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D’ya feel lucky, punk?
It’s more than forty years since British punk burst into life, gobbing and swearing its rage against ‘the Establishment’. These days, the word is used to sell everything from pale ale to novels, but its spirit has never been more evident than in Boris Johnson’s Brexiteer government.
In just a few days we’ve seen a ‘God Save the Queen’ device (suspending parliament via the ruse of a new legislative programme) and the ‘Anarchy in the UK’ approach to laws of the land (Michael Gove and Gavin Williamson refusing to say if the PM would send an EU extension bill for Royal Assent).
Tonight, with his veiled threat of a snap general election, Johnson proved he is ready to smash a few conventions of his own in order to secure the UK’s exit from the EU.
Johnson was unusually coy in his televised address, but a government official just confirmed to us hacks that the cabinet had been told today that October 14 was now the date for a snap election - only if MPs try to bind his hands. That’s a Monday, a few days before the next EU summit, and it would be the first time since 1931 we’ve not had polling day on a Thursday.
Downing Street says that Johnson will tomorrow table a motion under the Fixed Term Parliaments Act seeking to call a rapid election, if rebel MPs take control of the Commons business.
Desperate times, desperate measures? For many Tory MPs, the anarchist-in-chief is No.10 chief adviser and Vote Leave mastermind, Dominic Cummings. His summary dismissal of the Chancellor’s media aide last week was just one glimpse of the fact that he wields more power than most cabinet ministers.
Some civil servants think Cummings doesn’t care how many people he burns or how many conventions he breaks purely because he won’t be around for long after delivering Brexit.
There is also deep unease among Conservative backbenchers at what some of them call the ‘Guido-isation of government’ (at least two former Guido Fawkes staffers now have jobs in the administration), arguing that Paul Staines’ website is not so much right-wing as full-blown anarchist.
Brexiteer MPs and aides certainly relish their reputation as buccaneers (though critics point out buccaneers were pirates), believing they’re risk-takers just like all those start-ups who take a gamble that pays off.
But Johnson is certainly taking a massive risk with his preparations for a general election, not least because failure would mean he would be the shortest lived PM in history (George Canning lasted 119 days, an October 17 election could topple Johnson after 85 days in office).
Although high-profile ministers often get an incumbency boost, today’s Hope Not Hate poll analysis suggests that the PM is risking his own seat by pushing a no-deal exit. With the Tories scoring only 31% in recent polls, it’s far from clear that would deliver a majority after a bitter campaign. Scottish Tory seats look like falling, Lib Dems are on the march and austerity still lingers in Labour marginals.
One gamble that looks like it has backfired is the threat of prorogation and the threat of deselection, with David Gauke and around 15 other Tory rebels ready to ‘dig in’ to extend EU membership. The rebels got their act together today with a detailed extension bill that shows they are finally well organised.
There is some method is the apparent madness on Johnson’s part. If he can guarantee a snap election before the Brexit deadline of October 31, he will remove Jeremy Corbyn’s excuse that he can’t sign up to an election with no-deal hanging in the background. But I’m told Labour whips have been inundated with calls from MPs today saying they agree with Tony Blair you can’t trust Johnson not to call an election after a default no-deal.
The greatest irony of all in this is that in adopting its own guerrilla warfare approach to parliamentary convention, the government could goad rebels into taking the most extreme form of rebellion of all.
The only way anti-no-dealers can now avoid an election motion is if they taking rolling and indefinite control of the Commons Order Paper. That didn’t happen even the last time rebel ringleader Sir Oliver Letwin became ‘alternative PM’ earlier this year. So the mother of all parliamentary battles is primed for tomorrow and Wednesday.
I asked a government official tonight what would happen if MPs took control of the agenda AND also then voted against a general election. They replied: “That’s a very good hypothetical but it’s not one I can speculate on...If there is an Act 3 we will come and tell you in Act 3. I’m not going to tell you in the intro.”
Some around Johnson point to the fact that Margaret Thatcher won the 1979 election even as the punk and post-punk bands were still doing their thing.
For those PM allies, the broken EU looks like a broken Britain did back under Labour in the 1970s. Tonight, Johnson asked himself, d’ya feel lucky, punk? Only Corbyn and a clutch of Tory MPs can now deprive him of that answer.
Quote Of The Day
I want everybody to know – there are no circumstances in which I will ask Brussels to delay.
– Boris Johnson hints he will call a snap election rather than delay Brexit.
Monday Cheat Sheet
- Anti-no-deal rebel MPs finally published their detailed bill, catchily titled The European Union (Withdrawal) (No. 6) Bill 2019, to stop Johnson in his tracks.
- Labour’s Jenny Chapman spoke for several shadow cabinet ministers when she declared the party’s “mission here is to prevent no-deal”, adding that “must come first”.
- The pound plunged dramatically on the back of speculation about a no-deal Brexit election. It is now worth around 19% less than just before the 2016 EU referendum.
- David Gauke suggested No.10 chief aide Dominic Cummings wasn’t even a member of the Tory party and it seemed the plan was to ‘goad’ backbenchers into voting for an extension.
- Amber Rudd hinted at Cabinet unease deselection threats, telling the Spectator’s Women with Balls podcast it should ‘not be a party that is trying to remove from our party two former chancellors, a number of ex cabinet ministers’.
What I’m Reading
- This superb New Yorker reportage from Hong Kong on the protests there.
- This Mother Jones piece on why climate change makes parts of the US more vulnerable to Hurricane Dorian.
- And this ‘real-time’ map by the Guardian which shows Irish border crossings on a typical Monday.
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