Avoiding Boris Johnson’s “People v Politicians” trap

News of Dominic Cummings describing the present Brexit chaos as “a walk in the park” nails the idea that what’s been going on recently is an inept Prime Minister making a mess. 

Boris Johnson has been talking of a “People v Politicians” election soon. He could do well, especially if he gets to dictate the timetable.

Horror at his conduct is causing a surge of support for the Liberal Democrats, and there is the temptation to support an election because it will almost certainly produce many more Liberal Democrat MPs, but the real risk is that they will be opposing a deeply dangerous Johnson-majority government.

On the other side, what’s going on now can be spun as pro-Remain MPs and pro-Remain civil servants conspiring with pro-Remain judges to subvert “the will of the people”.

Comments I’ve seen on twitter include: “I am hoping that Boris, Cummings and JRM are just using prorogation as distraction for the main event” and “I agree with everything Boris said” (in his Commons statement] after Parliament resumed sitting). 

The polls show support for Johnson and for the Conservative party at a level that is a million miles from what I’d expect of a Prime Minister who’s just lost a major Supreme Court case — but isn’t crazy in the light of Tory facebook adverts attacking “opposition leaders for wanting ‘to ignore our Brexit vote’”The Sun, The Express and The Daily Mail attacking the Supreme Court judges and the Daily Mail  saying “More than half of British voters want an election NOW as they blast ‘Establishment plot’ to block Brexit”. 


As it stands, if Johnson ignores (or finds a way round) the Benn Act to crash us our of the EU on 31 October, the top news stories will be that Brexit has happened, outrage from most MPs, and (doubtless) the start of another court case. Those can all be spun as anger from “the establishment”. That’s an effective way to bury the stories about queues of lorries at Dover and problems on the Irish border.  Those who were alarmed earlier in the year by the stories of the military being ready in case of rioting if Brexit happens will not have been re-assured by Johnson tweeting a photo of himself surrounded by senior military [https://twitter.com/BorisJohnson/status/1174682159673724929] on 19 September.

Expelling 21 respected MPs gave Johnson a way to be seen to make a stand against the “remainer Establishment”. If he ends up in the courts again, he can, again, be painted as making a “heroic stand”. His supporters like this.

The Leave campaign did a brilliant job of preying on people’s fears. They never presented a coherent image of how we would leave the EU. They dangled impossible hopes that are still there because they have not yet collided with reality.

David Cameron wasn’t the only person to assume a Leave victory was unthinkable. An “unthinkable” Johnson victory only needs the pedalling of more impossible hopes — especially if “they” or “the establishment” can be blamed when they are shown to be impossible.

For now, this means delaying a General Election, at least until the reality of Johnson’s “Brexit deal” Johnson cuts through the hubris and until realistic assessments of what “no deal” would mean get heard. It will be essential to portray an election now as irresponsible (which it is), rather than just an “establishment delay”.

The anxiety this is stirring up makes it hard to think. It will frighten some people into voting Conservative, mistaking Johnson’s “strong man” language for competence and wisdom. 

The Liberal Democrat messaging will need to be clear and stable, speaking to those who have seen through Johnson and those who can be seduced by his fake simplicities. 


* Mark Argent was the Liberal Democrat candidate in Huntingdon Constituency in 2019 and blogs at markargent.com/blog.

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  • Richard Underhill 28th Sep '19 - 9:17am

    There have been no new converts since Lib dem conference

  • John Marriott 28th Sep '19 - 9:31am

    Mark Argent expresses surprise at how much support the PM currently enjoys. I’m not, because I see it every day here in Lincolnshire (75% leave in 2016 and not changing much). It never ceases to amaze me how so many people can turn a blind eye to misdemeanours of all kinds and still support someone, who is clearly not fit for high office. The same applies to Trump’s supporters.

    However, having had to deal with such people for over thirty years as a Councillor, I am surprised that Mr Argent, given his own experience, is surprised. As my old dad used to say to me; “It takes all sorts to make a world”. Whether it’s local or national government, a lot of people have no idea how much work goes into keeping the wheels moving, and often begrudge every single penny they pay in tax. As for actually coming out to vote.

    Governance of all kinds, both here and elsewhere, reminds me of a swan, gracefully gliding across the pond. What we don’t see, however is the frantic paddling underneath that keeps it going forward. At the moment, that swan is in grave danger of capsizing, unless we all pull together, start paddling in unison and show a willingness to compromise. Anyone for ‘Norway Plus’?

  • Tim Breitmeyer, the president of the Country Land and Business Association, told the Guardian that people were losing faith in the Tory party as a result and considering the Liberal Democrats as an alternative. “There are an awful lot of people who are really questioning whether next time round that [Tory] is the way they are going to vote,” he said. “I think there will be quite a lot of people who look to see whether the Liberal Democrats [have better policies].”

    He said as much as a quarter of rural businesses could go bust from the impact of a no-deal Brexit and called on the government to set out how it would help farmers and other rural business owners to cope.

    The National Farmers’ Union is also concerned about the potentially devastating impact of Brexit on farmers and has written to Villiers with five demands, including: an impact assessment, a new trade and standards commission to ensure UK standards are not undermined by future trade deals, and details on how the government plans to reward farmers for looking after the environment.

  • What a very good assessment of the difficulties faced by the tactics being used by the present government to seduce the electorate, my real fear is that they will succeed which would be a travesty for our democracy. The opposition parties must not give Johnson his early election.

  • Charles Pragnell 28th Sep '19 - 10:32am

    It was only on the 6th of September that Michael Fallon told the a Today programme that he feared that 5 million remain voting Tories would be driven towards remain parties at the General Election. He made special mention of the Lib Dems. My feeling is these are the very same voters who switched to New Labour in 1997! The message from the Lib Dems at the General election must be clear and procise .

    David Gauke only said yesterday that The number 2 Act is water tight . If the government tried to challenge the bill then the Supreme Court would once again turn on him.
    The line of attack should focus on the likes of Crispin Oddy who will make billions of pounds if we crash out with out a deal. Only yesterday Boris’s sister told Sky news this! Oddy has promised large amounts of money to Tories funds, what in return does he get!

    The job of the opposition now is to lay traps of are own. The biggest trap we could lay would be to vote down the Queens Speech, this has not happened since Baldwin in 1924, when Ramsey Macdonald took power. The Queens speech is a scenical manoeuvre to occupy MPs , so that Boris tries to get us out on a no deal. Normally the Queens speech takes five days to debate. I think the Queen Speech will be so
    long that it will need more time, and yes it could be voted on just a few days before 31st of October.
    We are living in very turbulent times.

    It looks as if Boris may be referred to the police for dubious behaviour while London Mayor . Seemingly the GLA investigator is not a political appointment, so number ten can’t really use the the term polically movitvated investigations .

  • A Depeffle victory is far from unimaginable. The temptation is to think people are sensible and see through his lies, but many don’t (our Brexi’s and Lexi’s being prime examples). As to your point about court cases after Brexit happens being an effective way to distract people, err no the effects of reality will be too great for that and Depeffle and Co will just be left with shouting “Tis the EU’s fault”, no doubt joined by the media and the useful idiots. How long they can keep that up before the reality of shortages, price rises, lost jobs and austerity on speed bite is a question to be answered. Could it hold until an election perhaps, could it hold till the next election very, very unlikely. But Depeffle and Co work by adages “something will turn up” and “There’s a sucker born every minute”, unfortunately for us that policy seems to work. Why does it work because they play to the lowest common denominator, they don’t overload people with facts, they play to preduice, they put up poplulist spokespeople who claim to be from the people and they don’t play nice. Unfortunately too many “Liberals” obbsess about being “nice”. You cannot point out the opposition are fools, mad and rogues because even though it is true, it just isn’t “nice”. Well being “nice” to them doesn’t mean they will play by the same rules. So keep it simple and don’t be afraid to call a fool a fool, a clown a clown or a rogue a rogue .

