The election is happening. It won’t break the Brexit deadlock, but it could break the country for decades

Over the next six weeks, Boris Johnson and Jeremy Corbyn will ‘break the Brexit deadlock’ by screaming at each other about absolutely anything but Brexit  

Tom Peck
Political Sketch Writer
Tuesday 29 October 2019 20:40
Boris Johnson announces government will push legislation to allow general election in December

A popular trick among torturers is to give their subjects a demonstration of the horrific cruelty they are about to inflict on them before actually doing it.

Before applying the white hot welding torch to their exposed flesh, for example, they’ll melt some sheet metal with it, while the stricken victim is forced to look on, wide eyed in terror, as the rolled steel gathers in a molten puddle on the disused warehouse floor.

And that was what happened in the House of Commons on Tuesday afternoon, as Boris Johnson and Jeremy Corbyn offered a little amuse-bouche of the full banquet of misery they are now, it is confirmed, about to force upon us all.

A canape, if you like, a small plate. A sensory experience that can only be compared to the bit in Paul Gascoigne’s autobiography where he talks about clandestinely replacing the filling in a six pack of Tesco mince pies with his own excrement, popping them in the microwave and serving them up to Jimmy Five Bellies and his own, long-suffering dad.

There is, I am devastated to have to report, a Christmas election coming, on 12 December.

This, we are led to believe – for reasons that make no sense at all but we’ll return to that later – is now the only way to break the Brexit deadlock.

You’ve heard it said a thousand times. The House of Commons has failed to get Brexit done, and now it will call upon the assistance of the people.

The MPs can’t agree on any form of Brexit, or indeed any form of non-Brexit, and so the people must do their bit.

And how will this deadlock be broken? Oh come on. Like you don’t know already.

It was abundantly clear even before Johnson and Corbyn got started on Tuesday lunchtime. The way through the Brexit impasse will be for the public to spend six long weeks listening to the same tired old rubbish that happened over the House of Commons despatch boxes, as the overture to the now decided vote on whether or not to have an election.

Here was the pre-torture, the foretaste of six long weeks of Boris Johnson jabbing his finger at Jeremy Corbyn, firing spirit-crushing drivel about Fidel Castro and Hugo Chavez and Venezuela out through his swollen gob.

And there was Jeremy Corbyn responding as he will for the next six weeks, by ascending up in to the high reaches of his angry staccato, looking and sounding never more like a castrato wasp trapped under a pint glass, jabbering on about “an alternative to austerity and inequality and sweetheart trade deals with Donald Trump”.

And that’s how it will be, from now almost right up until Christmas. Which is not to say these issues are unimportant, of course they’re not. But they will, yet again, serve as a displacement war for Brexit and, in all likelihood, leave us well short of an actual answer to the eternal unanswerable question.

The days will shorten, the temperatures will plummet, there’ll be hyper-extended rows about your antisemitism being better or worse than my Islamophobia. There’ll be Hamas and Hezbollah and the IRA and “technology lessons” and bank robbers and letter boxes and where will it get us?

Well, the world of political predictions is now the all-time mug’s game, not that that will stop us all from drowning in them, but there are, really, only two bits of punditry worth clinging to. David Butler, inventor of the swingometer, election analyst without compare, possessor of a full 95 years of accumulated wisdom has freely admitted he has “never felt more confused and uncertain” about what will happen.

Professor Sir John Curtice, the closest thing we have to an electoral Attenborough, says that “everything is up for grabs” .

So we can say with absolute certainty that nobody has a clue what will happen. The polls are not just hopelessly volatile but extremely unhelpful. Labour, Lib Dem, Tory and Brexit Party will make their presence felt in every seat, then there’s the resurgent SNP to consider.

North, south, east and west winds will blow through every constituency, buffeting one another, cancelling one another out. Unique, complex and confusing outcomes will appear, quite possibly in hundreds of constituencies.

Labour activists will knock on doors in the depths of winter and, as the warm air rushes out, watch the faces of weary residents glaze over as they try to explain exactly what it is they will do about Brexit. We will legislate for a second referendum and a special one day conference and then they’ll decide whether to campaign for leave or remain or neither and at some indeterminate point the latch will click gently shut again.

Nigel Farage will be on the attack, of course. No longer the chain smoking, pint-pot balancing cheeky chappie of old, but the frontman for a movement that has chosen to embrace the politics that looks very much like the way that 21st-century Europe is taking baby steps towards its own nuanced version of proto-fascism.

The SNP will badge themselves as the voice of moderate reason but they want absolutely no more than to break up the United Kingdom against the clearly expressed desire of the voters from their own country.

The Liberal Democrats are making promises about revoking Article 50 imagining themselves to be safe in the knowledge they’ll never have to keep them, a course of action that you don’t have to have too long a memory to know ends with a fire extinguisher being thrown off the roof of the Millbank Tower.

This will be the cacophonous industrial machinery into which the voters of the nation will be asked to insert their helping hand.

Still, there are one or two things we can also say with certainty. Heidi Allen, the former Conservative and Independent and Liberal Democrat member for South Cambridgeshire is one of many who is standing down. She is, she says, “exhausted by the nastiness and intimidation that has become commonplace”. Nobody in any job, she says, should “have to have panic rooms installed in their home”.

No, they shouldn’t. And we can say with certainty that the descent of British politics into this miserable, febrile place owes a huge amount to what happened three years ago, and specifically the venerable gusto with which Vote Leave, and its leading lights, Dominic Cummings, Boris Johnson, Michael Gove and the rest embraced the politics of populism and lies and hate.

The glee with which they poured poison into the system, the blatantly Islamophobic lies about Turkey joining the EU for example, the billions of times these lies were ruthlessly fired into social media, ruthlessly targeting those whose data driven profiles suggested would be most vulnerable to them.

They built the mob. They riled it up. And now they will be spending six weeks geeing it up yet further, with complete moral abandon.

We already know the game plan is to fight a “people versus parliament” election. “Remoaner” MPs will again be branded collaborators and traitors and all the rest of it, for no greater crime than having been unable to deliver on the lies that were promised by other people.

Why else would Boris Johnson have pulled back from what could have been a genuine chance to pass his Withdrawal Agreement Bill, if just a little more time was allowed?

It is possible all this ends with a way forward, a more stable House of Commons, capable of removing the UK from the EU on Boris Johnson’s bad terms, even though there has not been a single poll in years that suggests the country wants that to actually happen.

But the means by which we get there will have been to avoid the question, again, to re-radicalise at a time when it is the very last thing that is needed.

It is distinctly possible, likely even, that this election fails to achieve anything. That the deadlock returns with the same certainty.

But it is also distinctly possible, likely even, that the country will take decades to recover from it. Indeed, it may never do so at all.

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