...a blog by Richard Flowers

Tuesday, June 18, 2019

Day 6742: Constitutional Outrage


No one should expect to just GET to be Prime Monster!

Liberal Democrats should call for a Vote of Confidence in Parliament before ANYONE can be appointed Prime Minister, and we should demand that the Fixed Term Parliament Act be updated to make this explicit in law.

Boris Johnson looks very likely to win the contest to become leader of the Conservatory Party, already framed as “the race to be Britain’s Next PM”. And, given that he keeps dodging any questions, he could win with remarkably little scrutiny from either his fellow MPs or the public.

That’s an OUTRAGE!

AND there’s the little question of whether he can “command the confidence of the House of Commons” as the saying goes.

The rules governing how you get to become Prime Monster are written down in the Cabinet Manual, last updated at the start of the Coalition, by GOD (that is THE god, Mr Sir Gus O’Donnell, not the deity).

That’s where it says, in big letters at the start of Chapter 2:

“A government holds office by virtue of its ability to command the confidence of the House of Commons, chosen by the electorate in a general election.”

It would be shockingly unconstitutional – but I think also HIGHLY PLAUSIBLE – for Bojo to park his clowncar in Downing Street, installed as PM on the say-so of Theresa Maybe Not with NO opportunity for Parliament to test that he CAN command a majority.

Chapter 2 of the Manual gives us all the details of how a government is made.

(First a mummy government and a daddy government who love each other very much… er, no.)

So what happens when the Prime Monster changes?

The Prime Monster is the Prime Monster until they choose to resign (s2.08).

The Prime Monster MUST resign IF they lose a General Election and someone else has an overall majority (s2.11).

The Prime Monster MUST resign (because of the Fixed Term Parliament Act) IF they lose a Vote of No Confidence and are unable to pass a Vote of Confidence within 14 days (or if someone else IS) (s.2.19).

IF the administration has an overall majority, then the Party or Parties in government get to choose the new Prime Monster (s.2.18).

But what about when there ISN’T an overall majority? Remembering that the Conservatories do NOT have a majority and the Conservatories and DUP are NOT a coalition.

2.20 Where a range of different administrations could be formed, discussions may take place between political parties on who should form the next government. In these circumstances the processes and considerations described in paragraphs 2.12–2.17 would apply.

s2.12 to s2.20 are the “what to do after an election results in a hung parliament” bit.

Firstly, the incumbent government (TMPM) is entitled to wait until Parliament has met to see if it can command a majority (but is expected to resign if it’s clear that it won’t) (s.2.12)

Eventually, the resigning Prime Monster has to go to Mrs the Queen and tell her who the next Prime Monster will be. (s2.13)

[s.2.14 just says the Civil Service can help. S.2.15 says that’s what they did in 2010]

S2.16 is IMPORTANT because it says that the government can ONLY operate on RESTRICTED POWERS for as long as there is doubt over whether it can command a majority.

Finally s2.17 says what kinds of government can be formed: a minority government, winging it from vote to vote, like Hard Labour in the Winter of Discontent; a confidence and supply agreement, like we have now; a formal coalition.

But EVEN acting together, the Conservatories and the DUP can only call on 322 votes (313 Conservatories less 1 deputy speaker plus 10 DUPes); on the other side there are at most 317 votes (with Mr Speaker, 2 Labour deputy speakers and 7 Sinn Fein MPs not voting). That is a “working majority” of 5. Pretty flimsy, and why TMPM kept losing.
Worse, if the Conservatories were to lose 1 by-election to, say, the Liberal Democrats, that would be a majority of just 3. And if just 2 Conservatories were to vote against their own government, it would fall.

Reader, two Conservatories HAVE said they would vote against their own government to stop Boris Johnson and prevent no deal.

I think it’s pretty clear that things ARE in doubt whether ANY new Conservatory Prime Monster, and certainly Mr Johnson, could do the commanding of a majority.

But who is going to tell Mrs the Queen? Let’s ask the Manual…

2.09 “In modern times the convention has been that the Sovereign should not be drawn into party politics, and if there is doubt it is the responsibility of those involved in the political process, and in particular the parties represented in Parliament, to seek to determine and communicate clearly to the Sovereign who is best placed to be able to command the confidence of the House of Commons.”
And that’s the big big problem because you and I both know that this government is going to say “there isn’t any doubt”.

This government or probably ANY government, but this one already has a track record of never doing anything by the rules unless someone loads up the Supreme Court and points it at their heads.

Ask Ms Gina Miller. Ask Mr Sir Kier Stammerer. Ask Mr Sir Oily Letwin.

This government tried to cut Parliament out of the Article 50 Process. This government had to be forced with “humble addresses” to deliver the reports that Davis David had promised them. This government tried to let us leave the EU by default until the backbenches seized control of the timetable.

On EVERY occasion, this government has taken “TAKE BACK CONTROL” to mean “SEIZE POWER FOR US!”

This government more than any other has shown repeatedly that you cannot trust it to let Parliament – the representatives of the people – have their proper say.

