24.10.2019

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The Simple Politics guide to next week in Parliament.
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The obligatory Brexit bit


The strangest thing about Brexit is that we get to these moments of high crisis. Big Vote. Big Debate. Big Time.  And then, we grab the remote, click the BBC Parliament button, head to the Parliament Live page and... well... are welcomed by the same scenes we've been watching for years. 

Sometimes it's impossible to tell if you're watching a re-run. You're sure they are still making new episodes, but can't tell if this is one of them.

We had two versions of Big Vote on Tuesday.
  1. The second reading of the Withdrawal Agreement Bill (WAB). That's the point where MPs vote as to whether it's worth even taking the thing into committee where it can be amended/changed/improved.
  2. The programme motion which said that the WAB could be smashed through by the Commons in two and a bit days.
From the off, it was clear that number 1 would pass (because lots of people want to leave on a good deal and believe that they can make enough changes at committee to make it what they see as a good deal). Number 2 was never going to pass. Ever. Boris Johnson himself had suggested previously that the WAB should take weeks, so many MPs thought it was completely wrong to try to do it in that short a time.

At the start of proceedings for the day, the Prime Minister tried to put more pressure on MPs by saying that he would suspend the whole thing if they didn't vote for number 2 and the EU granted an extension. He was trying to say to the Opposition MPs (or Team Everyone Else if you read that particular email) who voted for number 1 that there is no point in voting for number one if you don't vote for number two.  It didn't work.

Where are we now?

This question is fine. I definitely know where we are now. Definitely. No confusion in this head. On top of all the stuff.

OK. Maybe that's not true. It's all a bit complicated.  We politicians can't even agree on what to call it. Is the WAB in limbo? In purgatory? Paused?

What we know is that it's not coming back to the Commons next week for sure. And at some point, we're going to be told by the EU what kind of extension we are getting.  There is zero chance now that they will give no extension at all. Casting us off into a no deal Brexit with a week's notice isn't a good look.

What next?

Johnson wants a General Election before Christmas. Tha's covered in detail below. The general crux is that it's unlikely to happen.  Johnson says Parliament can have a couple of extra weeks - including working at weekends - to get the WAB through. This morning it doesn't look like that enough of a sweetener.

He says that if MPs don't go for it, the government will go on strike, ask for an election every day and not put forward any legislation. 

The PM insists this won't happen, but I still think, like a teenager being forced to go to his Aunt's birthday, Boris Johnson will grudgingly bring the WAB back to Parliament in November. It will have a rough journey over several weeks. MPs might get an amendment or two through. Might. Lords definitely will, but they will mostly be taken out by the Commons again. Lords very rarely double down and pass the same amends twice, but it could happen. 

It will take a while, but, with nothing else serious happening, Parliament has got a while. It might even pass. We could have a deal (actually) passed by Parliament in December and then leave in January, starting the journey with a transition period. In that year (or three), EU citizens over here and UK citizens over there will have the time to get their paperwork in order. Businesses can get themselves ready etc etc etc.

Of course, it might not pass. If it doesn't pass, who knows what will happen?
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Election Section

 

Why an election now?


It's Halloween this week. The best costume? A zombie Parliament. 

We've currently got a selection of MPs who find it very hard to agree on anything. Second referendum. Which version of Brexit is best for the country. Which combo of sandwiches, drinks and crisps makes the best meal deal.  There is no consensus (except cheese ploughman's, Wheat Crunchies and a cool ice tea, obvs).

The way out of this, according to Boris Johnson, is to have an election. That would create a new influx of MPs and possibly a Conservative majority. That would give him the mandate and the votes to get through the deal he has negotiated or, failing that, leave without a deal.  The polls suggest a healthy lead for the party.

It's a risk, though, for several reasons.  In 2017, Jeremy Corbyn defied the polls and did considerably better than expected. The Lib Dems are resurgent and will almost certainly win more seats than they did last time round.  Finally, the SNP are looking to win more seats than in 2017. They're in particularly hoping to win back the Conservative seats north of the border. 

It's possible that, despite Johnson's best efforts, that zombie will continue to lurch forward at a slow but unstoppable pace. Just like zombies are supposed to do. Happy Halloween, people.

 

Will Parliament vote for a 12th December election?


In short, probably not.  A vote for Big Vote under the Fixed Term Parliament Act requires two-thirds of MPs to vote for it. 434 votes are needed. Labour has 245 MPs, so if they all vote against the government (which is standard operating procedure), there are only 395 votes left. If every other opposition party votes for the election it won't happen.

You will hear all kinds of things over the weekend, but what really matters is what Labour decide to do. This morning, it's looking pretty clear that what they'll decide to do is either abstain or vote against. Which, as neither helps the government get it's 434 votes, is the same thing. 

This morning, Diane Abbott was on Today and she was saying that the policy is the same as it's always been. Once a no-deal Brexit is ruled out, Labour will campaign for an election. Now, that's true, but at one point, it looked like no-deal being ruled out was an extension from the EU.  That no longer looks like it is the case. 

Abbott said that Labour don't trust Johnson. His words and assurances that there will be no no-deal Brexit, either during the build-up to an election or after an election just aren't good enough. She suggested they need some kind of new law to make that guarantee.

Last night the Labour whips put out an email of a 'holding position' saying the party wouldn't go for it. It would be a huge U turn for the party to suddenly turn around and say, yes let's go for it.

What about rebellions? Won't some Labour MPs vote for an election anyway? Certainly, some would, but the PM is roughly 40 votes short. rebellions in that number are highly unlikely. 

