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THE jeering, heckling and juvenile gestures that accompany Westminster debates have often been compared to pantomime. But Theresa May’s government has surpassed its predecessors in reducing the “mother of Parliaments” to a discreditable farce.
Catastrophic government defeats seemingly have no consequences. Theresa May can present her deal to Parliament and lose by over 200 votes. She can then come back with the same deal and lose on it again. As of today, May was threatening to bring her wretched deal back for a third bruising.
All semblance of government or party discipline has broken down. Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn’s press and events manager David Prescott commented on the “bizarre” behaviour of May’s government the last time she had her deal defeated: “The government puts forward a motion to take no deal off the table on March 29 but not forever.
It then whips against an amendment to that motion ... And loses. It then whips against its own motion. And loses. As well as allowing 12 ministers to abstain on a three-line whip to defeat its own motion, it lets one of its whips break his own whip and abstain ...”
There is an air of pointlessness about May’s plea to the EU to extend Article 50 to June 30. As Corbyn asks, what is her “clear purpose”? The European Union plays Goldilocks in response, saying her requested extension is either too long or too short but not just right — it might let her postpone leaving to May 23 (when elections to the European Parliament start), or it might let her postpone it till “significantly” after that, but June 30 is out of the question.
Theresa May blames Parliament for “contemplating its navel on Europe and failing to address the issues that matter to our constituents. This House has indulged itself on Europe for too long.”
That’s true as far as it goes. Much of a country trapped in a cost of living crisis with soaring poverty and starving public services is watching the parliamentary brouhaha over Brexit with increasing frustration.
The impasse is the Prime Minister’s own fault. It has been her decision to keep presenting the same rejected proposal to the same audience. Her government should accept that Parliament is now ungovernable, its deal is dead and we need to go back to the people by calling a general election.
At the same time her pitch could resonate with voters. Too many MPs sound as if there is no possible deal they could ever support. The suspicion that Parliament is not expressing opposition to May’s deal as such but to leaving the EU at all, despite its marching orders from the electorate in a referendum backed by every major party except the Scottish Nationalists, could play well for May in a “back me or sack me” election if Labour are lumped with the label of the “anti-Brexit” party.
Popular anger at a political caste that has not delivered on its promises will only increase every day that leaving the EU is postponed beyond March 29.
As shadow justice secretary Richard Burgon writes in tomorrow’s Morning Star, Labour has a huge amount to offer because it is not led by members of the political caste. Its leaders are radicals ready to transform our country in the interests of the vast majority.
But if it is to do that it has to rekindle the insurgent politics that won it millions of new voters in 2017. The commitment to securing a Brexit deal that works for workers, rather than a second referendum, which Corbyn confirmed on the Sophy Ridge show at the weekend is welcome.
But Labour and its allies at local level should look beyond Brexit to build the campaigns for public ownership, accountable politicians, a fairer economy and action on climate change that both showcase and strengthen our movement’s credentials as the vehicle for change our country needs.
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