The Brexit update, with elections

Britain’s went into election mode this past week, and I’ll tell you about that in a minute, but let’s do some background first.

Before we could schedule an election, first we had to argue about whether to have an election, and if so, when and how. And by “we,” of course, I mean “them”: Our politicians and their many, many advisers. Parliament had to agree before anyone could schedule an election.

At one point in the wrangling, the prime minister, Boris Johnson, threatened that if parliament wouldn’t agree to hold an election before Christmas the government would do only the bare minimum. Then, faced with headlines about the government going on strike, he backed away from the threat, but he did say he’d park his Brexit bill until an election was scheduled. 

I’m reasonably sure that was to keep parliament from tacking amendments onto it. The whole point of trying to shove the bill through in three days, as he tried and failed to do, was to get the beast through unexamined and unamended.

Yeah, we’ve been champions at cooperation and compromise lately. 

In the meantime, the European Union agreed to a three-month Brexit extension, although it can be shorter in the unlikely situation that we all agree on anything other than how terrible the weather is. With that announcement, we all drew a deep breath and started using up the three cans of tomatoes and six cans of baked beans that every household had stockpiled in case of a no-deal Brexit emergency. 

As far as I know, no one’s drawing down their private stockpiles of medication. And since my partner and I both hate baked beans, we don’t have any to use up. Some other household has our portion stashed away and is responsible for using it up. These things all average out.

While everyone was focused on the election that we might or might not have, a leaked document showed that, in spite of vague governmental noises about maintaining EU standards on workers’ rights and the environment, the Department for Exiting the European Union has drafted plans saying that “the government is open to significant divergence from EU regulation and workers’ rights.”

That should matter to us all, but it hasn’t gotten much attention. So little of the important stuff has. We act as if Brexit was a yes / no question when in fact it’s not even multiple choice, it’s an essay test.

Another thing we’re not paying much attention to is the report from a cross-party parliamentary committee about Russian interference in the 2016 EU referendum. The committee expected Johnson to approve and release it. The government’s saying it always takes more time than that. The committee says, “Oh, no it doesn’t,” and the government says, “Oh, yes it does.”

And if that doesn’t sound like a joke, keep reading. It’s a British thing.

Cue accusations of a cover-up.

Cue denials of a cover-up.

Some of the wrangling over whether to hold an election was focused on whether to hold it on December 9th or December 12th. The theory is that this matters because on the 9th more students will still be at their universities, where they’ll be more likely to vote. Parties that appeal strongly to younger voters wanted the election on the 9th and parties that appeal to older voters wanted it on the 12th. 

No one’s motives are pure.

It’ll be on the 12th. 

Holding an election right now is a massive gamble for everyone. Polls show the Conservatives–Johnson’s party–with a lead but nothing like a majority. That should make them (relatively) confident, but they’re not. And there’s no reason they should be. They went into the last election with a lead in the polls and lost ground. And Johnson’s a wild card. A new scandal could emerge at any time. And he was tightly controlled during the campaign for party leadership, but he’s the kind of guy who could have a meltdown this time around. 

Another problem they face is that Johnson hasn’t delivered Brexit by October 31, which he swore he’d do and which will almost surely allow the Brexit Party to eat into the Conservative lead. 

As for the polls, they can be deceptive. Among other things, what matters is the number of votes each candidate gets in each seat, so a nationwide lead may not translate into a majority in parliament. If that’s not clear, I’m sure Hillary Clinton can explain it.

So the party was split over calling for an election. Johnson might’ve done better to push ahead with the Brexit deal he negotiated. In the British system, parliament packs up and goes home before an election and all the bills under consideration die. The bill would probably have gathered amendments he didn’t like, but according to Chris Grey’s Brexit Blog, he could have dropped those later on. I can’t explain how that would have worked and Gray doesn’t seem to think he needs to, but he’s a hell of a lot better informed than I am and I’m going to trust him on this.

Some Labour MPs are also hesitant about an election. The polls show them behind the Conservatives. On the other hand, in the last election they did better than they were expected to do and they’re hoping that rabbit’s still in the hat. They’re scuffling their hands around at the bottom, feeling for fur.

