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Crisis? What crisis? This one, matey, this one!

We here in Britain are stuck in a truly bizarre age: for once the observation that ‘the country is split’ isn’t actually just a silly, self-important middle-class exaggeration describing, for example, the fact that Wilf next door really thinks English rugby is in for a golden age and can look forward to great things whereas John and William down at the club think that’s nonsense. It is far more serious than that: the country is well and truly split down the middle and it’s not going to end well because there is no way it can end well. And that worries me.

I’m not just talking about Brexit, either, although that is the root cause.

At the moment the government wants to call a general election, and the Opposition is buggered if it is going to commit suicide on national scale. The government is having a lot of trouble getting its ‘deal’ through Parliament (the initial withdrawal agreement between it and the EU outlining what is what, for example how much Britain should contribute to the EU budget to help pay for items agree upon when it was still a member).

Part of it problem is that before Johnson became PM it had a small majority, essentially because under the premiership of his predecessor, Theresa May, the Tory government had bought off the DUP with a £3 billion bung and the Northern Irish party agreed to support it in the Commons. Recently, Johnson took way the whip from 21 MPs because they voted against him on a Commons motion, thereby flushing his small majority down the pan. Whether that was plain incompetence or real stupidity doesn’t even matter any more.

The fact is that Johnson cannot and will not command a majority in the Commons on any motion except perhaps one granting all MPs a huge pay rise. His government is, at present quite impotent and he believes if held an election, he might get a working majority in the Commons. But getting that election is proving very tricky indeed. And he is trying to come up with various ruses to get his election, not least ensuring his government loses a vote of no confidence.

If some gifted satirist were to dream up a plot for a novel in which a government considers calling such a motion of no confidence in itself (and urges supporting MPs to vote in favour of the motion in a tacit admission that they and the government are useless twats), the resulting novel might, if well-written, prove to be quite amusing. In essence such a plot would recall all those Ealing comedies of the 1950s when Britain was assured it had ‘never had it so good’.

Fleshing out that plot to have the main Opposition party voting against the motion (that ‘this House has no confidence that Her Majesty’s Government could even organise an orgy in a brothel’ — essentially that it has every confidence in Her Majesty’s Governments and wishes it only well) would add a great deal more spice.

In fact, that is exactly the situation our House of Commons finds itself in: the Tories, under Boris Johnson’s leadership are aching to go to the country in the hope they will be voted back into power, and Labour, under the leadership — I use the word as loosely as I am able to without it becoming thoroughly meaningless — of Jeremy Corbyn are desperate to avoid a general election.

But the government can no longer simply call an election. Complicating it all is what is known as the ‘fixed-term parliament legislation: whereas until 2015 when the Tories had to form a coalition with the Lib Dems if they


wanted to retain power, the sitting government could call an election when it damn well wanted — usually, and quite obviously when it thought it had the best chance of winning (as it now does), now an election can only be called if two-thirds of the MPs in the House of Commons want one. Well, the Tories want one, and the SNP want one and the Lib Dems want one but Labour is buggered if it wants to go to the country to get on its way to oblivion sooner than most expect. The latest opinion poll figures will explain why:

According to them, the Tories have the highest support among British voters (around 35% tell all those from the polling firms who knock on the door or ring up to ask that they would vote for the Tories). Labour, on the other hand are preferred by far fewer (around 25%). The Lib Dems aren’t doing badly, though, up to around 18% from their very low (although not historically low) 8%.

What is so odd about these figures is that usually the incumbent government (whether Tory or Labour) is not at all popular with the electorate and the Opposition will be rather well off in the polling figures. Not this time — Jeremy Bernard Corbyn is the fly in Labour’s ointment: apart from a few scruffy herberts of all ages and genders who consider themselves to be ‘socialists’, no one, but no one likes him. And apart from the scrappy band of Dave Sparts, they would rather go blind than vote him into office and see him as Prime Minister.

But all that is not even half the story.

