Last night in the House

4 Sep
the first part of this post features on offguardian

I enjoy schadenfreude as much as the next guy and for the millions of us who detest Boris, last night brought the stuff in spades. I was quite taken by Jeremy Corbyn’s comment. Too much the gentleman to refer to BoJo in person, Jezza’s was as neat a slice of alliteration as you’re likely to come across in a parliamentary put-down.

This government has no mandate, no morals and as of today no majority.

That last being an allusion to Tory member Phillip Lee, who dramatically crossed the floor to sit with the Lib Dems even as Boris was speaking. In those few seconds of theatre a Tory majority of one – and that reliant on May’s squalid deal with the creationist and reactionary DUP – went up in a puff of the proverbial.

But Lee’s perambulation – one small step for man, one fat smack in the chops for Boris – was but the first strike in a night of triple whammy. Within hours the government – a day of threats, bribes and all round arm-twisting notwithstanding – lost its bid to block a no-deal Brexit vote.

Worse yet, his Plan B – or Plan A? – hit the skids immediately after that defeat, wittily referred to by Scottish Nationalist Ian Blackford as the “shortest honeymoon in parliamentary history” – while a Right Honourable Member off camera calls out, the very moment Speaker John Bercow gives the result, that this is:

Not a good start, Boris.

All good stuff. As Noel Coward would say, I couldn’t have liked it more.

For the third hammer blow BoJo can thank a fellow Etonian. T’was David Cameron, whose own reckless complacency got us into this mess,1 who also saw to it that a prime minister may no longer call a snap election as and when s/he sees fit. The Fixed Term Parliament Act of 2015 has put paid to that. Now the Commons will decide whether – and more crucially, when – BoJo gets to grandstand as saviour of the People’s Will in the face of a parliament bent on thwarting it.

In plain terms, Johnson can’t follow his failure to push through a no-deal option by “going to the country” on a Parliament Versus Democracy ticket at a time of his choosing. Not without two thirds of the House of Commons assenting to it. Which as of this morning looks about as likely as Yemen winning the next world cup.


When history repeats itself, Marx observed, it does so as farce. It was Peter Ford, former UK ambassador to Syria, who pointed out BoJo’s affectation of aping the hunched shoulder slouch of his hero, Winston Churchill. But one of the most penetrating assessments of this trickster’s psychology came from a man whose writings I’m more given to slating – here for instance – if, indeed, I read them at all.

In yesterday’s Guardian – a paper I’ve come, for reasons given in many a post on this site, to detest more than I do the redneck honesty of the Mail – Rafael Behr packs rare depth of insight into so few paragraphs.

I never said the man can’t write, nor that he’s a fool.

Brexit is not the first thing Johnson has found difficult, but it might be the first difficult thing he cannot simply abandon. The path by which he arrived in Downing Street is strewn with jettisoned jobs, principles and relationships. He finds other people’s needs burdensome, and is used to shrugging them off. But now he is yoked to an onerous national duty. His discomfort was obvious in parliament today.

Johnson’s traditional repertoire of glibness and bluster served him poorly as his authority and his majority melted away. The first significant test of his command of the Commons resulted in humiliation. He was defeated by a majority of 27, forfeited control of the legislative agenda, desperately threw a general election gauntlet across the chamber and watched helpless as the leader of the opposition dodged it.

… Johnson chose the leave side in the 2016 referendum, thinking it would be beaten. He intended to earn kudos among Eurosceptic Tories while evading responsibility for turning their fantasy into reality. He flaunted his unreadiness to own the result, withdrawing from the subsequent leadership race on the day of his campaign launch. He served in Theresa May’s cabinet only as long as he could be idle in a grand office. When the time came to commit to a workable Brexit model, he resigned.

In part, Johnson is captive to the public school cult of effortless dilettantism that despises diligence as vulgar and swotty. He is also a hostage to his own breezy rhetoric. Even now that the technical complexities and economic hazards of Brexit are indisputable, the prime minister pretends that obstacles are trifling or illusory. He claims that leaving the EU without a deal would not be a calamity, but also that the threat of calamity is necessary to persuade the EU to grant a deal.

