AS PROCEEDINGS in the United Kingdom Supreme Court go, it was a rip-snorting judgment. An absolute hammering. A rout. Unanimously, the full court of eleven justices struck down Boris Johnson’s decision to prorogue Parliament. They decided that nothing, including an
exercise of the Royal Prerogative, is above the law.
The justices sensibly refused to be drawn into considering whether Boris Johnson might be ‘the Father of Lies’ (see John 8:44), as Aidan O’Neill QC breathlessly argued in last week’s hearing, or indeed any other manifestation of Satan. Boris could fairly argue that lies were
almost certainly knocking about the place for some time before either he or the Vote Leave campaign showed up, and that however lax his control either of his language or his zip, he couldn’t possibly be father to them all.
But lies, the justices decided, were irrelevant. Whatever Boris might have thought he was doing by closing the doors of Parliament for five weeks, it had the effect of stymying Parliament. The effect on MPs’ ability to hold the Government to account was ‘extreme’.
Doing that without a good reason is not lawful.
Giving judgment, Baroness Hale wryly explained that considering the Prime Minister’s motivation was impossible, as he hadn’t provided evidence offering the court a good reason, or indeed any reason. If Boris declined to do so out of some looming anxiety that it
might involve siring one or two more gorgeous, bouncing little lies, that formed no part of the court’s reasoning.
Whether or not Boris is a liar, his Parliamentary opponents have been just as disingenuous in their attempts to thwart him from carrying out Government policy. Just as divided as the nation when it comes to Brexit, Parliament has fallen back on a strategy of tricks and
mischief, intending to inflict the maximum political damage on Boris before an election is ultimately held.
MPs have three times refused to back the only available deal with Brussels, and have now also legislated three times to stop ‘no deal’. The first go was April’s Cooper-Letwin legislation, successfully compelling Theresa May to seek an Article 50 extension she would
have willingly sought anyway.
In August, Parliament inserted a tricks-and-mischief requirement for the Government to report at fortnightly intervals on progress in re-establishing the Northern Ireland executive; the intention being to make it impossible to prorogue Parliament. The Government
obviously found a way around that trick, though nobody now quite remembers how.
Undeterred, just before it wasn’t prorogued Parliament enacted trick three; a riff on Cooper-Letwin to the effect that, if no deal is in place by 19 th October, Boris must abase himself before the Euro-panjandrums and humbly request a further extension to Brexit. The
opposition hope this will demolish his credibility, reinvigorate Farage’s ghastly gang of frauds and improve Labour’s currently dismal electoral prospects.
This is only a particularly cunning plan if an extension is likely to be forthcoming. As things stand, it’s very hard to see what possible appeal it holds for the EU 27, who are utterly exasperated with the chaos across the channel. Another extension that decides nothing will
This isn’t a plan for dealing with Brexit. It is a disgrace. It is also playing with fire. If Parliament is reposing all its confidence in getting another extension with nothing to show for it, MPs should be revising that plan with some urgency. The current strategy has not
removed the possibility of a no deal exit. Thinking otherwise is foolish complacency.
On Wednesday, when the Parliament that was never prorogued ‘resumed’ at the command of the Speaker, the Government’s frustration boiled over.
The Attorney-General, Sir Geoffrey Cox QC, had every reason to be red-faced given that it was his duff advice –to the effect that the prorogation was legally absolutely fine– Boris followed in proroguing Parliament (to be fair to the Attorney, no two legal commentators
agreed on what the Supreme Court would do, and absolutely no-one predicted an eleven nil pasting).
In the event, when Labour MPs started taking the mickey his face went from its usual Wetherspoons mauve to something troublingly Vesuviuan. Blowing indignation from every fumarole and vent, he blasted a pyroclastic flow of un-Parliamentary invective towards the
Boris went even further, and rather extraordinarily appeared to say that MPs had to do what he wanted in order to guarantee their physical safety.
This charade is doing neither the Government nor the opposition any good. Labour cannot continue running scared of the electorate, and can’t rely on tricks to avoid us crashing out of the EU without a deal. Boris must have his election, and Parliament should legislate for this to be held on the same day as a second referendum. This would either give Brexiters an unassailable mandate, or demonstrate that democracy means allowing voters to change their minds.