So what makes you think they will stick to a convention that says “if there is doubt” they have to talk to Parliament?

The Manual continues…

“As the Crown’s principal adviser this responsibility falls especially on the incumbent Prime Minister, who at the time of his or her resignation may also be asked by the Sovereign for a recommendation on who can best command the confidence of the House of Commons in his or her place.”

…but the current Prime Monster in Name Only, Theresa Maybe Not, is NOT a person who is as good as their word. Far from it, she promised many times that she would not hold a snap election… then held a snap election. She promised many times that we would leave the EU on March 29th … and then didn’t leave the EU on March the 29th.

More to the point, the story goes that when she lost the Conservatory majority in 2017, she allegedly lied to Mrs the Queen saying straight-up that she had the support of the DUP when in fact the billion-pound deal was only secured a week later. The Palace, it is said, were furious.

But again there’s your problem, right there. No action has been taken.

In order not to be SEEN to be political, the Palace lets fibbing in the dark go unpunished. There’s no one to bring them into the light of day.

Take also the case of the Sun’s “Queen Backs Brexit” headline, which was more than a little calculated to turn a few votes in the Referendum. Their source was a Cabinet Minister, widely believed to be Michael Gove, then leader of the Leave campaign. Surely a clear case of drawing the Crown in to politics.

If the convention had ANY teeth, the Referendum would have been voided there and then. The Sun would have been fined the full cost of mounting the process. Michael Gove, if indeed it was he, would have been summarily dismissed as an MP and never allowed to stand again. None of this happened.

It is transparently safe for the wicked to flout convention.

To paraphrase Sir Desmond Glazebrook, of Yes Minister, the whole system relies on good chaps behaving as good chaps, and a good chap can never accuse another good chap of not being a good chap because that’s not the behaviour of a good chap, and well, that’s where it all falls over.

I think this government, and with a new PM in charge the next government, will try to carry on as though it has 100% of the power, even though it has none of the right.

Remember those RESTRICTIONS on what government can do when the ability to command a majority is in doubt?

Those restrictions start with:

2.27 While the government retains its responsibility to govern and ministers remain in charge of their departments, governments are expected by convention to observe discretion in initiating any new action of a continuing or long-term character in the period immediately preceding an election, immediately afterwards if the result is unclear, and following the loss of a vote of confidence. In all three circumstances essential business must be allowed to continue.

And I think that means that until Boris or whoever is confirmed as the new PM by a Vote of Confidence, they should not be allowed to make a major change of policy like leaving the EU with no deal (in contravention of everything the current incarnation of this government has tried and failed to do, and against the repeated expressed will of Parliament).

But short of yet another date with the SUPREMES in Court, who is going to ENFORCE this?

So, here’s what I say:

An aspiring Prime Minister should be OBLIGED to bring a Motion of Confidence to the House of Commons, laying out their plan for government, so that it can be debated and voted on, BEFORE they can become PM.

Whether their Party is in a majority (when they shouldn’t have a problem with that), or planning to run a coalition (and their coalition partners would probably like to know), or trying to run a minority government (as is the current case), then Parliament should be able to pin them down and hold them to account.

The policy statement wouldn’t be enforceable, as such, but breaking it in some way – like saying you will try to do a new deal with the EU and then going for a “no deal” crash out – would obviously be grounds for a No Confidence vote.

And it needs to be in an Act of Parliament, because then people will NOTICE it, and especially JOURNALISTS will notice it, and EXPECT IT TO BE DONE.

Think this is unnecessary? Ask yourself: how many people are considering this Constitutional nicety right now? Answer: NONE. Everyone EXPECTS that whoever wins the Tory Leadership WILL BE Prime Monster.

It is so much easier to dodge these bits of the Constitution that only exist in papers, conventions and precedents. Look how this government HAS DONE THAT.

We are Liberals. It is OUR JOB to stop people just GRABBING power. We should not accept this. And we need to say so.

Saturday, June 15, 2019

Day 6739: Polls Apart


It is three weeks since the European Elections changed everything and there’s really only one story in town. It’s just not the one you think it is.

With 3 MEPS Lib Dems topped the poll in London

Obviously, the news cycles are dominated by the Conservatory leadership. After all, Game of Thrones is over now, and the audience needs a new hit of blood, guts and sexposition…

But whether the idiot in the clown-car is now a shoe in for the Iron Throne or might still get removed by an unexpected twist, what’s less obvious is that the entire debate is framed by the real confrontation: Liberals versus Fascists.

Liberals. Standing up to the Fascists. Who’d have guessed?!

Brexit has always, always been about choosing whether we are a closed off, inward-looking Little England trying to recapture a past that never was, or an outward, embracing, forward-facing Great Britain working with the family of nations for a freer fairer future.

The failure of Theresa Maybe Not to get a Brexit that was Brexity enough for the Mogglodytes meant we got to take part in the HUGE democratic exercise that is the European Elections.

