55 minus 02: You want a GNU? Well, how do you do… it?

Posted: 15 August 2019 in 55 minus, politics
Tags: , , , ,

Housekeeping note: I was planning on completing Part the Fourth today – after parts the first, second and third – of the series on antisemitic imagery but a confluence of events got in the way.

So, yes, it’s coming, but I don’t know when. Can only offer my apologies, once again. It’s proved tougher to complete this one than I anticipated. Partly because the imagery is so upsetting, partly because its too easy – I’ll acknowledge – to see image after image and then mistakenly include one that’s not antisemitic, assuming that it draws on the same imagery. I want to be accurate, and if that means taking a bit longer, then so be it.
 


 
Besides, something occured in British politics today which genuinely interested me, and I’ve been reading up on it a bit. So I figured I’d write something on it today, and save Part The Fourth for sometime later.

I doubt I have to explain to anyone reading this either what Brexit is or why it’s been a complete clusterfuck from start to finish. As mentioned previously, to deliver what was promised by the Leave campaign, and by those who pledged to deliver the result of the 2016 referendum would be impossible.

Not a rhetorical conceit, a flat statement of fact: it’s impossible to do so.

In part because to deliver what was promised, all that was promised… what was pledged, all that was pledged… would be self-contradictory. And everyone, well, pretty much everyone, acknowledges that.

The British public was promised a golden age, with dozens of trade deals signed, with no deleterious consequences, [nearly] all the benefits of membership, an extra £350m a week for the NHS, tariff free access to the Single European market, no huge job losses, massive investment into the UK… the list goes on and on. Basically only Good Things, and No Bad Things.

Take tariff free access to the single market. We were promised that tariff free access, while reducing immigration from the EU, even though the EU maintained that ‘the four freedoms’ – including free movement of labour – were inseparable; you want one, you get the other three as well.

There are umpteen videos of leading Brexiteers assuring that no one wants to leave The Single Market.

Here’s just one.

But what do we have? A statement from the Brexit Secretary that “There should be adequate food“. And assurances, based on nothing but a hope and a prayer – oh, and £25m – that medications will continue to be available in the event that the UK leave the EU without ‘a deal’.

Of course, what “a deal” means has changed somewhat since 2016 and 2017, when the Article 50 notification – the official start of ‘we’re leaving’ – was delivered to the EU. Back then, it meant that by the time the negotiation period ended in March 2019, both the UK and the EU would know under what terms we were leaving the EU, and under what terms our relationship with the EU would continue.

Now? Over two years later? It means the former, with a possible transition period during which the EU and UK would continue to negotiate the future relationship.

So even had the Withdrawal Agreement (and associated Political Declaration) passed in parliament, the UK – and the public – would still not know what the future relationship would be. I mean, we’d know what both sides wanted it to be… but we absolutely would not know, nor would anyone, what any final relationship would be.

And that’s not the only phrase that has changed meaning since 2016/2017.

At the time, no one talked about “No Deal”. It was… well, not inconceivable, but unthinkable to many. Even those who kind of advocated it didn’t call it that. They called it a “Hard Brexit”.

Now you can argue back and forth whether they meant a No Deal, or merely a more favourable-to-UK deal than was ever truly possible, but either way, no one was pushing a complete cessation of every clause in every relationship we have had thus far.

Without going through how we ended up here, where are we?

We’re just eleven weeks, seventy-seven days, from leaving with No Deal. It continues to amaze me just how many people continue to believe that it’ll never happen “because there’s no majority in parliament for the UK leaving with No Deal.”

Whoever’s in government – and I’ll come on to that in a moment – they don’t need a majority favouring a No Deal Brexit for a No Deal Brexit to occur.

The current law mandates – subject to something else happening – that the UK leaves the EU on 31st October 2019 without a deal. The phrase you need to remember is “by automatic operation of law”.

It’s kind of like me jumping out of an aeroplane without a parachute. Now, there are plenty of things that could prevent me, after a short period of time, going splat. Someone could jump after me and hand me a parachute which I successfully use. Someone could jump after me and grab hold of me, and we both use the same parachute. Spock and McCoy could pilot their ship and save me just in time from being sucked out into space. No, wait, different situation.

