5 things about this week (29 Sept 2019)

by Stephen Tall on September 29, 2019

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I’m old enough to remember a time when the attempted putsch against Labour’s deputy leader Tom Watson was the big news. Then struck Tuesday’s unanimous Supreme Court decision to rule Boris Johnson’s prorogation of Parliament “unlawful, void and of no effect”. And no-one cared any more about Labour’s splits.

Part of me, the-everything-that’s-happened-to-this-country-since-the-Olympics-is-rubbish part of me, thinks this plays straight into Boris Johnson’s hands. He and his svengali Dominic Cummings have been obsessed about the coming election being a defining ‘People vs Parliament’ watershed. Everything they do is about drawing battle-lines and ‘othering’ their opponents, whether Remain MPs, rebel Conservatives, or the EU. That they can now add judges to the list of the ‘doomsters and gloomsters’ is simply the cherry on the cake the Prime Minister wants to have and eat.

But there is also an optimistic part of me that hopes enough people see through Boris Johnson’s horribly cynical ploy and that it backfires. It’s striking that all the opinion polls so far show majority support for the Supreme Court’s decision. Striking, too, that Boris Johnson’s personal ratings are down. Lying to the Queen comes at a price.

The Prime Minister has, it appears, now thoroughly boxed himself in. As the 19th October deadline (the one legislated for by the Benn Act) draws ever nearer, he will, it seems, be forced either to ask the EU for a further extension; or resign to avoid doing so. His antics over the past few days have surely put paid to any hopes of creating a fragile coalition of MPs willing to back some kind of deal, even assuming he’s serious about trying to get one (an increasingly far-fetched assumption).

An election is coming. I sketched in my last ‘5 things’ the still-quite-plausible scenario by which Boris Johnson’s bully-boy tactics triumph, and the Conservatives win an outright majority. What I don’t understand, still, is the longer term strategy. Not just what kind of deal does Boris Johnson actually want with the EU (because no-deal is no answer). But also what kind of government does he want to run — because his route to power is through ‘borrowing’ Labour Leave seats while writing off current Conservative suburban strongholds sympathetic to the party’s previous brand of economic competence and mild social liberalism. How is that a coherent or sustainable electoral base?


I skipped Lib Dem conference again this year. I wish the party well, but from a safe distance. I did, however, contribute a couple of comments to this excellent long-read by The Atlantic’s Helen Lewis analysing where the party’s at — and asking the awkward questions about where it might be in the future, eg:

This should be, then, a moment of great opportunity for the Liberal Democrats. They hope to pick up support from both disgruntled Labour and Conservative voters by presenting themselves as the unequivocal voice of Remain. If and when Britain leaves the European Union, though, would there be as much backing for a campaign to rejoin? The pure focus of the current anti-Brexit anger would surely dissipate, and everything would depend on whether British politics was truly realigned, or merely snapped back to its old, ill-fitting, comfortable labels.

Well worth a read here.


Has there been another episode of Never Mind the Barcharts since 10 September, I hear you ask… Yes, there has! And as an added bonus it doesn’t include me. Instead my co-host (and candidate for Lib Dem party president) Mark Pack interviews academic Paula Surridge as they discuss, ‘Is politics still about left versus right?

And, don’t forget, you can come along to a special live recording of the ‘Never Mind the Barcharts’ podcast on Saturday 5 October: details here. And as Mark will be busy husting for the presidency, I’ll be joined by two special guests, both of whom have worked with Dominic Cummings:

* Polly Mackenzie, now heading up Demos and former Lib Dem senior policy and strategy adviser to Nick Clegg; and
* Sean Kemp, former head of media for the Lib Dems and a special adviser in Downing Street during the coalition government.


Hardly a day goes by without another gender controversy, whether it’s the Parents keeping 17-month-old baby’s sex a secret ‘to avoid gender bias’ or ‘My girl became the youngest trans toddler… at just three years of age’.

This blog by JJ Barnes – What is gender neutral parenting, and why would you do it? – is a useful antidote to lots of the well-meaning nonsense flying around:

I am raising my children to be “gender neutral”. This is a concept that is often widely scorned, and I think I understand why, but I also think it’s a misunderstanding. I’m not raising my children to be neither a boy nor a girl, I’m raising my children to be who they are regardless of whether they’re a boy or a girl.

I truly believe that the idea that gender is innate is one of the most toxic and insidious ways our society suppresses our children’s natural instincts. It is how the world has tried to force women into the wife and mother role, and convince men they must be emotionless warriors. Gender is a box that we are put in from birth and told to conform to, and if we don’t, then we are wrong. But generations of feminists have helped fight our way out of these boxes, and I will not push my children back inside. …

Gender neutral parenting is not about denying biological sex, it’s not about dressing children in beige, nor about stopping them enjoying gender stereotypical toys should they want to. It’s about taking the box that says they HAVE to conform, and smashing it. It’s about recognising that children are more than your stereotypes. It’s about raising them to feel safe and confident enough to express the truth of themselves regardless of their sex, because their sex does not define their personality.

I am a gender neutral parent, and my children do not care about your stereotypes. And neither do I.


Much of the time I should have been spending reading improving books or catching up on must-watch box-sets has instead been spent gazing slack-jawed at BBC Parliament (or being annoyed by BBC Newsnight‘s failure, despite great hosts, to match the fascinating/horrifying times we’re living through with genuine insight).

However, one programme I have been gripped by is the BBC’s Spotlight on the Troubles: A Secret History. Watching never-before-shown footage of Martin McGuinness planting a car-bomb, or the revelations about Ian Paisley’s complicity in terrorism, makes for utterly gripping viewing. It brought home to me how little I know about this aspect of British history; it was never taught during my 10 years studying the subject, through GCSE, A-level and Oxford degree. And of course it’s an ignorance we’re seeing played out on the national Brexit stage in real time. Anyway, do catch up with it here.


At times like these, I heartily commend cat photos.

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