5 things about this week (29 August 2019)

by Stephen Tall on August 29, 2019


Lots of things have happened in the last month, but nothing’s really moved on.

We’re still none the wiser about the answer to any of these questions… Is Boris Johnson genuinely intent on a no-deal Brexit? Or is the rhetorical ramping up merely a ploy to try and force a showdown with the Remoaner Commons, giving the PM cover to call a snap general election, shaft Nigel Farage and win a hefty majority against the split Remain Alliance, ditch the DUP, and adopt a Northern Ireland-only backstop?

Or does he think, as 31 October looms, he can scare up enough Labour votes for a pimped-up Theresa May Deal 2.0 to offset the irreconcilable Spartan ERG-ers and get a withdrawal agreement through Parliament? Or does he even think the EU might yet blink, or at least wink, sufficiently to allow him to claim his ‘backstop-ectomy’ has been a success and recommend a deal? Or is there another permutation I’ve not even considered?

I’ve no idea. Neither do the media commentators. I remember last February’s well-sourced HuffPo splash, ‘Why A No-Deal Brexit Is Now Theresa May’s Fallback Plan To Save Her Party – And Herself‘. I’ve huge respect for its author Paul Waugh, but given subsequent events it’s hard to view it as anything other than a pretty blatant attempt by her spinners to manipulate recalcitrant Conservative MPs into believing that Mrs May would scream and scream until she made herself sick unless they loyally voted for her deal. The ruse failed, she caved (thankfully!), and the rest is history.

Boris clearly does’t want to suffer the same fate;  and may well have persuaded himself the way to avoid it is to be nothing other than whole-hearted and full-throated in his no-deal threats. It may yet work. It may be the only way to break the deadlock in this parliament. Or it may end up back-firing as the most ill-advised European strategy since… well, since his two predecessors’. None of us knows: not Boris, not even Dominic Cummings.



Let me explain why I’m not as outraged as my Remainer-dominated Twitter timeline at Boris Johnson’s decision to prorogue (ie, suspend) Parliament for an unprecedented five weeks at a time of national crisis:

  • Sure, we know why he’s done it: to constrain as far as possible the possibility of Remainer MPs in the Commons upsetting his plans. It’s a dick-move, to quote Erskine May (perhaps wrongly). But that’s the nature of executive power when you’re a country without a written constitution. We should definitely have one. Good luck writing it.
  • Besides, it’s not like the forces of Remain are guiltless. After all, a deal (implicit/explicit?) was done with Speaker John Bercow that, in return for not pursuing multiple allegations against him of bullying his staff, he would do what he could to thwart the Hard and no-deal Brexiters. And he has bent parliamentary rules to do so.
  • More fundamentally, this suspension doesn’t actually prevent Parliament from blocking a no-deal Brexit — if it actually wants to do so. Up to now, MPs have been willing to show they don’t like it in principle, but unwilling to prevent it in practice. They’ve had plenty of time to act but enough of them have baulked each time — for politically-motivated reasons of expediency — at doing the deed. Time’s almost up, and the proroguing of Parliament forces MPs to make their minds up sooner than they’d like. Sorrynotsorry.



What do I want to happen? That’s a fairly easy question to answer. I’d like an early general election which leads to the ejection of Boris Johnson from Number 10 along with his band of charlatan no-dealers and supine careerists. That should leave about 25 sensible, moderate Conservative MPs to try and recover the spirit of actual conservatism.

I’ve almost finished reading the first volume of Charles Moore’s brilliant biography of Margaret Thatcher. It’s a striking paradox that The Lady herself would never have dreamt, at any rate while she occupied Number 10, of countenancing such an economically risky policy as Brexit (let alone a no-deal Brexit); yet it is nonetheless the legacy of her reputation for single-minded revolutionary zeal (the reality is more nuanced) that her party has descended into a ‘Move fast and break things’ inversion of conservatism.

What do I expect to happen? A Boris win is my prepare-for-the-worst prior. In a case of bad timing, we’ve just started watching the BBC’s dystopic Years and Years and to be honest I’ll be relieved if Katie Hopkins isn’t PM by Christmas.



Can’t get enough of my relentlessly cheerful liberal optimism? Then come along to a special live recording of the ‘Never Mind the Barcharts’ podcast, and listen to Mark Pack and me chat politics with a Lib Dem slant. And — for the first time ever — featuring a special guest. It’s taking place on Saturday 5 October: details here.

And while I remember, you can listen to the most recent edition, ‘And then there were two (more Lib Dem MPs)‘, as we discuss the victory of Jane Dodds in the Brecon and Radnorshire by-election and the switch of former Conservative MP, Sarah Wollaston.

We recorded it the morning after I’d returned from holiday, so I felt a bit rusty. But don’t let that put you off: you can always mute my waffling and focus on Mark’s pearls of wisdom instead.



Dorothy Byrne’s really quite awesome McTaggart Lecture. It’s full of good, punchy stuff, but I especially enjoyed this anecdote:

I hate the term, ‘Pale, male and stale.’ As someone who sticks up for the rights of old ladies, I need to stick up for old gents too.

They are still overrepresented, but their voices are vital for our society. Look at John Ware who just reported an excellent and important Panorama on anti-Semitism.

He is pale, he is male, but he is certainly not stale. Is he politically correct? Well fairly recently we were in an edit suite together and he called me ‘Sweetie.’ At once the room fell silent. Indeed, I would say time stood still.

And then in the low and vaguely threatening tone I have polished over years, I said, ‘I am not your sweetie.’ To which John replied, ‘Yes you are.’ Sisters, I regret, I just laughed.

Also Helen Lewis’s typically interesting and incisive piece on how gendered is the perception/reception of women writers, ‘The Hazards of Writing While Female‘:

Women also face a strange dynamic: They’re encouraged to write in a personal tone, and then dismissed for it. “There is a deeply rooted ‘identity politics’ in the publishing industry,” Shafak said. “We don’t expect an Afghan woman writer to write science fiction, for instance. We want her to produce stories—sad stories preferably—that tell the problems of women in Afghanistan.” And when women do write about characters who resemble them, or situations that resemble their own lives, the critical reception can often imply that no artistic mediation is involved. Think of how many reviewers assumed that Hannah Horvath in Girls was merely a projection of Lena Dunham, with no ironic distance between the two. … Why do women’s books tend to get read more through the prism of their own experiences? It’s part of a double standard of scrutiny, where women’s lives and decisions are placed under the microscope—and, yes, it is often other women doing the scrutinizing.

Most of all, I’ve been enjoying reading on my brand new Kindle Oasis. It says something about our hyper-connected times that I ended up spending a quite silly amount of money on a piece of technology precisely because it is a single-purpose piece of kit, which forces me to focus on reading and not get distracted by social media or the web.


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