...a blog by Richard Flowers

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Day 5657: Where Do We Go From Here


Over the weekend, the Vote Leave campaign have revealed that they genuinely have no plan for what to do now they’ve torn everything down. And Labour have chosen absolutely the worst moment to hit the self-destruct button.

The first observation is that if the vote were to be held this week, after the last 72 hours of the most vigorous rowing backwards, it seems unlikely that the Leave Campaign could win a referendum on the sun coming up tomorrow, so shot is their credibility.

All the promises of the Leave Campaign have been thoroughly trashed… by the Leave Campaign.

Farage was pooh-poohing the promise of £350 million a week for the NHS within minutes of the final result, and IDS denied thrice before cockcrow he’d ever said it on Marr on Sunday, leading to a flurry of photos of him stood in front of the Boris Bus saying exactly that.

Johnson, Gove and Hannan have all made it very clear that they don’t really want to leave the single market, or even end the free movement of people that proved such a decisive part of the campaign they ran.

Morten Morland, via Times Red Box

Indeed Johnson’s pusillanimous piece in the Telegraph seems very much more like saying we’ll be staying entirely IN, give or take some legal fiddlings – this is just more of his policy of pro-having cake AND pro-eating it. And Brussels has already rubbished it.

Alas, Boris, to govern is to choose. If you want the job…

And this is only going to get worse before it gets better.

For too many, the World carries on merrily in its own little way, so all must be all right for everyone and ignore the rise in hate crimes and the fall of the markets. The bomb has dropped, but no one has noticed yet.

48% of the country are appalled by what has happened. But the 52% who voted Leave last Thursday are only going to be disappointed.

Many thousands apparently are disappointed already, shocked that what they thought was a protest vote has ramifications that are suddenly horribly real.

Many people are amazed at the speed with which the “Mystic Clegg” predictions are coming true.

Many more are only now reading the “What Brexit Means for You” columns in Mail and Sun and howling with betrayed outrage that the very papers that instructed them to vote Leave didn’t warn them of these consequences before.

But many of the others currently still celebrating are going to get frustrated and angry at the kind of Brexit or semi-Brexit or Neverexit that is delivered.

Prime Minister (in name only, now) Cameron’s decision to pass the buck to his successor was a typical act of “why should I” entitlement, but it has served to skewer the Leavers on their own contradictions, even while it leaves the EU infuriated by being left hanging in the wind over when or even if we are actually going to start the Brexit machine going.

And at the same moment, struck by terror that a new Tory leader might precipitate a snap general election this year while they’re still stuck with Corbyn as leader, the Labour front bench have chosen this moment to stage an Ides of March-style attempted assassination. And after two days the Shadow Cabinet’s clown car is still disgorging resignees.

Consequently, we have neither Government nor Opposition and are neither in nor out of the European Union.

London Metro, Monday 27 June - sums it up

Will There Be a General Election?

Given that they fought the referendum on the grounds of “democracy” it would be a bit of a sore point if the Brexiteers then allowed a new PM to be installed without the British people having a say.

Having said that, they’ve abandoned the rest of their platform so swiftly, it would hardly be a surprise.

The PM cannot trigger Article 50 on a whim. It’s a bit legalistic, but because it would be – effectively – repealing the European Communities Act he cannot just use the (so democratic) Royal Prerogative. He needs to pass it through Parliament, and Parliament has a huge majority against leaving the EU and is not particularly minded to give the Tories an easy ride. It only takes the few remaining Europhile Tories to play the same game that the Maastricht rebels played for it to fall at the first hurdle.

And that’s without reminding you it’s got to get through the Lords too. All those Leavers banging on about the sovereignty of Parliament ought to remember that more than half of Parliament is the unelected Peers – without a manifesto pledge to Brexit, the Lords will be well within their rights to block any Article 50 notification.

All of which is a strong case for a pro-Brexit Tory Prime Minister to go to the country.

But there are downsides for the cautious punter to consider.

The timetable that Mr Cameron wanted to set in place meant that there would be no new Tory leader until at least the first week of October. (I say “at least” because in fact, Liam Fox was pushing on Monday morning’s Today Programme for the contest to begin at the Tory Party Conference to “allow all the candidates to parade their wares” – code for “give me time to put my candidacy in order”.)

The shortest possible election campaign is about three weeks, placing polling day no earlier than Thursday 3rd November. November, being cold and wet, is not a well-starred month for elections. Certainly if the Tories do drag out their contest even longer, then any election would have to be next spring.

The 1922 Committee (the people who run the Tory Party’s business) have recommended a shorter timetable, with the new leader elected by 2 September.

This could in theory allow for an earlier election, but only if the Tories don’t mind bulldozing the conference season and can persuade Parliament to go for it. Because although there are ways of fudging the Fixed Term Parliament Act, Parliament needs to be in session to vote itself out. Labour – probably still in the middle of their own leadership crisis – are going to be disinclined to play ball in early September. No confidence-ing their own government out of existence is hardly the most auspicious start to an election campaign, and there’s still a two week cooling off period, which leaves them basically back where they started.

But why go to the country at all when you’ve got a working, if small, majority and the only way is down.

A general election would be difficult for the Liberal Democrats, despite being the most united party, and with a clear message to stand up for the 48%. Many of our local parties are still traumatised by the punishing 2015 election. Bouncing back to our pre-coalition highs of 50+ seats looks unlikely. But that’s not to say that there are not seats that we lost in 2015 that would not swing back to the gold column, particularly in those Metropolitan boroughs and University Towns that voted remain, now that they’ve seen the alternative is an ever-more unfettered right-wing Tory government. Eight MPs might seem like a joke, but doubling that, to sixteen to twenty would make us relevant again. And would deprive Prime Minister May or Johnson of their slender majority.

