Why Are MPs Doing It?

This is the burning question of the day: why are our elected representatives in parliament behaving like idiots, frankly?

I wrote most of this a few days ago, but the question still stands.

The “it,” in case it’s not obvious, is waving through the bill to enable to government to trigger Article 50. They did so with very little scrutiny, and without accepting a single amendment. Now as I’ve made clear, I’m firmly of the opinion that Brexit must be stopped. But it’s looking increasingly likely that it won’t be.

We in the populace may have to accept that fact. But members of parliament don’t. They are (or were) exactly the ones who could have stopped it all.

It’s like there’s a bus full of schoolkids. The driver has lost control, and it’s careering towards a cliff edge. The driver jumped out and somehow survived. But the kids can’t get off. Luckily there’s another adult aboard. She grabs the wheel. Hooray, the kids will be saved as she swerves and brakes.

But wait: oh no, she isn’t braking. She’s steering more directly towards the cliff, and putting her foot down.

And all the people who could stop her are at best letting her go on, at worst egging her on. Even the ones who said they didn’t want to go over the cliff in the first place.

This simile may be getting out of hand.

Brexit Hope?

A very small hope. Brexit—take back control by the improbably-named Jolyon Maugham, suggests that a court ruling could be achieved which would ensure that we can back out of Brexit at the last moment:

The effects of an Article 50 notification are not fully understood—and not only because May is still peddling a blind bargain, a Brexit pig-in-a-poke. We do know that, should we ask and the other 27 member states agree, we could remain. But it is brave to assume that two years of exposure to the negotiating skills of Boris Johnson, Liam Fox and David Davis will not generate even one hold-out. […] The preponderance of legal opinion is that we could, after all, decide to remain. That we could, having notified, withdraw that notification. But, given the magnitude of the issue, our parliament must know more than what the answer probably is. It must know what it actually is.
[…]
only the court to which we all subscribe can give an answer: the European Court in Luxembourg.

He/she (I’m guessing “he,” from the writing style) says:

But a case which—along with Green Party co-leader Jonathan Bartley, Steven Agnew, a Green member of the Northern Irish Assembly and Keith Taylor, a Green MEP—I am bringing in the Dublin High Court seeks to give us the power to travel back if we need it.

And he explains that:

We access it via a national court. And it can’t be one of ours. One of the complaints in the Dublin case is that the other 27 have breached the Treaty by excluding us from Council meetings before we’ve notified under Article 50. And that complaint can only be made by a court in one of those 27. The Irish court is the natural choice

Which all seems fair. The idea seems to be that the European Court of Justice could rule definitively that we could revoke our triggering of Article 50 at the end of the two-year negotiating period. And if the deal is bad, or especially if there isn’t one, parliament is likely to call another referendum in those circumstances, wherein we’ll know exactly what we’re voting for, and get it right this time.

A small hope, like I say. And it doesn’t protect us from the damage that’s being inflicted in the meantime.

But a small hope is better than none at all.

Beginning of the End

A total of 47 Labour MPs voted against the Brexit bill, joining 50 SNP MPs and seven Liberal Democrats. Just one Conservative MP, Ken Clarke, joined them in the division lobbies, to applause from Labour rebels.

A fifth of Labour MPs defy three line whip to vote against article 50 bill | Politics | The Guardian

Well done to all the rebels. But really, Tories: only one? Only Ken Clarke? Is that really you doing your duty, acting in the best interests of the country?

We’re living through the death of representative democracy.

Which is Worse?

I’ve been saying for a while now that Brexit is worse than Trump, because Trump is only for four years1 — less if he gets impeached or twenty-fived, which is almost certain; but Brexit is foreever.

But Trump is moving so fast, following through so fiercely on his campaign promises, that even if he doesn’t last, he’s going to do incredible damage to the USA, and to the world.

And then there’s pieces like “Trial Balloon for a Coup?,” which, along with the stories it links to, is terrifying. If the things suggested there were to come true, Trump and his successors could be forever, too.

And even if they manage to get rid of him, that means Pence takes over, which would be its own class of awful. He at least knows something about government and the Constitution, though. I guess?

So I don’t know. Brexit, if we can’t stop it, is going to be bad for the economy, jobs, and society; but despite the hard-right support for it, I don’t think it means the country is being turned into a fascist state. On the other hand, after a Tory-led hard Brexit they could make the UK into what they’ve always wanted: a tax-haven for the rich and sweatshop for the poor, with permanent austerity policies.

And there’s no opposition to speak of.

But Trump…

But Brexit…


  1. OK, it could go to eight, but who really expects that? []

Things We Can’t See

There are certain interesting TV programmes that I’d like to see but I can’t watch for ethical reasons.

If you’ve been around here much before you’ll be familiar with my contempt for Rupert Murdoch and all his works. I’m far from alone in that attitude, of course. But this means, most notably, that I would never get Sky TV. That has only ever mildly bothered me on the odd occasion when they’re showing a film I’d like to see that isn’t available elsewhere.

But things have taken a turn for the worse lately, and it’s largely the fault of an American TV company that I generally heartily approve of: HBO.

