The Brexit strategy adopted by Boris Johnson, his aide Dominic Cummings and Cabinet of political lightweights has caused civil war in the Tory party and damaged democracy itself, writes Kenny MacAskill.
It’s as if Fatty Johnson and Evil Dominic cooked up a devilish plan in an Eton Common Room. Flouting archaic rules and staid conventions, confounding the establishment and taking control of the school, their wizard wheeze putting the oiks firmly in their place.
But far from being a master tactician, Cummings acted illegally, cheated and just got lucky during the Brexit referendum. Cameron’s stupidity, the Remain campaign’s ineptitude and Leave’s duplicity all fuelled it. In reality, it was a campaign driven by the super-rich for their further self-aggrandisement as exposed by talk of abolishing inheritance tax. Added to the avoidance of exposure of trust funds and offshore investments being sought by the EU.
Cummings has been exposed as being far from a tactical genius and the plan’s falling apart, catastrophically for him and his hapless Prime Minister. It was all meant to be so simple. Rees-Mogg jetting up to Balmoral, a Parliament put into recess as a government went into overdrive with an election campaign. All would fall before them with that masterstroke.
But it’s not to be. The arrogance shown by Rees-Mogg when returning from the Queen now supplanted by a Prime Minister who’s patently out of his depth. Johnson is now surrounded by a Cabinet of lightweights and zealots with neither ability nor understanding of the morass they’re in.
Far from sweeping all before them and returning to Westminster on the verge of triumph, they’ll come back to receive the final cull. But the credibility of the Government will be shorn, the Tory Party further divided and Parliament tarnished in stature. Johnson and Cummings have taken a proverbial wrecking ball to democracy and now many of its institutions, including their own party, are being trashed by it.
This Government is a “dead man walking”, having lost its majority, and is limping towards an early election with only the precise date to be decided. Not just lack of preparation but the catastrophe of a no-deal Brexit will be exposed, whether by the recent parliament resolution or by the courts. The lies and incompetence of these chancers will be further laid bare, shearing them of what little credibility they have left and uniting their opponents to avoid national catastrophe. Parliament, not Government, will be in charge. The final days in office for John Bercow will a torrid time for an administration that had hoped to kill him off but instead finds the tables turned.
As conference season approaches, the opposition will be getting their act in gear, though some more than others. But a surprise election sprung by the Government, there will not be. Instead the ending of Johnson’s inglorious reign will be decided by his opponents. Conference for the Lib Dems, SNP and even the Greens will be an opportunity to parade their alternative vision. Labour slightly less so, given some division still remains, but there’s nothing like an election to rally the troops.
But the Tories stumble towards their conference unsure of who’ll still be in Cabinet never mind who’ll still be in the party. Johnson’s options are limited and many unpalatable to even those who have stayed loyal so far. The demands of the ERG just cannot be harmonised with the realities of Brexit. More could abandon ship and, meanwhile, just who’s allowed to appear at Tory conference or even on the ballot paper as a candidate?
Civil war is breaking out and a settlement can’t be brokered. ‘Divided parties never win elections’ is an old maxim but it remains true and uniting around Brexit with Farage would be a deal with the devil.
And so, Parliament will return for the final days of an ignominious regime but it too has been damaged. Its systems shown to be arcane, its proceedings bordering on the disreputable. An election will almost certainly follow soon after, albeit likely falling in winter. Whilst that’s of concern for turnout, I’ve always believed that it’s motivation not weather that matters.
Given the fiasco that has played out over recent years, I’m sure there’ll be a healthy turnout but the respect for those elected from whichever party will be reduced. Democracy itself has suffered and it’s Johnson and his henchman Cummings that are to blame. They started it with their distortion in the referendum and have continued it in office. It’s not good and a lot will rest on those MPs returned.
But if, as is perfectly possible, the election results in another hung parliament, then there’s a lot to fear as the public are losing patience with the institution. It certainly threatens the Union but it also undermines belief in democracy.