LibLink: Christine Jardine: Brexit – two party system is held hostage by their extremes

In her Scotsman column this week, Christine Jardine looks at two events in Parliament last week that she said made the place look like a black comedy:

The first came as MPs gathered in the House of Commons’ chamber for the start of what was billed as, potentially, yet another defining moment for Brexit, only to see semi-naked protesters super-glue themselves to the perspex screen in front of the public gallery. Ironically, the screen has separated the public from politicians since protesters from Fathers for Justice threw flour bombs into the chamber in 2004. This time the protest was about global warming, yet another subject which has slipped down the agenda since the ‘Deal, No-Deal or No Brexit’ drama began to dominate parliamentary life.

We have, of course, debated global warming, and the profusion of plastic waste in our seas, but these have been at the behest of backbench MPs. The UK Government had other business.

The second was the leak into the Commons Chamber in the middle of a debate on HMRC loan charges.

I doubt even the most cynical of comedy writers would have thought it a believeable plot line, but there we were. In the Mother of Parliaments, it felt as if even the building was making a comment on proceedings and I couldn’t help but agree.

She then talked about MPs gripped by frustration and fear:

However in truth, at the moment, I don’t think I am alone amongst MPs in feeling that the dominant emotions at Westminster are frustration and fear. Frustration that so many of us are agreed that we need to find a way forward out of this morass and then put it to the people, but are unable to overcome the trench warfare that has come to dominate our two-party system.

Fear that if we cannot find a way to persuade those most entrenched to compromise soon, that the minority who would happily accept crashing out – and all that it might bring – will have their way. There is still, however, one other emotion which, in the most frustrating, worrying, moments we all cling on to. Hope. It is only a few days since the Prime Minister’s apparent refusal to accept that her third failed attempt to push her flawed deal through parliament should be her last had left the majority of us in something approaching a state of shock.

And yet we rallied, pushed through that important Yvette Cooper Bill, and then found that the EU too was prepared to help avoid that worst-case scenario. Hope.

Over this past weekend, those of us at the centre of the drama have been determined to continue the cross-party conversations that we hope will lead to compromise and wait while the Prime Minister and Leader of the Opposition do the same.

But, with a parliamentary system that is looking increasingly damaged by political parties held hostage by their extremes and a country holding its breath for an outcome, we cannot afford to fail.

You can read the whole article here.

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  • nigel hunter 9th Apr '19 - 10:24am

    Once this Brexit farce is over the country will have to be informed how arcane ,out of date,past its sell by date, defunct and catastrophic the first past the post has become. The country has to be dragged into the modern .world.

  • If we go down the second referendum route it will mean EU elections. That will almost certainly mean the new Brexit party doing well and the Tories getting hammered. The Tories will at last sack Mrs May, a true Leaver (most likely Johnson) will become leader and (with the help of the opposition) will call a General Election. Whatever the LibDem opinion about Johnson, the guy is a good campaigner and (if the Brexit party stand aside) could smash a Corbyn Labour party. With a decent majority the second referendum would be canceled and the UK could leave on WTO terms. It’s Catch 22, the Remainers want to be part of the EU, but if the Brexit party smash the others it will be difficult to avoid a hard brexit.
    I will now put my crystal ball away until net years Grand National!

  • Richard Underhill 9th Apr '19 - 11:39am

    “The country has to be dragged into the modern world.” Yes, but as one who campaigned in the AV referendum, with only one other in the local party, it was obvious that the AV referendum was not sufficiently ambitious.
    Michael Howard (Con) was quoting Paddy Ashdown, accurately, as being against AV.
    At Lib Dem federal conference a speaker criticised those who supported STV and were therefore not campaigning for AV.
    One borough councillor (ex-Tory) refused to help because she supported First Past The Post.
    When journalists raise the issue they are likely to be told that the issue had been decided.
    STV was not on the ballot paper.
    A televised dramatization showed David Cameron being asked at a conservative event whether the Labour Party had made an equivalent offer. He said YES and may have been believed at the time. I read a lot, but have not read that the Labour team had done so. For instance Peter Mandelson [The Third Man ISBN HB 978–0-00-739528-6] discussed the issue with the Guardian’s Hugo Young (page 134). Robin Cook supported reform, and, if something had been achieved, Labour might gain and, perhaps, form a coalition with the Liberal Democrats.
    Robin Cook died without becoming Labour leader.
    “being Peter” page 259 “What ultimately killed the prospect in the late 1990s was that neither side was ready to sign up to the only workable deal: a baseline of two Lib Dem Cabinet members and a gradual move towards a simple AV voting system.”
    (Alan Beith and Ming Campbell)

  • Sue Sutherland 9th Apr '19 - 1:45pm

    Brexit has certainly shown us the limitations of adversarial politics so reform should go down rather better with the general public now. However, the way Parliament operates is due for reform as well. I sign a lot of petitions even though I know they will probably have no effect because they will be treated with similar disdain to the revoke Article 50 petition. The way Parliament interacts with the general public needs reform too as well as updating archaic ways of working.
    The building itself isn’t fit for purpose either so why don’t we have a new building which encourages a different kind of democracy? A bit of a Keynesian boost for the economy as well. Turn the Houses of Parliament into a museum of democracy, reform the voting system, allow members of the public to present their own petitions if they have achieved a certain number of signatures, reform the House of Lords and change the way the Commons works and celebrate this new style of democracy with a new building which no longer embodies the out of date adversarial politics, with circular debating chambers to enable parties to work together more. To top this off make Magna Carta day a public holiday.

