Delusion prevails

Turning reluctantly away from the realm of anthropomorphic whimsy, we direct our attention back to the real world, only to find that fantasy is the order of the day there too.

The right-wing press was in full voice this morning, proclaiming Theresa May’s great victory in the Brexit vote at Westminster last night. On closer examination though, it became clear that her triumph consisted entirely of temporarily uniting her fractious party around the latest in her series of unrealistic plans, this one involving yet another trip to Brussels to renegotiate the very agreement that May herself was describing as final and unchangeable until just last week.

Of course this scheme started to fall apart almost as soon as it was conceived, as EU leaders lined up to reaffirm the position that there would be no further compromise on the Irish border question, and Tory Brexiteers hinted that, even if May miraculously returned with a deal which excluded the backstop, they would reject it anyway.

The government is effectively holding the country hostage, threatening the chaos of no-deal unless they are given what they want. This might be an understandable tactic, though still recklessness of the highest order, if they had a clear set of goals in mind, but to pursue such a course of action for the sake of the half-baked wish-list that is the Brexit programme seems little short of madness.

In any case, it’s clear that the hard-core leavers of the ERG have only made a temporary truce with May to waste time, and edge the nation closer to, and eventually over, the precipice. It seems alarmingly likely that their plan will succeed.

The Bear necessities

In the midst of all the political gloom, my spirits were lifted this week by the charming story of 3 year old Casey Hathaway, who wandered away from his great-grandmother’s garden in rural North Carolina and disappeared in the nearby woods. Two days of freezing weather later he was found, only a little the worse for wear, and reported that he had been looked after by a friendly bear.

Of course, experts on ursine behaviour have poured cold water on the idea that a bear would act in such a way, suggesting that young Casey’s furry companion was but a figment of his imagination. The idea that benign natural guardians are out there in the dark forests, ready to look after us when civilisation finally collapses, is one I find enormously comforting though, so I think I’ll go on believing…

Maintaining perspective

I know I complain a lot about the political situation in this country, but it is important to keep some sense of proportion. We may be stumbling towards an economic setback that will cripple the nation for a generation, but I guess that the citizens of Venezuela, Zimbabwe or Yemen, to give just three examples, would trade their problems for ours in the blink of an eye.

The developments in Venezuela are particularly depressing. It doesn’t seem so long ago that the Bolivarian revolution was an inspiration, but now the years of US-inspired economic sabotage, combined with the squandering of Hugo Chavez’s progressive legacy by his less-than-stellar successors, have led the country to the brink of civil war. There may still be room for a political solution, but with reactionary elements of the opposition emboldened to the point of recklessness by a US administration ideologically attuned to the rightward shift in Latin American politics (and keen to deflect attention from domestic problems) there is a real risk of the sort of tragedy which dwarfs anything we may be facing here.

All that said, many crises start out in a deceptively innocuous way, and we shouldn’t be too complacent about the relatively peaceful nature of British politics. However Brexit ends up playing out, the country is more polarised, and the far-right more confident, than has been the case for many years. Victories for progress won now – like protecting free movement – may head off bigger battles in the future, so we have to make the forces of reaction fight for every step.

No plan B

I’ve been out of the country for a few days, on a trip that I planned back in the summer, before I knew that there would be a constitutional crisis to enjoy this month, and have thus been unable to keep up with the news.

I was sure that I would have missed some important development while I was away, but it turns out that I needn’t have worried, since the situation has been more or less static since the tumultuous events of last week. Theresa May has abandoned her brief flirtation with reasonableness, and returned to peddling her discredited plan, while the opposition has yet to coalesce around a workable alternative. The EU remain disinclined to grant any further concessions. Time, and warehouse space, continues to run out.

There is talk of a cross-party group of MPs seizing control of the agenda, and forcing at least a delay to the leave date, but it’s not clear that they actually have the votes to do this, or that the government wouldn’t be able to just ignore them. In any case that would just put off the day of reckoning, with no sign that any realistic plan would emerge in the extra time.

Labour do seem to be edging towards support for a second referendum, which at this point looks like the least-bad option; if they do back it there might just be a majority in favour of this course of action when amendments are voted on next week. Again though, the government maintain that such a resolution would be non-binding, and they might continue to run the clock down; no meaningful vote is due until next month, by which time is may be too late to turn back from the cliff edge.

Customary deadlock

Having survived the second attempt to depose her in a little over a month, Theresa May addressed the nation from the steps of 10 Downing Street tonight, and reiterated her new-found willingness to listen to all shades of opinion on Brexit. However she also made clear that she would not move on her opposition to a Norway-style customs union, which looks to be the only position that has even the remotest chance of gaining a majority in Parliament, so the current impasse seems as insoluble as ever.

The government is obliged to present an alternative plan next week, but May seems to have no fresh ideas, other than gambling that the EU can be induced to back down on the Irish backstop by the threat of a disorderly Brexit, thus resuscitating her deal. This is completely detached from reality, not to mention wildly irresponsible, but it’s what passes for statecraft in this country these days.

Attention now shifts to the opposition, particularly Labour, and how vigorously they will promote a second referendum. Jeremy Corbyn has been lukewarm on this, though his party is firmly behind it, but he may become more enthusiastic now that his preferred option of a general election is off the table. There is talk that the EU may look favourably on a request to suspend Article 50, which would buy enough time to organise a second vote. There are many other obstacles though, so it’s still a long shot. Which is a shame, because I can’t see any other way of avoiding disaster.

