This was first posted on Facebook on 7th September 2020, with support from my Ko-Fi network. Every time I tried to begin a post here about politics, since Thursday, I kept thinking “But David Graeber is dead.”
David Graeber died in Venice on Wednesday 2nd September. I didn’t know him personally and my sense of loss is only what I feel when a writer I admire and respect and want to keep writing is gone: there will never be any more clear sharp insightful essays and articles from him, never again. He was 59 and I am old enough to feel strongly that this is far too young to die.
I watched PMQs on Wednesday, and Boris Johnson, fresh from his holidays, reacted to Keir Starmer’s questions with an outpouring of poisonous bile. He didn’t look well, not that his illness excuses his behaviour: as John Crace noted, PMQ is essentially a kind of Westminster performance, something perhaps only political afficionados care to watch: but it is a dance with rules, a question followed by an answer, a follow-up question, a follow-up answer. Boris Johnson was interrupted mid-flow by the Speaker, who very gently and politely told him to answer the question. I don’t think I’m inventing this: Lindsay Hoyle looked worried.
Theresa May won her vote of confidence 200-117 and is off to meet with the EU Commission, still Prime Minister – though having lost the confidence of nearly one-third of her MPs.
So, where are we now?
The deal the EU negotiated for Theresa May is the only deal they’ll accept. The EU have, jointly and severally, made that clear. Any talk of changes to the deal is uninformed rubbish. At this point in time, the House of Commons has three choices:
- To ratify May’s deal and leave the EU on 29th March 2019
- To refuse May’s deal and leave the EU catastrophically on 29th March 2019
- To revoke Article 50 and remain in the EU
For many MPs, the fact that they have no ability to move the EU to a better deal is too unpalatable to be comprehended.
Last night Graham Brady, chair of the 1922 Committee, counted 48 letters in his cupboard and let Theresa May know she’d have a leadership challenge this week. This morning he let the world know.
The system for Tories who want rid of their leader is primarily in the hands of MPs. If one-sixth of the Conservative backbenchers have written a letter of no-confidence in their leader to the chair of the 1922 Committee, a vote of no-confidence is called: if the leader wins that vote, they can’t be challenged again for another year: if they lose that vote, there is a leadership election in which the current leader cannot stand, voted on by Tory MPs only until only two candidates are left standing: the Tory membership then gets to vote on the last two candidates.
Tonight, 315 Tory MPs will get to have a second vote to see if they’ve changed their minds since 2016. (Most of them have been arguing that we shouldn’t get to have a second vote to see if we have.)
Few English people think about the constitutional settlement of the nations of the United Kingdom. And ordinarily, this doesn’t matter at all.
The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland has an uncodified constitution: not a single document thoughtfully and carefully produced to give a country a good start in life, but a collection of legislation and even judicial rulings made over the centuries as the British people clawed our way into being a functioning modern democracy from a starting point of feudal monarchy. The 1689 Bill of Rights (and for Scotland, the 1689 Claim of Right) is part of the UK’s constitution: so is the 1998 Human Rights Act.