Threats to MPs

There are a number of very disturbing headlines circulating that report that Dominic Cummings, advisor to Johnson, said, in response to disgusting attacks on our elected representatives MPs will stop getting threats and abuse if they “respect” the EU referendum result.

None of the reports use quotation marks that I can see so I assume these headlines are a precis or intepretation of words that are a direct quotation: “If you are a bunch of politicians and say that we swear we are going to respect the result of a democratic vote, and then after you lose you say, we don’t want to respect that vote, what do you expect to happen?”

I know what I expect to happen. I expect criticism with civility. I do not expect death threats. I expect the Prime Minister, his Government and his advisors who speak on his behalf, to lead by example and avoid aggressive dog-whistle rhetoric. I do not expect the effective Chief of Staff of No.10 to issue what amounts to threatening statements towards MPs.

There is a difference between the headline summaries and a verbatim quote of what Cummings seems to have actually said. If the headlines are correct then it is possibly the most disgusting and disgraceful statement ever to have come from an official source in my lifetime. It kind of suggests that someone is in control of, organising the threats and abuse, and if that person gets their way then they will call the dogs off. If the threats and abuse are not being coordinated how can Cummings possibly know that they will cease once the UK leaves the EU. Which also begs the question as to who is coordinating the threats and abuse. Maybe it isn’t coordination; perhaps it is encouragement or merely tolerance of abhorrent behaviour. There is a temptation to wonder whether “fake news” is involved in the reporting, except that the same headlines and conclusions appear in the far right popularist press as are reported in the more liberal media.

If the quote attributed to Cummings is a better reflection of his views, is that any better? Cummings actually undermines his own opinions. He apparently said both Leave and Remain campaigners have faced ‘serious threats’ of violence, which he said should be taken seriously. Well if implementing Leave solves the problem then Leave campaigners wouldn’t be the victims of the threats and abuse. Beyond that, no, as representative of the Government he should be condemning threatening behaviour, making it clear that it is illegal and the police will pursue those responsible, and saying that the expectation of the Government and civilised society is that differences are reconciled by discussion not by threats.

Cummings, as the architect of the current bear-baiting atmosphere in Parliament, must be relieved of all public responsibilities. I would personally like to see an investigation into whether any of his pronouncements amount to encouraging crime under the Serious Crime Act 2007.

Cummings aside, the inflammatory language of the Prime Minister and his Ministers is beyond the pale. If I have a criticism of Speaker Bercow at the moment, it is that he permits this language in the House of Commons on the grounds that it is not disorderly. Mr Speaker Bercow, you can leave a legacy by establishing a new precedent that members will not use inflammatory and uncivil language towards one another. How can “liar” be banned when “betrayer” is permitted.

I tried to think back over 50 years of being interested in politics and politicians. Enoch Powell and his Rivers of Blood speech was the only instance of such extreme inflammatory language I could think of. And Powell was dismissed from the Shadow Cabinet as a result. Wilson, Heath, Callaghan, Thatcher, Major, Blair, Brown, Cameron, May – all have made cutting remarks about opponents, and have struggled at times to retain their temper, but none would ever stoop anywhere near as low as Johnson has this week, egged on by Cummings, and backed by this week’s lead apologist “Not So” Cleverley. Johnson has demeaned his office and is not fit to remain in his post. Even Amber Rudd, until very recently a close Johnson ally and personal friend, has turned on him and her conclusion is damning. In fact, if Rudd is right, then the police also need to be investigating Johnson for potentially encouraging the commission of a crime.

One last thing to remember in this affair. Whilst the abuse is real and the threats must be taken seriously, the perpetrators form a minute, almost imperceptible, proportion of the people of this country, even people angry at the lack of movement towards leaving the EU. The vast majority of people of all views are decent and would never dream of issuing threats or shouting abuse. Even 1 in 10,000 is 1 too many and these extremists must be prosecuted and jailed. But we are not on the verge of civil war or the collapse of society.

Battered Democracy

I was intrigued by an article on Lib Dem Voice penned by William Wallace entitled “How do we renew our battered democracy“. Wallace is a member of the House of Lords and I have said previously that the House of Lords is an affront to democracy. Liberal Democrats should not be legitimising it by nominating or accepting peerages. It’s just wrong.

I am, therefore, always wary of articles by “Lords”, especially if the title of the article refers to democracy. I was pleased to see a brief endorsement for an elected Upper Chamber. I also noted a strong case for wider constitutional change. However, reference to Parliament taking back control when Parliament includes appointed legislators, many of them failed candidates and retired MPs in need of a pension top-up, and many others, all male, still there by virtue of nothing more than accident of birth, doesn’t convince me. I was also disappointed not to see advocacy for a proper written Constitution that would have negated the need to the Supreme Court to rule on Prime Ministerial abuse of prerogative.

