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Beleaguered Boris in a hurricane of humbug


THE current session of the British Parliament, a corpse which the Supreme Court has resurrected, has been longer than any other in its history, which begins in 1707, and longer than any session of any English Parliament except the Long Parliament. The Long Parliament could not be prorogued because it made war against the monarch, whose prerogative prorogation is, or was until the day before yesterday. Parliament eventually killed him.

There is a lot of talk of violence now, though for the time being it is humbug.

In the last very painful months of Theresa May’s premiership, Parliament had almost nothing to do. Every so often some local Bill of utter inconsequence would be debated to break the tedium.

Parliament has even less to do now. It has nothing to do, in fact, but it will sit from now until no one knows when. The Speaker is in control of the Order Paper and presumably there will be a succession of emergency questions. Poor Boris Johnson was forced to fly back to England, after addressing the UN wittily on AI, and stand in the House answering questions last night for hours, from every MP who wanted to ask one.

One cannot imagine Churchill or Macmillan in his shoes, but when they prorogued Parliament it stayed prorogued.

One thing is certain. The story in the Sunday Times about Boris helping an attractive blonde friend when he was Mayor of London, which had made remarkably little impact, will be discussed a lot. It is utterly trivial by French standards, but certainly not by British ones.

Weeks of this will fray tempers and they are very frayed already.

It reminds me of the long hot summer of 1914: suffragette outrages (of which Theresa May approves), long strikes and what would have culminated in civil war in Ireland, with Tory leaders committing treason and siding with the Unionist rebels against the Liberal government. Instead, Princip killed the Archduke Francis Ferdinand.

What is most striking today is first the anger towards Boris Johnson directed by his opponents inside and outside his party, especially in the Left of centre papers, Politico, Sky News and the BBC.

Second is the way in which accusations of encouraging violence are frequently a tactic used against the Right. The Tony Blair Institute for Global Change has already suggested that it should be illegal to claim that white people are being replaced by non-whites. They did so because this is what the suspect in the Christchurch massacres believes.

The third striking thing is how often the tactic of invoking a victim group is used, in last night’s case women. This is an incessant tactic of the Left, which the Right now copies.

Boris is always an enjoyable speaker, unlike his predecessor, but PMQs became boring in the end and I stopped watching. But not before he livened it up and aroused genuine, not synthetic, fury when he dismissed Paula Sheriff’s fear of violence as ‘humbug’. She began her question by saying, ‘I absolutely do not want to close down robust debate’ and then went on to argue that it should be closed down and words like ‘surrender’ should not be used.


Her desire not to encourage violence and hatred sounded heartfelt but the word humbug came unbidden into my mind too, before the Prime Minister used it.

Parliament is exactly the place for robust debate. Another sort of politics, consensual, more feminine, in which MPs are bureaucrats, is what they have in Europe. It goes with powerful judges using constitutional law to rule against governments. Mr Johnson’s attacks on parliament and use of the phrase ‘Surrender Act’ fifteen times were intended to cause an uproar.

He was trolling, if trolling means saying something you believe in a way calculated to cause maximum offence. This is something he has in common with President Trump.

The intention is that the public will see Boris as the only man who can deliver Brexit and side with him against Parliament and judges, always two of the least popular institutions in the land.

But will they? So far Dominic Cummings’s plans have not worked out as he expected, though getting rid of hard-core Remain MPs may yet do so.

A poll in the Daily Mail finds most voters think Mr Johnson should apologise to the Queen and more than half of Tory voters think he should quit. The same poll, however, shows him far more popular than Jeremy Corbyn and his party set to win a clear majority at the election.

The PM tried to pass a motion today allowing a three-day recess for the Tory conference next week, but it was refused. Children can be very mean. He may prorogue Parliament again. I hope he does.

My wish for Parliament to be prorogued till 1 November would have caused the Attorney General, Geoffrey Cox, to have resigned, so he told us yesterday. (Anyway, the Northern Ireland Executive Formation Act 2019 made it impossible.)

Geoffrey Cox gave a wonderful speech, unrepentant about the purported prorogation, very combative, highly intelligent.

Best of all he looks and sounds like a Tory. A future Prime Minister, I hope.

I am very sorry indeed to say that Boris is not a very truthful man, but I think he will keep his word and not ask for an extension to Britain’s membership of the EU. That means he will resign in favour of Jeremy Corbyn.

It is the strategy of A J Balfour in 1905, which went disastrously wrong when his party was swept away in the biggest landslide of the 20th century.

It could end disastrously for Boris too.

Or it might work.

The stakes could not be higher.

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Paul Wood
Paul Wood

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