Cadno’s Carmarthenshire Election Special – Part 1
It’s been a while since you’ve heard from this old fox.
What with things being the way they are, Cadno might have been silenced for good. But this is election time. It’s the season to be jolly with holly and —- golly gosh! What larks the election is!
Let’s start with Carmarthenshire East and Dinefwr.
Jonathan Edwards is the incumbent and Plaid’s treasury spokesperson is likely to take some beating. He has had substantial media exposure for his virtually lone hand pummelling the various Conservative Brexit ministers and pushing the interests of his constituents, whether on miners’ pensions; WASPI; or rural regeneration. Jonathan Edwards has also had the Liberal Democrats and Greens step aside to give him a clear run as an unequivocally ‘remain’ supporting candidate. That is a largely symbolic step, given both parties’ performance last time out.
If God loves a trier, he must have a special place in his heart for the Conservatives’ Havard Hughes. If ever a candidate’s social media profile suggested that he was a wing nut short of a complete cuckoo clock, Havard’s is the one. It’s a tough sell for Havard Hughes. The policies that the Conservatives have delivered for the constituency in the past decade can be counted on the fingers of one thumb.
Last time saw a revival in the Labour vote as David Darkin, who moved from his home in Llanelli to former county councillor Anthony Jones’ spare room to get local credibility, rode the coattails of a successful Labour national campaign. This time, the red rose has put forward Maria Carroll as their candidate. Maria Carroll, Cadno is happy to clarify following recent media reports, is not an anti-Semite. She simply is unlucky enough to know one hell of a lot of them online and welcome them when they joined the Facebook group she administered which advised Party members accused of anti-Semitism. Some of those concerned turned out to be anti-Semites. It’s just bad luck.
The Brexit Party Limited’s candidate is Pete Prosser. What we do know about Pete Prosser is that he paid a fee to be selected as the BPL’s candidate. If his experience is like that of the 317 Limited Company candidates dropped in the cack by Nigel Farage when he pulled the plug on them, he must have deep pockets. 14 people like his Facebook page as the company’s candidate. Cadno thinks it’s best to leave it there.
While the Brexit Party Limited’s General Election website (you have to see it believe it) claims it can win in Carmarthen East and Dinefwr, Cadno thinks it safe to say such an outcome is highly unlikely. In spite of improving their parties votes in 2017, both Havard Hughes and David Darkin were well adrift of Jonathan Edwards at that election.
By definition, all Plaid Cymru seats are marginal; however, Jonathan Edwards’ is less marginal than others. It depends on whether enough leave voters are brassed off with Labour’s interesting Brexit proposals (renegotiate a deal and then – potentially – campaign against it) to take one look at Havard Hughes and think ‘as swivel-eyed loons go, we could do worse’. Or whether enough Conservatives think Maria Carroll MP is a price worth paying to get rid of one of their party’s most significant parliamentary goads.
It should be fun finding out.
Events, dear boy, events.
by Matthew Paul
To win the election on December 12, the Conservative Party just need to hold onto the supporters they have, and keep a lid on the horrid Brexit Party splitters. Boris needs to run a tight ship of a campaign, repeating a solid message about investment in public services and how everyone wants to GET BREXIT DONE. Easy, right? And it’s been working, to the extent that Nigel Farage himself is running scared from the electorate and won’t be contesting a seat.
Labour don’t have it so easy. They need to replicate the party’s Lazarus performance of 2017 and zoom up something like twelve points in the opinion polls over the next six weeks. And even when impressionable idiots were going about chanting “Oh, Jeremy Corbyn” without black irony, it still wasn’t enough to actually win an election.
The Liberal Democrats need a different electoral system and can’t have one, so we needn’t worry much about them. At this election the Liberals will be back in their traditional and useful role as centre-left splitters; the more effective given their partial rehabilitation under Jo Swinson.
Plaid need this election like they need a hole in the head. In recent Welsh polling, The Party of Wales is festering in fourth place behind the Brexit gang. Ben Lake is under pressure in Ceredigion, and Plaid are unlikely to extend their reach into Brexity places in the valleys they once hoped to sweep clean of Labour MPs. Staring down this rabbit hole, Plaid Cecru are reverting to type and distracting themselves with an almighty internecine punch-up about whether or not to stand down in favour of the Liberal candidate in Montgomeryshire.