  • Are we having a pact with Change UK for the Euros?. We need to make the best impression and get the combined votes into one block in each Euro constituency. WE might even come top in one!!

  • David Allen 9th Apr '19 - 6:37pm

    Theakes, you should read

    which demonstrates that with the d’Hondt system, Lib Dems and Change UK will both be hammered unless they make a pact. It isn’t redistribution of least-popular parties’ votes (which would have enabled one of these parties to hoover up the votes of the other on redistribution). Instead it’s selection of the most popular parties, in sequence, with redistribution of THEIR votes. Result, if Change get 8% and Lib Dems get 6%, there is no way that can translate into 14% for Remain. A pact is vital – or we might as well not bother standing!

  • Nonconformistradical 9th Apr '19 - 7:55pm

    Change UK does not yet appear in the register of policial parties on the Electoral Commission website. As I recall they only started the registration process at nearly the end of March and there is no guarantee from the Electoral Commission that they will be registered by close of nominations – it seems the process takes around 6 weeks.

  • We are for ever pointing the finger at the two ‘main parties’, accusing them of extremism, but when our LibDem MPs take a decision to vote only on the People’s Vote in the advisory votes, that of course is not extreme, but ‘principled’. More holier-than-thou stuff, I fear!

  • Arnold Kiel 10th Apr '19 - 7:52am

    It is wrong to demand a Brexit-compromise majority from Parliament.

    Any such resolution would be picking an arbitrary future model, together with the negotiated WA. No leave-voter had any of those two in mind 2016. Such a compromise would therefore match the wishes of a infinitesimally small number of voters, and disappoint almost everyone. Remain continues to be the only specific and deliverable option that commands >50% approval. Our diehard friends will dispute this, but they will agree that it is the only specific and immediately (i.e. fully legislated-for) deliverable option, and the one with the most votes. Leaving continues to be a diffuse, inconsistent, and unspecific set of vague ideas that would in any case take years to spell out, discuss, agree-upon, negotiate, and ratify. No potential outcome has any chance to win the support of a majority of voters, as the lose-lose nature of any form of Brexit becomes clearer every day and continues to sway public opinion. Besides, the UK’s economic foundations would continue to erode during this period during which a Brexit-centric political process would continue to address nothing else.

    As a byproduct of this situation, any so-called “Brexit-compromise” stitched together by scared and opposed politicians in one week will not survive the coming political turmoil (May-replacement, and the likely snap-election). So the UK would quickly find itself back at square 1 (except having paid GBP 39 Billion+), but without the option to simply cancel the nightmare and remain.

    Only revocation or another referendum will do.

  • Peter Martin 10th Apr '19 - 1:50pm

    My guess is we won’t be leaving the EU any time soon. This should please nearly all Lib Dems. It may look like a failure for the Leave movement but the exercise has been well worth while. That look is only superficial. The true situation is now much clearer for all to see.

    Up until the 2016 referendum the story from Remainers was that we, as always, were a free and independent country whilst still in the EU. That the EU did not have any real power over us. What we refer to as ‘Brussels’ was just the size of a medium town council etc. There were just ‘agreements’ to allow free trade. And neighbours always have agreements, don’t they? Who can object to that?

    Since then the story has changed. We now see how invasive EU laws and controls are, and how they have defined features of our public life and overridden UK laws. Remainers now make the argument that the control of the EU is so extensive, we would be totally unable to break free and manage on our own.

    So now we’ll have a period to reflect and decide just what kind of country we want to be. If we are content to be a province of the EU – then, fine, we should stay. But if we want our laws to be made in Westminster, however democratically chaotic it might sometimes appear, then we have to leave.

    It’s a stark choice.

  • Arnold Kiel 10th Apr '19 - 2:59pm

    Peter Martin,

    I think you need another period to reflect your personal Brexit legend-building:

    The EU does “not have any real power over us”, but membership confers so much economic power that losing it is too expensive. We remainers never disputed “how invasive EU laws and controls are” in the areas of trade and commercial standards (nowhere else). That is why they are so beneficial and costly to exit from. They never “have defined features of our public life”, as I can tell you with certainty from living in 4 very distinct European countries. Strangely, the feeling to be a “to be a province of the EU” must be something strictly English, and even there a minority-sentiment.

    Reflect some more.

  • Peter Martin 10th Apr '19 - 6:24pm

    @ Arnold,

    I think we both would agree that there is a ‘Grand Vision’ for the EU which you are happy to be a part of, but I and all Leavers are not. This sentiment, perhaps surprisingly, extends to most Remainers too. You have rightly made the point that the EU cannot be reformed in the way they would like it to be reformed. They would like less EU. Their argument is, essentially, that the UK has a good deal because it doesn’t use the euro, and it is not part of Schengen. We’ve negotiated op-outs and rebates. So the EU is fine providing we don’t have to have too much of it.

    It’s not the most positive of arguments! And not one I have ever remember you using.

    I think we both know that, if we stay in, these concessions will only be temporary. They’d have to be for the EU to work the way you want it to work. There has to be more EU. And it has to be that way for the EU to survive in the longer term. The EU would be much better getting the UK out now while it still can. You don’t don’t really want the UK trying to prevent from happening what we both know needs to happen.

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