  • Time is not on Depeffles side. The longer the election is away the weaker he looks and the more consequences wash up.
    I’ve been watching the Wright Bus disaster, the DUP are trying to ignore it, the Traditional Unionists are trying to make hay about it and the electorate ( or at least part if it) seem to want to put the Wright’s and their DUP friends on a bonfire. You don’t trash the major employer in your constituency without consequences, as the DUP are finding out.
    As the Brexit process continues more MP’s will be facing the same issue and squealing “Tis the EU’s fault” doesn’t bring the jobs or livelihoods back. But, but I’ve got my pension so I’m OK says many a Brexiteers, bless you only have that while there is a tax base to pay it.

  • David Becket 28th Sep '19 - 11:30am

    A very good assessment, and confirmation that we must get rid of Johnson.
    If the only way of doing this is to have Corbyn as temporary leader of an interim government then Swinson needs to think very carefully. She is in danger of being accused of playing party politics. I do not want to see Corbyn in number 10, but if it is the only way to avoid No Deal, his hands are sufficiently tied and it is an all party cabinet then we may have to accept him. SNP are starting to consider it, we should be including this in our options.

  • Sorry John Marriott it takes 2 to compromise. The Leavers will never compromise, so every step towards compromise will be made by remainers with no reciprocal moves by leavers. Norway plus or any variation thereof requires compromise by leavers. Since it will involve either or both of the single market and the customs union it’s anathema to leavers especially the ERG.
    Given that scenario, it is absolutely vital that remainers hold their ground. Otherwise we’ll end up with the situation where we’re not in the EU, but bound by its rules over which we will have no control.
    Let’s win the election and then revoke.

  • letters appeared on http://gov.uk late last night:
    1. Brexit Sec Barclay says “insufficient time to complete work” to plan no deal mitigations if left till last days of October
    2. Asks for Commission to allow bilateral (eg UK-Fr etc) prep
    3. Barnier says No – pass WA

    Well altogether my brave Brexiteers “Tis the fault of the EU”.
    No wonder they say of Yellowhammer it is
    “Little bit of bread and no cheese”.

  • It is really rather simple. parliament approved the referendum and promised to deliver on the result. The question was do you want to leave the EU or remain in the EU. The people voted to leave.

    Until that is delivered in full, political and economic turmoil will continue and deteriorate. I very much hope it will not spread to social turmoil as well, but it does not look good. Any attempt to abandon Brexit will do enormous and lasting damage to our democracy and trust in politics. It will stoke fury not seen in this country for centuries. Anyone can see for themselves that the level of anger is rising relentlessly.

    The damage being done to our country will be much more severe and long lasting than any financial discomfort resulting from a no deal Brexit. Politicians blocking the Brexit process must reflect on their irresponsible and undemocratic actions.

  • It’s not surprising at all. Firstly, much as MPs see themselves as representative in the way laid out by Burke, the electorate tend to be voting for Party and policy above character, viewing their representatives as closer to delegates. This is why few of the high profile floor crossers will be re-elected unless they are given safer seats to fight. There are a lot of die hard Conservative voters. Secondly, there are also a lot of Leave voters. Most of them are annoyed by what they see as a technocratic remain weighted Parliament’s attempts to block Britain exiting from the EU.
    Pitting a parliament that is only lent power against an electorate that is the source of that power and its legitimacy is only going to end one way. A lot of MPs are going to be replaced whenever a general election is finally held.

  • The current Polling is around :
    Tories 31/32%
    Lab 24%
    Libdem 20%
    According to Electoral Calculus that would give a small Tory Majority but theres a lot of doubt over whether the traditional Models will work in this situation & The Tories seem to have lost Votes since their Peak a few Weeks ago.
    I also think that its a good idea to delay the Election as long as we can but we dont get much say in this, it will be Labours decision & they have been drifting down as well.

  • Whilst Johnson is PM he has the media at his beck and call and Cummings with access to state machinery. The first thing that needs to happen is that he is turfed out of that office. Any GNU needs to be a medium term prospect with no GE against the backdrop of a people v parliament narrative fresh in the public mind. Time is needed for things to calm down. If left in office I honestly think that B.J. is going to incite street violence as a pretext for civil contingencies act. Things are getting dangerous. Jo needs to stop electioneering and work across party to safeguard the country. At this point I honestly don’t care of Corbyn gets the keys to No10. He can go to the EU and renegotiate his deal if he want to. He can put it to the country in a new referendum. The last thing we need is a G.E. under FPTP to settle this matter.

  • Sue Sutherland 28th Sep '19 - 12:28pm

    The framing of Brexit as a people v parliament battle is very worrying. However, there is a weakness in this scheme. According to the last YouGov poll 54% of the country thinks Boris Johnson is out of touch with ordinary people. I think we have to exploit this weakness rather than putting a lot of effort into explaining why Parliament isn’t against the people.
    Rachel Johnson has suggested that his backers are trying to make money out of Brexit, so that is one avenue to pursue and publicise. The amounts quoted in some places are astronomical to those of us living ordinary lives.
    Also asking people why do they think people like Johnson, Rees Snob, the media owners etc.are on their side and then show them what’s in it for the rich, like not being subject to new EU tax laws, being able to employ people without EU regulation on workers’ protection and without having to consider the environment.
    I firmly believe that we have all been taken for a ride and that Brexit is about more money for the rich and nothing to do with giving ordinary people more control over their lives. We have to argue against the new mantra ‘Parliament v the people’ with the old deeper belief that the rich just want to shaft the poor.
    I know that some people will see this as illiberal and that we should use logical arguments to persuade people. Unfortunately this division has gone too far for many people who support Brexit and such arguments fall on deaf ears. Brexit has become a faith, a religion, for which some people are ready to give up their lives. For example, the man who doesn’t care if he dies because his medication won’t be available if we crash out with no deal. Brexit is worth it. Others are prepared for their small businesses to suffer because they think there’ll be a short term loss followed by a New Age of plenty.
    We cannot argue against this false theology with logic. We cannot tell people they are stupid and other unpleasant adjectives and expect them to change their minds. We have to address the very foundation of their beliefs and show them we have all been conned into a false sense of security while the truly wealthy attacked our democracy and its chosen membership of the EU for decades.

  • The issue has moved on from just being about Brexit to democracy, sovereignty and trust in our political system.

    The government has no majority and cannot deliver the will of the people because the opposition are denying that. The way out is to have an election but the opposition are denying that too, partly because they are likely to lose and partly because time to deliver Brexit will run out. This, of course, delights Remainers and is within the rules.

    Those who support Leave see it as denying the will of the people and trashing our democracy. They feel that they have the moral high ground all the way and for that reason they will never back down. I think that many Remain politicians fail to grasp that.

  • Mark, I fully agree with much of your comment. Mrs May and her Remain cabinet tried to produce a Brexit so soft that the resulting vassal state arrangement was rejected three times by a Remain dominated parliament. Now, months later, the EU is still refusing to negotiate anything else and Remainers have ruled out leaving without a deal. This is why we have the impasse.

    In such circumstances, leaving with no deal becomes the obvious choice and that is the most likely outcome just as soon as a new parliament is elected.