Nicely observed, Mr Behr. My only carp is with the dishonesty of the final sentence. It asks us to mock the illogicality of threatening the EU with no-deal calamity, while assuring the home fans that no-deal will be no calamity. That slyly fails to distinguish what is/is not a calamity for the EU from what is/is not a calamity for the UK.

Not for the first time – see my post the other day – I should add that I’m (for the time being) a Remainer: albeit one with peg on nose, heavy heart and zero faith that the European Bankers’ Club can ever be reformed.2 And albeit one who sees nothing illogical in Johnson’s insistence that a no-deal Brexit option is essential to the ability of negotiators to drive a hard bargain in Brussels. As any kid on a tough block knows, you gotta have a nuclear option.

If you don’t give my bike back my dad’s gonna come round and beat up your dad!

For all his astuteness in assessing BoJo’s character, Rafael Behr is less smart at assessing the realpolitik of the fix he’s in. For that we’ll do better to heed his nemesis from the other side of the spectrum.

But Behr’s naivity on this front, like that of many other Remainers, is tinged with disingenuity. His real objection is not simply to the no-deal Brexit Boris says he doesn’t want but must have as negotiating card – while Honest Nige insists on no-deal as his price for not standing Brexit Party candidates against the Tories.

Behr, like most Europhiles, wants to stop Brexit. And the problem with making this a goal to supercede all others is that it ignores fifty percent of the population of – let me say this one more time just for good luck – a thoroughly and toxically Disunited Kingdom.

* * *

  1. By “this mess” I refer not to Brexit but to the simplistic terms, and lies on both sides, in which the Referendum question was framed. And to the failure to demand more than a simple majority – two thirds is traditional – for so far reaching and long lasting a change to the status quo. And above all to the deep and deeply frightening divisions of a not so United Kingdom; divisions both reflected and exacerbated by the 2016 outcome.
  2. I feel another post writing itself. Of late I’ve been seeing FB comments, in some cases by folk whose views on other matters I respect, to the effect the EU is the cause of decades of peace in Europe. Of all the ways in which this is flawed in both its premise and the conclusion drawn, the confusion of correlation with causation is a howler of schoolboy proportions. Wearing big waistline trousers makes you fat. Show me a man with big waistline trousers and I’ll show you a fat man.

17 Replies to “Last night in the House

  1. “Wearing big waistline trousers makes you fat. Show me a man with big waistline trousers and I’ll show you a fat man.”
    You talkin about me?

    • Of course not, Mr Arbuckle. You is the epitome of slenderity, slimmest of the slim, skin and bone incarnate. Just stay out of stores selling big waistline trousers is all.

  2. One really wonders how this havoc is going to end… I’ve been pro Brexit from the very beginning, a first lucky “mad” possibility of reset. The EU has demonstrated time and time again to be an evil monster which only represents big interests located elsewhere and nowhere and doesn’t give a damn about its inhabitants, a result no nation in the EU could achieve before that. It is fascistic by nature and needs to be destroyed (or possibly amended but good luck with that). Brexit (and not the sinister May agreement or anything of that kind) is a step in the right direction and that does it for me.

    • This really is the devil’s business, Alain. The EU is as you say (bar the fascist part, which you wisely retract in your follow up). My problem is that none of the Brexit or Lexit enthusiasts have offered a single convincing argument as to how leaving in the current circumstances can be a victory for workers. My assessment could change, though. Maybe someone can convince me with an argument I haven’t yet heard. And for that matter, there’s too much turmoil across the Western world not to recognise that the situation – the constellation of class forces – may alter rapidly.

      For instance if the gilets jaunes on your side of La Manche give us a Frexit …

      • I don’t know about the victory for workers… this is a jump into the unknown, for sure. The known, that is the EU as it stands is awful, this we know.
        All I know is the people in the UK were given the opportunity to vote (a rare event in our so called democracies) and their will must be implemented. The rest is irrelevant.
        The whole anti-Brexit saga is due to forces which do not care about the people’s vote, the same forces that won against many other “no” votes in Europe in the last decades. Freedom from tyranny !!!
        As for France, I am very pessimistic and can’t think for a minute that something can come out of it, gilets jaunes or not. As Oskar Freysinger put it bluntly a few years ago: “La France, elle est foutue.”

