Sunday 5 August 2018

The Summer Break Before a Crisis

The BBC non-channel on TV is showing lots of young people dancing to BBC Radio 1 presentation in Ibiza/ Elivissa. Many of those dancing will be British, but they will also come from all around Europe. We are the same people sharing overlapping histories. Britain came from the Celts from Europe, and then the Anglo-Saxons, and then the Norman French who had been Vikings. And, more recently, we have people in Europe from everywhere.

What on earth are we doing building a wall against our neighbours. And don't say, this is only against a set of institutions not Europe itself. Because in all effect it is against Europe itself. The European Union is the political expression of Europe: it makes things possible.

If you were to design a European Union, it would look something like this. The nation states would make decisions and often with vetoes. There would be direct representation, but this would have to recognise the existence of nation states as core. There would have to be an executive branch at this level, but it could only propose and regulate. Trade disputes without and all disputes within would need a court.

This is exactly what we have got. And having one currency through most of this makes it easier to spend, buy and trade. How ridiculous that Britain will most likely leave an institution where participants will find English as a convenient second language.

The British Prime Minister recently visited Emmanuel Macron at his fortified holiday home. He'll have told her to negotiate and realise this European Union has its essential features. The single market was heavily influenced by Britain, the push to neo-liberalism came from Britain.

So where are we going with all this, after Cameron's failed Tory gamble with a binary referendum, and May's gamble of a General Election by which she lost her inherited slim majority.

What we know is that there is no majority for any particular deal. The Chequers' proposal is opposed by those to whom May has previously rolled over. She gave a hard time to those Tories who gave her plan qualified welcome, and rolled over to the amendments of the Tory right. The hard right Tories will not accept her Chequers' proposal, with or without change through negotiation. May herself won't accept a move to the Customs Union, never mind Single Market. She refuses the EFTA option, which has its own institutions and rules, yet plugs into the Single Market and Customs Union.

So there is an impasse, unless the House of Commons can 'get it together' on a cross-party basis. Whilst there could be an appeal to delay Article 50, that the government would not accept, all 27 member states would have to agree with any one having a veto. The other opportunity is the return of the Trade Bill from the House of Lords, when the so-called remainers really would have to get it together and pass an amendment to join the Customs Union. This is the likeliest prospect. Many moderate Tories may well vote for this come the prospect of crashing out and immense damage and uncertainty to the British and European economies.

However, each option undermines the Government and its unhappily balanced executive may well disintegrate. Also, assuming some sort of an agreement, May could try and do what John Major did, after Denmark rejected the Maastricht Treaty and press the 'nuclear option' - he also stood and was opposed by John Redwood and retained himself as Prime Minister. May does not have this option in the sense that the issue is so pressing, so monumental, and the opposition so multi-sourced, that if she tried it the likelihood is a collapse into a General Election.

The problem is this: suppose the Fixed Term Parliament Act holds up the present House of Commons. Suppose in this situation the House of Commons can work beyond the front benches and produced votes to prevent a crash out. Who will provide the executive branch of government? What will be the effect of Tony Blair's introduction of timetabling: no longer does a government introduce the guillotine, but rather the Speaker limits MPs' speeches because everything is timetabled by the executive. The House of Commons may well act to find its majority votes, but the executive will dissolve in front of our eyes.

Again, a vote to have a second (might have to be a third) referendum would have the same effect. I'd have thought we'd have learnt our lesson regarding referenda. We need a 'this deal', 'no deal' 'may as well stay in' set of options in a referendum, and this either needs a single transferable vote method ('Fiddle!' shout the hard right) or a two-stage two binary referenda. My view is that Parliament should be sufficient. The referendum was legally advisory, it cannot bind Parliament, and we've already had one General Election since with the effect to 'soften' the exit, unless things simply become chaotic.

Now a General Election will be messy. In any case, a majority of an electorate that once produced Thatcher's 43 majority, or Labour's after the Second World War, now leads to tiny majorities or a hung parliament. Some 150 changeable marginal seats are now around 80 or so. Secondly, both main parties are both-and regarding the European Union, and both are formally committed to leaving. So, with the exception of the Liberal Democrats and UKIP, parties are not arranged along a contest of this pressing issue. It will have to be a battle between individual candidates. In the 2017 election, many working class areas were more likely to vote Tory, and many middle class voters moved towards Labour, as did remainers. But Labour is now exposed as a non-remain party, and its leader sceptical.

It is far from clear that Labour will even be the largest party next time. It has not been helped in its chances by its inability to squash a rather misleading anti-semitism charge against its leadership. Corbyn's rallies may not have the magic touch second time around. As for Theresa May, many Tories said she can lead negotiations but cannot be allowed to head a General Election instead. Who would provide Tory leadership rapidly in an instant decline into a General Election?

Nevertheless, government party MPs are heading for a fall as incompetence is the biggest charge. How come so little was proposed after so long, how come they cannot operate a pub in a brewery? It may be that individual MPs of distinct opinions do better than others.

The four Labour MPs have consistently voted with the government, including that Ulster Unionist Kate Hoey dressed up as Labour, and one forced to be Independent Labour, shows what could happen after an election. A government (from somewhere) will not have a single party command. One can imagine Anna Soubrey in the same collection of MPs as Chukka Umunna, whether she finds him "so attractive" or not. In fact, one can imagine Chukka Umunna heading up some sort of emergency government cobbled from many MPs across parties.

There is an answer to this, for MPs to consider while away this summer. Stop regarding the refendum as sacred. Start saying that they are in a representative democracy, that they own the consituencies information but not slavish direct democracy. Have the guts to say that the campaigns were fought in ignorance and with misleading claims. Have the guts to say that 37% of voters cannot decide such a massive outcome. Come back with the resolve to say that they are paid to have time to consider and make choices. Let's here some MPs make summer speeches outlining how they are going to act in a crisis and to prevent a crisis. Let's have some open conferences where policy can change in recognition of the crisis.

Parliament - the House of Commons and the House of Lords - needs to rise up and make its sovereignty count. We share sovereignty with all kinds of world institutions, and this is the practical reality of the world as it is. We have for decades with the confederation of the European Union and it is woven into UK life. Every time we make a trade or any other kind of agreement we share sovereignty. Yet here is a decision that falls on the laps of Members of Parliament and their Lordships. Use the summer to consider, and then come back to act.

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