    All of the points you make are very important and valid, but I have tried to explain why they will have to be addressed after we leave. I sense that it is better for us to discuss as a country how we want to deal with these difficult issues after a clean break. If we remain in a Brino situation, the EU will tell us.

  • Another point is that the Lib Dems are now explicitly not trying to stop no deal Brexit. They’re trying to keep Britain in the EU and are hoping that talking about preventing no deal Brexit will get enough leavers to accidentally support the cause. There were many opportunities to avoid no deal. They were all voted down, leaving it as the default setting according rules as set out by, ironically, the EU!
    As for the idea that Leave has become a religion, I don’t think so. I think this has always been essentially an argument between a ingrained grassroots nationalistic view of Britain and a kind of high cultural concept of a grand European destiny.

  • David Becket 28th Sep '19 - 1:43pm

    @ Nigel Jones and PJ
    Jo stop playing party politics and get down to working out how we can get BJ out of number 10.

  • John Marriott 28th Sep '19 - 1:51pm

    @Mick Taylor
    You are making the mistake of arguing in black and white. I’m afraid that it might be a large shade of grey that you are ignoring. It is wrong to herd everyone into either a Remain or a Leave camp. Clearly, on both sides of the argument, there are hardliners (our own ‘frankie’ and ‘Glenn’ are good examples), who would clearly never be prepared to compromise. However there are many Remainers who, like me, are not massive fans of the EU as it is today; but reckon that, on balance, we are better off inside the tent, while there are many Leavers who have no really strong views either way but who just have a feeling that they would rather be out. They surely have a right to their opinion, whatever you or I may think.

    I acknowledge that, on the balance of probability, we will be worse off economically if we come out, even with a deal. However, whether it was the largest minority or not, you just can’t in a democracy ignore the views expressed in 2016 by 17.4 million of our fellow citizens, even though some of us sincerely wish that the question of Remain/Leave had never been posed in the first place.

    As for your definition of ‘half in/half out’, at least you didn’t use the words ‘vassal state’. I acknowledge that we aren’t comparing like with like, but I don’t get the impression that Norwegians are that generally exercised by their position vis à vis the EU. Mind you, unless you factor in the Vikings, they have never been remotely a world power with an empire over which the sun never set. What makes us so much more important than them?

  • @David, with respect, working out how to get BJ out of number 10 is irrelevant. I’m not even sure if he believes in his cause. I think Glenn sums it up rather well in his final sentence. It is a destiny issue that divides the nation.

  • Allan Brame 28th Sep '19 - 4:26pm

    It is all well and good demanding that Jo and her team support Jeremy Corbyn as provisional Prime Minister. The problem is that he is hugely unpopular and we risk being destroyed if we are seen as propping him up.
    Many of our new members have come to us from Labour, partly because he is toxic. If almost anyone else were leading the Opposition, the choice would be easier.
    Charting a path for the Lib Dems through the current dangerous waters is fiendishly difficult. We need to be seen to be reasonable and principled, defending the national interest, at a time when almost any option is in danger of being portrayed as the opposite.

  • One chance to stop a no deal Brexit and that is by convention to allow the leader of the opposition to form a minority government to extend article 50 and then have an election. Time is running out, whether you like Corbyn or not you supported the TORIES for 5 years and look what happened, the libdems will be blamed all over again if we exit without a deal because a handful of MP’s who the most of them by nature are not libdems want to hold the opposition to ransom. Be careful what you wish for.

  • David Allen 28th Sep '19 - 5:19pm

    As many above have commented, an election should be delayed until the emotional frenzy generated by Johnson and Cummings’ machinations has been stilled. Even if the Benn Act were to succeed in forcing an extension, Johnson could still win a slightly delayed election on the “Get Brexit Done!” slogan – Provided he was still in 10 Downing Street, whipping up hatred, generating chaos, and polarising opinion to his advantage.

    It is time for the Opposition parties to “Take Back Control”. The votes in Parliament are there. We need a new PM – Now! The parties will not be forgiven if they cannot come together and forge a consensus. As Denis Loretto says on another thread, the best approach would be to name the proposed new Prime Minister as part of the VONC motion.

    Could it be Corbyn, and could the Lib Dem leadership accept that, without undue loss of face? I would suggest that the precarious stability of an anti-Johnson Government itself provides a mechanism to achieve that. Simply put, a Corbyn premiership in this Parliament would inevitably be under the thumbs of all the parties backing it. A published, agreed programme for government could be backed by the implicit threat that any deviation from programme would quickly be met by a VONC by his partners against Corbyn. We could insist on Ken Clarke as Chancellor to keep the lid on spending, Jo Swinson as Foreigh Secretary, and perhaps Dominic Grieve as Attorney General.

    It could not last until 2022. But nor would it have to be just a one-month shooting star. With discipline, it could resolve Brexit, as necessary, before any election.

  • David Allen 28th Sep '19 - 5:19pm

    To follow my previous comment:

    To still the frenzy, we would have to deflect the fury of the Leave vote. Reviving May’s Deal, including the late concessions to Labour, and subject to a confirmatory referendum, would be the best option. It would be essential to offer a genuine, credible option to Leave, and to commit to implementing it should the nation so decide. Yes, we are fervent Remainers – But now we need statesmanship!

    Hard Brexiters crying “betrayal”, and Labour soft Brexit advocates, should both be told that the May / Barnier Deal is just the essential first step to get Brexit started. It leaves all the options, from “Super-Canada” to “CU + SM”, on the table. The only Brexit option it removes is the so-called “No Deal”, whereby the UK deals itself an appalling negotiating hand, lets the EU put the UK into a stranglehold, and then finally makes a deal!

    So – We’d hear a lot of squawking about boycotting the vote. But that wouldn’t gain traction. If the second vote was to Leave, we could live with it. And if it were to Remain, we would have finally exorcised the Brexit demon.

  • Tony Hutson 28th Sep '19 - 5:32pm

    Ken Clarke has said, “There’s too much talk about who should be the head of a temporary govt and not enough talk about what that government would actually do.”
    As is so often the case, he is absolutely right.

  • Firstly don’t panic, the last time the Lib Dems did it led to a stampede to join the coalition and that nearly killed the Liberal cause. Secondly the calls for compromise will fail, even if they get an agreement with the EU, it is the first step, I repeat it is the first step. The day after Brexit we may run round saying we have left, it’s all over rejoice, , but the day after that the talks on the new relationship will start. Farage and co will start campaigning for WTO, no surrender to the EU and those that have compromised will be confused, “but we gave then Brexit, why are they not happy” to which the answer is ” They haven’t got their version of Brexit yet”. You can think people are as flexible as you but the ERG and their ilk are not they want it all and they intend to get it. Brexit is a black and white choice, through things are not normally like this, Brexit is. But people will be upset, yes no getting round that perhaps opening the Brexit box wasn’t such a good idea.

    P.S My views may have been extreme once, now they just represent the policy of the party. Well what can you say, I just got there before the majority joined us Jenniest’s.

  • Paul Barker 28th Sep '19 - 6:28pm

    The immeidiate crisis is that The SNP intend to put a No-Confidence Vote next Monday or Tuesday. Judging from their Statements they seem more interested in attacking The Libdems than actually defeating Johnson. The background is that The SNP have made a Deal with Corbyn ( support for Corbyn in return for another Referendum on Independence) a Deal that throws Scottish Labour under the proverbial Bus.
    With Corbyn as prospective next PM there is a real chance that Johnson might actually win the Vote. Even if he loses, what happens if Corbyn is put forward & loses the Vote ? The clock starts ticking towards an Election in late November.
    Without being cynical its worth remembering that a No-Deal Brexit would suit both Corbyn & The SNP as long as they can put the blame on someone else.