Which lead to the ENTIRELY PREDICTABLE comeback of Nigel Farrago and his Kippers 2.0. No policies. Just an overweening ego and a betrayal narrative.

(“oh but we all know what Nigel stands for” – well on the evidence, stealing his constituents’ money to spend on propaganda so he can continue to not do his job and fail to defend Britain’s interests. How’s THAT for a betrayal narrative?”)

What was less predictable – in the sense that it was predicted by absolutely no one up to and including Professor Sir Not-Richard Curtis while he was reporting the actual actual figures on local election night and still saying “well this is going to be a good night for the Greens” as the Lib Dems soared passed 700 gains – was that the Liberal Democrats would be the clear opposition.

Liberals. Standing up to the Fascists. Who’d have guessed?!

A simple, clear message. “Stop Brexit”. We changed our story, and changed the national story.

We stood up for our values. Liberal , not “centrist”. No more standing in the middle, apologetically getting hit by cars coming in either direction. Taking a stand – like we did on Iraq, like we did on I.D. cards. Not necessarily the popular choice, or the easy choice. But the right choice.

And that was all it took, for us to win London. To break Nasty Nige’s claims to be the “winner”.

Parties that favour Remain outnumbered the Quitlings on election night, and a big big part of that is the Liberal Democrats. We might not quite have managed to form a Remain Alliance, but together the Liberal voices and Green voices and Scottish and Welsh Voices are more and better than the Brexit Party.

Liberals. Standing up to the Fascists. Who’d have guessed?!

So the polls – I mean never mind the polls, but the actual vote on Euro-election night put us second, beating Hard Labour’s wilting rose and the Conservatory’s burning tree; the actual votes in Peterborough show us quadrupling our vote in Brexit central – but since then polls have shown us well up, including one having us tops.

What can all this mean?

It means two things. First, there is no limit to what we can achieve, and there should be no limit to the ambitions of our next leader, whoever SHE is.

(What? What! Oh go on, vote for Jo!)

But second it means we must embrace that clear Liberal message. When we speak with our fluffy hearts, when we are clear, when we are Liberal we win.

This country needs healing. So much. And we will offer hope for everyone. But we cannot try to offer something that will satisfy everyone. We cannot try to straddle that divide. Look at what happened to Labour. They said they were trying to bring the country together. They were – rightly – seen as trying to say one thing to Remainers and the opposite to Quitlings. If you speak with two faces, soon people start to think of you as two-faced.

The nearest comparison is Northern Ireland. It’s a bit artificial, because there are artificial rules there that mean you have to have Unionist and Nationalist power-sharing. But when the brakes were taken off after the Good Friday agreement, the votes didn’t go to the middle of the road Parties, they went to the ones who said what they meant.

That’s happening in the rest of Britain. Liberal Democrats on the one side. Brexits on the other. No longer right and left. Right and Wrong.

Liberals. Standing up to the Fascists. Who’d have guessed?!

If there was a time when the gulf could have been crossed, it was in the weeks after the Referendum, when a Prime Minister of vision could have brought together people from different sides to find a solution that saw us leave but remain close. It would have cost a bit for both sides, but Remainers would have been soothed, and Quitters would have had their departure.

But instead, the Quitlings went berserk. Seizing their waffer-thin victory, cobbled together by promising a different Brexit to almost every different voter, and claiming that it was a mandate for whatever mad scheme entered their heads: abolish human rights – will of the people, Empire 2.0 – will of the people! Denounce the judges – will of the people., General Election to Crush the Saboteurs – will of the pe… oh fluff, look how that collision with reality worked out.

Last week, there was research showing that the soon-to-be-former Prime Monster’s three years of promising No Deal because it’s better than a Bad Deal right up to the point of sitting down and being show just how very much WORSE it was has not been completely successful in bringing the country back together either.

In fact, if you want to piss off 90% of the people, just pick a Brexit. Any Brexit.

TMPM’s catalogue of cluelessness has hardened opinions all round so much so that each different Brexit tribe is now so utterly convinced of their own deluded version of Brexit (no migration Brexit, sovereignty Brexit, take back our laws Brexit, Singapore on Stilts Brexit, Red White and Blue Brexit, In Out Shake it All About Brexit and every other Magic Unicorn Brexit) and utterly so convinced that any other Brexit would be a BETRAYAL™ that they would all rather we Remain than get the WRONG BREXIT™.

And the 48%, who might well have accepted with a few British grumbles that they lost in 2016, are more pissed than ever that they’ve not only not been listened to, and called traitors up and down the country by that fatuous fag-smoking former banker in the affected Barbour Jacket, that they are now more than willing to say, you know what, we were actually bloody RIGHT in that Referendum and we damn well don’t want to put up with this Brexit nonsense any more.

Everything has changed.

The old parties tried to ride Farrage’s tiger and it’s turned on them and eaten them.

There is only one path to healing.

And that is Stop Brexit. Bollocks to Brexit. We are better than this. And when we say so, we win.

Liberals. Standing up to the Fascists. Damn right. And about time too!