Donald Trump has been likened to a seventy year old toddler. Our own is 52, and has a precocious vocabulary, but a similar tendency to say meaningless and contradictory things at random, as in having his cake, and eating it. On the day Theresa May was not elected as Leader of the Conservative Party and Prime Minister, she did look a bit like a grown-up, but she’s since shown her true colours as the sour, mean child who somehow manages to get other kids to enact her nasty schemes whilst she remains teacher’s pet. It’s all very depressing.
So what can we do?
Jeremy Corbyn’s answer is to build a social movement which will create the political mood music in wider society, and force government to enact policies which benefit people, not corporate interests. The trouble is, a large party membership which just talks to itself might feel like ‘doing something’ to the membership, but it is missing the point. Mass parties are created by social movements – parties do not themselves create those movements. They’ve got things the wrong way around, and in the meantime, May’s unelected government of big babies gets on with smashing up the play-pen.
The Lib Dems are doing what they have done after all their great defeats – go back to ‘community politics’ and work from door-to-door, local government by-election to by-election, and hope to claw their way back. It usually works, up to a point. But unless they start to inflict serious pain on the Tories, it’s all too slow to make much difference to the real and immediate crisis that is Brexit.
The Greens, understandably, want a progressive alliance. So do many of us. But they’re still standing a candidate in Witney. Our system promotes paralysis, not action. It’s the way it’s built.
As a social democrat who believes in representative democracy, but thinks that we need root and branch reform of the constitution, my inclination is to take Parliament seriously as the primary location for political action. All the other stuff is fine, but we need those people who are in Westminster, imperfect as they are, to rise to the challenge of the catastrophe now unfolding.
So let’s go back to the origin of political parties. They began as groups of the like minded in parliament. Even Labour, which was created by the trades unions, social movements, and radical organisations of the 19th and early 20th Centuries began as an offshoot of the Liberals in parliament.
The British Election Study analysis of the referendum vote suggests that voters identify more strongly with ‘Leave’ or ‘Remain’ as labels, than with the political parties. So my radical suggestion is that for the duration of this parliament, and in the next general election, we rest party labels in parliament, and regroup MPs and peers as The Brexit Party and The Grown-Up Party.
Theresa May is obviously at the head of the Brexit Party, despite her ostensible ‘support’ for ‘remain’. The majority of Tory MPs who didn’t back Brexit should therefore elect someone else to lead the Conservative Party in parliament.
Corbyn would clearly remain leader of the Labour Party, but he could concentrate on the bits he enjoys, going out and about to big meetings, and signing up new members. Labour MPs might calm down a bit and start doing their jobs properly if they could then elect a leader of Labour in parliament. Keir Starmer is the shadow Brexit minister, so he might be ideal for the job.
The Grown-Up Party (they’d need a sensible name, obviously) would consist of many Tory MPs, nearly all Labour MPs, the Lib Dems, the SNP and Plaid Cymru, and a few others. They’d need a leader, too. My choice would be Caroline Lucas of the Greens, simply because she is neither Tory nor Labour, so wouldn’t unduly antagonise either side, though if the Grown-Ups were indeed grown-up enough to elect someone from another party with Cabinet experience, even better.
Under this scenario, the tables are immediately turned. The Grown-Up Party has a majority in both Houses of Parliament. This is not undemocratic – all the MPs have a personal mandate from 2015. They would then have to decide how to govern until the next general election in 2020.
The new Prime Minister (elected by a majority of MPs, unlike the present one, who was elected by nobody) and the new Cabinet would be ‘advised’ by the Brexit vote. The PM would step out of No.10 and announce that Article 50 would not be triggered until a series of sound plans had been worked out to show a range of possible ways to leave the European Union. At that point, the public would be invited to vote for the plan of their choice, including the option of retaining membership of the EU.
The pound would soar in value immediately. The new Home Secretary, Anna Soubry, would reassure minorities that they are valued members of society. The Chancellor of the Exchequer, Yvette Cooper, would begin to invest in infrastructure, education and health. The Foreign Secretary, Nick Clegg, would be welcomed by his counterparts around the world as the anti-Boris.
Those of us who have spent a lifetime being quite tribal about politics might find this all a bit difficult at first. I do blame Nick Clegg for facilitating the catastrophic Cameron reign by entering a coalition, rather than simply agreeing a limited voting pact. Nonetheless, I can be objective enough to see that he has the right talents and skill set to be an excellent Foreign Secretary in these troubled times.
For this is what matters – we need to stop the rule of the toddlers and their tantrum party for the good of the country. If it takes a government of national unity, so be it.
It’s taking back control, innit?