Meanwhile, the smaller opposition parties–the Liberal Democrats; the Scottish National Party; probably the Greens–want an early election. They look like they’d benefit from it. 

All the parties, however, are publicly predicting great and wonderful victories. 

Before the election date was set, we were sprlnkled with so many reasons that holding an election before Christmas would be a problem that they fell upon us like fairy dust.

First, polling places are getting harder to book, especially since they’ll be competing with Christmas shows, especially pantos. 

For anyone who isn’t British (or isn’t from a country that picked up the custom from Britain), I’d better explain that: A panto is a form of kids’ theater. They start around Christmas time, run for a while afterwards, then go dormant for the rest of the year so everyone can recover. They’re (very) loosely based on fairy tales. The leading woman is (wildly over)played by a man. At some point, the audience is expected to yell, “He’s behind you” while some clueless character wanders around doing everything but looking behind him- or herself, and at some other point two characters will fall into an exchange that runs something like, “Oh, yes I will,” / “Oh, no you won’t.” After the first half dozen repetitions, it starts to be funny. Or maybe I laughed so hard because it wasn’t funny. It’s hard to say why it works.

That long digression was to make the point that one problem with a pre-Christmas election is that the pantos may get a larger audience than the election itself. This election really does matter, and a lot of people feel that. On the other hand, we’re all sick to death of everything linked to Brexit. 

Will most people vote? Oh, yes they will. 

Oh, no they won’t. 

Oh, I haven’t a clue. 

Second (we were counting problems with a pre-Christmas election, you’ll of course remember), the postal workers just voted to go on strike sometime before Christmas. I don’t think a date’s been set yet, but if it comes at the wrong time absentee ballots will be held in purgatory until such time as the strike is settled. 

Third, the less time is left between an election being declared and an election being held, the more polling places cost to rent. That cost falls on local governments, which have been starved of funds for the past–um, sorry, this involves numbers. Austerity started in late 2008. I’ll leave you to figure out how long that’s been.

Weighing against all those negatives is the possibility that the election will end the parliamentary gridlock. 

Of course, if it does (and that’s a big if), no one knows which side the change will favor, and once the new parliament is in place it won’t have much time to figure out (a) what if anything it can agree to and (b) how to do it before the next Brexit deadline.

No one knows if Brexit will be the only issue deciding how people vote. Voters themselves may not know yet. If it is, the Liberal Democrats (anti-Brexit) and the Brexit Party (pro) can be expected to pick up votes from Labour and the Conservatives, even though no one (possibly including the two parties themselves) has a clue what they stand for on other issues.

I’ve mentioned before that both Labour and the Conservatives are deeply split over Brexit, but they’re not the only ones who are split. We’ve had a nationwide sale on divisiveness lately, so everybody’s splitting with somebody and every available party is bitterly divided on something. (With a few smallish exceptions, but less not mess up a good image.) The People’s Vote Campaign, which has been pushing for a second referendum, is badly divided, with firings, walk-outs, threatening letters, and calls for the chair to resign. On the other side, the Brexit Party split from the UK Independence Party (better known as UKIP) some time so. Since then, UKIP has burned through leaders faster than the Catholic Church burns through candles. And the Brexit Party was split over whether to contest every seat or stay out of some races to keep from siphoning votes from the Conservatives. It’s too early to say whether some residue of that division still hangs over them.

*

Setting aside all the important implications of this election, it means that unless something startling happens I’ll stop doing Brexit updates for a while. I may even start sleeping late.

But before I set Brexit on a top shelf where it can gather dust, a quick note to readers who’ve taken the time and trouble to argue with me about Brexit posts: I appreciate your willingness to stay with me when you disagree and I appreciate it that you’ve bothered to argue. It’s not easy to read opinions you disagree with, and at least for some people it’s not easy to argue. Thanks for doing both.

*

In case you’re staying up nights wondering about this, members of the House of Lords can’t vote in British elections. The queen can but in the interest of neutrality doesn’t.

*

At least some people had trouble following the emailed link to Friday’s post about the Jacobite Rebellion, and I’ve asked WordPress to help me sort out the problem. I may end up re-posting that to make sure it reaches everyone. If you get it twice, my apologies.

