57 plus 29: Weary political ponderings…

Posted: 15 September 2021 in 57 plus, politics
Tags: , , , ,

There are some manoeuvrings going on today in British politics, and, indeed as I write this, more recent news is coming through.

And while I really don’t want to get into the party politics of who’s doing what to whom and why – I mean, Matt Hancocks’s not back, so thankfully we’re spared that – since there are three different things going on today, why not a bit on each?

I’m tired and irritable. So, yes, why not indeed.

OK, first off, there was the weekly Prime Minister’s Questions session earlier. I’ve written about PMQs before, more than once, and, in general, things haven’t much changed in the past few years. And the changes there have been haven’t improved matters.

Boris Johnson, like every PM since Tony Blair, obviously loathes PMQs, and like his immediate predecessor, has no worries about showing it. Unlike Theresa May, however, our primus inter menaces‘ disdain for it isn’t shown by bad temper nor by obvious irritation, but by ramping up the bullshit machine, and spewing out whatever is on his tongue without in any way engaging his brain in the process.

Every PM seeks to avoid questions they don’t like, but most – not all, but most – do so by pretending to answer the question, while saying something quite different entirely.

Or they make one or two sentences ostensibly in relation to the question, then carefully steer the answer away from the original subject matter… and then say something about a subject they want to talk about. And if the question is repeated, they’ll say something like ‘I’ve already answered that [he didn’t] and then say something else that he wants to say. Or “I think the real question is…” then say what he wants to say, abouy something quite different.

Johnson does none of that. He just ignores the question entirely, bullshits his way through a couple of sentences, throws in the odd statistic (that neither he nor anyone else knows the accuracy of) and then says something like “hurrah!” And sits down.

I don’t think I’ve ever witnessed a Prime Minister so obviously contemptuous of the entire process of PMQs.

I have no idea whether it’s true that Napoleon asked about his generals ‘are they lucky?’ But fuck me, Johnson has been lucky with his leaders of the opposition.

Corbyn was utterly useless at PMQs at the start of his leadership of the opposition, and not much better by the end. He’d learned a bit, but my gods he was bad. And Starmer, who should have been better, whose training as a prosecutor should have helped him… is… just bad at it.

He makes the mistake, every week, every bloody week, of thinking that he’s dealing with someone who values truth as a concept in the chamber of the House of Commons. And when he’s disappointed in it, every bloody week, it’s like he’s surprised at it once again.

He makes Charlie Brown facing Lucy and the football seem actively cynical.

As for Ian Blackford, the less said the better. His attempts every week are pitiful and maybe one in ten, maybe, questions. does he actually achieve what he set out to. Some of his sentences are longer than Judge Jeffries and, usually, by the time he finishes his questions, no one – including himself – can remember how they started.

Every PM comes to power promising to reform PMQs. Except Johnson, for whom PMQs is in one way exactly what he wants it to be: half an hour to three-quarters of an hour wherein he can bullshit like crazy and get cheered to the rafters for doing so. And, yet, he’s smart enough to detest the house for letting him get away with it with nary a raised eyebrow.

His contempt for PMQs itself is only matched by his scarcely hidden contempt for those backbenchers who praise him with planted questions of the ‘Will the Prime Minister agree with me that his policies are just lovely and wonderful and superb?’.

You know what, I’m starting to share his contempt.

OK, moving on. There’s a government reshuffle today. About 100 jobs, about a hundred ministerial positions. And to use the old phrase, time for them to have a little spin.

As I write this, Dominic Raab has been sacked as Foreign Secretary and been both demoted and promoted; he’s gone to the Ministry of Justice, where he once served as a junior minister. An unquestioned demotion. But he’s also become Lord Chancellor, which, technically, outranks the PM. Ah, but ‘technically’ could equally mean ‘meaninglessly’, and in this circumstance it very much does.

He’s also been moved from ‘First Secretary Of State’, a meaningless job title that means Deputy Prime Minister, to actually being Deputy Prime Minister, a meaningless job title of its own.

(While the job of Prime Minister is coming up on 400 years’ old. the first Deputy was Clem Attlee during WWII, and for most of the past 80 years, we haven’t had anyone in the job.)

Who’s got Raab’s old job of Foreign Secretary, you ask? Well, Liz Truss, the – as of this morning – International Trade Sec. I’m genuinely puzzled who was more ‘what the f––?’ at the news of Truss’s appointment, me or Dominic Raab.

Both Rishi Sunak and Priti Patel have kept their jobs, which doesn’t really surprise me. Johnson’s not strong enough to dislodge Sunak and Patel is one of Johnson’s (in his mind, anyways) star performers.

Most PMs loathe reshuffles and I’m sure that Johnson is the same. I’m mildly surprised he actually fired those leaving government in person rather then delegating it or texting them,, but only mildly.

Every reshuffle though is an indicator of how strong a PM thinks his control of the parliamentary party is. This one is showing, and will continue to show, that Johnson’s none too sure of how strong – or weak – it is.

OK, finally…

There’s an Opposition Day in the Commons today. Now, that’s not Opposite Day, although it might as well be. Nothing done in the chamber will actually matter. Any unimportant votes won’t be binding; and yes, while the subject matter may be important, is important, the votes won’t be. How can they be if they’re not binding, and the government cares so little about it that they don’t even bother to vote against; they abstain. The only purpose is so that Starmer and his team can say to the party… here, look at that, yes, at that. Look, we did that…

And, sadly, with the state of British politics being what it is, that counts as an achievement as far as Labour are concerned.

I’ve said for some time that the secret to understanding Boris Johnson as Prime Minister is that he prizes ambition over, even at the expense of, achievement.

Whereas Starmer is still so stung by Corbyn’s/Labour’s collapse in the 2019 election, and the many many poison chalices with which he was left by Corbyn, that he’ll claim anything… including a meaningless debate and a consequence free vote – are achievements of the greatest stature.

(Starmer had his own nightmare reshuffle a few months ago; any criticism that he aims at Johnson should bear that in mind.)

I wish I was less cynical, less sceptical, less fatalistic about the state of british politics. I really wish I could see the light somewhere.

But I realised last week that I don’t trust a single politician in the House of Commons – not a one of them – not to lie through their teeth if it was convenient; for personal advancement, for a political win, to get one over on their opponents outside and inside the party. They’d all break manifesto pledges, televised promises, pledges made inside the House of Commons… and sleep well afterwards. While hypocritically attacking those in other parties for doing the exact same thing.

Bah.

See you tomorrow, with… something else.

 

Fifty-seven more days. Fifty-seven more posts. One fifty-seventh birthday just had.


I’m trying something new with this run. I’ve signed up to ko-fi.com, so if you fancy throwing me a couple of dollars every so often, to keep me in a caffeine-fuelled typing mood, feel free. I’m on https://ko-fi.com/budgiehypoth

This post is part of a series of blog entries, counting up from my fifty-seventh birthday on 17th August 2021. You can see the other posts in the run by clicking here. (And you can see the posts in the run counting down to the birthday here.)

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