  • Here is a novel idea.

    The party should let the democratic process take its course and we leave the EU as promised to the electorate.

    Then the party can champion joining the EU and campaign for the myriad of benefits that offers, including the concept of an EU Empire as envisaged by Verhofstadt and the closer integration that Euro membership will enable. All young people joining the electoral register will welcome the initiative with open arms and most of the Leave supporting old people will be dead.

    What could possibly go wrong?

  • David Allen 28th Sep '19 - 7:00pm

    Paul Barker, what is your evidence that Labour have made a deal with the SNP to give them Indyref 2? Remember, one of Cameron’s more effective weapons in 2015 was the speculative charge that Labour would work with the SNP to break up the United Kingdom. Labour would be crazy to lend any unnecessary credence to such a smear.

    “Without being cynical” (to quote you), it might be argued that a disastrous No Deal Brexit could be a great result for all the Opposition parties, Lib Dems included, if they could put the blame on someone else. But I don’t think the Lib Dems, or Labour, or SNP, would stoop so low as to engineer a No Deal Brexit, just because they might end up as kings of the ensuing rubble heap.

    There is a simpler explanation. The SNP are trying to get something sensible done. It is high time that we, and Labour, joined in and helped.

  • Paul you are not being cynical you are being realistic. The SNP main aim is Independence and Jeremy’s is Socialism in one country, both would be helped by a hard Brexit but only if they can wash their hands and say “It woz not us Guv, it was those Tory boys over there who crashed the economy and made us a laughing stock; vote for us we will put things right”; note to voters and posters they won’t.

  • Katharine Pindar 28th Sep '19 - 9:52pm

    Our natural urge to get things settled quickly, for fear of Mr Johnson’s deviousness and appeal to mindless populism, should in my view be resisted. Sue Sutherland rightly suggests how we should be exposing the falsity of his appeal, and we have the strong voice of the Tory moderate MPs who have been ejected from their party to turn to for support. The PM will lose what remains of his credibility when he fails to deliver Brexit on October 31st, and that is the goal we should steadfastly aim for.

    Whatever the aims of the SNP, our leader is right to resist joining a Vote of No Confidence which intends to make Mr Corbyn interim prime minister. He should be asked to stand aside temporarily for a neutral figure such as Harriet Harman to take the reins, if a stopgap administration is required until a General Election. No leading politician with future leadership intentions should hold that post. Not only does that seem obvious, but there is another good reason why we should not support Mr Corbyn in the temporary position. Quite simply, we should never hear the last of it, but for ever be associated with denouncing one bad Prime Minister only to support another.

  • In 2010 the Lib Dems arguably put the country ahead of its own best interests for its party and its cause and it didn’t end well ! Any government of national unity (GNU) whoever the figurehead would be dominated by Labour with its very limited levels of popular support and with Corbyn and McDonald having very prominent positions. If Corbyn was not PM it would be reasonable to assume he would likely insist McDonnell be in No.11. It would have to limp on for many months without much in the way of agreed policies and always at the mercy of “events” such as Thomas Cook. It would be a minefield for the Lib Dems and Jo Swinson knows it.

    The alternative would be a GNU limited to only a matter of weeks to obtain an extension to Article 50 until 31st January 2020 for the purpose of having a General Election on the soonest possible date, hopefully by November! I would then suggest it’s principal legislation is for a referendum by “sensitive democracy” (preference voting) in January on up to 4 “Brexit Outcomes” to be confirmed by a Citizens’ Assembly. I think such a combination would nullify Tory/BP/Sun/Express/Mail/Telegraph allegations of treason and treachery in the eyes of most fair-minded people.

    It would give people hope that this saga can come to a close if they so choose it, restore faith in democracy, yield a functioning government sooner than later with a domestic agenda from an election that’s not just about Brexit.”

  • There is a simple answer to those clamouring for a neutral Prime Minister such as Harman: Where is he/she? Why hasn’t the right person been identified already? What makes the optimist “anyone but Corbyn” – istas think that a name will magically emerge, if it hasn’t yet done so?

    “We should not support Mr Corbyn in the temporary position. Quite simply, we should never hear the last of it, but for ever be associated with denouncing one bad Prime Minister only to support another.” That’s an astounding comparison. So Corbyn’s nostalgic adherence to old-fashioned socialism, his limited grasp of economics and his pacifist tendencies – These are every bit as bad as Johnson’s outright lawlessness, deliberate appeal to violence, and reckless willingness to embrace the national disaster of No Deal Brexit – Are they? Really?

    Independent thinkers, who Lib Dems should want to win over, will be appalled if we obstruct the way forward. They can see the crying need to take Johnson out quickly, then resolve Brexit through a referendum, and only then hold an election:


  • Katharine Pindar 29th Sep '19 - 1:36am

    Don’t put words in my mouth, please, David Allen. I didn’t compare the levels of undesirability of Mr Corbyn and Mr Johnson. I just suggested that neither of them is to be recommended as Prime Minister, a sentiment with which I imagine a majority of voters would now agree. John.M’s comment is very thoughtful.

  • The “urge to get things settled quickly” is not some random, regrettable psychological impulse–in fact, the standard political ‘urge’ is to do nothing at all–but is due entirely to the fact that, if nothing is done, the UK leaves the EU on 31 October with no deal. That is the default. That is true even if Boris Johnson or even the entire Tory front bench is imprisoned for it. The end result is the same.

    We want things “settled” because we want to avert a national catastrophe, and we want it “quickly” because we only have a month left.

  • Arnold Kiel 29th Sep '19 - 7:22am

    It is sometimes instructive to look at things in reverse: It should be clear by now that the UK has its Trump/Bolsonaro as PM. If he ends up governing the UK for 5 years all is lost, no matter what UK-EU agreements have or have not been reached before, with or without referendum. None of that would hold. EU decision-makers and most of the 26 other member Governments have concluded by now that they do not want the UK as a member under Johnson.

    Therefore, the alternative with the best chance of succeeding becomes a moral imperative: Corbyn. High time for a LibDem U-turn.

  • When do we get to the point of saying to people Brexit do or die will not get rid of the nightmare? Do they want 8-10 years of politicians wrangling over trade deals with the European Union? Or would they prefer genuine closure? Would they really say “It’s our nightmare and Parliament has to honour our wish?”

  • John Marriott 29th Sep '19 - 9:10am

    There is talk of a No Confidence Motion next week. However, the ‘opposition’ has got to get all its ducks in a row before this is attempted. JC has to move it. Before he does that he has got to make sure that there’s a majority behind him. He’ll only get the Lib Dems and ex Tories on board if he agrees that the person who would lead a GNU, if the vote succeeds, would not be him.

    If a unifying figure can be found, Margaret Beckett, Harriet Harman, Ken Clarke – take your pick – priority #1 has got to be to secure an extension. Then, if the EU agrees, the fun really begins. Do we then allow Labour under JC to try their ‘cunning plan’ of attempting to renegotiate an alternative deal and, if successful, take it back to Parliament for approval? OR do we go straight to a GE on a Brexit theme OR do we go for a ‘People’s Vote’, if possible, with a three option choice OR do we just sit tight for while and wait for the Tories to implode?

    These sure are interesting times. If I were Ms Swinson, I would put Revoke on the back burner for the time being. The other thing we are forgetting is that, however long a GNU might last, we still have a country to run. That’s why I just wonder whether such a beast could survive long enough to allow a decision to be made regarding our future relationship with the EU before going for a GE.