61 thoughts on “The Brexit update, with elections

  1. I always look forward to your Brexit posts well it is mostly what I think about from afar and I watch the house of commons ..internet connection allowing and of course, the time difference although matchsticks help…Your posts then sometimes fill in the gaps…and gaps there are or chasms in some areas…Maybe I should hibernate on a desert island until the Brexit impasse has disappeared…

    Liked by 1 person

  2. As you suggest in your reference to Ms C., polls, indeed national totals of votes, don’t necessarily produce the like result in parliamentary numbers, because, just as your presidential elections are really 50 separate state-based elections, our general elections are 650 constituency-based elections. Chuck into the mix that since 1974, the numbers of voters turning to parties other than the two main parties, and the numbers of non-voters, have been increasing, and (according to one report I read) there is greater volatility than before, with perhaps a third of voters switching parties between elections, it all becomes very hard to predict, even before the campaign starts with all the unexpected “defining moments” it might produce. It would certainly be possible for the Tories to lose votes, possibly quite substantially, but still come out the largest party, or for any party to do substantially better or worse than the polls suggest.

    Liked by 1 person

    • At this point, it seems like anything’s possible. As for polls, since the introduction of mobile phones, they’ve been less reliable–although I’m told (by a highly non-authoritative source) that they’ve been able to correct for that lately. Probably.

      Like

  3. I know this isn’t the important point here, but… Pantos happen a bit in the Summer too, though mostly the Summer events are reserved for puppet shows like Punch and Judy, where we still have to go through the, “Oh yes it is,” and “Oh no it isn’t,” routine, but with colourful puppets.

    Also, I don’t know why it’s funny. I’ve been watching them all my life, and I still can’t figure out why it’s funny. It just is for some reason. It’s one of life’s great mysteries…

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    • It is. Maybe it’s the energy generated by having a group of people start yelling it together.

      I’m still completely innocent of Punch and Judy shows, which is why they didn’t get a mention. Thanks for bringing them up. It might be interesting to see what I can find out about their history.

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  4. Yes, that report on Russian interference is very interesting as I think that most political parties have been snuggling up to Russian oligarchs after funding for their parties…and where did Aaron Bank get all that money to donate to the “Leave” campaign? It clearly wasn’t his.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. But there’s so much fun to come in the campaigning too!
    Convenient announcement timing (see: suspension of fracking)… inconvenient announcement timing (see: Met Police passing Vote Leave criminal file to CPS for consideration to prosecute, including one M. Gove and A B dP Johnson …)
    PM betting booed and jeered and having to promptly leave a Cambridge hospital he’d arrived at largely unannounced just for the photo ops… Facebook stopping the ads the Conservative party had placed in the feeds of residents of key marginal towns which crowed about ‘extra funding’ for their town which they’d actually used Government (ie, our tax money) to pay for…
    Yep, it’s going to be a fun one and after all that we should have enough fun left over for a Christmas party or two.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Interesting about the polling places. Do they change regularly for each election? Or generally do people go to the same ones? I live in a reddish state (Florida), and our polling place is in a fundamentalist baptist church — always a strange encounter for my wife and me, two liberal Jews. I appreciate the link to the BBC Q&A on voting. I had no idea House of Lord members couldn’t vote.

    Liked by 1 person

    • That bit about the Lords was news to me as well. I stumbled over it after a question about whether the queen could vote wafted past me.

      The only polling place I can speak to first hand is in my village, where we’d have the choice of two village halls. After that, we’d be on the beach hoping the tide doesn’t come in–or in the pub, trying to keep everyone sober-ish. But it sounds like they do change. Because when you don’t have a fixed date every year, two years, or four years, you can’t reserve in advance.

      Liked by 1 person

      • For me, it’s always been the primary school just over the road (and before that, the public library where I used to live from my childhood). And the counts used to take place in the Town Hall (before, of course, the buildings got privatised: most recently, where I am now, they have been using a former cinema that became a night club, and has sufficient floor space for all the necessary sorting and counting tables).

        Liked by 1 person

        • Ever since I got the original question, I’ve been imagining what would happen if our village hall was already booked and then an election was dropped on us. I can’t begin to imagine the guilt that would be heaped on any organization that was slow to reschedule.

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  7. The Jacobite post did not show up on my wordpress list. I found it by clicking on past comments. Happens ever so often.