        • Nous sommes tous foutu – unless we get past the insanity of capitalism. I’m not holding my breath but will keep shouting it out.

          You’re right of course. Brits did at least get to vote. But it was for the most petty of reasons and held in such a way as to make the result worthless. The crowning folly of so many Remainers is a failure to see that were they to get their precious second vote, and win it by a tiny majority – which all the polls suggest would be the best they could hope for – a dire situation would be made immeasurably worse.

          PS apologies for my typically English inability to reply in your own beautiful language.

          • I did not follow the pre Brexit referendum debate (did I miss something ?) so I cannot comment on it. Look, my take is that in the long run, the UK will be better off outside the EU (some in France dare say it was never quite part of it, ha ha ha 🙂 since the EU is doomed. A study from the Centre for European Policy in Freiburg found “Germany and the Netherlands to be the only countries to have gained substantial benefits from the euro”. Hence the gilets jaunes! Better get out of this club of banksters before it collapses. Lucky you, at least you kept the pound !

            • Cameron held the Referendum to stop the drain of Tory eurosceptics to Farage’s UKIP. So confident was he and the Establishment (echoes of HRC v Trump and for that matter Scottish Independence) that they’d walk it, they made the Referendum question simplistic and, in campaigning for Remain, insulted the intelligence of Leavers. (Again, echoes of HRC campaign.)

              But we are where we are. Thanks for the CEP link. Useful. May I also recommend Yanis Varoufakis? Another peg-on-nose Remainer, his Global Minotaur shows how crippling the Eurozone has been for Southern member states, and how advantageous – as intended – for Germany. In this respect, see footnote 2 of my recent post – Democracy? What’s that got to do with it?

              The Remainers of my acquaintance seldom bring Varoufakis’s astuteness and war stories to their simplistic understandings of the EU. (Though I find even him over optimistic in his diem25 idea.) Most offer platitudes along the lines of “best stick together” and candy floss, easily refuted arguments like “EU brought decades of Peace” and is pro environment .. pro human rights .. pro workers .. Worse, their main info sources are Guardian and BBC!

              This is a difficult question I know, but how strong is anti EU sentiment in France?

              BTW, happy to continue these valuable exchanges. But if you want to say more, make it a new comment will you? Rather than a reply to this. The indentation will soon have our comments one word wide!

          • I would have to take more time exploring your posts to find out what other viable options exist apart from capitalism… as far as I’m aware, all the other options that have been tried have all failed miserably (communism, socialism and so on). Now, I do understand what we have in place these days is not capitalism as such, but crony capitalism, which is a cancer and needs reforming (but how ?). I’m not happy with the way things are but I’ve also come to the conclusion socialism or what I have come to know as socialism is far worse than what we have in place. I only have to listen to what the democrats in the US propose these days to know they are insane and a bunch of lunatics. No borders ? This is insane as is the EU which does not want to control its borders. That will do for me for now since I have to rush away soon…

            • “… all the other options … have failed miserably (communism, socialism and so on) …”

              I think not, Alain. I touched on this a while back, in part two of a trilogy I’ve yet to complete. Here it is.

              “… what we have in place these days is not capitalism as such, but crony capitalism, which is a cancer and needs reforming …”

              Two comments. One, we do have “capitalism as such” – it is capitalism in the age of imperialism. Two, I’m with Marx and Lenin – who foresaw these things and were derided for it – in saying imperialism and monopoly capitalism are not some aberration. They are logical outcomes of capital’s inner laws of motion.

  3. Oups, I’d take away “fascistic” since I don’t feel I’m qualified to make such a strong judgment and also because the word is casually thrown out at any dissent nowadays.

  4. From the above exchange it would seem we have to turn our gaze elsewhere to determine who ate all the pies?

    Panto season has certainly arrived early this year. Losing your majority in the middle of a key speech is unfortunate. Reducing it by a further 21 in a fit of pique sets a (so far) unprecedentedly high bar in terms of shooting yourself in the foot. Cummings may have offered a shotgun. Boris preferred a blunderbuss.