But the real threat to the Tory hegemony is UKIP.

With his article today, Johnson essentially cedes all advantage to Farage’s mob. In any snap general election, Nigel will campaign on a “we didn’t vote for THAT” ticket (the “stab in the back” narrative) and with Labour in such total disarray, might actually mop up large numbers of seats in the North whose grievance will only have been fuelled by “Boris the Betrayer” (“he stabbed his mate Dave in the back and now he’s sold us out on immigration, the elitist old-Etonian, London so and so”).

I’m inclined to think that if buccaneering Boris gets in, he probably will want his own mandate. Though whether the “men in grey suits” would let him, is another matter. Theresa May is more likely to be content with being PM for four years and seeing if things get better for her prospects of re-election.

And yet only a general election offers us a way out of our current cleft fork.

I do not believe that Vote Remain should be trying to tactics or legalism to get this current Parliament to ignore or thwart the will of the people for Brexit.

But it appears that the leadership of Vote Leave… do NOT want us to leave.

And so new leadership is called for.

What is needed is either electing a pro-Brexit government with a mandate to do the difficult business of unwinding our laws and negotiating new treaties, or giving victory to a pro-Remain government that would certainly be a popular mandate for saying the people had thought again about the referendum result. Or more reasonably, it would be a case for asking the question again.

I’m proud of my Party sticking to its pro-EU guns. (After all, no one would expect UKIP to turn all Europhile if the Remain Campaign had won 52:48. In fact, Farage said as much, up to and even after the polls closed, when he thought he was going to lose.) And we should do everything in our democratic power to keep making that positive case for IN.

And the Lib Dems sweeping to a majority on a pro-Remain ticket would be the clearest possible sign that the public had looked into the Leave abyss and thought better of it after all.


Mike Taylor said...

"I do not believe that Vote Remain should be trying to tactics or legalism to get this current Parliament to ignore or thwart the will of the people for Brexit."

Whyever not? It seems perfectly clear, now that the dust has settled, that this is not the will of the people. Why push on with an agenda that most people don't want and that everyone knows will be massively harmful? I'm not seeing why we shouldn't stop it by any means possible.

Millennium Dome said...

How do we know that most people don’t want this?

It may seem clear to us that the will of the people is at best muddled, but that’s not what the figures that count say, and a very very large number of people are happy because they won and we lost. There is no legitimate basis for just setting that result aside. There would be absolute fury and we would be accused of cheating and worse.

What is clearer is that no one wants to put the bell on the cat – that is, no elected representative is willing to trigger Article 50.

But unless Johnson actually stands up and says that the Leave Vote was achieved on a false pretext, we have no grounds to rerun the referendum.

We really are plumbing the depths of a constitutional crisis here.

I think to Leave is wrong. I want to stop Brexit. But I very strongly believe that I would need a mandate from the people to do that. That means an election.

Mike Taylor said...

How do we know that people don't want this?

* Anger by Leave votes on realising they've been lied to.
* Dismay at the plummeting pound, FTSE 250 level, banks falling so quickly they've suspending trading.
* Polls showing that many people -- more than a million -- would change their vote now.
* A Parliament Petition that is closing in on FOUR MILLION signatures.

There is no credible mandate for leaving Europe. Everyone knows that, which is why no-one is doing it.

And there is nothing "democratic" in a headlong rush into a course of action that we landed on -- just -- due to a misplaced howl of outrage from people who were systematically lied to in order to manipulate that result.

Screw it. If the cost of staying in Europe is a constitutional crisis, bring it on. It won't be worse that what we have now.

Millennium Dome said...

None of which, I’m sorry, outweighs the actual counted votes of 33,551,983 people.

We cannot pick and choose just because we lost.

If… IF… that petition got to 17.6 million signatures, then maybe there would be a case.

But what happens if we have another referendum this week and Remain wins 52:48?

Is that the end of it? No, of course not. Farage immediately demands a third referendum.

It’s a constitutional crisis RIGHT NOW. Because Parliament has given control to a plebiscite and doesn’t want to obey the answer. But if it actually overturns that vote… that’s the end of democracy. There would be riots. There would be beyond riots. And Farage wins.

The only way out of this is to elect a new government with a mandate to do what is necessary, whether that is press the Article 50 button or dismiss the referendum.

Mike Taylor said...

Those things would not outweigh the referendum result had it been 80-20, or even 70-30. But 52-48 (and that on a day where the pro-remain Londoners turned out in low numbers due to the weather) is not convincing. No other country would consider doing this on such a narrow margin -- in fact those countries that have clauses about referendums in their constitutions tend to have clauses requiring a 2/3 majority, or two referendums separated by a two-year gap, or what have you.

There is certainly nothing decisive about the result we got. And as you well know, nothing legally binding, either.

Finally: if democracy means "people being told what to do by liars", then I have no particular concerns about being undemocratic. The idea that "if it actually overturns that vote, that’s the end of democracy" strikes me as absurdly hyberbolic (and very much not in keeping with the tone I usually read here), but if it's the end of The Thing That Has Been Masquerading As Democracy in this case, then as far as I am concerned that's a good thing.

The alternative is allowing Murdoch, Dacre, Farage and Johnson to drag us down a shit-hole for their own convenience. No thanks.

(None of which is to say I wouldn't back selecting a new government, of course. I just don't accept that that's the only solution.)

Mike Taylor said...

Source for my statement about consitutional clauses regarding referendums:
(Sorry I missed it out last time.)