    My wife likes your quick elections, held in six weeks. We have to go through almost two years of it. But trying to follow the British system gives me a headache. Too many parties pulling in different directions. I suppose there will eventually be an outcome, either staying in or leaving one way or another. Still get barely any coverage. I did know elections were scheduled but that is about all. Not sure how or if it will affect us but still interesting.

    Liked by 1 person

    • One thing about short election periods is that they give less opportunity for big, big, massively big money to get involved. Which can’t be a bad thing. The US seems to be in permanent election mode. You just see the back of one and the campaigns start for the next one.

      Thanks for letting me know about the Jacobite post. I still haven’t figured out if I should send it out again or just shrug the whole thing off and go on.

      Like

  8. I have a horrible feeling that the election will leave us with a similar House of Commons set up to the one we have now, thereby solving absolutely nothing. I don’t trust either of the two main parties to make any kind of success of Brexit, and have a sneaking suspicion that a second referendum, now that the lies and downsides are known, might produce a different result, and then we could get back to all the other things about this country that need to be addressed.

    I just hope that the election campaign works its usual effect on me, so that I can use up all those toilet rolls I stockpiled.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Ah, you went into serious stockpiling. We’ve just got those stray cans of tomatoes. Anything we do–second referendum; election; dice–is a gamble right now. My hunch is that Labour would negotiate some fairly moderate Brexit (customs union, etc.) and then, as promised, hold a referendum, giving us two choices that would be less than disastrous. But–as Yogi Berra said, and I think I’ve quoted him before on this–it’s hard to make predictions. Especially about the future.

      Liked by 1 person

      • I think Yogi Berra had something there. The election is a big gamble by Johnson, and the wrong result could finish his career – not before time. It frightens me that what could determine the future of our country for generations is being driven by arrogance, ambition and hubris. But I’m not predicting any particular outcome, only time will tell.

        Liked by 1 person

  9. “We act as if Brexit was a yes / no question when in fact it’s not even multiple choice, it’s an essay test.” That’s the crux of the issue and how it started. I was living there when it happened… was devastating. Too bad about the 12th. Do we believe in miracles? It might be the right season…

    Liked by 1 person

        • I have an odd relationship with religious music. Some of it’s beautiful, but for me there’s a line somewhere and when it gets too religious I’m outta there. Which is, as I said, odd, since religious music does have a habit of being religious and I really shouldn’t quibble with it over that. To make it even odder, I’m never sure where the line will be until I’ve been dragged across it. So, to answer your question, it’s hard to say.

          Liked by 1 person

          • I think I’m a bit the same. And I think I was being a bit too frivolous and quippy… but in general, I love the kinds of music that people put their hearts and souls into, as long as it has a good dancing beat, or a good meditational one.

            Ok now I’m off-topic for this post. Better hit the sack. Bonne nuit, Ellen :)) xo

            Liked by 1 person

  10. ** takes deep breath and starts to read** … well, that wasn’t too bad as far as Brexits go :) … so basically it’s all o’pinion-posturing, feather-fluffing, and appendage-measuring, between now and the election.

    Liked by 1 person

  11. I’m glad you’re attempting to make some sense of this ridiculous Brexit debacle. That’s my American, marginally-informed, opinion of it. I’m a bit cynical by nature and experiences, so I tend to try to figure out who’s benefitting whenever things fall apart. In the case of Brexit, I haven’t a clue who is ahead– or even how they could be. Nonetheless, I will admit that I rather enjoy the idea of a major life-changing national vote being sidelined by children’s holiday pantos. There’s a wry humor in that reality.

    Liked by 1 person

    • You’re reading of it is better informed than some of the opinions I’ve heard here. Who benefits? Damn good question. People who can make money on the pound going down. People who can ride the tide of anti-immigrant nationalism. A few economic sectors–sorry, I’m blanking on which they are, although I did read about a few recently–that have something to gain. And cynical politicians who can whip up division and get themselves elected.

      Liked by 1 person

  12. All this Brexit nonsense is no more than a conspiracy designed to distract us from the terrible weather that our government is creating. What’s more, I think you’re in on the conspiracy. You hardly mentioned the weather.

    Liked by 1 person

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