    Perhaps if the Shadow Front Bench are canny enough they could push their legislative policy agenda through the Commons using the Johnson minority Government as a font man without the need to bother the Country with another General Election? Who knows the way things have been going?

    The cameo appearances were pure popcorn munching moments for those sitting in the cheap seats around the Country (those who Julia Hartley-Breer considers to be “the great unwashed).

    Was that a real or photoshopped video of Ian Duncan Smith sat in the rear benches picking his nose and scoffing it? Johnson’s other Moggy kipping stretched and recumbent on the Government front bench as though he was recovering from being freshly pulled out of a bamboo shoot. Ken Clark and Theresa May huddled together within verbal stabbing distance like Hale & Pace playing a pair of pantomime dames in Dick Whittington at the Brighton Pavilion.

    And what are we left with in the half time time interval as we queue for the kiora and little tubs of ice cream? A Commons with more factions than Life of Brian.

    The biggest joke of all?

    Johnson, Cummings and the rest of the ERG in Government seriously consider this to be some form of negotiating position.

    The warm up act (certainly in Barker’s Pool in Sheffield) on Saturday provided a taste of things to come. Begining with a re-enactment of the 1992 squabble on the narrow steps of the Doncaster Mansion House lobby of the TUC General Council meeting between the Manvers Main and Spartacus League banners for prime position (resolved by the SWP in favour o the Miners) this time on the wider steps of Sheffield City Hall between the Lib- Dems and Healey Labour Party.

    This was topped only by the spectacle of the squatter MP for Penistone and Stocksbridge (Angela Smith of the Angela Smith Party) lecturing a crowd of some 3,000 on the danger to democracy.

    And they say irony is dead! Or is that satire? Could be both? Who knows?

    This certainly did not go down well with certain sections assembled. Resulting in Smith (as one Twitter wag described it) having to shout “Listen to Meeeeeeeeeee! Like a substitute teaching assistant trying to control an unruly class.”

    Its certainly cheaper than going to the Lane and a lot more entertaining than the fare on offer at Hillsborough.

    Fresh supplies of popcorn will be gratefully received.

  5. Focusing on the issue being debated above several observations seem pertinent and reasonable. Though before doing so it’s worth pointing out that these are made with my (systems) engineers head on (which unfortunately is the only one I’ve got).

    The first point is that of context.
    A. We are where we are, not necessarily where we would like to be.
    B. You can only do the job that’s in front of you – with whatever tools happen to be at hand.
    C. (Metaphor Alert!) When you have a screw in your hand the correct tool to use is a screwdriver. If someone tries to claim the screw is a nail and you should be using hammer back away slowly outside the blast zone of what is going to turn out as a bodge job.

    Secondly, Varoufakis ain’t the only economist to twig how badly the EU (as well as the global economic system) is badly structured with poorly designed processes built on the spurious assumption that the screw is a nail. If you will excuse the poor pun here, Stiglitz’s tome on “The Euro” (which I’m part way through) nails the problems of poor system design based on the flawed ‘principles’ and quack theories of neo-liberalism/market Fundamentalism in the Eurozone which has produced divergence rather than convergence. The opposite of the stated public intentions.

    At this point it’s worth a few moments to consider why we are where we are in terms of what Yanis and Joe describe.

    The debate we are having on this specific was one I recall having in the late 80’s with colleges on the left in the Union movement. Following almost a decade of Thatcher the Unions, with the LP in tow, were looking to the EC as a means to roll back the tide. I remember making the pint on numerous occasions that this avenue could not necessarily be relied on as a buttress against market fundamentalism. That, like the UK single market, the EU could also have it’s institutions and systems taken over by the same infection.

    And sure enough 1992 happened. Thatcher came back satisfied because the practical reality was that the systems, structures, processes and institutions of the EC single market mirrored those of the UK single market. Because they were built on the same dogmatic ‘principles’, assumptions and theories.

    And it’s not stopped there. Lisbon was the cumulation of a choice between deepening the existing memberships Countries, converging them, or widening membership to include the former Warsaw Pact economies. The UK establishment, regardless of which nominal gang happened to occupying the nominal Government benches, like the good little US poodles they are (and in line with several centuries of perfidious Albion policy about containing any power bloc on the European mainland), successfully argued for the latter. Diluting the project in favour of continuing ‘The Great Game.’

