’t vote itself out of existence to satisfy the whims of a party with 14 MPs and an overblown sense of self-importance, but that is reality. You have to work with reality as you find it. Less idealism from remainers and more pragmatism would be much appreciated at this point.
For the Liberal Democrats in particular, the mask has fallen. The piss diamonds transparently do not actually care all that much about Brexit, either the fact of its implementation or as an overarching concept, except as a very convenient and apparently quite resonant wedge issue that they can use against their key opponents, the Labour party — as Iraq was in 2005, as tuition fees were in 2010 — but discard for the sake of political expediency with nary a second thought once it becomes obstructive to their ends. If they actually cared, if they were a “party of Remain” as they so pompously call themselves, they would not be so squeamish about putting in place Corbyn for a very weak, single-issue government that they could collapse almost instantly in even the most optimistic best case scenario, with the express intention of averting the worst, most deleterious form of Brexit that exists.
Corbyn has, with the full benefit of hindsight, been the one conducting himself as a moderate, reasonable adult throughout this whole idiotic process, and the pram throwing from his opponents here is extremely unseemly. What remainers saw as his “fence sitting” now looks more and more like a good faith attempt to reflect that the referendum was not a particularly strong mandate for either side, bar the basic fact of not being a member of the European Union, and that people with opposing views to them are real, have honestly held views, are actually quite numerous and have a not-unreasonable idea that their views should be listened to in some sense. Rather than seek to work with him to improve the ultimate outcome to a more amenable one, the “Remain parties” have spent their time instead on a vicious and desperately partisan monstering campaign, with the apparently successful intention of turning someone who gave this rather excellent, coherently and cogently pro-Remain speech before the referendum into Farage with a red rosette in the public imagination, and Labour itself into a “leave party” of the same kind as the Tories. They have destroyed whatever meagre trust that remains between their putative allies on the left, and confirmed in the past couple of days that that distrust was more than justified; well done them.
Ultimately though, this whole affair represents a lot of chickens coming home to roost. We should have had an election ten months ago, and if not ten months ago then five months ago, and it was in everyone’s interests to do so no matter how much they squawked about it. The monomaniacal obsession with a second referendum, a demand that got dropped as soon as Labour agreed to it unconditionally, a demand that would never be met in any event because the Parliamentary numbers weren’t there at all, obscured that there were other routes that could have been taken. Similarly, the absolute refusal to establish a heirarchy of acceptable outcomes, rather than simply refusing to accept anything other than a second referendum or revocation of Article 50, has led to the consensus “Brexit” option landing on the no deal that is now fast approaching. And the deliberate monstering of Corbyn and Labour has embittered and repulsed a party and group whose support is crucial if anything is to get done, and conversely fatal to any proposal if withdrawn. These are four catastrophic strategic decisions on the part of a huge number of people that we now no longer have the time, means or political will to resolve, and neither Jo Swinson or Ken Clarke or Lady Sylvia Hermon are going to save you. In all likelihood, you will get what Boris wants and you will get it good and hard.
I hate to say I told you so.