  • This thread is the mother lode of vain imagination. A GNU would play perfectly into ” political elite versus the people” theme.
    There are some here who don’t do the sapiens bit of homo so well but others seem to be thinkers. Do they think National Unity will emerge like a shaft of welcome sunlight through clouds? It will be a comedy of disunity in its very self and will be the target of absolute derision and scorn. It will be denounced as illegitimate sooner or later it will have to face the electorate who may well take it out on them, emphatically.
    A second referendum has always been impossible. The superficial thinkers assume, blithely, that such would simply cancel the first.
    No wording could be formed which a huge section of the public would not see as “Here’s a new question which we have loaded so you have to give the answer we want”

  • John Marriott 29th Sep '19 - 10:03am

    @Hard Rain
    A ‘second referendum’ is not impossible if it could be a preferential referendum, where the voters were asked to number three options in order of preference ( no need to tell you what those options should be). Mind you, Parliament has got to approve a Deal first.

  • Jayne Mansfield 29th Sep '19 - 10:43am

    I despair.

    A party of so called National Unity from a party that has fostered disunity ever since the 2016 referendum? Where is this unity going to come from? Demonising Jeremy Corbyn and his position does not a government of national unity make. In the childish goodies and baddies position taken by the Remainers who were supposed to have the skills to persuade the electorate of the folly of Brexit, we must now put our faith in the new goodies, the Tory remainer rebels , most of whom voted three times for Mrs May’s deal.

    Is it too much , or is it too late for this remainer to ask, what is the point of just another short reprieve from leaving the EU, when no strong, genuine, unified approach can be adopted by die in the ditch leavers and remainer MPs?

    Whilst it might have been a possibility that Jeremy Corbyn would stand aside because he recognises that the level of personal demonisation distracts from the message, I can’t think of a better way for so called unified remainers to inspire a stubborn response from the person under attack and his supporters. Are Liberal Democrats really really surprised by the response of Harriet Harman or Margaret Beckett? Most, I would argue, listen to the wise council of friends, not those who have constantly tried to damage them and their credibility. It is not in the gift of the Liberal Demcrats to tell Labour who should be its leader or who should be the person best placed to take up the role of leader in short lived government of national unity and it is , I would argue, counter productive to do so.

    In the three years since the 2016 EU referendum, I am still no wiser as to what form of Remain is on offer by those who are fighting for remain. What is the long term remainer vision if we remain in the EU? The status quo? Greater integration?

    As far as I am concerned, Geoff Reid makes the stunningl simply point . The message that should be hammered home to those who ‘just want it over’ is that leaving the EU will lead to further wrangling and chaos for years to come. Not only that, it will take place when our bargaining power has been greatly diminished. In the meantime, as John Marriot say’s the opposition to Brexit parties should get their ducks in a row,

    On the evidence of past behaviour, some chance of that happening.

  • Michael Sammon 29th Sep '19 - 11:18am

    I agree Mark. Playing right into Johnsons hands if we save him from having to request an extension to article 50. Johnson has already shown he is not above the law even though he seems to think otherwise.

  • @Jayne
    I share your despair (and BTW I thought you were wonderful in “The Girl Can’t Help It”).
    A Government of National Unity composed of politics’ most bitter enemies?
    So many voices here just take it for granted that their opponents will agree with what they think is reasonable and fair minded without demur.
    A GNU will be chaotic and dysfunctional. It will be denounced as illegitimate and a stitch up.
    In any case, it seems to require Corbyn and his supporters to publicly concede that he is unfit, and unwanted, as a national leader and to step aside for someone more popular!
    Is he supposed to take that position to the next GE?
    The Remain side has been characterised by an utter misunderstanding of human nature and respect for any opinion but their own. With the smallest particle of concession and compromise Britain could now be in a slightly more detached relationship (but mostly the same) with the option of re-integration and reversal after a few years had passed and demographics naturally changing.
    As it is, a complete catastrophe is looming with a GNU actually exacerbating and hardening the divisions we have now.

  • Denis Loretto 29th Sep '19 - 11:53am

    All this to-ing and fro-ing about whether or not the Lib Dems should support Jeremy Corbyn as an interim PM ignores the real and conclusive point that no VONC will succeed without the votes of virtually all the Tory rebels. The truth is hardly one of them will put Corbyn into power and therefore in a position to fight the next election as the incumbent PM of this country. Jo Swinson pointed this out at the outset and needs to re-emphasise it if the confidential talks do bear out that there is no shift in that situation.
    As I have said elsewhere there is a real risk that the Tory rebels will not support a VONC which even leaves open the possibility of Corbyn forming a government. The solution to this is for the PM candidate to be specified in the VONC, thereby also guaranteeing that the Queen will call upon that person to seek a majority in parliament immediately after the vote.

  • We are losing the plot – in just so many ways! This, we are attacking Johnson’s extreme language on the “Surrender Bill”. Such an attack conveys the disastrously wrong-headed message “Your language may be over the top, but your underlying point might well be perfectly valid.” Not so!

    What needs to be trumpeted is that Johnson is playing a disastrous Varoufakis-like strategy – “Don’t negotiate, until you have handed the EU all your cards, and your nation is in the grip of a frightening emergency. Then, be forced to come running cap in hand to the EU, and strike a far worse deal than you could have done earlier.”

    Some posters only seem to delight in finding difficulties with all the possible ways forward – as if that justified “good men to do nothing”!

    If Johnson is to be stopped, Labour will have to be the primary force in the temporary coalition that stops him. Whatever is done, Johnson will scream baseless imprecations against a Bolshevik coup by an illegitimate parliament. A Harman / Clarke / Beckett PM will be derided as Mr McDonnell’s poodle. A way will need to be found to show the nation that five or six other parties are also crucial to the temporary coalition government, and that Labour do not call all the shots.

    Arguably, as good a way to do that as any will be to form a Corbyn-led government with a majority of non-Labour Ministers. That, or some other compromise, must be brokered to bring the anti-Johnson majority together and make common cause.

  • Michael Sammon, your comment worries me deeply. That we should keep a moribund government in situ, drugged up with its own shameless rhetoric hoping that Johnson may have to break his pledge and suffer the consequences is the worst type of political play I can imagine. If we think things are bad now, I fear this will ignite all manor of national torment and unknown consequences.

    I don’t doubt Jo and the party hierarchy are weighing up all kinds of scenarios and I don’t envy their workload but I do believe more authenticity and more democracy is the only way to resolve this as I suggested above and to bullet point one scenario:

    i. a vote of no-confidence in Johnson (because there is no confidence in this government!)
    ii. a short term GNU, for only a matter of weeks, led by a neutral figure like Ken Clarke as a “Caretaker PM” (the language and terminology here is really, really important!)
    iii. request an extension to Article 50 until 31st January or whatever date is practical for the purposes of having a General Election and a subsequent Referendum.
    iv. legislate for a Citizens’ Assembly to agree a set of (4) questions for a “Brexit Outcomes” Referendum.
    v. legislate for a Referendum by “Sensitive Democracy” (preference voting) on those “Brexit Outcomes” for early January.
    vi. and call a general election to be held this November – it can’t be held off and no-one wants one zombie government to be replaced by another for more than a few weeks at the most!

    I can’t see another way to keep the majority of fair-minded people on board. The problem of Brexit was that it was sold as all things to all people without clarity and therefore any legitimacy on ‘outcomes’. The best ‘outcome’ IMHO is “all things considered let’s Remain” but a referendum on “Brexit Outcomes” might decide on no-deal leave, soft-leave (Customs Union) or hard-leave (May+) Brexits – that’s not in our gift, just the means to resolve it peacefully!