Actually the rot probably started to set in when Sky got the rights for Mad Men Season 5, after the first four had been on BBC 2. I’ve still never got round to seeing the later seasons.

But the problem with HBO shows is that Sky has the exclusive UK right for something like five years. And that means I haven’t been able to see Westworld. Which is a shame, because everyone was talking about it a few weeks ago.

More worryingly by a long way for me, though, is that the new series of Twin Peaks, which is not being made by HBO, but something called Showtime. It’s due out in May, I believe, and guess who has the UK rights?

Showtime seem to have a streaming service, so maybe that’ll work here. I wouldn’t be surprised if it didn’t, though.

On the other hand, in doing some research when writing this, I discovered that Westworld is available to download via iTunes, so maybe the same will be true for Twin Peaks.

Either way, it’s going to cost. It would be a lot better if these kinds of things could go to proper channels.

Democracy, Representation, and the Will of the People

Further to my letter to Diane Abbot, I saw her last night on Question Time. Disappointingly she was trotting out the line that, irrespective of what they believe, MPs are now tied down by the “democratic will of the people.”

That is utter nonsense.

Did the Referendum Give a Democratic Mandate?

The referendum, as I have said before, did not provide a sufficient
majority to change the country’s constitution. In fact, it did not provide a majority at all: thirty-seven percent of the electorate voted to leave. That is under no circumstances a democratic mandate.

Do MPs Have to Abide by the Referendum’s Result?

The referendum was advisory, not binding. That was very clear in the act of parliament that enabled it, though it wasn’t mentioned at all in the discussions running up to the event itself. The MPs were asleep at the wheel when the bill went through parliament: if they had given it the thought it deserved, they would have made its advisory nature explicit in the wording of the question; and more importantly, they would have set a proper threshold for it to take effect. A two-thirds majority is common in cases like this.1

MPs make up the house of commons, half of parliament, the sovereign body in the UK. Their role is to scrutinise legislation and to vote on it in accordance with what they understand to be the best interests of the country.

No-one can say that Brexit would be in the best interests of the country. (Well, OK, they can say it; but they are demonstrably wrong.) MPs not only can vote against the triggering of Article 50: doing so is their duty.

Why Have Most MPs Switched to Being in Favour of Brexit?

Or at least that’s the way it seems.

I honestly don’t know. I have my theory, though. They are running scared of the tabloid newspapers. And maybe, as one of my friends suggested on Facebook the other day, literally scared for their lives if they were to resist the Brexit onslaught. Remembering the tragedy of Jo Cox, of course.

If the latter is really why they are doing it, then the terrorists have won. And even if it’s only fear of the tabloids, then the tabloid terrorists have won. If I were inclined that way I would call the Daily Mail and Sun traitors to their country for trying to ruin the British economy and damage British society, by forcing us out of the EU and assaulting the European Convention on Human Rights (which, if it needs to be said again and again, was written by Britons and is nothing to do with the EU).

What’s to be done?

Buggered if I know. If our democratically elected representatives won’t do what they’re elected for and act in the best interests of the country, then I can only conclude that we’re fucked.


  1. And to be fair, we, the public, and the media, were equally inattentive to what the bill actually said. []

Obama in Your Ears

I listen to a fair number of podcasts, but I only recently learned that David Axelrod has one now. Axelrod was Barack Obama’s chief strategist and then Senior Advisor.

On a recent episode of his podcast, The Axe Files, he interviewed Barack Obama, during his last few days as president.

They’re friends, so it’s not what you’d call hard-hitting. But it is interesting. Obama as always comes across as personable, thoughtful, and very, very smart.

Which only makes the current occupant of his erstwhile office seem even worse.

But I highly recommend giving the episode a listen.

I Wrote to my MP

So the Supreme Court agreed that parliament is sovereign Good for them. Must’ve been a hard decision. I decided it was time to ask my MP, Diane Abbott, to do the right thing:

Dear Ms Abbott,

Now that the Supreme Court has made its decision, affirming parliament’s sovereignty, I strongly urge you to vote against triggering Article 50.

The most urgent issue facing our country at the moment is Brexit, and the only solution to Brexit is to stop it happening. As a Labour Party member, and one who voted for Jeremy Corbyn as leader twice, I’m very disappointed by the recent reports that he is planning to require MPs to vote in favour of triggering Article 50.

I know it would be unpopular with certain tabloid papers if parliament were to prevent Brexit. But in truth I think it would be popular in the country. It seems highly likely to me that if there were a second referendum now, the majority would vote in favour of staying in the EU.

That may be wishful thinking, but I don’t believe so: people have both realised they were lied to, and seen something of what Brexit will mean to the economy, to jobs, and to British society.

And in any case, parliament is sovereign, and the majority in the referendum was far too small to justify what is, in effect, a constitutional change. Surely an MP’s duty is to vote in the way that is best for the country, and it is clear that leaving the EU would not be in the UK’s best interests.

I urge you to resist the tyranny of the right-wing press, and go with the majority of Hackney North and Stoke Newington voters, and please: vote against triggering Article 50.

Yours sincerely,

Martin McCallion

That ought to do it, eh?