The formation of the Vote Leave Johnson government was stunning in its audacity. Suddenly the politics of stalemate have been replaced by that of a terrifying, focused action. This was a hard right wing No Deal government preparing the decks for action, clear and determined on their goal, a No Deal Brexit. Whatever doubts one may have of Johnson’s leadership capabilities, his competence in government and his ability to manage Brexit seem swept on one side by the daring ruthlessness of a machine being readied for war. After the dust settles a bit, one has to ask cold, hard questions about whether this almost revolutionary cabal can pull it off.
Vote Leave faction takes power
To be clear, this Johnson government is a Vote Leave regime, so far unelected and trying to assert the constitutionally dubious legitimacy of the 2016 Referendum result as its mandate, even though the massive scale of the expected disruption was not mentioned by Vote Leave campaign.
That these people are neoliberals in the main and are backed by what the departing minister Margot James referred to as “shady” big business figures, and an international alignment with Trump at its head, suggests also where it is going afterwards. It has echoes of Thatcher in the early ’80’s, dumping the “Wets”, trouncing the left and initiating her neoliberal revolution. The Right when well-organised often triumph.
The “evil genius of Brexit” is in No 10. This appointment, Dominic Cummings, as a No 10 special advisor would be a concern to opponents. He is a ruthless, amoral and brilliant operator, who argued while in the Education Department under Gove that certain people in society were inherently less capable for genetic reasons. He spearheaded the Vote Leave campaign and is possibly one of the reasons for their surprise victory. He has refused to attend a Parliamentary select committee and been found to be in contempt of Parliament. His role is expected to have no specific brief, leaving him free to advise across the range of policy areas, detested though he is in Whitehall.
His brief, we are told, is to achieve Brexit “by all means necessary”. He is reported to be saying that that is possible and one wonders what trickery as seen in the Vote Leave campaign in 2016 will be employed to attempt to by-pass Parliament and force Brexit through.
Opponents of No Deal in Parliament are organising
It looks like backbench opponents of the Vote Leave extremists and a No Deal Brexit are working together to stop it. Former Chancellor Hammond is talking with Starmer, the shadow Brexit minister, and those ministers who resigned are joining with the familiar cross-party people like Cooper, Letwin, Grieve and Benn. They are discussing several options, it is understood, including amending necessary government bills that managing Brexit will entail, introducing their own bill as Cooper and Letwin did, or a moving a Vote of No Confidence to bring down the government.
A snap General Election
Johnson is thought to be preparing to go for a snap General Election on the basis that he can’t get Parliament’s approval for his No Deal Brexit, which might be very tempting with the usual post-appointment bounce in support often seen after new governments take power. It has been seen in opinion polls right now but it is fraught with risks as May encountered in 2017. Then she started with a strong lead but such is the volatility of the electorate at present that the lead evaporated.
There are growing signs of a demand for a cross-party Remain electoral alliance as Remain attempts to get its act into gear. At present the opposition is divided and in the case of Labour internally split too over Brexit strategy and the row over anti-semitism in the party. The situation calls out for alliances since there is a very big risk that the Tories can successfully exploit the oddities and injustices of the FPTP electoral system and come out on top.
One could argue that that this is a realignment in politics waiting to happen, that between Leave and Remain. Observers and psephologists have been saying for some time that there is a shift going on in voting behaviour from social class as the fundamental divide to that of the values divide around Leave/Remain. Yet Labour is conflicted as to whether to seize this opportunity, or continue, as Corbyn appears to want to do, to face both ways and try to keep Labour Leave voters on side. He faces massive opposition in his party and this conflict, along with the anti-semitism row, has recently distracted Labour from heading the opposition. Hence the Liberal Democrats, the most clear anti-Brexit party south of the Scottish border, have moved into the vacuum.
Fraught with risks
As the Vote Leave regime assumes control, Johnson sets up a small war cabinet, Whitehall cranks itself into a new gear and he tours the country with his pitch of big public spending promises for the Leave vote, a report by the prestigious Institute for Government showed that his domestic promises cannot be met, by any standard. Brexit, they argue, will be all-consuming, for years. They stated that there is “no such thing as a managed no deal” and the hard Brexiters predictions of a “clean break” from the EU will not materialise.
All the evidence so far suggests that if he goes for a snap election, which the logic of his Parliamentary position suggests he must, it would be a gamble and he won’t get enough seats for an overall majority. Set against that, he is a good campaigner and the Vote Leave Brextremist Tories have their tails up. These are very volatile and unpredictable times. There is all to play for, and all to lose.