The Gatwick drone trials

When I posted our last piece about the drone drama at Gatwick airport, it did cross my mind that perhaps there were no mysterious flying objects, and it was all just a case of mass hysteria. I dismissed this thought though, because, I reasoned, the authorities surely wouldn’t shut down a major transport hub, causing massive disruption, not to mention millions of pounds of economic damage, without concrete proof that there was actually something going on.

Once again though it appears that I am guilty of overestimating the wisdom of the powers that be. Having investigated the case, the police have failed to come up with any photographs or film of the supposed intruders. They did find on old, wrecked, drone near the airfield, but it’s not clear that it was connected to recent events. They also arrested an unfortunate local, his neighbours having apparently grassed him up for owning a model helicopter, but were forced to release him when it turned out he had a cast-iron alibi. In light of all this the officer in charge has admitted that perhaps people had let their imagination get the better of them.

It all goes to show that, even in our technologically-advanced era, a good old-fashioned witch-scare can still catch the public fancy. This one has been fairly harmless I guess, but a similar dynamic can drive much darker sentiments, especially in the febrile political environment we find ourselves in. Throw in the flame-fanning effect of social media, and it all gets pretty scary. I’m hoping that that they get on and legalise marijuana already, so we can all just chill the fuck out.

Drone on

As if the current state of the country wasn’t depressing enough, we learned today that the aeronautical infrastructure of the nation can be paralysed by anyone with a couple of thousand pounds to spend on a medium-sized drone, and the nerve to hide near an airport buzzing the runways.

It is rather alarming that the mystery controller, or controllers, behind this stunt are still at large, despite intensive searches by the police, and the deployment of the army. Reports say that Gatwick will remain closed tomorrow, and presumably every other airport in the country will be on a state of high alert, ready to shut down at the first sign of anything unusual.

I remember reading somewhere about military radar that can track the source of incoming shells, to direct counter-battery fire, and I would have thought that might be useful in this sort of situation, though I guess that dropping high-explosive rounds onto what will probably turn out to be a couple of bored teenagers might be felt to be overkill. Still, if I’d been stuck in a departure lounge for 36 hours I might have fewer qualms about it…

Feeling the fear

A few more days have passed, and it’s become clearer that the government have only one plan for Brexit, and that is to scare the hell out of everybody with the spectre of no-deal, presumably with the hope that a terrified population will put pressure on their elected representatives to approve whatever face-saving deal the EU, out of pity, offer us.

And you know what? It’s working, on me at least. While many commentators say that this must be a bluff, since no responsible politician could possibly take such a risk with the country’s future, I’m starting to believe that they may well end up driving us off the cliff, whether they mean to or not. Maybe we Europhiles should accept the need for a tactical retreat, take the not-calamitous option that is on the table now, and hope we can sneak back in at some point in the future.

Another part of me is saying that we should hold our nerve, and force May to concede that another referendum is the only way to break the stalemate. Time is running desperately short though…

A prayer for the deaf

It was reported today that the Archbishop of Canterbury has been praying for divine intervention to resolve our current political crisis, which does sound like a more realistic plan than anything the government has come up with recently.

The latest rumours are that a faction of the cabinet are agitating for a “people’s vote” to break the impasse, though whether this is true, or just propaganda designed to scare leave-leaning MPs into supporting the May deal, is anyone’s guess. I’d hazard the prediction that “no referendum” will be the government position, right up until the point when it isn’t.

Continental rebuff

Theresa May travelled to Brussels yesterday, determined to demand a better deal from the EU, and returned today with the guarantee on the temporary nature of the Irish backstop that she needed to win the support of her troublesome backbenchers.

Only joking! In the least-surprising diplomatic development since Agamemnon sailed for Troy, the European Council gave May short shrift, leaving her already threadbare authority practically nonexistent.

More optimistic observers are predicting that this turn of events might persuade May that a fresh referendum, pitching her deal against no Brexit, is the only way forward. I think this underestimates her unwillingness to bear responsibility for the split in the Tory Party such a plan would inevitably precipitate, though nothing is too extraordinary to contemplate these days, so it may well happen.

The immediate question is whether Labour will go for the kill by tabling a no confidence motion in the next week or so, while the hard-core Brexiteers are still riled-up enough that they might vote to bring down their own government. One would imagine that Labour would win any subsequent election though, which would take a hard exit off the table, so I think some semblance of Tory discipline will probably reappear, and they will concentrate on running down the clock so that we crash out by default.