Things aren’t going swimmingly for any of the opposition parties. So why, on Wednesday, did the Conservative election campaign launch descend into an appalling shambles?
This time, at least it wasn’t fox hunting. We haven’t had that one yet; where some interviewer asks Boris Johnson if the Conservatives are going to bring back the unfairly reviled field sport, he says “yes, I like fox hunting, what” and Labour gleefully spend the election campaign talking about nothing else.
Boris can probably be trusted not to say he likes fox hunting, not least because his current partner Carrie Symonds hates fox hunting and if he says anything nice about it she will blow her top and make the red wine on white sofa business look like a mild difference of opinion. No British Prime Minister has yet conducted a successful General Election campaign from a Premier Inn or a mate’s spare room.
Unfortunately for Boris, it was what Harold Macmillan termed “Events, dear boy, events” that conspired to overshadow the launch. The tight ship was already taking on water before Boris got up to speak.
First, one of the great modern-day rituals around election time –the trawl through some neophyte candidate’s troublesome social media history– struck gold in the Gower when Conservative candidate Francesca O’Brien was found to have called, obviously in jest, for the humane extermination of the inhabitants of Channel 4’s Benefits Street.
A glorious typhoon of confected outrage at O’Brien’s ‘hatred of the poor’ ensued; led by humbug Labour candidate Tonia Antoniazzi, whose own social media pages are full of the kind of delicately nuanced political observation that would make a Russian submariner ashamed if his mother saw them.
The Tories were just putting this silly nonsense to bed when up pops Boris’s 2019 Lewes Bonfire co-Guy, Jacob Rees-Mogg, on a phone-in radio show.
O’Brien has been in front-line politics for about five minutes and won’t be the last person to have an iffy Facebook comment waved in her face. For Rees-Mogg there are no excuses. If you make it your personal shtick to go about looking unapologetically –pretentiously, even– rich and old-fashioned, there are certain things you need to be a bit careful about. Otherwise people might stop finding you an amusing, ‘authentic’ curiosity and get genuinely quite fed up with you.
High on the list of those things is Grenfell Tower. In a softball interview on Tuesday with a fawning Nick Ferrari, Rees-Mogg was asked if the tragedy in the tower had anything to do with the race or class of the people who lived there.
“No,” said the man in the room next door into Jacob’s earpiece. “It was the fault of the people who decided to clad a tower block in flammable material, and I hope they are brought swiftly to terrible justice”.
“No,” said Master Jacob. “I mean, you or I would have got out of that building if it was on fire. It’s just common sense.” If any one single thing loses the Conservatives the election, this –the idea that Tories see the poor as benighted Morlocks too stupid to run out of their own house when it’s on fire– will be it. Expect Master Jacob to be locked in the nursery for the rest of the campaign.
As if the fall-out from this Gaffusaurus Rex wasn’t enough, another previously dormant liability, overpromoted Welsh Secretary Alun Cairns, chose his moment to go fizz puff phut BANG and explode in Boris’ face like a defective Catherine wheel, after it appeared he hadn’t been entirely frank about what he did or didn’t know, concerning what his then aide Ross England did or didn’t do in collapsing a rape trial.
Cairns’ departure from the Cabinet was no great loss to statesmanship or to Wales, but that wasn’t the final gaffe of the day, in respect of which the honours went to a stupid doctored campaign video which made it look as though Kier Starmer couldn’t answer a question about his own Brexit policy.
Boris Johnson won’t lose this election by making the same mistakes Theresa May made in 2017. But this was a poor start to the campaign. Events never lose their power to surprise and derail. It isn’t in the bag.
The empty ditch
By Matthew Paul
Thoughts and prayers for any Brexiters who wake up today from a coma, to find that we are still members of the European Union.
Once the news has sunk in, fans of the Prime Minister may regret our continued entrapment, but can console themselves with a miracle. The ditch is empty! He is not here; he is risen!
The PM’s resurrection contrasts with the final, stake-secured interment of the zombie Parliament. Voters won’t be sorry to see it go. However cynical the Boris/ Dom strategy of Brexity bluster and braggadocio, the opposition’s decision to block not only Boris’s Brexit,but any alternative to Brexit and also an election was not engaging public enthusiasm.