Don’t get me wrong, there are have been some highly respected and politically successful peers that I would happily have voted for as Senators. Shirley Williams and Paddy Ashdown amongst them. I don’t think either needed to use their titles to signal their significance to British politics, but even so I don’t think they should have accepted the peerages. Notably, in this respect, Major, Blair, Brown, Cameron and May have all got an entitlement to a peerage but to date remain commoners. The SNP doesn’t have any peers as they have a long-term opposition to the Lords – it is a principled position and I congratulate them.

If the Liberal Democrats want to make a meaningful statement in respect of constitutional change they can start by renouncing all peerages and refusing more. We can then challenge Labour to do likewise. Force the debate – the House of Lords could not survive if boycotted by all parties except the Tories. Until that happens, I will still find pronouncements on democracy by “Lords”, to have more than a slight whiff of hypocrisy and not in keeping with the Democrats element of our party name. You cannot effectively oppose gravy train politics when you are an active and willing passenger on that train.

In conclusion, to answer Mr Wallace’s question, we can start by occupying a moral high ground in relation to our claim to be defenders of Parliamentary democracy. Stop participating in activities that undermine democracy and hand in your coronet. I don’t think you can renew battered democracy when you are still holding part of the battering ram.

Leave Only Referendum

I think the Tories have missed a trick, and am quite surprised this wasn’t Johnson’s plan to solve the EU Exit conundrum.

Tories and Labour both stood on a manifesto promise to respect the Leave verdict. As we all know, the problem with that is that no-one knows what kind of Leave people voted for, and the range of options is vast. This fundamental flaw in the Referendum should have been addressed at the time by asking a second question: if the outcome of the first question is Leave, what sort of Leave do you want?

May could have corrected that oversight to solve her problems. But, as we all know, May was incapable of collaboration with anyone other than her own ego. Still, it isn’t too late even now.

I propose a second referendum but one that gives Leave options only. It should include at least the Norway/Iceland model, a comprehensive free trade deal only, and no deal. Maybe Corbyn’s Turkey-style Customs Union. There could be others. Preferential voting to arrive at a solution. Personally I’d give the vote to 16 year olds as they are old enough to marry and pay taxes. There’s also a case for mandatory voting but you can abstain (it’s a positive decision rather than apathy).

The proposal kills No Deal as this could never get 50% of the voting preferences. It respects the first referendum so difficult for Tory and Labour MPs to reject. It overcomes the inability of (any) Parliament to guess what the 52% voted for and deliver that. It starts to heal rifts as the outcome will be a compromise most people can live with, even if not enthusiastically. It’s the only solution that results in a clear statement of what “the People” actually want.

Sadly, serious proposals for a second referendum all include a Remain option. Believe me, if Remain got a small majority in a second referendum this wouldn’t end the debate. Brexiteers would probably get more militant rather than fade away. Such referenda solve nothing. A General Election will not produce a Parliament that can guess the intent of the 52% any more than the current set of MPs, though hopefully Rees Mogg and Johnson will personally be ousted by their electorates.

Solving The Johnson Riddle

I keep seeing Johnson repeating the mantra that he will comply with The European Union (Withdrawal) (No.2) Act 2019 but will still leave the EU on 31st October even without a deal. And then he smiles the smile of a Baldrick with a cunning plan. This seems to cause puzzlement amongst politicians as it appears contradictory.

There are 650 MPs, many of them ruthless, many of them lawyers, all of them supposedly clever. If I can work out the riddle, surely most MPs have worked it out too but don’t want to say so just in case it’s not the same cunning plan and they give him another idea. He may already have done a backroom deal with Orban to veto an extension request.

So you have to read the Act. It’s online and it’s a quick read. There is a massive hole in it that I spotted in seconds, re-read several times and was still there. The PM has to write the letter. The PM has to accept the extension offered, that runs from 11pm on 31 October. The PM can terminate the extension early if they get an agreement before 31 January 2020.

Johnson sends the letter and accepts an extension. But at 11:01pm on 31st October he can terminate the extension agreement early. Nothing in the Act prevents early termination without Parliamentary consent.

At this point all hell breaks loose but it’s too late, Johnson has kept his promise, and it’s near impossible to reverse out of. Why didn’t anyone spot this and close it off? The Government cannot terminate the extension period early without Parliamentary consent. There, it’s not hard.

The only way to be sure of avoiding the cunning plan is to hold the No Confidence vote and install a temporary caretaker PM.