Anyway, you get the point. Unless something occurs to save me… I go splat.

And unless something occurs to stop No Deal Brexit… No Deal Brexit is what happens. By that automatic operation of law I mentioned a couple of paragraphs ago.

Doesn’t matter how often people protest, doesn’t matter how many symbolic votes take place in Parliament, doesn’t even matter if everyone knows there is a majority for something else, unless a binding vote takes place in parliament, mandating the government to do something else, which will involve legislation passing through both Houses of Parliament…

Now that something else could be A Withdrawal Agreement, though it’s not looking likely, with the current government shitting on the current agreement from a huge height, and the oposition parties not liking it either, for their own party or policy specific reasons.

That something else could be a general election; the EU has indicated that they’d be ok with another delay to the process, another postponement of the leaving date, if a general election was called.

That something else could be the government revoking Article 50 and abandoning Brexit in its entirety, though that’s about as likely as Jeremy Corbyn campaigning for Jacob Rees-Mogg and Boris Johnson campaigning for George Galloway.

(My personal preferences – though they’ll never happen – would be for either Article 50 to be revoked and that’s an end of it, or at the least, revocation followed by a public inquiry and another referendum in, say, three years… using that three years to agree a future relationship and if no agreement, no official agreed position, then put it to bed. But if wishes were horses, eh?)

Or the ‘something else’ that could change matters could be the government changing and doing… something else that gets the majority of the House of Commons going along with them.

And that’s what people are talking about this morning.

Because Jeremy Corbyn has sent a letter to other opposition party leaders and it’s got people talking about a GNU, a Government of National Unity.

Not the first time the idea’s come up, and not the first time enthusiasm for it has overwhelmed people’s natural scepticism at politicians professing insistently that they’re ‘doing the right thing for the country’ when it personally benefits them.

Even ignoring, temporarily, my own views on Jeremy Corbyn’s personal complicity over antisemitism inside Labour, basically, what the letter asks, what his supporters demand, is that we trust Jeremy Corbyn.

And there’s a problem with that.

Not merely over antisemitism, not merely over his numerous other faults as a politician, as a party leader, as a person, but over his position on Brexit.

Corbyn has spent much, maybe all, of his political life as what was – for a couple of decades – usually described in the Tory Party as a “Eurosceptic”. He’s never liked the European Economic Community, which became the European Community, which became the European Union. He’s wanted the UK to leave for decades, and said so, repeatedly. Pretty much every step he’s taken, with the occasional blip, as party leader has been to reinforce that position and that impression.

He’s promised one thing, then not delivered. He’s promised that the party membership is supreme, then ignored their wishes. He’s tried every trick in the books, and created a few, to avoid his party membership cottoning on to the simple truth that:

Jeremy Corbyn wants, has always wanted, the UK to leave the European Union… and if that’s without a deal, then ok, that’s just fine and dandy by him.

Now some have argued, with some justification, that there’s another reason for his wanting to leave, beyond pure ideology; it’s the ‘let the Tories fuck everything up and then people will flood to the Labour Party begging ‘please save us’ and we will save them.’ I say ‘justifiably’ because that’s been a Labour position over many elections. Not every election; occasionally there’s a campaign that says ‘come to Labour because we can make life better for you’, but the ‘The Tories made things worse, fucked everything up… but we will fix it’ has been the usual message.

And of course, that plays well with a chunk of the membership and country unaware of Corbyn’s actual views and policies.

So, whatever your views on the concept of a government of national unity, yes, it’s a minor point, but what struck me forcefully was the implicit (and sometimes explicit) suggestion that those of us who loathe & detest Corbyn, and regard him as fundamentally untrustworthy should, on this occasion, on something he’s been previously proven to be untrustworthy… trust him.

And I don’t. At all.

I don’t believe he voted Remain in the EU Referendum. I don’t believe his claims that he worked hard for Remain. I don’t believe him, nor trust him. At all. About anything.

And it’s not – as others have suggested – because of the suggestion that he wouldn’t leave as Prime Minister once in. There’ll be a majority of the House of Commons that would undoubtedly bring his caretaker tenure to an end at some point, leading to a general election.

