The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

Act III, Scene 1

The first debate between Boris Johnson and Jeremy Corbyn last night probably didn't sway anyone:

In a testy live debate on ITV, during which the prime minister repeatedly returned to the claim that he would “get Brexit done”, both men lavished praise on the NHS, but Corbyn said Johnson would put it up for sale.

Throughout the debate, Johnson continually tried to bring the focus back to Brexit, on which Corbyn repeatedly declined to say how he would campaign in a second EU referendum, while the Labour leader attacked the prime minister over the NHS and public services.

At one point, the audience openly laughed at Johnson when he agreed that the truth mattered in the election. The Conservatives came under fire during the debate when it rebranded its CCHQ Twitter account as “factcheckUK” and used it to pump out a series of pro-Tory messages.

Barry Gardiner, a shadow cabinet minister, emphasised the audience scorn for Johnson’s truthfulness, saying: “People looked at the prime minister and thought: how can we believe a word he said? How can we believe the manifesto when it comes out? He promised we would come out on 31 October and he would die in a ditch if we didn’t. It’s just lie after lie after lie.”

Polling still shows neither party getting 50% of the vote, but the Conservatives have pulled ahead a bit. The election is three weeks from tomorrow.

Backfield in motion

That's American for the English idiom "penny in the air." And what a penny. More like a whole roll of them.

Right now, the House of Commons are wrapping up debate on the Government's bill to prorogue Parliament (for real this time) and have elections the second week of December. The second reading of the bill just passed by voice vote (the "noes" being only a few recalcitrant MPs), so the debate continues. The bill is expected to pass—assuming MPs can agree on whether to have the election on the 9th, 11th, or 12th of December. Regardless, that means I'll be in London during the first weekend of the election campaign, and I'm elated.

Meanwhile, a whole bunch of other things made the news in the last day:

  • Writing for the New Yorker, Sam Knight argues that before Boris Johnson became PM, it was possible to imagine a Brexit that worked for the UK. Instead, Johnson has poisoned UK politics for a generation.
  • Presidents Trump and Obama came to Chicago yesterday, but only one of the personally insulted us. Guess which one.
  • That one also made top military officers squirm yesterday when he released classified information about our assassination of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, including a photograph of the dog injured in the raid. The dog's name remained classified, even as it seemed clear that he was a very good boy.
  • Grinnell College in Iowa released polling data today showing just how much people don't like President Trump. Moreover, 80% of those polled thought a presidential candidate seeking election help from a foreign government was unacceptable. Adam Schiff cracking his knuckles could be heard all the way to the Grinnell campus.
  • An appellate court in North Carolina ruled that the election maps drawn up by the Republican Party unfairly gerrymander a Republican majority, and must be re-drawn for the 2020 election.
  • Grubhub's share price crashed today after the company released a written statement ahead of its earnings call later this week. The company made $1.0 million on $322.1 million in revenue during the 3rd quarter, and projected a loss for the 4th quarter.
  • The City of Atlanta decided not to pay ransom to get their computers working again, in order to reduce the appeal of ransomware attacks.

Finally, it looks like it could snow in Chicago on Thursday. Color me annoyed.

The hospice of history

Writing in the Guardian, journalist and historian Neal Ascherson says that the long Brexit fight has deepened divisions within the UK that have always been there, but now may have passed the point of no return:

It’s commonly said that the Brexit years have made the English more xenophobic, less tolerant, more angrily divided among themselves. 

[T]he deepest change since 2016 is the weakening of the United Kingdom’s inner bonds.

The “great rest of England” seem to have felt for many years that if the Scots want to leave, “it seems a pity but it’s their right”. Few southerners would feel diminished. Many believe, incorrectly, that England subsidises Scotland. Since 2016, Scotland’s heavy vote to stay in the EU, and the SNP’s incessant campaigning against any sort of Brexit, have become a severe irritant to “British” politics. Devolution is working more scratchily month by month, and the common English assumption for the past few years has been that Scottish independence is inevitable. Curiously, this is not how it looks in Scotland, where minds change slowly and where it’s far from certain that the next independence referendum will drag the yes vote over the line.

In the union of four nations, one – England – has 85% of the population. What the past three years have shown is that the big partner is no longer concerned to put its own interests behind those of the others. A poll this year showed that Tory voters would be ready to “lose Scotland” (revealing words) if that ensured Brexit. In turn, devolution only made sense when all four nations were inside the European Union. If England in 2019 can no longer remember why the union with Scotland and Northern Ireland once made sense, Brexit has delivered the United Kingdom to the hospice of history.

Meanwhile, a deal in the works between the Tories and the Liberal Democrats may end the fixed-terms parliament act and send the UK to the polls on December 9th, instead of December 12th as the Government have previously asked. The EU have voted to postpone Brexit until January 31st, further complicating things for the Labour party (even though Labour demanded the extension).

I expect an earful at the Southampton Arms in two weeks.

Best description yet for the UK's current politics

“I’m just saying if I narrowly decided to order fish at a restaurant that was known for chicken, but said it was happy to offer fish, and so far I’ve been waiting three hours, and two chefs who promised to cook the fish had quit, and the third one is promising to deliver the fish in the next five minutes whether it’s cooked or not, or indeed still alive, and all the waiting staff have spent the last few hours arguing about whether I wanted battered cod, grilled salmon, jellied eels or dolphin kebabs, and if large parts of the restaurant appeared to be on fire but no one was paying attention to it because they were all arguing about fish, I would quite like, just once, to be asked if I definitely still wanted fish.”

