What a shame Theresa May hadn’t scheduled a visit to Paris on her latest whistle stop tour of E.U. capitals. Then she could have been filmed making a statement to the press outside our embassy about how she will battle on despite the announcement that she now faces a no-confidence vote amongst her parliamentary colleagues. Bernard Ingham is still alive I believe (what would count as evidence of that I wonder) so to complete the scene he could have been drafted in to play himself, doing his best to drag the wounded beast back indoors. It’s the same old, same old. Thatcher went, and whatever the outcome of this current internal Tory battle, May’s time is up too. As ever in these situations though, one has to be careful what one wishes for.
If May wins she cannot be challenged internally again for twelve months. But she will look even weaker than she did after the 2017 general election. The Tory European Rejection Group (ERG) will not stop attacking her. She will be more in hock to the DUP who would not want to lose their ‘Ace In The Hole.’ She will not be able to get her deal through Parliament. Her (our) government will be in paralysis (as if it weren’t already). At least lame ducks can hobble. If May loses tonight, then we’re going to be in even deeper poo-poo. The country will be in even worse paralysis. Paralysis-paralysis, or perhaps meta-paralysis. And would we be expected to accept a new Tory leader without a general election, as if this change in PM was a matter of no concern to us? It’s been suggested the Tory victor would have to be a ‘proper’ Brexiteer, like Boris. Yes, a unifying figure. A hard Brexit looms. This is a real-life zombie movie. It's Chris Grayling's moment! He wouldn't even need prosthetics.
Theresa May has bottled it and the public is going to wake up on Christmas Day to discover that Brexit is for life and not just for Christmas. A while back it was just a lovely little puppy and nobody realised it wasn’t housetrained. Or, to take a different tack, when May said ‘Brexit means Brexit’ she never comprehended the import of Zeno’s Paradox of Motion. She seems to be stuck in it.
Well, I’m pleased to announce that I have a perfect solution. The only problem now appears to be the ‘backstop’ to prevent a hard border appearing in the island of Ireland. This, as many are now not prepared to acknowledge, was barely mentioned in the 2016 Brexit referendum campaign. To be frank, I doubt that many people on either side really thought very much about it. So let’s now have a second referendum solely on the issue of the backstop. Let’s say that the first referendum, through a simple oversight neglected to address the issue. I’m not sure how exactly the second referendum question would be worded but I guess it should come down to whether or not mainland Brits can be arsed any longer to put up with the never ending game played out in Northern Ireland to keep us tied to Unionist apron strings. A significant majority of Northern Ireland people voted for remain – but when it comes to ‘respecting the referendum result’ the DUP are found living on their own wild, mad planet of denial. It’s time they were sent on their way, and if the rest of the British public want an unimpeded Brexit, the price has to be letting go of the six counties. It could be a price worth paying. And the DUP, taking on board the mainland Brexit votes last time round could hardly complain if that was the result and Northern Ireland left the United Kingdom.
Scotland would follow suit of course, but now I'm thinking why not?
Christmas shopping in Waterstone’s this morning. Titles for the popular market piled up near the entrance. Books with titles like “We’re all F**ked and What You Can Do About It” or “All Politicians Are Sh** And What You Can Do About It” or “The Next Crash Is Coming And What You Can Do About It.” Well, I made these up, but they aren’t far off the mark. Others in this genre could include “Your Partner Is Cheating On You – And What You Can Do About It.” That would sell well. This is the time of year for annuals and I was pleased to see there was a “Jeremy Corbyn Annual 2019” and inevitably there was a “Trump Annual 2019” as well as a “Gary Southgate Annual 2019” (whoever he is). But there was no “Theresa May Annual 2019.” I assume the publishers know something we can only guess at. I didn’t spot any witty Brexit ‘explainers.’ I imagine everyone has given up on that. Well, almost everyone. A handful of Cabinet ministers might still find it amusing.
