Richard North, 26/09/2019  

If yesterday's proceedings in the House of Commons were an example of what we've been missing during the prorogation of parliament, then we really are better off sending the MPs back home and razing their workplace to the ground. There are those who would not even bother to send the MPs home first.

It is getting to the point where the antics of the MP collective, from top to bottom and from all parties, is beyond toleration. The decadent institution to which they belong has ceased to perform any useful purpose, providing nothing more than a forum for rancorous back-biting and point-scoring.

For the day, the tone was set by Attorney General Geoffrey Cox, who declared this parliament to be "a dead parliament", with "no moral right to sit on these green benches". "Twice", he said, "they have been asked to let the electorate decide whether they should continue to sit in their seats, while they block 17.4 million people's votes. This Parliament is a disgrace".

MPs, in his view, were "too cowardly" to support a confidence vote. Parliament, he said, "should have the courage to face the electorate but it won't, because so many of them are really all about preventing us from leaving the European Union at all".

This brought a response from the Labour MP for Huddersfield, Barry Sheerman (pictured), who derided Cox's "barrister’s bluster" and, in a display of ill-temper of an intensity rarely seen even in the Commons, snarled: "For a man like him, a party like his, and a leader like this prime minister to talk about morals and morality is a disgrace".

Even the relatively staid Reuters report managed to capture the final stages of the degeneration of a once proud institution that used to stand at the centre of the largest empire ever known. "British Prime Minister Boris Johnson", the report tells us, "taunted his rivals on his return to parliament on Wednesday, goading them to either bring down his government or get out of the way and allow it to deliver Brexit".

"Yelling 'come on, come on then' to a raucous House of Commons, Johnson told his opponents to bring a vote of no-confidence in the government and trigger an election to finally break the Brexit impasse. 'They have until the House rises today to table (move) a motion of no confidence in the government', he said".

Such was the disarray amongst MPs by that stage that it brought an intervention from the Speaker, who appealed to the House "to have some regard to how our proceedings are viewed by people watching them in the country at large". But if MPs cared, they gave no sign of showing it – neither then nor later, and that they don't care is one of the reasons why contempt for them grows daily.

Even then, as the language coarsened, and grew more inflammatory, Nicky Morgan was moved to caution that, "at a time of strong feelings we all need to remind ourselves of the effect of everything we say on those watching us". This had no more effect than the Speaker's intervention.

Johnson came in for his fair share of criticism, with Yvette Cooper asserting that the language he used was "designed deliberately to escalate tension, division and hatred". SNP's Joanna Cherry described Johnson's statement as, "the sort of populist rant one expects to hear from a tin-pot dictatorship".

Ed Miliband huffed that, "in my four-plus years opposing David Cameron I never saw a parliamentary performance like tonight's from Boris Johnson: deeply irresponsible, stoking division, using dangerous, inflammatory language, fanning the flames of hatred. This is not about right and left but right and wrong".

Despite that – and contrary to parliamentary convention - Johnson got a round of applause from his backbenchers. Dominic Grieve was "appalled" by this, dismissing the prime minister in office as a "pathological liar" with "no moral compass of any kind at all".

As for Johnson and his "no confidence" challenge, he cannot be that naïve – and neither, for that matter, can Geoffrey Cox. They both know full well that the opposition cannot as yet mount a credible vote of no confidence. A premature move - in the absence of the opposition's ability to field an interim government – would leave Johnson in Downing Street with parliament dissolved over the vital end of October period.

Predictably, Corbyn and the SNP's Ian Blackford – whom Johnson directly challenged - were not playing. They will not make their move until an Article 50 extension is in the bag, and the danger of a no-deal Brexit has passed. And thus does the posturing and game-playing continue. This is not real – it is not serious politics. An unruly bunch of children could do better.

Nevertheless, there is an underlying point. As MPs brayed for Johnson to resign, he accused parliament of not wanting to honour its promises to respect the referendum. "The people at home", he said, "know that this parliament will keep delaying, and it will keep sabotaging the negotiations, because members do not want a deal".

We have opposition members, he said, "who block and delay everything, running to the courts to block and delay even more measures, including legislation to improve and invest in our NHS, and to keep violent criminals in jail. I think that the people outside this House understand what is happening. They know that nothing can disguise the truth". And in this vein, he continued:
It is not just that this Parliament is gridlocked, paralysed, and refusing to deliver on the priorities of the people. It is not just unable to move forward. It is worse than that, Mr Speaker. Out of sheer political selfishness and political cowardice, Opposition Members are unwilling to move aside and give the people a say. They see MPs demanding that the people be given a say one week, and then running away from the election that would provide the people with a say. Worst of all, they see ever more elaborate legal and political manoeuvres from the Labour party, which is determined, absolutely determined, to say "We know best", and to thumb their noses at the 17.4 million people who voted to leave the European Union.
Outside the foetid embrace of the House of Commons, where its denizens are described as, "a ludicrous, howling, self-absorbed bunch of shockingly mediocre charlatans - most of whom doing whatever they can to stop democracy happening", this sentiment will have considerable traction.

There is a sense abroad that parliament is conspiring to block our departure from the EU, while "Boris" is the man trying to deliver Brexit. And while pushing for a no-deal scenario is equivalent to chopping off an arm with a meat cleaver to deal with a septic finger, those who see the prospect of Brexit draining away will take what they can get. And if no-deal is the only way of leaving, that is preferable to no Brexit.

To that extent – alongside the growing public frustration with parliament - Johnson is and will remain popular with a large segment of the electorate. Currently, he scores 41 percent in voter preferences for prime minister, compared with Swinson on 21 and Corbyn on 18 percent. By contrast, those MPs who think we can somehow abandon Brexit and things will return to normal are seriously deluding themselves. The genie is out of the bottle and politics will never be the same again.

And there lies the lesson of yesterday, would that MPs had the wit to realise it. In the main they have become so internalised and self-referential that they have lost touch with the sentiment of the country. They may believe they are safeguarding democracy, but to the public at large, they are often seen as an obstacle to it.

This alone gives Johnson the opportunity to claim that parliament is undermining him in his attempt to secure Brexit, and to characterise the coming general election as a battle between himself – the people's champion – and the anti-democratic parliament.

To pit the executive against the legislature is not a healthy development – it could have long-term effects, with no ultimate winners. But unless both sides realise the damage they are doing, mere rancour will be the least of what they have to deal with.

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