Friday, 18 January 2019

The mother of all filibusters

Image result for filibuster imagesWhat happens if normal party politics has broken down? One suspects this is the question most commentators have been asking themselves for the last several months, consciously or unwittingly, as British politics lurches from one unprecedented situation to another.

If we needed proof, it is surely in the bizarre events of the last couple of days.

First, Theresa May suffers the biggest parliamentary defeat since the repeal of the Corn Laws in the 1840s, on the deal that she has diligently shepherded through Parliament.

Then, miraculously, she survives a vote of No Confidence the following day, in a way that surely no other Prime Minister has ever done after even much lesser defeats.

Apart from the unlikeliness of these record-breaking feats being what any PM would like to be remembered for, this is clearly not parliamentary business as usual.

Most disastrously, we now have the leaders of both major parties entrenched in fantasy positions: May’s, that some kind of Brexit deal not unlike hers can still be salvaged, to save us from No Deal, and Corbyn’s that we can still negotiate something better with the EU in time for tea.

Both are fantasists, and while they pursue their respective, dangerous fantasies, the clock ticks and Britain slides ever closer towards the No Deal abyss.

It is as if they are jointly engaged in the mother of all filibusters, each hoping that they can talk out the problem and, by doing so, force a reluctant Britain around to their point of view, against the clock. We are all victims of this gridlock, of their inability to find an adult solution to a terrible headache.

One would also imagine that, in a Commons vote on any serious option, whipping would have a good chance of crumbling to dust. When whipping breaks down, all we have are 640 or so voting MPs, with their views, principles and prejudices.

But strip away party politics – something which was for much of history a non-constitutional matter anyway*, just a convenient way of grouping like-minded souls to vote on business – and that is what we have.

Surely this is the point where we call for a parliamentary group – let’s call it the League Of Grown-Ups – who want to actually find a solution and save us from the unthinkable disaster of No Deal. This is probably the one caucus which does actually form a majority in parliament.

If that caucus – a Government of National Unity with a required lifespan of a matter of weeks – can find its way to lead Parliament, to put aside the fantasy positions of the main parties and come to a real solution, we have a way out.

It would have to be non-aligned and cover the possibilities of any remaining feasible Brexit deal, plus Remain. And it could appeal to the country, over the heads of those useless party leaders, to explain exactly what outcomes were genuinely feasible, so they could choose. No daft campaigning on dubious platforms, just a government statement on what was possible.

The opportunity to act is there, but clearly that time is running out. Members of Parliament, this story cannot end with you telling your children you had a chance to avert No Deal but you didn’t take it. You own this. The time is now.

This post first posted at Labour Uncut

*Things changed, of course, with the PPERA act, which gave them legal status for ensuring proper control of areas like fundraising.

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