Finesse might be David Cameron’s middle name. He was a long-time and successful PR man before entering politics, and, having been one myself, I can assure you that this is a training that makes you grasp every opportunity to show how good you are. And of course, how stupid, incompetent and generally just bad your enemies are.
Now I freely admit I have not been impressed by Cameron. I’ll grant, though, that this may come from a general aversion to repulsive English public-schoolboys, especially when they’re wearing Scottish names. I feel they are betraying the old country somewhat.
And finesse never seemed to be one of Cameron’s aces. He’s a smooth-talker all right, and has nice taste in suits. But the word I would have chosen to describe him hitherto would have been ‘vapid’.
Well, maybe I was wrong.
A commenter in the UK’s Guardian newspaper by the name of ‘Teebs’ made the following statement in the aftermath of the Brexit meltdown. It regards the position Boris Johnson will be in, after Cameron effects his own resignation. Johnson is one of the leaders of the ‘Leave’ campaign and a very strong candidate to be next leader of the Tory Party, and so UK Prime Minister.
‘If he (Johnson) runs for leadership of the party, and then fails to follow through on triggering Article 50, then he is finished. If he does not run and effectively abandons the field, then he is finished. If he runs, wins and pulls the UK out of the EU, then it will all be over — Scotland will break away, there will be upheaval in Ireland, a recession … broken trade agreements. Then he is also finished. Boris Johnson knows all of this. When he acts like the dumb blond it is just that: an act.
The Brexit leaders now have a result that they cannot use. For them, leadership of the Tory party has become a poison chalice.
When Boris Johnson said there was no need to trigger Article 50 straight away, what he really meant to say was “never”. When Michael Gove went on and on about “informal negotiations” … why? why not the formal ones straight away? … he also meant not triggering the formal departure. They both know what a formal demarche would mean: an irreversible step that neither of them is prepared to take.
All that remains is for someone to have the guts to stand up and say that Brexit is unachievable in reality without an enormous amount of pain and destruction, that cannot be borne. And David Cameron has put the onus of making that statement on the heads of the people who led the Brexit campaign.’
Indeed. Article 50 is the formal procedure under which the UK would leave the EU, and Gove is another prominent ‘Leaver’, by the way.
Did Cameron finesse BoJo?
Is Teebs right?
Well if he is, and I think he might be, then it’s far worse than even Teebs allows. Cameron has not only finessed his arch-nemesis, he has torpedoed his own party. Boom! Done a Belgrano, mate.
The issues hinges on this, as I wrote here: last week’s referendum has No legal value at all. None. Zero. Zip. It is purely advisory. It is just a measure of the people’s opinion on this specific issue.
As such, while it does send a powerful message to Parliament, that is all it does. Parliament is sovereign in the UK and only the Prime Minister, who is of that body, can trigger an Article 50 process.
As I also said last week, UK Parliaments have a history of ignoring the popular will in the interest of good governance. An example might be the death penalty, consistently popular in polls, but whose reintroduction has been solidly denied by Parliaments of both persuasions.
Whoever becomes Prime Minister after Cameron will therefore have to decide whether or not to accept the advice given under the referendum. That person is in no way bound to do so. It will be a decision that they will have to take.
Of fans and shit
Ooops-a-daisy. Oh dear oh dear. See, what that means is that it’s not just BoJo who’s been royally ass-fucked on national television, it is any contender for the Tory Party leadership. No matter who that person is or what they decide, the shit will hit the fan, it will cover them and it will stick.
Comply — half the UK will be foaming at the mouth, including an unknown number of waverers who voted ‘Leave’ in protest but didn’t actually want that result. (And if anyone ever, in the future, dares to ask me why I am so opposed to ‘tactical voting’ this is the case in point to end them all.) If the new leader decides to ignore the referendum, the other half will want blood, backed up by a rabid, Murdoch-led UK Press.
An electoral 12-bore
Either way, not only is the next leader of the UK Tory Party looking down the barrels of an electoral 12-bore, the party itself is very likely to come asunder.
Remember that it wasn’t UKIP who forced this referendum. It was Tory Members of Parliament themselves. The idea that UKIP are the only baddies is a consequence of typically shallow colonial political thinking. Cameron didn’t care squat what UKIP said; they were an irritation at worst. Had he had the kind of majority that Thatcher enjoyed, he would have told them to raffle themselves in no uncertain terms.
Cameron did care, very much, that perhaps a third of his own MPs were threatening revolt over the EU and demanding a referendum. In order to keep them onside at a time, let’s remember, when Cameron was leading a coalition government, he gave the dog its bone.
Yes, it would have been better if he had waited until after the 2015 General Election, and then he would have had a much bigger stick to beat the Euro-sceptic Tories with; but he couldn’t, because he was being told, by every psephologist around, that the Tories would not win a majority. He needed all the support he could get.
What we have here, then, is the classic irresistible force versus an immovable object. And the Tories can’t even just set up some poor sap to take the job for a while and then leave the stage once the shit has been shovelled — that person would have to lead the UK through at least two years of negotiations with the EU.
At the same time, this leader would have to deal with a second, stronger Scottish bid for independence, which is almost certain to happen before the Article 50 negotiations are concluded, so that Scotland may inherit all the UK’s privileges. In other words, their next leader has to be the best they’ve got.
No wonder Jeremy Corbyn has been looking so smug. He can’t lose*. He can sit back and watch the Tory party disembowel itself over toast and jam; he can cheerily cycle round town while the next Tory leader is de-bagged and their reputation turned to mud; and he can go for a pint while the Euro-sceptics are painted as pariahs and lose all their credibility. Then, at the next election, squeaky clean as a new Ikea pot, he can survey the field, roll up his Guardian, put down his cup of tea and say to the electorate, ‘Well, you’ve seen the mess the Tories got you into, so let’s try something new, shall we?’
There are good reasons for leaving Europe, and Jeremy knows that; but these were not the reasons the English chose by. They were persuaded by a toxic mix of xenophobia, perceived (but false) victim-status and white supremacy. Corbyn is not like that; he is one of what I like to hope is a majority of English people who are not utter shits. And he’s not so bad at finesse himself.
The result? Another referendum!
Well, the Tories may be crass, greedy, corrupt and mean, but they’re not stupid. BoJo is nobody’s fool and he knows a finesse when he sees one. That, as Teebs points out, is why he has been looking so uncharacteristically peaky since the vote.
So what on Earth will they do? Simples: hold another referendum, and make sure the right side wins this time. It is the way we do these things in Europe, after all.
Just remember, you heard it here first.
*What am I saying? Of course Corbyn can lose. He can lose if the Parliamentary Labour Party fuck up royally and stage a successful coup against him — thus killing the only chance Labour have of ever winning an election again. But it’s Labour, after all. Turkeys who vote for Christmas.
Also published on Medium.