    Which brings us neatly back to the question of where we are now/where are we now?

    Seems to me the position being put is between system A and system B – both of which are operating on the same basic principles, theories and assumptions. Essentially, they are both based on the same fundamental operating model.

    So now we are in the same ball park as this blog author’s take on the Syrian issue/Assad. The lesser or the greater of two bad or less than ideal choices.

    In that respect, from the position of the UK – rather than that of Greece and the other peripheral EU economies who have and are suffering – the question then turns to what are the practical results and outcomes for the UK leaving right now, October, January?

    And right now means no deal. Right now means, in real life practical terms from day one, EVERY process: from joint cross border accreditation recognition (truck haulage driving licences, airline pilot licensing, aircraft maintenance, product, environmental, consumer, working standards etc etc) through to customs, JiT systems for delivering every conceivable item from chlorine for the water which comes through the tap to ingredients for food, medicine, animal feed etc STOPS. ENDS.

    There are no longer agreements with the UK SM and this neeeds to be thrashed out in due course whilst the populace waits for system reboot.

    What does that mean? Well you can certainly get an idea from perusing the details released from the Yellowhammer analysis. However, probably the best impact assessment I ‘ve seen can be found here:

    And if you read anything on this subject today this should be it. And you know what, it doesn’t make a single iota of difference if the person who posted this does not actually exist. What is described is what will happen in real life, to real people, when JiT systems go tits up. Having experienced it, albeit on a smaller scale than what will happen should a ND scenario occur, should scare the shite out of any sane and rational person.

    Particularly when even ERG sources (including what passes for economists in that body) are publically recognising that to reach the stage we are currently at in terms of systems reboot will talk half a century.

    The question then becomes how many casualties is too many? How much, of collateral damage to other people, is worth the decision?

    But that ain’t all. When making the Hobson’s choice placed before us consideration also needs to be taken of what replacement systems – in terms of across the board standards – are known to be on offer once we leave under where we are now.

    Everything you come across points to a race to the bottom as the last vestiges of the post war settlement are dismantled, trashed, and trampled under foot with the UK SM subsumed into a US style rental capitalism/feudal dystopic system. You don’t need to be middle class or JHB’s great unwashed to think stuff that for a game of soldiers and hit the streets.

    And in the context of a Government which:

    – Has Ministers already signing off legislation under Henry VIII Statute of Proclamations powers.

    – Is dusting down the Civil Contingencies Act to cope with the inevitable outcomes of a systems wide stop following a ND exit.

    – Has leading members publically open to the idea of them following the rule of law as, at best, an optional extra

    Any notion of seizing back the initiative to alleviate this reality to even prevent never mind maintain current standards being trashed is a notion even the most starry eyed Trot or Green Maoist would reject as ‘aint gonna happen kid.’

    Because even if this happened, a progressive/ socialist (stick on whatever label you want) majority in a UK outside the EU which has ‘taken back control’ it’s been tried and failed before. It was called something like ‘Socialism in one Country’ and it fails as a model because it’s easily picked off.

    Bottom line?

    A. The choice is one of the least worse option. As matters stand it’s sensibile to go with those like Varoufakis and Stiglitz rather than try for cold turkey on a grander scale.
    B. Internationalism rather than parochialism, particularly in the context of planet wide problem effects already being felt and due to get worse, has always been part of the solutions.

    Me? I’m off to the tool shop to buy what us hairy arsed cable jointers on BT used to call “a jointers screwdriver”.

  6. Got you… I have to take the time to read and digest this dense material of yours. I always remain open to amending my pretty basic political views so why not 🙂

  7. Dave H,
    That is an excellent assessment (i will keep a copy) and chimes with my discomfiture which has led me to look at how did we get here?
    I posted this at Phillip Roddis’ same post at Off-G, i hope you think it adds to yours.

    I’ve written many comments and got into scraps here in the last week on the previous pieces on this subject. Many comments have confirmed what the wizards behind the curtain are upto.

    What more can be said? Except know your history because otherwise you are starting from the wrong place!

