MITCH BENN: How Boris Johnson became the prisoner of parliament
- Credit: PA Wire/PA Images
MITCH BENN on Boris Johnson becoming the first prime minister since 1894 to lose his first commons vote and also reducing his from +1 to -43 in a week.
So this time last week, you may or may not recall, I was bewailing the near-impossibility of submitting a regular current events-based (and specifically Brexit-related current events-based) column in times of such rapid political combustion. Well, as Al Jolson didn't quite put it, I hadn't seen nothing yet.
The latest from the steady stream of leaks from Number 10 tell us that Dominic 'Short' Cummings is boasting that Remainers will "melt" when they get a load of the next phase of his masterplan. If this next phase goes half as well as last week's phase, by the time you read this we should have joined the Euro and Billy Bragg will be the new prime minister.
I think there may soon come a moment when it dawns on either Boris Johnson or even Dominic Cummings himself that just because Cummings was played on television by Benedict Cumberbatch - The Guy Who Plays Geniuses - it doesn't necessarily follow that Cummings is a genius too. Simply being portrayed by the guy who played Sherlock Holmes, Doctor Strange and Alan Turing doesn't in and of itself make someone a maverick megabrain. It's worth pointing out that before Sherlock rocketed him to stardom Cumberbatch was mainly known for playing Martin Crieff, the amiably dim-witted airline pilot on Radio 4's long-running sitcom Cabin Pressure (to which he would gamely return even after joining the A-list). Not that this has any bearing on Dominic Cumming's character either; Martin was a nice guy.
In any event, it's quite the masterplan which sees a government - as Boris Johnson's government just did - voluntarily lose more MPs over the course of a single debate than Theresa May's administration lost by accident at the 2017 general election.
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First there was the ostentatious defection of Dr Phillip Lee, then the autodefenestration (is that a word? It is now) of the 21 initial Tory rebels who, having been warned that defying the government would cost them the whip, evidently decided that this whip isn't worth keeping.
So it was that in just 24 hours, the prime minister lost not only his first commons vote (the first incoming PM to do so since 1894) but his majority in the house, going from +1 to -43 (and it's been falling ever since).
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This was immediately followed by that bizarre 'chicken' stunt, in which having made it very plain that they didn't want a general election, the government started pulling out every stop it could find to make the opposition call one, being unable to do so unilaterally under the rules of the Fixed Term Parliament Act of 2010 (one more thing which seemed like a good idea at the time to David Cameron).
Again, it was hard to see what the underlying idea was; the more obviously desperate you are for your opponent to do something, the less likely he is to do it. Ever.
As such, it was with undisguised glee that the now more or less unified opposition (Johnson has at least kept that one promise; he has brought people together) denied the government any chance of an election before the Brexit deadline of October 31. Nonetheless, the whole political establishment seems to have decided that at some point before Christmas, this country will have to go to the polls for the third time in just over four years.
I've got a better idea. Let's not have an election.
I don't mean never, just not until this current term expires in 2022. Let's keep Boris Johnson stranded at the head of a minority government, losing every vote, facing defeat and humiliation on a more or less daily basis, and not let him leave. Pass a bill for a final deal referendum or just go right ahead and revoke Article 50; he'd be powerless to stop it happening. Sorry Boris, you wanted this job, you destroyed every friendship you ever had to get it, and now it's yours. Forever.
Part of Johnson's evident distress at just how much harder being prime minister is than it looked is, I'm certain, down to the fact that his customary escape route isn't available to him this time. He's the classic example of the sort of expensively educated Englishman who, through charm and connections, always manages to fail upwards. Fired from your plum job for lying? Get a better job! Lose that job? Get an even better job! Wife kicked you out? Get a younger partner! And so on and so on.
But there is no 'upwards' from Number 10. This is the top of the ladder, and the only way is down.
Enoch Powell's other famous quote, the one about all political careers ending in failure, doesn't always come true. Some of them get away with it. It's looking increasingly unlikely that Boris Johnson will. The only question is how many other things have to fail with him.
There are People's Vote and Stop The Coup events being held all the way through this 'prorogueation' period. Seek them out. Get involved. Resist.
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