This image from the ever incisive FiveThirtyEight website is striking for two reasons. Firstly and obviously because it graphically shows that El Trumpo’s associates, so early on in his administration have been more prone to illegal or criminal behaviour than any of his recent predecessors. I suppose that comes as no surprise. It’s the company he keeps. The second telling feature of this graphic is that every presidency with the exception of Obama’s comes with a trail of indictments and scandal. It seems to be the norm. In comparison, U.K. prime ministers are shining pillars of propriety. Perhaps they just aren’t enterprising enough. Or perhaps they’re cleverer. How many have got away with breaches of the Honours (Prevention of Abuses) Act 1925 for example?
A second Brexit referendum looks more of a possibility, now that Jeremy Corbyn has said in an article in today’s Guardian that it could be an option if all else fails to break the Westminster deadlock. Whether that makes it more likely is another matter, since if a general election came first, many would perceive that as a proxy Brexit referendum – albeit only if the parties’ positions were clear and offered a choice. As things stand, I’m not sure a clean, clear choice would emerge in a general election – although under different Tory leadership it could be hard Brexit with the Tories or soft Brexit with Labour. I suppose that would do. The LibDems might offer remain of course, but I think I would rather eat vomit. Yes, that’s not a very nice thing to say about 'Sir' Vince and his crew.
It’s been said many times that there is no public appetite for a second referendum. The same may be said of another general election. Are we to start Brexit negotiations all over again with a new government? Labour surely wouldn’t want to be lumbered with any remnants of the Tory deal which it has so deeply eviscerated. So a general election is a double-edged sword when it comes to the electorate. And to make matters worse, it would be a winter general election just after Christmas, when everyone is feeling the pinch. Not a propitious moment. Better to scrap the whole thing and recall the fact that the first referendum was simply a test of opinion with no legally binding remit.
Having said which, something needs to be said about the response of the E.U. One cannot blame their side for seeking to reduce the benefits the U.K. thought it could get away with. They don’t want to encourage imitators. But from what I’ve seen, it doesn’t look as if anyone in Brussels wants to seriously address the issues which brought this to a head in the first place. There seems to be an air of complacency hanging over the E.U. establishment, as if to say when that always diffident, if not downright objectionable U.K. lot are out of the way, we can carry on with business as usual. I predict things won’t be B.A.U. for the E.U. after Brexit (if it happens). It’s even possible over time that it could transform itself into something we’d want to join again, and it could be that Brexit is the only catalyst that could make that imaginable.
Following my blog at 10 this morning, I am afraid to say that things appear to be going from bad to worse with my parcel delivery. I only discovered half an hour ago – because I was listening to the radio – that the mobile operator O2 has suffered a meltdown, meaning that text and other data-based messages can’t be sent or received. Since this is my network, the parcel deliverers cannot tell me (unless they rang me up, some chance of that) whether my delivery will take place today.
I have to say to all those who think frictionless trade can be facilitated by technology, and that will take care of everything post-Brexit, think again. The biggest laugh has to be that after pumping £1.9billion into the E.U’s new Galileo GPS system, we will now be pursuing our own GPS development, no doubt duplicating the cost and causing even more problems with ‘tracking.’ Given the history of government technology development, we should really be asking ourselves whether we are entering a world created by Lewis Carroll. Or perhaps I’m reading too much into this personal experience simply because I'm a bleedin' Remoaner?
Last night at 8.30pm I blogged about the potential delivery of a parcel. I waited for it until 10.45pm, at about which time it became clear that the driver had decided to give up, having reached stop number 75 out of 111 stops (I was stop no. 84). I assume he (as I say, almost always a he) took the remaining 36 parcels back to the depot. Which means that one third of yesterday’s delivery route now has to be delivered today. This may all be par for the course in the run-up to that totally unforeseen event known as Christmas, but I have drawn three magnificent observations about it: 1. Information doesn’t equal knowledge; 2. Society’s arteries are hardening; 3. A Brexit related unintended benefit?