    So trying not to repeat myself too much…

    The UK gatecrashed into the EU under a new Tory government and with the approval of a new French president at the behest of the USA, because it was known exactly what the proto-EU plans were and they needed the UK to disrupt from inside. Now that the EU has matured and is well on its way to fully implement its plans – the US/UK powers has decided to barge out to escape the commitment to common regulation and Law and cause disruption from outside.


    When back in the 50’s of the proto-EU was set up in Western Europe it comprised six nations excluding the UK – it had full support of the US.

    In fact the US was unhappy that the UK wasn’t playing along.

    Such was the pressure that the UK attempted to join numerous times because it wanted to create a European Free Trade Area with the EEC where tariffs would be eliminated but none of the further encumbrances would be required – only to be vetoed by De Gaulle – as he knew the perfidious English were not to be trusted to disrupt their long term plans.

    That did stop the UK barging into their tent until his resignation and the election of Pompidou- who then opened the door for entry just as the proto-EU plans were formulated and agreed.

    What were these plans?

    Just as we were entering into negotiations on our entry to the EEC, therefore, the Community was beginning to plan, at the highest level, for an economic and monetary union that could involve not only the abolition of national currencies, but the transfer of economic policy-making from the previously independent nation states to the Community.

    When the new UK Tory government took office it’s purpose was to join and disrupt the EU achieving these plans on behalf of the US and UK’s deep state for two reasons:

    The first concerned a possible diminution of the role of the United States in Europe.

    The second concerned a new interest and enthusiasm for European integration.

    In his statement to the Council of Ministers at the opening of negotiations, Anthony Barber, Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster and UK Government spokesman, affirmed that ‘We welcome the moves which you have already made towards closer economic and monetary integration and are ready to play our full part.’

    That this had implications for British sovereignty was also of course not lost on the officials. A note to the Prime Minister, classified Secret, and dated 2nd July 1970, two days after the start of negotiations, advised that:

    ‘We ought at least to give some forethought to, for example, the implications of monetary and economic harmonisation for political institutions and sovereignty in the UK and in Europe…

    The Werner Plan implied the renunciation of national sovereignties in the economic field…the UK would be required to agree to participate with the programme before we could enter the Community. Obviously, the Six would want to ensure that we would not wield the veto to prevent their plan proceeding.’

    Democratic choice?

    The first referendum took place AFTER we had joined under a LABOUR government which didn’t approve of the shenanigans of the US/UK/EU and promised a referendum in its manifesto in the 2nd election in a year!

    The ‘question’ asked was:

    “Do you think the United Kingdom should stay in the European Community (the Common Market)?”


    This tricky question got most people voting Yes of course by a significant margin
    67% / 33%.
    (with a 65% turnout)

    The second referendum in 2016

    “Should the United Kingdom remain a member of the European Union or leave the European Union?”


    This tricky question got most people voting Leave of course by a narrow margin.

    52% / 48%
    (With a 72% turnout)

    1. Both questions seemed designed to get the ‘right’ answer. ( they should have been exactly the same surely!)
    2. The turnout in 2016 seems suspiciously high!
    3. The first referendum result was particularly decisive compared to the second.
    4. It is clear the UK population has been played since the late 50’s to achieve first the Entry and now the impending Exit by and for special interests.
    5. DeGaulle was right about the perfidious motives of the US/UK.
    6. Hard Brexit was the only plan.
    7. The resurrection of a traditional Labour party and agenda has thrown the Establishment which otherwise would have achieved their goal with full support of the New Labour/LibDem partners by letting Article 50 expire on 29th March.
    8. The full spectrum propaganda and alt-right agitation of the Tories & their neolib/con partners in parliament is aimed at destroying the EU and it’s independence from the anglo imperialists AND to stop a Corbynite Labour government undoing their neolib/con gains of the last 50 years.

    This is not just a little local difficulty in a corner of Europe – it is a major battle between ancient powers and the majority of the peoples of not only Europe and the Anglo empire (5+1 eyed) but the rest of the world.

    A historical revolutionary moment that will determine the course of humanity.

    I expect a crisis any attempt at installing an unelected gnu. Calling for an election won’t necessarily make it happen. It is a critical moment.

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