Richard North, 24/10/2019  
 


I never actually thought I could be bored by Brexit, but yesterday somehow threw a switch in my mind. I really do not care any more about the twists and turns of whether we get an extension or whether Johnson manages to get his election. Like others, probably millions of others, I just want it to end.

Of course, it isn't going to end and, before we get any further, it really does look as if we might have to put up with a pre-Christmas election – possibly the only thing that Johnson and Corbyn will be able to agree on in the near future.

That will depend on the European Council giving us another extension, but that tends to be a foregone conclusion, with the smart money going for the three-month gig with the break clause that will never be used.

Elections are certainly in the air, and the Johnson fanboys in the Telegraph convinced that only blood-letting in the polls can clear the air and return the political system to an even kilter. They must obviously think their favourite son will win.

As we are only too well aware, though, because of the Fixed-term Parliaments Act (FTPA), the power to decide when we go to the country no longer resides with the prime minister, and his two attempts to convince the Commons that we should have an election have failed. But, says the Telegraph, given that Jeremy Corbyn has consistently demanded a general election, only to turn down the opportunity twice, any credibility he has left will be shredded if he refuses again.

I am not sure that "credibility" is currently Corbyn's strong suit, and I doubt very much whether he cares what the Johnson fan-club paper thinks of him. But that paper does have a point when it says the alternative would be to leave the government in place but incapable of administering the country save at the whim of the opposition.

Thus, it declares, since the government cannot legislate on its own terms, an election must surely follow. Corbyn cannot continue to hide behind the FTPA. And I think most of us would agree that, if Johnson calls for one, the Labour leader must support that call.

That, according to The Times may come sooner than we think. The paper asserts that Johnson could make a third attempt to trigger a general election as early as today, claiming that he is likely to lay a motion under the FTPA, either tonight or on Monday.

However, much as we would all like to see the impasse resolved, there are no guarantees that the ballot box will provide the answer. This time round, it is a five-way contest. We have the two main protagonists of Labour and the Tories but the waters are muddied by the Farage Company and the Lib-Dems, with the Scottish player, the SNP.

Even a two-horse race can be difficult to predict. Mrs May thought she had the polls in her favour and we know how that turned out. And then, while the effect of Johnson having to fight the battle, without us having left the EU, could work for him – if he can pin the blame on Labour – it could also work against him, given his "dead-in-a-ditch" promise that we would leave on 31 October.

And that is without the intervention of the Farage Company. A full-throated presence in Tory-held seats could – to judge from the previous "Ukip effect" – cost Johnson 20 MPs. Likewise, the Lib-Dems could take as many again, the cumulative loss costing him the election, despite an element of damage to Labour.

It should also be noted, though, that there are more Labour/Tory marginals than Lib-Dem/Tory marginals. Remainers are being warned that they may have to vote tactically to beat Johnson. Properly organised, this too could have an effect.

That apart, the potential damage from the Farage Company is itself creating tensions within the Tories, and within Johnson's inner circle. At one level, Dominic "The Second" Cummings is said to favour an early contest while a number of Cabinet ministers want to see us out of the EU first.

No one is helped by the state of the polls. In all probability, they are a less reliable guide than they ever have been – despite changes and improvements in techniques – making this coming election a journey into the unknown.

On that basis, it is not even possible to rule out a hung parliament. We could even hypothesise about the forms of coalition government, to the extent of seeing a Labour, Lib-Dem and SNP grouping, determined to launch another EU referendum on the back of another Art 50 extension – should the EU be disposed to give us one.

There is also another nightmare scenario, where none of the opposition parties agree to a coalition and we are back with Johnson leading a minority government – without the support of the DUP. If he was unable then to pass the Withdrawal Agreement Bill through the Commons, what would he do then? Would he call for another general election, or give in to calls for a referendum?

If these are one set of possible outcomes, Tory voters might point to the disarray of the Labour party and the static support for the Lib-Dems. They might also argue that Farage Ltd might fare badly against the popularity of Johnson, who seems to be coated with a Teflon of a durability previously unknown to science. On that basis, they might look forward, if not to a landslide, to Johnson emerging with a comfortable majority.

Yet, the chances are that Labour is fully conscious of its own weaknesses and, even if Corbyn himself is forced to support an election motion, not enough of his MPs may follow, leaving Johnson locked in the waking nightmare of heading a government which has no power to govern, hunkered down in his Downing Street bunker condemned to relive the parody script of Downfall.

This too is a nightmare for the EU "colleagues". The European Council has yet to decide on its response to Johnson's enforced request for a three-month extension. Some EU-27 leaders are said to be concerned that the period could be misused (or wasted) and would like to see a firm commitment to an election before it gives the go-ahead.

On the other hand, we have Labour which doesn't want to agree to an election (if indeed it does) until the extension is in the bag. With the EU-27 leaders not wanting to involve themselves in internal UK politics, that puts Donald Tusk on his mettle, as he attempts to steer a neutral line, and come up with the right result.

Despite such confusion, there seems to be little discussion on what the effect might be on turnout, compounded by a late-autumn election with its dark evenings, poor weather and dropping temperatures. The hacks are so full of the thrill of the chase that they don't seem to have given a thought to whether the general populace shares the enthusiasm.

Turnout, though, could have more influence on the overall result than many other factors, especially as the effects are not uniform. We could see northern Labour voters stay at home, giving the Farage Company a free run, or we could see stay-at-home Tory remainers opening the gate. It is impossible to tell what the effects might be.

What is indisputable, for the moment, is the growing boredom creep. We've had more than three years of this and all we have to show for it is increasing evidence of incompetence in government and parliament, with little to choose between them. Given an election, politicians will need to discover convincing reasons for voters to turn out for them in the cold and the damp. They might find that they are talking to themselves.

Perhaps the only real way out is to let Brexit go to the wire, whence we drop out without a deal. Then we should have the election with, temporarily, Brexit off the agenda. For a general election to be focused entirely on Brexit is not healthy. Its purpose is to elect a government, and even I would acknowledge that there is more to politics than leaving the EU.

Bluntly, I don't think it is within the competence of either government or parliament to organise an orderly exit, so we might just as well bite the bullet and leave while we can. Politics is in such a mess that reform is overdue and the changes we need are going to be traumatic, with or without Brexit. The sooner we start, the sooner we can get it over with.






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