Anyway, as of now my delivery is nowhere to be seen and the delivery company’s website is conveniently ‘down.’ A year ago this nationally significant company posted a £58million loss. The only smile brought to my lips in this saga is that it is owned by the Barclay brothers.
I am writing this blog at 20:28, waiting for a parcel to arrive. I know it's Christmas, so things are busy - a very busy time for the gig economy. According to a text message I received this morning, my parcel left 'my local depot' (usually 50 to 60 miles away) at 7.25 this morning. Tracking tells me that my parcel is stop 84 out of 111. Now at 20:30 it is only 22 stops away - so it might arrive in the next 40 minutes or so. Then the driver only has another 27 drops to make, before presumably having to drive for at least an hour back to the depot - that could be getting on for midnight. He (it is generally a he) may get six hours sleep if he's lucky. I could engage the driver about how this all makes him feel but somehow I guess prolonging his shift wouldn't be welcome. I suspect he won't be wearing a red cloak and a big bustling white beard.
The government, faced with the prospect of losing one or more ministers to the Tower of London* for holding Parliament in contempt over its initial refusal to publish the Attorney General’s legal advice on Brexit, cited the ‘long standing’ constitutional arrangement which holds that such advice is bound by the concept of lawyer/client confidentiality. Ministers on air and elsewhere were talking as if the parliamentary motion calling for publication was an effort to drain all our precious bodily fluids and hand them over to Vladimir Putin lock, stock and barrel. I know, there’s a slight exaggeration there. But it’s all bollocks. Legislation already exists which could force publication as the Daily Telegraph reported:
“The Foreign Secretary said that, in refusing to publish full details of its internal legal advice, the Government was following a long-standing Whitehall convention. But, under the Freedom of Information Act, the [information] commissioner can over-rule a decision to withhold the publication of legal advice if he decides the public interest in disclosure outweighs the public interest in keeping it secret. Following the signing last month of a "memorandum of understanding" between his office and the Lord Chancellor's Department on the conduct of his investigations, [the information commissioner] will see all the papers relating to the issue. If he believes secret papers are being held back from him, the commissioner even has the power to issue his own search warrant to get access to what he wants.”
Well, well – no wonder Tony Blair in hindsight regretted the Freedom of Information Act. The above report dates back to 25th March 2005 and of course related to the then Attorney General, Lord Goldsmith’s advice to ministers on the legality of the Iraq war. The Tories supported the war, so were probably not that fussed at the time to see the legal advice. At least there’s some consistency there.
*More like a bit of a spanking in the Carlton Club followed by a glass of port.
The death of George H. W. Bush, former president of the United States has led to an outpouring of largely indulgent tributes to a holder of that office which in the context of today’s incumbent seems almost understandable. Even the Guardian’s obituary was effusive in its praise of his international statesmanship, although it noted that Bush didn’t seem to thrive so wonderfully on domestic issues (why would he, given, e.g. the Willie Horton affair so far as racism goes, or his ‘read my lips no new taxes’ gaffe). Yes, compared to Trump George H. W. Bush was a giant of a politician, but by that standard you could say the same about the leader of North Yorkshire County Council.
What has not been given much attention to in this whirl of tear-stained memorials is the simple fact that Bush was born into and continued to breed a family of crony capitalists the like of which the post-world war era had never seen. This was a family that profited from arms sales in the First World War, went on to deal with the Nazis in the Second and then used its influence in or out of office to secure lucrative deals ever since – regardless of their ability to do anything useful. I’ve not heard the phrase ‘crony capitalism’ used for some time, and it hasn’t appeared in H.W’s wake. Perhaps the mainstream media would like us to believe that before Trump, holders of the office of U.S. president were keenly disinterested in their own, personal or family interests. We should be wary of being forgetful. In so many ways, Trump is not exceptional.
N.B. I wrote about the Bush family’s crony capitalism in Lobster 56, 2008. There is quite a literature on the subject.