Both parties are split — although neither is split exactly down the middle — into those who support Brexit (or, at least, support the implementation of the result of the 2016 Brexit referendum) and those who want Britain to remain as a member of the European Union.

Broadly, the Tories are split into two-thirds who support Leave and one third (those Tories Mrs Thatcher would have regarded as ‘wet’) who think Britain’s best interests are served by remaining an EU member. Labour is some kind of mirror image: two-thirds support Remain and one-third support Leave. But it’s not even that simple: a great many of those in Labour-voting constituencies in the North of England voted Leave. So their MP, who most probably is a Remainer, is fearful she or he might be out of a job if they don’t go against their own convictions and support Leave in House of Commons motions.

The Tories have a slightly different problem: now that Ukip has gone the way of all flesh and is rotting on the bone and about as relevant as a four-year-old bus ticket, their one-time leader Nigel Farage has come up with a new party, the Brexit Party. And rather too many Tory voters, terminally pissed off that more than three years after the Brexit referendum Britain still hasn’t left the EU, are more than mindful to give the Brexit Party their support. Thus Tory high command has decided that to see off the electoral threat from the Brexit Party it must be more hardline on Brexit than even Farage. The strategy has worked to a certain extent, except that it has alienated the minority of ‘wet’ Tories who believe Britain’s future would be better served if it remained a member of the EU.

I don’t doubt that thus outlined the situation isn’t quite as troublesome as I seem to have made out. Anyone familiar with Italy, even superficially, will insists that many of the political dilemmas it faces are just as bad and often worse. Then there is Belgium which for many years didn’t even have a government and was run by its civil service. But I suggest this is different.

For better of worse Britain is a undramatic country. Certainly of all the European countries you might associate, were you asked, with the concept of ‘compromise’, ‘working things out’, ‘settling things amicably’ Britain would most probably top the list. Quite simply we British are essentially too lazy and comfortable to get worked up about much. Yes, we get angry and, yes, we sometimes take to the streets, but we only march in protest and cause disruption if the weather outlook is reasonably good, and even then the prospects of heavy showers on the day in question is more than enough to dampen most revolutionary moods. But this is different.

My knowledge of history is quite patchy and mainly garnered from the back of cereal packets, but I do know of several instances in the past 110 years when Britain faced a crisis. One was in 1910 when the Liberals abolished the veto the House of Lords had on the Budget. Then came the Abdication Crisis in 1936 although however ‘critical’


it seemed at the time, I can’t think it posed much of a threat to the stability of the United Kingdom. Far, far more serious and far closer in spirit to the current crisis we are facing was the situation in England in the 1640s which eventually led to our bloody civil war.

I am not suggesting that a civil war will break out in 2019/20, the situation we have now, as then, seems to suggest no immediate solution which might be acceptable all round.

Say there were an election. My view is — and I am often quite wrong — that the Tories would not get the majority they are hoping for. Although they are doing better in the polls since Johnson took over as prime minister, many will not forgive him for his rash pledge to ‘leave they EU by October 31 no if, no buts’ and, disillusioned, vote for the Brexit Party.

That doesn’t mean the Brexit Party will get any seats at all (we still have an ante-deluvian ‘first-past-the-post electoral system here in Britain), but losing votes to the Brexit might mean the Tories losing seats to the Lib Dems. There are six seats where the Tory majority is under 10% and the Lib Dems are in second place. This last suggests that Tory electorate there is composed of quite a few ‘wets’ who might well go over to the Lib Dems.

There seem to be fewer Labour seats at risk to the Lib Dems, but I do think many Leave-supporting Labour voters will opt to vote Brexit rather than Labour to register their irritation.

My main point is that the result of the coming general election need only be a ‘hung parliament’, that is one in which no party has a majority for this chaos to continue. Brexit supporters can only get down on their knees and pray that the Tories will get a majority and will get be able to get their deal through the Commons, but even if that were to happen our current crisis would be far from over.



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