Archive for August, 2019

The State We Are In

Friday, August 16th, 2019

There was a time when GB system of government was a model for the world. Although a democracy, it could certainly be argued that it was not fully democratic in the modern sense. The upper house of the two house parliament was not elected, but sustained by a combination of patronage and inheritance. The lower house was elected by a first past the post electoral system dominated by two parties, one of which generally secured a majority sufficient to govern. Minor parties existed, but after the demise of the Liberals and rise of Labour between the World Wars, had little political power. The outcome was strong and stable government few countries could equal and none could better.

If a government lost a vote of confidence it fell there and then, not when the fancy took it. The system for changing prime ministers when a party was in power took hours, not weeks and at all times and in whatever crises, government was strong and powerful.  Parliament was focussed and politicians respected. Unlike America, where the Federal government  has traditionally been seen as some kind of enemy, in GB government was on the side of the people and trusted by them.

So what on earth has happened? The answer is many things, none of which is either that big or that important, but in combination they have become a destructive mass which has overwhelmed the system which has, to all intents and purposes and certainly by the high standards set in the past, collapsed.

Devolution without organising a Union parliament separate to the English one was a big mistake. This ended with deal breaking blocks of Ulster Unionists and Scottish Nationalists and reduced the actual numbers of Tory and Labour MPs. That increased the likelihood of hung parliaments. Indeed over the last three elections, only one has delivered a working majority. Next came the Fixed Term Parliament Act, which muddled the definitions of the royal prerogative and thus the powers of the executive. The Act altered the very concept of what a parliament actually was, from something that could be got rid of at any time to something you are stuck with until a certain date. Unless various procedures are followed, which challenge the previous bedrock of the unwritten constitution. Also, like so much modern legislation, it is badly drafted so that nobody quite understands how it works when things go wrong. Perhaps it doesn’t work at all.

Add to that a political class which, as the Queen herself is reported to have complained, cannot govern, and you end up in the mess we are in. Do not expect me to predict what will happen next, other than there are doubtless more surprises to come.

Oh and there’s Brexit.


Brexit: All Roads Lead To Ireland

Thursday, August 15th, 2019

The news from the House Speaker Nancy Pelosi that there will be no trade deal with the UK if the Good Friday Agreement is compromised is a devastating blow to the whole Johnson government’s unreal no deal Brexit strategy. Any kind of border that is a border in law, will breach the GFA, meaning there has to be the Irish Backstop. The only other solution is to unite Ireland and detach Ulster from the UK.

Over to you Boris. Bluster you way out of that.

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Tuesday, August 13th, 2019

Bolton UK Visit: Is This A Pivotal Moment?

Tuesday, August 13th, 2019

Yes it is. And it may not be a bad thing. First we have to look at the Brexit situation, now polarised between only two realistic options. A No Deal Brexit, or recalling Article 50. The quagmire in the middle, with all its threads, nuances and grandstanders, has been trampled out of realistic existence. Negotiating a sensible Brexit that protects jobs and the economy and a global independent Britain freewheeling across the world as an independent trading and political power, are concepts realistic in a country where wise consensus prevails, but for the birds in the polarised UK in the here and now.  Article 50 Recall will trigger the destruction of the Tory party for ever and make the country bitter and polarised. A hard Brexit will cause unpredictable damage at every level of national life and break up the Union.

But now there is a third option and it is where we are headed. It is where we always end up after national trauma. The United States. In other words if we detach from Europe it it now clear that we will re-connect with the US. Another post will explain how, but the principle is that we will be pivot back to our other family at a time when a nationalist and transactional US government, which has managed to upset almost all its allies and is fast running out of respectable friends, suddenly sees an opportunity to embrace its old and very dear cousin.

Together upon the world economic, political, scientific and military stage, the sum of the whole is greater than the individual parts. There is nothing else in the world to match it. Not even close.

Yes it will be Brexit. But it will not be swashbuckling freedom.

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Sunday, August 11th, 2019

The Queen Despairs of the Political Class: So Do Her People

Sunday, August 11th, 2019

According to the Sunday Times, the Queen is fed up with what she calls the inability of today’s political class to govern. There is a widespread consensus in the country for this disquiet. Moreover this is not an accidental leak. It is a nuanced reprimand coming on top of news that efforts are being made by the most senior civil servants and palace officials to persuade top politicians to avoid dragging the Queen into politics.  The only thing with which this blog disagrees is that the Queen can be kept out of politics in all circumstances.

As Head of State the Queen is the ultimate political backstop and the guardian of the national democracy. This cannot be danced around with fudges. It is a fact capable  of being changed only by removing her and installing a republic. By custom and tradition she is certainly above party politics and rightly so. But if the system itself begins to malfunction to the point where a prime minister, having lost a vote of confidence refuses to leave office in order to try and force through a constitutional change of the country’s international status against the will of the majority in parliament and without testing the mandate for it in the country, the Queen has no option to intervene. The message from the palace is that if it comes to such a pass, she will.

Brexit, Boris and a Constitutional Crisis.

Thursday, August 8th, 2019

Reports that Boris ‘will not resign as Prime Minister’ if he loses a vote of confidence are astonishing. His hit men in Downing Street are putting the idea about that he does not have to resign and can instead hang on to power by calling a general election after he pushes through a No Deal Brexit. Their argument is that the Fixed Term Parliament Act 2011 empowers him to do this. Meanwhile Labour has indicated that if such a thing were to happen Corbyn, as Her Majesty’s Leader of the Opposition, would request to see the Queen and demand the opportunity to become prime minister and form a government.

The FTPA allows, after a vote of confidence has been lost, two weeks for parliament, not the prime minister, to approve a new government. It does not actually specify the details of what the defeated PM should do, since it clearly assumes that the existing constitutional arrangements are unchanged by the Act. The only PM in my lifetime to lose such a vote (Major survived by one vote) is Jim Callaghan in 1979. He is also the only PM to lose a vote of confidence in the Queen’s reign. He at once resigned and asked the Queen for a dissolution, led Labour into a general election and lost to Margaret Thatcher, whose motion had brought his government down. So precedent has been established in an unwritten constitution founded on a mixture of precedence and statute.

If the Boris plan is serious we are headed for a big constitutional bust up and outrage is being expressed at the thought of dragging the Queen into politics. But at this level of crisis, as Head of State, ornamental or real, she has no choice. It could be done quite discretely. A private word from her Private Secretary to the Cabinet Secretary that if Boris loses, he either resigns and asks for a dissolution or she will sack him and send for Corbyn. The only way Downing Street’s current regime to work their plan, is to lose a vote close enough to Halloween to ensure that No Deal happened before the 25 working day campaign period required for an election. They might get away with that, but certainly not with ignoring the will of parliament if ousted early in September.

Which brings us to the mandate of the 17.5 million people who voted to leave. It is not legally a mandate at all, it was advisory not binding, although parliament declared it would act as advised. Leaving that detail aside it is in a democracy impossible and improper to ignore the wishes and interests of the 16.25 million who voted to stay. In a democracy it is a condition of its natural survival that the winner governs for all. A No Deal Brexit was never on offer or explained by either side, nor were its implications for the economy and social mobility understood. Because of that the only way to validate this claimed mandate, now that so much more is known, is to renew it. This is where we get to either a general election or a second referendum, before Brexit happens.