My lack of trust has to do with what he’d do while Prime Minister. For he doesn’t have ‘to do anything’ to get the brexit he’s wanted for decades. In fact, he has to do precisely… nothing. If he got the job in late September, say, it wouldn’t be difficult to stall for a few weeks… claiming he’s negotiating in good faith and then not doing so.

And then, come October ‘gosh wasn’t it a pity?’ the Corbyn acolytes will cry, as the UK leaves without a deal by the aforementioned ‘automatic operation of law’.

But does a lack of Corbyn in Number Ten prevent the idea of a Government of National Unity, stop it in its tracks?

Well, I have to say, sadly, yes, I think it does. As others have observed, he is – like it or not – leader of the opposition. You’re not going to get Labour MPs openly suggesting, publicly stating, that they don’t trust their leader to be PM. It’ll kill them before and during any general election campaign. The Tories would replay videos of Labour MPs saying ‘don’t make Jeremy PM’ for weeks. And it’d certainly trigger deselection campaigns for any Labour MP. The only way out would be for them to follow Berger and Leslie, etc., and leave the party.

And to be blunt, if they’ve not left the Labour Party yet, they’re unlikely to now, over this.

But could Kenneth Clarke or Harriet Harman do the job? Sure, but they’re not going to get the job, for the reasons immediately above.

What about Lib Dem leader Jo Swinson’s call for a GNU?

Well, it’s great, but it’s what third parties do, and though I’ve been very impressed by her leadership of the party thus far, the call was far more for the impression it gives than in the hope that it’d achieve anything.

So we’re in a situation where the people who first called for a GNU can’t form one. The person who now wants a GNU can’t even unify his own party, and the people who don’t want a GNU have no other solutions.

Oh. Joy.

Oh, and the calls for and against have more to do attacking the people who disagree than the idea itself.

Which brings me to the final part of this post.

Some have been a bit upset at the Lib Dems calling for a government of national unity, but not one headed by Corbyn, the official leader of the opposition, and indeed her previous statements that she’d never go into coalition to form a Corbyn-led labour government. And others have been upset at the Labour response of reminding voters that the Lib Dems – and Swinson herself – were in government with the hated Tories from 2010 to 2015.

Me? I genuinely don’t have a problem with either party making those attacks on the other.

Any more than – apart from the hypocrisy – the Conservatives having a pop at Labour antisemitism, Labour over the past 40 years exploring Tory divisions over Europe, the Tories back in the 1970s and 1980s seeking to damage Labour over trade unions’ behaviour, or any party ‘weaponising’ – a horrible word – a weakness in the other party.

Well, a perceived weakness, at least, whether or not the weaknesses actually exist. (Always amuses me and irritates me, in equal measure, that political adverts in this country are specifically excluded from the truth and fairness rules in advertising.)

Exploiting perceived weaknesses in another party’s policies, positions, or people are what political parties do.

To complain that a party you don’t support is doing it to one that you do, while supporting your party doing it to them is hypocritical. But again that’s what party supporters do.

If your only objection to a Government of National Unity is that Corbyn would be PM, then you care far more about Corbyn not being Prime Minister than about any GNU to solve the Brexit clusterfuck. And if you’re only interested in a Government of National Unity if Corbyn’s in Number Ten, then you’re similarly more interested in Corbyn being PM than in anything a GNU could [try to] do to stop a No Deal Brexit.

Be honest about that, at least?

I have no issues with a GNU; I just don’t think one’s achievable without Corbyn. And I don’t trust that any GNU under Corbyn could – or would – do anything to stop Brexit, with or without a deal’.
 


 
As a coda: I was reminded when I saw the acronym GNU – Government of National Unity – appear today, that British politics does like its animal acronyms. After GOAT [Government of All the Talents] and the COBRA Committee [named after Cabinet Office Briefing Room A], we now have GNU. I wonder what else we’ll get in the weeks ahead.
 


 

Something else tomorrow, the final post in this run… some reflections on blogging, and possibly something on Edinburgh, which I’m travelling to, overnight.

This post is part of a series of blog entries, counting down to my fifty-fifth birthday on 17th August 2019. You can see the other posts in the run by clicking here.

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