Corporeal wonders just what we’ve done to deserve our current political situation.
History repeats itself, first as tragedy, then as farce. Then after that, and if we are being punished for some serious crimes committed in a previous life, it descends into whatever this is.
I’ve been trying to crowbar an article around a Groundhog day analogy, since every week recently has seemed so depressingly familiar. Theresa May has established herself (for lack of a worse word) as a career substitute teacher ruling with a cotton fist. The monkey house she ‘presides’ over remains in full swing while the collection of stereotypes stuffed into a ventriloquist dummy that is known as Jacob Rees-Mogg pokes his head out to further blur the line between reality and performance art.
Then this last week happened, and is still happening. Boris Johnson’s fittingly self-publicised departure has done nothing to shake the sense of watching Jeffrey Archer’s adaptation of a P.G. Wodehouse novel.
As a short recap. Donald Trump departed at the end of his eventful trip (even if he wasn’t always sure about what country he was in) having declared Britain as being in turmoil, a remark that depressingly doubled as being plausibly a line written for him by Putin and the most truthful moment of his presidency.
Thankfully he later moved back onto more familiar ground by declaring he didn’t say something there was published audio of him saying before accusing someone else of spreading fake news. The parting revelation of his suggestion to sue the EU triggered both a flurry of googling from Brexiteers and a horrifyingly comforting vision of how things could in fact be more embarrassing for the UK.
On Monday the Prime Minister announced a new and improved plan for Brexit. This prompted some well-practised EU eye-rolling, multiple cabinet resignations (Boris’ letter was slightly delayed by the photographer needing to get the lighting right for his thoughtful stare into nothingness), and a demonstration of her power by accepting all four of the ERG amendments.
Her triumphant transition from captain to figurehead has been accompanied by the backbench Brexiteers flexing muscle enough to show that while they didn’t have the power to steer the ship their ability to sink it was very effective (but not productive). Theresa May showed her steel and negotiating skills to gain the key agreement that they could have everything they wanted as long as they didn’t celebrate too loudly.
Tuesday evening this led to a dramatic showdown when a couple of hours before the crucial votes came up when Labour (or their leadership of shy Brexiteers) decided that they were tired of their firm and principled tactic of opposition by inaction and decided to see if voting against something was more effective than abstaining. Suddenly the game was on and the whips were dusting off their calculators and oiling up their thumbscrews for a good old-fashioned contest that was going to be a razor thin vote.
The Lib Dems were so shocked by the sudden possibility of being relevant again fell back on what they knew best by screwing up, apologising, and taking a lot of blame without having much general influence. Their two previous leaders (and probably next one) all failed to vote. Vince Cable couldn’t be reached in time for him to return from a confidential political meeting (it’s unconfirmed as to if the confidentiality was to protect the other party from admitting to still meeting with the Lib Dems).
Tim Farron somehow managed to provide parliamentary sketch writers, the sharp-tongued twitterati, and lovers of tortured metaphors with more fuel by giving a speech on faith in politics and “what happens when my truth is not yours” that placed him too far away from Parliament to be effective. (If anyone in attendance can confirm whether he addressed the official belief that Theresa May commands a majority in the Commons it would be appreciated).
Jo Swinson’s absence was discovered to be due to something between conspiracy and cock up. She was paired with the Conservative chairman Brandon Lewis who, in a very unfortunate mistake, managed to remember to abstain in the unimportant vote but completely forgot when it came to the crucial votes. Thankfully it was all cleared up as an innocent mistake, albeit one that the Chief Whip Julian Smith ordered five Tory MPs to make.
Still that series of innocent mistakes in the desperate times of keeping a government afloat is so far no reason for him to resign (and I’m sure the applications to replace him in such a desirable job would come flooding in). Theresa May reportedly still had confidence in him and didn’t need to speak to him when the story broke, presumably to avoid him accidentally telling her that what she’d told the Commons was utterly false (but not really misleading since no-one believed her anyway).
And so the May ministry staggered on
Labour followed up this tentative foray into fighting people outside the party by hastily retreating into the comfortable and familiar territory of internal warfare,. They flirted with the idea of adopting the internationally standard IHRA definition of anti-Semitism, then decided no-one would mind if they just tweaked a few parts of it. When this lead to Margaret Hodge calling Jeremy Corbyn an anti-semite and a racist it was a real sense of things returning to business as usual.
So Theresa May headed to Northern Ireland to spend some time enjoying a sense of unity and togetherness with the DUP (cheap at a paltry billion pounds) and so far her tactic of awkwardly clasping her hands together has kept her trouble at bay (it is less noticeable than the wide legged power stance we wrongly thought was gone forever). There is at least still time for her to return to take part in the hilarious Benny Hill chase around the Houses of Parliament (presumably featuring John Bercow, Dennis Skinner, and a waved mace) that feels somehow inevitable.
Is it time to mourn for the bastardarchy of years gone by. The blandly teflon technocrats versed in all the dark arts and despicable practices of power. They may not have had much resembling integrity but at least they were good at it. Valence politics didn’t breed great principled divides (whereas now our two major parties are divided between an impossibly vague deal or a vaguely impossible one) but gave you the sense that in some ominously lit bunker a secret cabal at least knew what was going on.
And if you have to get a divorce (for some reason you can’t really remember but you’re not going back on it now) don’t you at least wish you had a really good snake for a lawyer. Or at least one you could trust to hold a briefcase the right way up.
Still there’s always next week to look forward to.
Corporeal is a long standing contributor to PB