As I say, this will be talked about at length for the next 4 days. All the parties will be asked. Much will be made of the EU extension period when it's finally announced. journalists will journalise.  Ignore it all.

The only thing you need to look out for is Corbyn's position. Keep your eyes peeled.

 

Timing


Johnson says he wants an election on 12th December.  That's tough to do. 

The biggest problem is the lack of counting and voting space. A lot of counts take place in school halls, or multi-event type spaces. In December, these spaces are used for nativity plays (the timing of which is worked out a long time in advance) and Christmas parties respectively. Again, those parties - esp work parties - will have been booked in and paid for months ago.  This isn't an insurmountable problem, but it is hard to find useable venues, especially in December. There is talk of many polling stations in garages and even under caravan awnings.

Then there's other December vibes. You subscribe to this email, so will be up for talking politics year-round. Probably. Maybe you're only here for the meal deal jokes.  There are many, many people, though, who see those December days as the highlight of their year. A chance to snuggle in onesies and watch terrible films. Catch up with distant family. Wear headphones and disappear into songs about light and hope while on the bus. 

These long nights are lifted by the joy of the season.  Are people really going to want to have their screening of Christmas Prince 3 being interrupted for a live election debate? When the door goes, will they want canvasers or carol singers? Shopping for those special things shouldn't be interrupted by earnest (and cold) campaigners thrusting leaflets.

Turnout and interest will be low. What happens when that happens? Elections become very hard to predict. What does Johnson not want? An unpredictable election.

On that low turnout. 12th is only one week from the longest night of the year. It's going to be dark. It's going to be cold. It's probably going to rain. Who doesn't go out and vote on days like that? Older people. That's who. Who do older people disproportionately vote for? The Conservative Party. 

Then there are the people who really, really care about who wins. The campaigners. Putting an election on 12th will make their lives dark, cold and miserable. It wouldn't be popular, and it's possible that fewer of them will turn out.
 


If the election is agreed, what will happen?


The polls are quite clear. The Conservative Party are well ahead. They have enough support to win the election with a majority. Seats like Kensington and Canterbury, which switched in 2017, are particular targets.  

We'll still be in the EU, so the Brexit Party are very much still in play. They will say that Johnson has failed and only they are committed to a policy of leave right now (a Will Young Brexit). 

The Labour Party don't want to fight an election on Brexit and Brexit alone. They perform best when talking about the NHS, schools and protecting the vulnerable. Which is what they want to talk about on the doorstep. They'll find it hard to change the agenda on this, but if they can they could make some real progress.

The SNP will be pleased. They will say that Scotland is being torn out of the EU against its will. 62% of Scotland voted to remain. Who is doing this cruel removing? Westminster. Westminster under the Conservatives.  That narrative will see them do very well.

Who is generally thought to have the clearest Brexit policy? The Lib Dems. An election before we leave will be very, very good for them.  Some polls have had them with more support than Labour.

Who would win? Probably the Conservatives, but, at this point, I've got no idea. I'm very, very excited to watch it all play out. With my ice tea.

The Week Ahead. 


Ah... We come to what's going on this week. Below is a fictitious account of a week in an alternative universe.

On paper, we have two new bills starting their journey through Parliament. Emerging from the darkness like Mole emerging at the start of Wind in the Willows. Except, unlike Mole, there are no great adventures ahead. These bills will go no further. They are, to coin a phrase, dead in a ditch. 

Either an election will be agreed on (unlikely) and WAB comes back, or an election isn't agreed to and the government go on strike and don't push through any legislation (unless they grudgingly bring back WAB).

Anyway, let's have a look at what Rees-Mogg, the leader of the House of Commons, announced as the business for next week. Most of it won't happen, but, dear reader, I can only report back from Big Cheese.
 

Saturday: My comedy family politics show is in Birmingham. At the Rep at 2.30 pm. It's so so good. Full of joy, laughter and voting. Also, cat jokes. Come if you can. Ticket link above.

Monday: At around 3.30 the debate over a General Election will start. It will be heated, especially from the Conservative benches as they try to taunt Labour into voting for Big Vote.  I'd imagine it will be a two-hour debate, so that means results before 6pm.

We also, apparently, have the Environment Bill second reading. This will be voted through. It won't become law, because there isn't time. Sigh.

Tuesday: Another second reading of a bill that won't become and Act. Today it's the Animal Welfare Sentencing Bill. If it actually happens, it will pass the vote today. 

Wednesday: PMQs was a little feisty last week. Passions ran high. If Johnson turns up (which he might not if he's on strike), expect more of the same.

After that, there is a general debate on Grenfell. This may or may not still happen. To shelve this to make a political point will feel, to those affected, to those holding the memory of the innocent dead, like those in power have (again) turned their backs.

This tragedy was heartwrenching awful.  Officially 72 people died. Some killed in their sleep, others screaming from windows for help. The cladding was flammable. There were no sprinklers. The official advice was to stay in your flat. It's not for me to point fingers, but every one of those deaths was preventable. Every one of them should still be alive today. 

Thursday: Another general debate that will probably not happen today, this time on Children's Services. 

Friday: Parliament isn't scheduled to sit today. If we're looking at an election, the WAB will be debated today.

Saturday: What's that? You want another show that's really, really far from my house? How about... Dorchester Arts Centre! Genuinely looking forward to being in that beautiful part of the world and getting to perform this wonderful show to another audience. Making groups of lovely young people laugh and laugh, while also talking about politics is just wonderful.

Next week: A new Speaker will be elected on Monday. In next week's email, I'll break down the process as well as the runners and riders.
Spoiler: It'll be Lindsay Hoyle. Probably. 

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