That’s how it looks to me tonight; events will probably prove me wrong by tomorrow. It’s exciting enough to keep me blogging regularly, so it’s not all bad news…

Confidently unconfident

Another day of breathless drama in Westminster, which, on closer examination, has changed nothing. The Prime Minister may have survived an attempted defenestration at the hands of her own party, but the broader political landscape has hardly altered.

There is nothing to suggest that May’s temporary victory will make it any more likely that her proposed Brexit deal will make it through Parliament. At least a third of Tory MPs remain opposed, and the EU is not going to make a better offer, so the impasse remains.

The only cause for optimism is that May now may have a little more scope to face down the wilder elements of her own party, and start to build a coalition that can steer through a relatively soft Brexit. Even that will be a national calamity though, and the grim prospect of a no-deal scenario is still lurking in the background, so I don’t think that I’ll be sleeping easier any time soon.

Transatlantic distraction

It’s been a relatively quiet day in British politics, after yesterday’s excitement, though I guess it’s a sign of what a febrile state the country is in when the sight of the Prime Minister scuttling around the continent in the vain hope of finding some support in foreign capitals, while back home her own party plots to depose her, counts as only moderately notable.

It makes me nostalgic for the days when we smug Brits could look across the ocean, and laugh at our American cousins as they elected a cartoonish huckster to the highest office in the land. Now the boot is on the other foot, as the US, and indeed the whole world, watches our national descent into irrationality with unbelieving amusement.

Donald Trump can still be relied upon to deliver some diversion; today’s televised tantrum about shutting down the government if he doesn’t get the money to build his wall certainly raised a chuckle or two, and the unfolding Mueller probe promises more entertainment in the months to come.

But these will be only brief distractions; I’m resigned to it being a nonstop Brexit horror show round here for the foreseeable future.

The lady is very much for turning

Well, once again we see that one underestimates the incompetence of British politicians at one’s peril. Having adamantly stuck to the line that there would be no postponement of the vote on the Brexit deal, the government this afternoon performed a shameless volte-face and deferred said vote to some unspecified time in the future.

The ostensible reason for this is to allow Theresa May to travel to Brussels and negotiate a better deal, but, unsurprisingly, the general reaction in European capitals has been a rolling of eyes, a muttering of the local version of “FFS”, and a reiteration of the unanimous EU position that the offer on the table will not be changed.

Since it is inconceivable that May could have expected any other response, one can only conclude that this latest manoeuvre is an attempt to bounce nervous Remainers into backing her, by wasting time that could have been used to craft a better alternative to the nightmare of a no-deal scenario.

Will this work? One might think that, faced with such a cynical ploy, Parliament would rise up and hold the executive to account, but that, I fear, is to expect too much. There could be a lot of sound and fury in the next few days, but she might just get away with it.

Waiting for Tuesday

Attentive readers may have noticed that I’ve fallen a bit behind with my promised daily updates on the UK political situation, but in my defence I’d point out that a) it’s been the weekend, with festive socialising to be done; and b) nothing much has changed on the Brexit front, unless you count the rumours of Theresa May having a cunning plan, which involves postponing the parliamentary vote until she has been back to Brussels to extract some major concessions from the EU, a scheme which would be harebrained even by the recent standards of British political life.

There may be something more to report tomorrow, though a significant change in the immediate outlook seems very unlikely. The government will almost certainly lose the vote on Tuesday, but after that it’s anyone’s guess what will happen next. My feeling is that there will perhaps be less chaos than some are predicting; the ruling class in this country does have a history of cobbling together compromises when the alternative is complete disaster, so some sort of resolution will surely emerge. We’ll know soon enough.

Debate fatigue

The mobile internet was broken today, so I wasn’t able to obsessively follow the news like I usually do, but it didn’t really matter, since nothing much has changed in the political landscape since yesterday; it still looks like the government is going to suffer a heavy defeat next week, and nobody knows what will happen after that.

There was an interesting YouGov poll published today, which suggested that, while practically no one ranked Theresa May’s deal as their first choice, a clear majority did choose it as their least-bad option, when the alternatives were no-deal or no-Brexit. If this is a true reflection of popular sentiment (and YouGov are fairly reliable) then May should be feeling confident; unfortunately for her though the electorate she has to convince is not the nation at large, but their parliamentary representatives, who, all the evidence suggests, are much less convinced of the merits of compromise.

There is talk of the fateful vote being postponed, presumably in the hope of a mass outbreak of reasonableness. Stranger things have happened I guess, but such a course of action seems most likely to just prolong our agony. I’m coming round to the idea that any decision will be better than continued uncertainty, so that we can start dealing with whatever mess we end up in.