No-deal looming

So, as widely prophesied, May’s Brexit plan failed to win approval in the Commons, though the scale of the defeat – by 230 votes, the worst for a government in modern political history – was surprisingly dramatic.

May had actually delivered a reasonably inspiring speech to conclude the debate, in which she once again pointed out that, terrible though her plan may be, the only other realistic option is no-deal, which would be considerably worse, but to no avail, her attempts to woo, cajole and threaten wavering MPs over the last month apparently only having served to harden the opposing positions.

In any other place or time a premier suffering such a blow to their authority would surely have fallen on their sword, but we do not live in normal times. To be fair, May did acknowledge the wound she had received, and invited the opposition to table a motion of no-confidence, an offer immediately taken up by Jeremy Corbyn, but this seems unlikely to be carried. May went on to pledge that, if she survives, she will try to build a consensus around an alternative plan – raising the question of why she didn’t do that before the situation reached crisis point – but with her next breath she undermined this fine sentiment by reiterating the inflexible red lines that doomed her last attempt at a solution.

In any case the EU have remained firm in their position that the deal cannot be substantially renegotiated, so there is no scope for coming up with any scheme that might break the deadlock. This would be equally true for any other government that might emerge after a general election, should May be deposed.

So, since no deal can be agreed, no-deal begins to look like the most probable outcome. Another referendum might head that off, though it would possibly be even more poisonous and divisive than the last one. Nevertheless, I think a fresh vote might just be the least-bad option, but with every day that passes the likelihood of such a solution being practicable diminishes.

I really can’t see this ending happily…

Not long now

In about 5 minutes we will know how Theresa May’s Brexit deal has fared in the much-delayed parliamentary vote.

Will that clarify anything? Probably not. I’ll come back with some comment when the result is in.

Post-reason politics

On the face of it, today’s Commons defeat for Theresa May, the second in a week which started badly and is steadily getting worse for her, seems like good news for Remainers, since it obliges the government to come up with a new Brexit plan sooner rather than later. Whatever they propose will then be open to amendment, and, as opposition to no-deal is the one position that can just about command a majority, that would seem to rule out the worst of the imaginable outcomes.

However this potential escape plan will only be triggered if, or realistically when, the vote scheduled for next week is lost. May still has the option of avoiding this by postponing the vote again. This would surely trigger a no-confidence motion from Labour, but May could be calculating that her backbenchers are not quite angry enough to bring down their own government, so the only consequence would be that a bit more time was wasted.

How any of these machinations serve the national interest is far from clear. At this point it seems to have become an abstract game, with players who are only interested in the act of winning or losing, and not what the actual meaning of victory or defeat might turn out to be.

Of course there isn’t really a unified “national interest”, and anyone claiming to be acting in the name of one is usually looking out for just one side of the class divide. Still it’s hard to see that anyone will benefit from a disorderly exit, so I had expected that the bourgeoisie might have come up with a more sensible solution. Not for the first time in this saga it looks like we may be beyond the realm of rationality altogether.

Fragile hope

Another day, another defeat for the government in Parliament. The practical effects of losing this vote are apparently limited; its significance lies in the demonstration that there is a cross-party coalition determined to avoid a no-deal outcome, which seems to have enough support to prevail.

There might be some sort of consensus emerging around the proposal to suspend Article 50 (though some doubt whether it is even possible); however there is nothing like agreement on what to do with the extra time that manoeuvre would buy. The more optimistic Remainers want to organise another referendum, while more pragmatic pro-Europeans and soft-Brexiters would like a chance to negotiate a better exit deal. Such divisions may well sink the nascent alliance before it gets started.

If May’s proposal goes to the vote next week as planned – and that is far from certain – and suffers its expected defeat, then it looks to me that the most likely outcome will just be more chaos and paralysis, which plays straight into the hands of the no-deal zealots. Similarly, it’s hard to imagine that another postponement will calm anyone down.

So it looks like we’re doomed is what I’m saying. Unless there’s some sort of unexpected development in the next few days…

Back to work

I managed to wangle myself a fairly extended holiday this year, but all things must end, and I’ll be resuming my quotidian routine tomorrow, which, I fully intend, will include my blogging duties.

UK politics has been essentially deep-frozen over the last two weeks; the Brexit debate in Parliament is set to start up again on Wednesday, but with no sign that there has been any significant shift in the number of MPs willing to support the government position. It seems inconceivable that the vote could be put off again, but it was equally inconceivable last time, and it still happened. The appetite for compromise, at Westminster, and in the country as a whole, seems to be shrinking fast, and it looks as if there are only two possible outcomes; no-deal, or a second referendum. Of these the former appears far more likely, since there is so little time left to arrange an alternative. It’s all very disheartening.

Meanwhile, the crisis that has been brewing in the US since the midterm elections seems to be coming to a head, as the government shutdown drags on, and Trump hints at declaring a state of emergency. Such an autocratic move would be blatantly unconstitutional, and I’m fairly sure that the US ruling class isn’t really up for the chaos that would ensue, so I expect that the President will be forced to back down.

Anyway, there should be plenty to write about over the next week or so; perhaps my New Year resolution will make it to the end of the month after all.

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