The opposition’s strategy of destroying Brexiters’ trust in Boris failed signally. When that became apparent, it was the LibDems and SNP who pulled the ripcord first. While Labour languish with poll ratings that would mildly embarrass ChangeUK, or indeed a putative Baby Eating Party, the Liberals and Scots Nats have got their tails up and are looking forward to a good scrap. If blocking Brexit didn’t banjax Boris, there was no reason for them to go on propping up Labour at their own expense.
His allies having thus ratted on the no-election pact, Jeremy Corbyn couldn’t keep running from the electorate. Pausing only for a pointless little squabble about the exact date –9 th or 12 th December– a large majority of MPs on Tuesday passed a one-line bill to circumvent the
Fixed Term Parliaments Act, to the effect that the Act would be ignored and an election would take place anyway.
Ignoring the law usually gets politicians into trouble with Baroness Hale, but this subversion of the FTPA is a useful reminder to people who complain that we are now ruled by the Supreme Court that in fact Parliament –as distinct from the executive– can actually do pretty much whatever it wants, and to Brexiters that this is what Parliamentary sovereignty is, and we already have it.
Unlike the SNP, Plaid Cymru were one of the tiny, surly minority to vote against holding a new election; partly in the forlorn hope that they might yet somehow leverage a second referendum, partly out of the troubled suspicion that Ben Lake could be for the chop in Ceredigion and their Brexity target seats in the valleys look hard for a Remain party to win in a Brexit election.
As Plaid recognise, all elections are fraught with risk. Labour will kid themselves that 2017’s great reversal of fortune can be replicated, brushing aside the minor qualification that they still lost that one, despite the worst Conservative campaign since Iain Duncan Smith asked
“are you thinking what we’re thinking?” and Britain answered “no.”
A repetition of 2017 is unlikely to happen. Theresa May was an unhappy and unwilling campaigner. The ‘strong and stable’ message was repetitive, banal and an insult to voters’ intelligence. Boris loves campaigning and it is what he and Evil Dom are best at. May had no particular reason, except her party’s calculated advantage, to go to the country. Boris has to deal with a country that has become ungovernable and a Parliament that has usurped the prerogative of the executive. May saw a few bouncy looking polls and got greedy. Boris has taken a necessary, unavoidable gamble. The electorate will show him more sympathy as a result.
The day after the election starting gun was fired, the Conservatives were polling 40%, with a clear 10% lead over Labour, who in turn had pulled a little back from the LibDems. A lead of 40% to 30% would win either main party a majority in any general election that has yet been held.
Even if the reality of an imminent choice and the prospect of five years of Boris pulls some on the left back to Labour, that party’s desertion by Remainers appalled at Corbyn’s prevarication over Brexit will split the centre-left vote and lead to Tory gains by default. The centre-right vote doesn’t look set to fragment in the same way. The entire ‘dead in a ditch’ strategy was designed to beat down Brexit Party support to the point where it looks unviable as a party of national opposition to the Tories.
In this, it appears to have prevailed. Even the toughest nuts and fruitiest fruitcakes in the Brexit Party are starting dimly to see the logic in not blocking Boris. Nigel Farage is in headlong retreat from his original intention to field one of his frightful waxworks in every constituency in mainland Britain, and is now contemplating dragging what he can from the fire by selectively targeting twenty or thirty gammon-red Labour-facing seats ‘oop North instead.
This election will be all about Brexit. Unfortunately for Remainers, as a proxy ‘People’s Vote’, it is hopelessly rigged against Remain. Corbyn will offer a second referendum, but if Corbyn were exclusively offering motherhood, apple pie and Christmas, moderate voters would still recoil in disgust. Jo Swinson is splendid, but however much damage she inflicts on Labour, she still won’t be Prime Minister. Many centre-right Remainers will hold their noses and (unless their Conservative candidate is Mark Francois or some similar golem) vote Tory.
As current polling stands, the Conservatives can aspire to a majority of around 60 seats. This would be enough to comfortably pass the Withdrawal Agreement Bill and move on to the next stages of Brexit, in which Brexiters –learning that there is no such thing as an easy trade deal with the USA, and that we will probably have to keep following all those foreign laws too– ask the nurse to give them something to send them back to sleep.
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