2022 minus 20: Sunday not-so-short thoughts…

Posted: 12 December 2021 in 2022 minus, politics
Tags: , ,

Two more ‘odds and sods’ today, provoked by a couple of British politics things in the news…

The Progressive Alliance

I’ve written before, in August, that I don’t think a Progressive Alliance is possible, let alone probable. I mean it. I don’t think the parties could achieve it, let alone would do so.

But, of course, it still does the rounds all the time.

Now I’m not talking about parties standing down – or effectively doing so, anyway – in one specific by-election to make a point. That’s happened for decades and only shows how powerless one MP is in a House of Commons of 650 of them.

No, I mean something like this:

Where do you start with this, to me, basic lack of awareness of what needs to happen first for that to happen eventually? And what the later – unwanted – consequences would be?

OK, let’s start at the beginning, and let’s assume I’m completely wrong about a progressive alliance not happening.. Me? Wrong? About UK politics? It’s not unknown, let’s be fair.

So, let’s say I am wrong… and the parties all come together in a pact, promising that in their first parliament, they’ll pass proportional representation and change the voting system without a referendum on the idea. I mean, it’d be without a referendum because the last time the government offered the British public the choice of changing the voting system, the result wasn’t exactly close. The final result had the Yes vote at 32.1% and the No vote at 67.9%.

Now of course, proponents of proportional representation claim that wasn’t proportional representation that was offered to the voters, and that’s why, among other less important reasons, it was firmly rejected.

Naah. Sorry. I mean, sure it’s arguable that was part of the reason, but the voters didn’t care about what form the change took; they just liked the voting system they had.

Which brings us onto the first reason why I think the tweet above is naïve at best and wilfully ignorant at worst: which form of proportional representation? A pure party list system? Or party list with multi-member constituencies? What will be the de minimus for a party to get MPs? Will it be constituency-based at all?

Next up, until or unless the Fixed-terms Parliaments Act is repealed, what are they going to do until the next election? And there’s no chance the Lib Dems, for example, will want to get rid of the FTPA; it’s due to them we have a FTPA. So what else will they do?

(And that’s leaving aside that creating the legislation, and getting it through parliament will take some time, even ignoring the FTPA. So what will their foreign policy be? Or their taxation policies? Or their environmental policies be?)

Because there’s plenty in each of the three parties’ manifestos that one or both of the other parties. Will they use the time squabbling? Or present identical manifestos to the public at the election? Of course not, so the manifesto and mandate a government will have will be to change the electoral system and… pretty much nothing else.

Of course they’ll claim they have a mandate for all sorts of other things. And the manifesto for government they’ll present to the public will be agreed behind closed doors; they’ll end up with a stack of policies for their term in office that no majority voted for. Ironic that they’ll claim the mandate the current government does, the only one that counts: “we won the election“.

A Geoffrey Howe moment

On 13 November, 1990, Sir Geoffrey Howe rose to his feet and delivered a resignation statement to the House of Commons.

Ministers who resign from government on a matter of policy disagreement are entitled, by convention, to deliver such a statement. Also by convention, the statement is delivered without interruption.

Howe was known at the time for delivering calm, factual, not particularly witty, speeches. He’d been cruelly dubbed Mogadon Man, and Denis Healy had once described bring criticised by him as ‘being salvaged by a dead sheep’.

So people were expecting a bit of a whinge. A calm, sensible, whinge.

Not at all.

Howe delivered a calm speech all right, but it was all the more shocking because of it. His calm, almost matter of fact, but calculated brutality, came out of the blue, and it was all the more astounding and effective because of it, as he slid the dagger in not once, but again and again.

Three weeks later,the subject of his ire, Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, the woman who’d won three general elections, the second with a majority of 144, the third with a majority of 102…

…resigned from office.

I wondered, the other day,

Now remember, only ministers who’ve resigned can deliver a resignation speech, so that takes out many on the government back benches who’d relish the opportunity.

Interestingly, the same three names kept coming up:

  • Michael Gove
  • Rishi Sunak
  • Jacob Rees-Mogg

For various and different reasons, I don’t think any of them could, or would, have the same effect.

Michael Gove is a non-starter in my opinion, simply because he already did it, in effect, in 2016. He did it by knifing Johnson in the back (after he’d said he’d back him for the leadership to succeed Cameron) and then saying he’s just not up to the job, and then running himself in 2016 and 2019… and then taking job after job in Johnson’s cabinets after Johnson succeeded May.…

And then defending Johnson again and again ever since. Simply put: Gove’s got no credibility left to spend on doing a Howe.

Rishi Sunak is a different beast entirely. But as Johnson’s Chancellor since February 2020, he’s locked into the policies, especially but not limited to those reading economic and covid. Further, as Chancellor, any Howe-type speech would be seen both as ‘former chancellor disagrees with PM. Hardly a shock is it?‘ and self-servingly aiding his own leadership ambitions. I’m also far from convinced he’d hold the House while he spoke.

Holding the House wouldn’t be a problem for Jacob Rees-Mogg; never been an issue for him. What would be an issue for him, however, is the sense of humbleness and calm, rational laying out of the facts necessary. That’s never been his… strong point, let us say.

There’s also the problem that Rees-Mogg, despite his professed adoration of the traditions of parliament – a professed adoration that’s entirely performative – has never thought that sliding the knife in with elegance and skill is… ‘the done thing.’

Rees-Mogg would rather try and bully with his wordage and pomposity. Against Johnson, that’s like fighting a forest fire with a cigarette lighter. It’d never going to work and you’ll look like a prat trying.

Another thought strikes me about this: there seems a distinct lack of front benchers… absolutely loathing each other, politically, professionally and personally. You know: utter detestation.

Its presence creates great moments of principle and drama; its absence leads to blandness. Add into that a personally and politically, principled and strong, leader and you get Thatcher/Howe.

Thatcher’s cabinet had people who disliked each other… but they were all more scared of her.

When that fear ebbs and evaporates, mainly because you’re seen by all as irrevocably ‘beaten’, well… you get a Geoffrey Howe moment.

We’re not there, nowhere close. But not because of the lack of a Geoffrey Howe to weild the knife, because of the lack of a Margaret Thatcher on whom to wield it.


See you tomorrow, with… something else.



Sixty-one days. Sixty-one posts. One 2022 approaching.

I’ve signed up to ko-fi.com, so if you fancy throwing me a couple of quid 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 down to the new year. You can see the other posts in the run by clicking here.

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