    In life to avoid mutually damaging conflict you have to be prepared to give your enemy a face-saving position that’s less catastrophic!

  • @David
    It is not “finding difficulties” but pointing out the obvious. Remain fervour and zeal can not spirit away the iceberg in front of this Titanic. A change of direction might work (it’s probably too late though).
    It is a Catch 22. No GNU with Corbyn and none without him.
    It’s not all possible ways forward but only the ones that demand the 17 million completely surrender.

  • David Allen, the Government t is not negotiating. It is campaigning as if there was a General Election. If we treat the EU as a for, it will all go badly. If we co-operate with them, then that is in the spirit of the organisation.
    The government has handled this so badly that we will never probably leave the EU and public no longer support doing so in any poll.

  • Denis Loretto 29th Sep '19 - 12:57pm

    As to the messages the Lib Dems should be plugging in anticipation of a general election I suggest “Stop the chaos” (making it clear that only revoking Article 50 by a Lib Dem majority government will halt this mess in its tracks) coupled with the main party policies which address many of the genuine worries and dissatisfactions which fuelled the brexit vote in the first place.

  • Jayne Mansfield 29th Sep '19 - 12:57pm

    @ Hard Rain,
    Thank you for the compliment. I no longer qualify as a girl, but no I really can’t.

    Why should Jeremy Corbyn and his supporters concede that he is unfit, and unwanted as a national leader and step aside for someone more popular? There are many who do not agree with that assessment.

    Whatever Jeremy Corbyn’s merits or demerits, the opinion polls ‘appear to show that those who have vilified him have succeded in their aim, (with no apparent benefit to the remain argument). If Jeremy Corbyn is a block to a higher proportion of voters voting remain, it should be for him and his party/ supporters to reach that decision. The intervention of outsiders with their own political agenda is as I say, counter productive.

    Popularity? According to polls, Boris Johnson is the politician who is winning in the popularity stakes by encouraging violence and division. There is incitement to civil disobedience. Popularity and populism have become conflated. I would hope that the Labour Party, if Jeremy Corbyn did choose to stand down, would be replaced by someone who demonstrates gravitas, integrity, and honesty, not an over-riding political ambition based on self preservation and self promotion.

  • @Jayne
    It would not be Corbyn conceding his unfitness, it would be an undeniable example of it. It would be poison at the GE and his opponents would gleefully deride him.
    The notion that the public would accept it as courageous and self sacrificing is just a dream. They wouldn’t.

    I did not vote Leave at all, and felt what we had was fine but the Remain side’s campaign to overturn the result with no concession mentality at all has led us to this plight and worse is to come.

    As to
    “someone who demonstrates gravitas, integrity, and honesty, not an over-riding political ambition based on self preservation and self promotion.”
    Well, WOW! We have been looking for one of those since the war and that is the problem with a GNU. No one fits that bill, certainly none suggested.
    So there we have it,
    No GNU with Corbyn, none without.
    I sympathise with the motives but I am a practical type and here is some more reaity :
    – a govt that legislates for a second referendum then calls an election?
    What happens when that is denounced as a Remain plot and a govt is returned on the promise to cancel it forthwith (and all those other laws passed).
    – a Citizens’ Assembly
    A what? Will Nige be in it? Who gets picked? How do you avoid the charge of packing the jury? How long will they argue? A year? Ten? And this bunch of nobodies will find a referendum question the nation will accept with grateful nod? Laughable notion.

    So a VONC and GNU is clutching at straws and the only way out is to put down the swords on both sides and give some ground between “No Deal” and “100% Remain”.

  • John Marriott 29th Sep '19 - 2:00pm

    @Hard Rain
    Something between No Deal and 100% Remain? You betcha! And then, how about something like Norway Plus as a final destination?

    As for “No GNU with Corbyn, none without”, it’s pretty clear that JC is marmite. In order to get those ex Tories on board, you have to cast the net wider. I think that, in his heart of hearts, JC knows that. As for a Citizen’s Assembly, why not try googling it. It’s been used in the Irish Republic effectively so don’t knock it. Indeed it might arguably be a better route than another referendum.

  • @Denis Loretto “coupled with the main party policies which address many of the genuine worries and dissatisfactions which fuelled the brexit vote in the first place.”

    Whilst I agree that “stop the chaos” is a powerful message, the fact is that the Brexit vote was delivered by older, less-educated, C2DE Northern voters with a dislike of incomers. Their basic concern was that being in the EU let in too many foreigners who either came directly, or got admitted elsewhere in the EU (Greece, Italy) and came here via FoM.

    I struggle to see how any Liberal government worth its name can address these concerns, as it would mean ending free trade and FoM.

  • The big problem with a three-option referendum is that unless Remain wins a majority of first preferences (in which case the three-option bit is irrelevant), the polling suggests that which option does win will depend on which preferential voting system is used to count the votes – Condorcet would give a win for Deal as the “compromise” option, while AV would give an “all or nothing” fight between “No Deal” and “Remain”.

    Either way someone is going to see it as a stitch-up … and Remainers will no doubt also have very strong opinions on, if Remain doesn’t win, which Leave option the referendum’s counting system should prefer.

    On “referendum first” or “general election first” … when there’s extreme doubt that Parliament could agree on the terms to appoint a temporary caretaker PM whose one job is to send a letter, the chances of passing the complex legislation needed for a referendum (lots to decide in terms of the format, timing, suffrage, etc.) and remaining together as a coherent Parliament long enough to actually hold the vote must surely be zero.

    There’s no guarantee of course that a GE wouldn’t lead to an equally divided Parliament, but it’s quicker to try.

  • @John
    My thoughts from the start. In 2016 the PM should have called for unity and a Norway style slight disengagement with a further referendum in ten years to decide whether to withdraw further or re-engage.
    Instead we got the absurd, incomprehensible and thoroughly divisive “Brexit means Brexit”.
    I followed your suggestion to study the concept of Citizens Assembly and my opinions are even lower than before. Unaccountable, self selecting and unrepresentative. Talking shops for non divisive subjects.
    A nation where 50% believe their own Supreme Court is a bunch of out of touch Remainers is not likely to respect a room full of characters who clearly have so much time on their hands that they can’t have proper jobs.

  • Hard Rain is entirely correct when he says it would political suicide for Jeremey Corbyn to step aside and allow someone else to head a Government of National Unity and that is the reason it will never happen.

    How on earth could Corbyn credibly go into a General Election hoping to become the next Prime Minister if he had stepped aside and allowed someone else to head the GNU, he would be endorsing the views that others have portrayed him as unfit for office, it would reinforce claims that even Labour MP’s do not want Corbyn as Prime Minister and could not even trust him in the job albeit on a temporary basis.
    He would be opening himself to so many areas of attack in a General Election campaign that it makes zero sense for him to do this.

    This GNU is a lame duck from the outset.

  • Lorenzo Cherin 29th Sep '19 - 2:38pm

    For many of us in politics it is a fact, we shall never get Corbyn into Downing Street.

    If Jo back tracks on that, she loses all the Labour recruits, and Conservative, and alienates those in our party who see Corbyn as the figure head, incompetent more than powerful, of a movement, a stance, a type, of politics, we cannot support.

    We can support, Starmer, even Thornberry, especially Beckett.

    But no, to Corbyn.

