THERE is a great deal of overheated hyperbole in circulation about Johnson’s widely anticipated and clearly signalled ploy in extending the conventional autumn parliamentary recess.
It is effective agitational style to describe this — as does John McDonnell — as “a coup.” In a parliamentary session that has been a showcase for this kind of procedure-mongering it indeed is a muscular move. The whole episode adds to the conviction held by mounting millions of electors that the gap between Parliament and people is becoming the defining characteristic of our politics.
Coup de main it might be (although the element of surprise is missing), but coup d’etat it is not.
The state remains inviolate. Our regal pensioner has done her constitutional duty. The distinctive features of a right-wing coup d’etat — bodies in the street, extrajudicial killings, dissidents disappeared and a ruling class silent or complicit — are not present.
With a government majority of just one and an undertow of dissent in the Tory Party the prime minister needs bold tactics to strengthen his hand if he is to achieve his main aim which is to remain in government and create the conditions for a more secure parliamentary majority when the inevitable election comes.
The Daily Telegraph is predictably outraged that Jeremy Corbyn “has endorsed a plot by his hard-left supporters to join protesters” in the “biggest protests since the Poll Tax.”
It is a bit rich for the Tory house journal to complain that people are taking to the streets rather than trusting to the organs of representative democracy when it is their prime minister who intends to put Parliament in cold storage.
One beneficial consequence of the prime minister’s chicanery is that the streets are where politics must now take place. This is the natural habitat of the species insurgentes Britanniae proletariis. It provides us with the chance to teach a classical scholar like Boris Johnson that patrician rule cannot be sustained indefinitely against protesting plebeians.
It is inevitable that some in the coalition of those willing a reversal of the referendum result will scheme to direct this anger into an exclusively Remain channel.
If successful this will serve Johnson’s tactic which is to put the entire opposition to his regime in one basket and go to the electorate as the champion of a people thwarted, as the standard bearer of a democratically constituted majority.
What he fears most of all is a coalition of all those who see the affront to democracy posed by the continued existence of his government as compounded by his dirty dealing. Johnson wants an election centred on Brexit to the exclusion of all those issues where Labour’s manifesto offers new hope to millions.
Countering this requires a willingness to work with people with whom disagreements exist over substantial questions. It is thus entirely counterproductive to the wider democratic objective for two critical commentators — Ash Sarkar and Owen Jones who should be seeking allies — to refuse to speak at next Tuesday’s rally if leading RMT militant and Brexit campaigner Eddie Dempsy is on the platform. Labour cannot be elected without transcending the divisions engendered by the way Brexit has been handled. They should reconsider.
The logic of events is moving in the direction of a no-confidence motion that will put Jeremy Corbyn in Number 10 as the precursor to an election which offers the opportunity that the whole tangled mess of issues which need resolving — way beyond the immediate question of how we leave the EU — be tested in the crucible of popular sovereignty that is an election. This must be our priority.
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