When MPs returned to the benches this week, no one could have predicted the scenes of anger and emotion. Opposition politicians collided with an officially sponsored dangerous rhetoric. Most definitely, one of the worst weeks in parliamentary history.
First published in September 2019.
The country woke up on Thursday morning as if a great tragedy had occurred when they put their heads to pillow the night before. Scenes from the House of Commons ringed in ears, soundbites and taglines swum around like fish in a barrel of toxic waste. I can only describe the atmosphere as that of mourning. We lost something in that chamber. Politicians battled to save it, but with great sorrow, our political culture withered away.
Boris Johnson stood at the despatch box with brash confidence. Before him, Geoffrey Cox put on a masterful performance worthy of the Royal Opera House. A booming voice filled the assembly like a foghorn. His legal credentials as a QC are surely clouded by his outward display of bombast. He set the mood for his successor at the altar.
And so the Jester-in-Chief spoke, not with the integrity of a statesman, but with the rhetoric of a populist dictator; a Franco wannabe, wilfully ignorant of norms and values in pursuit of his ideological Shangri-La. A shameful week. One which will make Hansard’s record books droop in the middle with black ink. Here’s what we have learnt from these stormy days.
It’s not about the EU anymore
Pro-EU activists will have to change their flags and banners. With Boris Johnson’s ascendance to power, the Brexit crisis is no longer as simple as wishing to leave the European Union. There’s a greater cause that now overrides any reference to bendy bananas or fishing. We’re engaged in a culture war which is threatening to disintegrate our democratic values.
A government that lies to prevent legislative scrutiny. Members of Cabinet fervently disagreeing with a legal authority. Media incensed by the frantic Zeitgeist which uses its power to smear and obfuscate political decisions. All of which are influencing the British people. The lines have been moved so many times that the chalk is running low. Our democratically elected assembly is under serious pressure, and is buckling under the damaging strategies of the government.
People are at serious risk of harm
Boris Johnson may have flippantly referred to the genuine concerns of MPs as ‘humbug’, but it’s now more apparent than ever that Brexit is dangerous. Labour MP Paula Sherriff called upon the Prime Minister to regulate his aggressive language, pointing to the shield of murdered MP Jo Cox. Her assassination was a devastating loss to the political community – but her death has seemingly not been learned from. Weeks before a referendum, and a far-right extremist murders a Remain-supporting MP, you’d have thought such an event would have impacted upon the climate.
A host of political women united in fear and anger to reveal their own personal experiences with such danger. Jess Phillips was the victim of a thuggish attack on the day after the Commons roared into ferocity. Jo Swinson, leader of the Liberal Democrats, told the Commons that her young child had been threatened. Anna Soubry also spoke of the dangers she has felt, describing how it has led to multiple convictions.
It is a moral failure of government that we are now becoming numbed to these accounts. Internet trolls, extremists, and online ‘activists’ are preventing MPs and their staff from doing their jobs. The impact this has on families was exposed by the daughter of Yvette Cooper in a moving Twitter thread, which drew acclaim and sympathy from across politics. People are now in genuine danger.
The government don’t care about us
When Johnson dismissed the memory of Jo Cox, it signalled that the government’s determination to deliver Brexit has overridden any sense of compassion. Gasps in the chamber were simple wisps of shock. The Prime Minister has clearly been given some divine mandate to deliver on his policy – do or die. In doing so, he has given his top advisor Dominic Cummings carte blanche to act as a wrecking ball to the conventions and functions of government.
His flippant disregard to Karl Turner and his experience of death threats shows the amorality that this government is adopting. They don’t care about feelings, emotions. Cummings argued at a book launch on Thursday that MPs should not be ‘surprised’ about the extreme levels of anger. He masks his disregard for human empathy with the blanket statements of Brexiters; talking about respecting the vote, blocking Brexit. Cummings was always a wily political operator. But his Goebbels impersonation is literally degrading politics.
We need a united front
In the fetid mire of Brexit, we face five weeks till we crash out of the EU. You would have thought that the Benn Act and the Supreme Court’s judgement on prorogation would have made the government act in accordance to the law. But rumours and leaks are suggesting that this Tory mafia is willing to do anything to take us out of the EU. When faced with such determination, the country needs an opposition that is willing to put aside its disputes to counter Boris’ belligerence.
“Geography has made us neighbours. History has made us friends. Economics has made us partners. And necessity has made us allies. Those whom nature hath so joined together, let no man put asunder.”
— John F. Kennedy
Instead, we have continued squabbles between the Lib Dems and Labour, and a seemingly fortress-like refusal to operate from the Tory rebels. A government of national unity would exist temporarily to make our position safer, so the country doesn’t collapse into social and economic despair come October 31. The treatment of MPs and the overwhelming populism from the government should be a decisive factor in securing this alliance.
The options are becoming more limited as the days count down. It’s clear that the government is not a working and listening executive. Their conference next week will no doubt entrench these issues, showing that the Conservatives are leading us off a cliff. I can only suspect that we shall have more days like last Wednesday. More mornings waking up with solemnity for breakfast. Hope is in short supply – among other things unless we act soon.🔷
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