    As a member of the Labour party in my youthful years, I stand with Berger, Cashman, as a member of this party from fifteen years back, I stand with Swinson, Davey…

  • Hard Rain – you say a Citizens’ Assembly is ‘talking shops for non divisive subjects’. I beg to differ! Ireland’s Citizens’ Assembly in 2016 dealt with a number of contentious issues such as gay marriage and abortion. I proposed it above to particularly legitimise the referendum questions/choices because that was the ultimate failing of 2016.

    It would be irresponsible and actually undemocratic to hold a referendum without having clear, defined choices that have already been weighed up in a deliberative way and presented concisely because the opposite is just a slogan like “take back control”. It is critical that people understand what it is they are voting for this time and I hope it’s the process for any future Scottish referendum too.

  • @John
    Of course you can differ, but this is not Ireland and Brexit is a powder keg. The make up of the Question Time audience leads to anger, denunciation and cries of “fix”. I am certain that some of our newspapers would pore over the membership and not refrain from the most vitriolic attacks on its members. There is no hope that any Citizens Assembly could carry any respect at all. Opinions are too entrenched and emotions too raw.

    The second referendum is seen as a device to overturn and repudiate, entirely, the result of first by splitting the Leave vote. It’s very suggestion is divisive, and a Citizens Assembly will be dismissed as a mechanism to legitimise just that split. No national peace and reconciliation lies there.

    What is needed is for the two extreme factions to wake up to the damage they are doing and make some compromise and the country will breathe a sigh of relief. As I, and some other lost souls, have been saying for years. Some concessions from “100% Remain” and some from “No Deal”.

    Jo and Boris shaking hands like Trump and Kim Jung Un.

    No Citizens Assembly will be needed.

  • Katharine Pindar 29th Sep '19 - 4:22pm

    The first objective is still to prevent a No-Deal Brexit, and so the EU must be asked for an extension to allow further negotiation. If it is considered too dangerous to wait for our PM to be forced to make that request on October 18, because he is out of control and apparently willing to ruin the country for his own ends, then moving a vote of no confidence may be necessary.

    The heat and light generated by the idea seems to be because it is said to be for ‘a government of national unity’, which is an impossible notion in the present circumstances. A ‘temporary interim government’ set up for a short specified period for the specific purpose of seeking the extension and organising a General Election in November does seem possible. In the EU countries a ‘technocrat’ would probably be chosen as temporary PM. In our system it has to be an MP with no personal political ambition other than to steer us forward, and there are such MPs such as Kenneth Clarke who may have the necessary support of our party and the Tories opposed to Johnson. It cannot be Mr Corbyn, who will have his chance in the succeeding General Election.

    I would like there to be another Referendum with the choice between a Deal and Remain, but that is still to be worked out.

  • Hard Rain: you are kidding me.

  • David Allen 29th Sep '19 - 4:40pm

    Lorenzo Cherin “We can support, Starmer, even Thornberry, especially Beckett. But no, to Corbyn.”

    The Lib Dems have a bit of a track record of being nominally prepared to work with Labour but in practice erecting insuperable barriers to prevent it happening. Before the 2010 GE, Clegg declared that Gordon Brown was the current untouchable leader from Labour, and that Labour ought to knuckle under and do what they were told to do by the Lib Dems, i.e. pick someone else. Needless to say, Labour refused. It rather looked as if a refusal was what Clegg was angling for.

    Can you imagine the ructions, within the bag-of-rats-in-a-sack that is the Labour high command, if the Lib Dems attempted to anoint Keir Starmer and depose Jeremy Corbyn? It’s a complete non-starter.

    Beckett is a different case, because she has no long term ambitions, so could work in tandem with the Corbyn party leadership. But, would she work to a prior agreed programme (be it extension then GE, or extension then referendum then GE)? Or would she be free to plot her own course? Or what? Remember that Cummings would be beavering away setting traps, throwing in wobblers, destabilising.

    I don’t believe we can codify, write down, and prescribe in advance all the successive steps a GNU will need to follow, in the complex tango it will need to dance. The GNU has to be ready to cope with inevitable wobblers. And when the wobblers arise, I don’t think Beckett – or any other individual – should be in sole charge. That too is a path to disaster.

    We are left with the need to set up a multi-party coalition Cabinet that can dance the complex steps, by agreement, as they work themselves out. Labour must have the loudest shout, or they won’t play. The others must be able to outvote Labour if acting in concert, or else they won’t play either. This isn’t rocket science. It can be done if there is a will.

    If Labour can’t nominate the PM of their choice, they will find it very hard to agree to play at all. Possibly, just possibly, they might agree on the basis of taking majority control of Cabinet. I think that would be a mistake. Letting Corbyn become PM, but fettering Labour with only a minority share of Cabinet posts, sounds a better bet to me.

  • jayne mansfield 29th Sep '19 - 4:41pm

    @ Hard Rain,

    We seem to agree on something fundamental. Forgive me if I am mistaken, but it is on the matter of the extremist winner takes all battle that has ensued since the referendum result. It still seems that the penny has not dropped, that compromise is the only, solution with a chance of bringing people together. Whether that is now possible given that we now have two seemingly implacable opposing forces, is moot. The opportunities do seem to be diminishing.

    I too would have accepted a Norway plus solution to the self harm that has been, in my opinion both deepened and prolonged by the antics employed by some on the Remain side. A little humility would not have gone amiss when formulating a response to the result of the Referendum. As would have been an appreciation that compromise is more likely when the opposing side is offered a face saving way of ditching a previously held viewpoint.

    John Marriott seems to me to have always grasped the need for compromise which means that one can’t always what one wants. As for me, I don’t doubt that we will never get a better deal from the EU than we already had, I don’t doubt that it would be better if we had a decision making role when continuing to pay large sums to the EU. I am not optimistic, but the only hope as far as I can see, is that remainers stop throwing fuel on the fire of social division and belatedly start to show some understanding of why so many of the electorate have moved from a potentially mutable viewpoint to the dogmatic responses that one now meets with, one’s that are starting to take the dangerous forms that those with a modicum of foresight and wisdom predicted.

  • “it can not be Mr Corbyn”

    But why ever not ?? He is the Official Leader of the Opposition ??

    Take as long as you need to answer that question. None of your answers are flattering to Mr Corbyn. All will be brought up in the GE campaign.

    While you are at it, ponder where he will sit on the front bench (where he is not thought good enough to be leader). Education? Defence? Allotments?

  • @Jayne
    You were even better in “Too Hot to Handle” and I agree with every word you wrote.

  • Arnold Kiel 29th Sep '19 - 5:13pm

    Let’s look at this from an EU-perspective. They are very fed up with the UK Government by now, but also despair at the UK’s public discourse and its press. An extension needs 26-0 approval. This will be granted only if it promises a high likelihood of an orderly Brexit and good subsequent cooperation, or a definitive remain-decision that stands. They will not concede this to an interim caretaker who will disappear at the GE, and damages Corbyn’s chances in the process. They need to be able to look somebody in the eye who has a good chance to be their interlocutor for the coming 5 years which will be needed to either negotiate an amicable future relationship, or rebuild the UK’s standing and role in the EU. Corbyn is their and the UK’s only realistic bet.

    Any MP who wants to exclude a no-deal Brexit must not just hold his/her nose and accept Corbyn as a caretaker, he/she must formally endorse him to signal to everybody on the continent (including the hard to convince E.Macron) that Corbyn enjoys full opposition support for this mission and the following implementation of a deal/remain policy.

  • How about accepting Corbyn as PM but a Tory Remainer/Libdem will become the Chancellor of the Exchequer?

  • Hard Rain, you say that this is not Ireland and Brexit is a powder keg compared to their gay rights and abortion arguments and you make the point about the fixed positions on display in the Question Time format which I believe is engineered to merely mouth such! And it would be something to behold if Jo and Boris (or with greater adhesion Nigel) could shake hands and agree to split the difference as you suggest. The fly in the ointment here is the 2016 referendum – an attempt to use democracy simplistically which gave an unintended outcome for which there was no predetermined legislation. Only a referendum can overturn a referendum and I’ve suggested above that asking the right questions is critical and so a Citizens’ Assembly is the right place to hear evidence in a juristic fashion, have facts checked, examine merits of opposing arguments and hear impact statements such that those questions can be decided and presented with a balanced prospectus.

    I have to believe that most ordinary people could still judge an argument, as if a person, not by the colour of their Brexit (skin) but by the facts.

    I have to believe that if democracy has failed, or been failed, it should be elevated, held even higher!

    I have to believe there is still a peaceful outcome to this.

  • @Arnold
    Can’t see a Corbyn led administration surviving 5 years, Macron or not.

  • John Marriott 29th Sep '19 - 7:36pm

    Let me make it clear that ‘John.M’ is not me. I would urge him to come up with a less confusing nom de plume, or better still, actually use his full name in order to avoid any more confusion.
    Rather than committing “political suicide”, JC might actually be showing the kind of pragmatic approach that has been sadly lacking so far. In an eventual GE he might just find that a few more people might be sympathetic to him than before. Of course, it still doesn’t make him PM material in many people’s eyes.

  • David Allen 29th Sep '19 - 7:58pm

    Thomas – Yes, that’s the way forward!

    John.M – I wish we had held a Citizens Assembly before the 2016 referendum, when there would have been enough time and goodwill to get it right. I don’t believe there is time for it now, when we need a temporary government to hold a second referendum expeditiously, and then disband after a GE. Similar objections apply to the ingenious but conflicting schemes put forward for three-way referenda and the like, which cannot command an immediate consensus.

    Labour soft Brexiters should also agree to pursue their aims as part of the Political Declaration, during transition, after a vote to Leave. We do not have time for Labour to spend more years closeted with Barnier before working out what kind of Brexit will be offered at the referendum.

    There is one simple clear-cut Referendum option which can be held straight away – the May/Barnier Deal versus Remain. The May/Barnier Withdrawal Agreement is the only deal the EU will accept – as the first stage of Brexit. After that, all Brexit options – Hard or Soft – are still available for the next stage of prolonged debate, if prolonged Brexit debate is what the voters want, that is!

    Some say that a temporary government would struggle to organise a referendum. But if a temporary govenment merely organises the early election which Johnson is gagging for, it will have achieved very little. Merely enforcing a short A50 extension, during which Johnson bewails and denounces his opponents while vowing to Leave on January 31st 2020 Do or Die, will merely help Johnson wind up emotion to fever pitch and steal the election.

    An election first looks set fair for Johnson, thanks simply to FPTP and the split in the Remain vote between Labour and Lib Dems. By contrast, a referendum first looks set fair for Remain. We have the opportunity to hold that referendum first. Let’s take it!

  • Paul Barker 29th Sep '19 - 8:51pm

    On the available evidence Johnsons strategy isnt working yet, oever the last few Weeks both Tories & Labour have lost Vote share while we have gained.
    Currently The Libdems are around 20/21%, up 2% on a few Weeks ago
    Labour are around 23/24%, down 1%
    Tories are on about 32%, also down 1%.
    Of course the Johnson Plan might work much better in an actual Election Campaign but equally, it might collapse. So far, Johnson has done his best to avoid Journalists & the Voters, May tried that in an Election Campaign & it was a disaster for Her.

  • I do not believe in a “People’s Vote” or Second Referendum, since the time for that passed when May’s Withdrawal Agreement was decisively rejected by the House of Commons. I’d much rather we just unilaterally Revoke.

    However, if a referendum must be held for the appearance of the thing, then we should learn the lesson of the 2016 referendum: the choices cannot be between a known Remain and a nebulous, indefinite “Leave” that can be whatever any voter wishes it to be.

    It must be for or against a very specific deal (very specific; none of this “the Government will fill in the details later”) and the result of Against must be Remain. Moreover, the referendum must have the force of law, to be designed to go into effect if For wins, so that there will be no more disputing about what it means after the fact.

    And if we can’t manage something so comparatively simple, then we might as well not exist as an independent country. Let’s not forget that the entire advantage of being in the EU was recognising that the UK is not the imperial power of the old days, but, if it were not an integral part of a power bloc, would be a medium-sized state at the mercy of greater powers. There is no such thing as an Independent UK; the choices are being in the EU and influencing it, or being outside and being (your choice):
    • A vassal of the Americans
    • A vassal of the Russians
    • A vassal of the EU itself
    (Possibly in a few more years we could look into being the vassal of China or India.)

    The real referendum is between this Reality and various forms of Fantasy. But of course that explicit choice will never be put to the vote.

  • I’m getting old as well as ignorant, and unable to quarrel with well over half the cases argued so far. But there is one, of which there have been hints, and part of it is this: there will be life after 31st October, and we must consider what opportunities that will offer the Lib Dems.

    There seems to be quite a chance that there will soon be a a General Election which will be won by Boris Johnson with a useful majority. We shall be lumbered with five years of Johnsonian ( ha ha!) government — surely the last ever Conservative government. It is not too soon for our party to be doing what others are doing — directing a sizeable proportion of party thinking towards the next ten years: How Is the UK to be rebuilt on decent and effective lines?

    Our rivals show clear signs that they realise this and are working on it now, considering radical ways of transforming not the details but the very basis of a workable, civilised United Kingdom to replace the “darkling plain . . .where ignorant armies clash by night. ” of Matthew Arnold’s Nineteenth century.

    We know that the biggest emerging challenges are not, say, Universal Credit, or the NHS, but Climate, Inequality, Environment. And in those areas the emerging younger voters are increasingly concerned and active. And not yet dyed in any wool, they seek a forward-looking, energetic, and imaginative party to support. Now is the time to make sure it is the Lib Dems.

  • John Marriott 30th Sep '19 - 7:07am

    In my version of a “three option referendum, voters would be asked to NUMBER their options in order of preference or just vote for one if they prefer. After the first round tge option with the least first choices would be eliminated and that option’s second choices would be reapportioned. That should surely be enough to get one option over the 50%. Simples.

    A ‘win for Deal’, as you put it, would suit me, even though I would still put down Remain as my first choice. You see, i’m still prepared to compromise. Anything else would leave this wound in our national psyche festering for decades to come.

  • John Marriott 30th Sep '19 - 7:12am

    Sorry for the typos. It’s early in the morning and I’m Just off to get tge grandchildren off to school!

  • Denis Loretto 30th Sep '19 - 10:23am

    Sacked Conservative Alistair Burt has just said this morning that hardly anyone in his group would ever support a VONC which led to a Corbyn primeministership. There is no point in dreaming up all sorts of ways Corbyn could be made acceptable in this role. Jo Swinson has been right on this all along.

  • Peter Hirst 30th Sep '19 - 5:24pm

    We must put to bed this myth of “the will of the people”. The people have never been so damagingly misinterpreted in a referendum that distorted the truth and dangerously refused to acknowledge that the wide implications of leaving the eu were unknown. I would interpret that referendum question as asking whether the country wanted to explore whether leaving the eu was credible and possible. Those who interpret it literally are doing the country and its people a disservice.

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