Originally quoted in Roger Cohen's column in today's New York Times.

Things to think about while running a 31-minute calculation

While my work computer chews through slightly more than a million calculations in a unit test (which I don't run in CI, in case you (a) were wondering and (b) know what that means), I have a moment to catch up:

The first 30-minute calculation is done, and now I'm on to the second one. Then I can resume writing software instead of testing it.

What a silly bunt

British PM Boris Johnson is now, I believe, 0 for 8 in votes in Commons as the chamber voted 322 to 306 this afternoon (London time) to force the government to delay Brexit until January:

The prime minister will be legally obliged to request a Brexit delay at 11pm under the terms of the rebel Benn act, after the government lost the critical vote.

It came during a historic Saturday sitting of parliament, which saw the PM adopt an emollient tone, as he implored MPs to throw their weight behind his deal.

Letwin said he was minded to support Johnson’s deal, but the aim of his amendment was “to keep in place the insurance policy provided by the Benn act, which prevents us from crashing out automatically if there is no deal by 31 October”.

Downing Street has repeatedly insisted it will comply with the requirements of the Benn act, which forces the PM to write to the EU and request an extension if he has not received parliamentary support for his deal by the deadline. But Johnson has also insisted he will not delay Brexit.

Johnson could still force the UK out of the EU a week from Thursday, but doing so would run afoul of Parliament and would certainly trigger a constitutional crisis.

Meanwhile, if any of my UK readers would like some tariff-free Bourbon in exchange for some tariff-free Scotch, I'll be in the Big Stink on 9th November. I can bring two litres duty-free. Hit me up.

Pile-up on the Link Highway

I was busy today, and apparently so was everyone else:

I'm sure there was other news today. But this is what I have open in my browser for reading later on.

Boris Trump

I watched PM Boris Johnson's statement to the House yesterday as it happened, and I have to say, he seemed like a more-articulate version of Donald Trump. Instead of scowling, he smirked; instead of rambling incoherently, he banged the table succinctly. But otherwise, he demonstrated his unfitness for office and, as a bonus, the Conservative Party demonstrated theirs by giving him a standing-O.

Guardian columnist Polly Toynbee put it well:

If his party had some notion that the mantle of office would sober up this self-intoxicated scoundrel, they were wrong. If they thought charm and wit would be his winning political weapons, they were wrong. Not a scintilla remains of that “one nation”, “healing” and “bringing the country together” guff he talked in the leadership campaign. This is two-nation politics, deliberately driving the rift ever deeper. This is calculated contempt for parliament and the judiciary, designed to stir anger among his Brexit base outside against that imagined “elite”. That’s the definition of demagoguery, turning voters into “the mob” to force his way where he finds democratic and judicial processes barring his wishes.

ohnson’s strategy, devised with his unwise adviser Dominic Cummings, is to act so savagely that he provokes Labour into calling a vote of no confidence, as time and again he goaded Corbyn for cowardice, too frit to face the voters. Neither Labour nor the other opposition parties will be so foolish: they will call an election only when the no-deal danger has been delayed with an extension to the 31 October leaving date.

To date, the PM’s every tactic has been a disaster: losing every vote, his proroguing of parliament failed, blundering into the supreme court’s damning verdict. The net effect last night was yet again to bolster Jeremy Corbyn’s standing, his calm dignity of language casting Johnson as the wild-man extremist. The prime minister bawling insults at him as “a communist” fails when in front of everyone’s eyes is a grownup refusing to be riled by this spoilt adolescent.

Those who have left look back on their old party with horror: Amber Rudd warned yesterday of Johnson’s “dishonest and dangerous” language, but they have all quit. New candidates to replace the 21 departed will be of the Johnson stamp, chosen by the same aged firebrands who foisted this unspeakable prime minister on the country. It was never more imperative that this party should be resoundingly defeated at the next election – and that will take tactical collaboration by a progressive alliance of opposition parties. Johnson last night will have helped forge that determination.

Meanwhile, this government shambles towards a devastating no-deal Brexit. But make no mistake: Johnson, as PM, can lose every single vote and still crash the UK out of the EU on October 31st.

What a morning

PM Boris Johnson is now addressing the House of Commons, capping a crazy day in the UK. And that's not even the most explosive thing in the news today:

I'll be listening to Johnson now, daring the House to call for a vote of no-confidence, daring them to have an election before October 31st.

The institutions held; but at what cost?

In an unprecedented decision, the UK Supreme Court ruled today that PM Boris Johnson misled the Queen when asking her to prorogue Parliament, rendering the prorogation unlawful and void:

The unanimous judgment from 11 justices on the UK’s highest court followed an emergency three-day hearing last week that exposed fundamental legal differences over interpreting the country’s unwritten constitution.

“It is for parliament, and in particular the Speaker and the Lord Speaker, to decide what to do next. Unless there is some parliamentary rule of which we are unaware, they can take immediate steps to enable each house to meet as soon as possible. It is not clear to us that any step is needed from the prime minister, but if it is, the court is pleased that his counsel have told the court that he will take all necessary steps to comply with the terms of any declaration made by this court," [said Lady Hale, president of the Supreme Court].

The court stopped short of declaring that the advice given by Johnson to the Queen was improper. It was a question. they said, they did not need to address since they had already found the effect of the prorogation was itself unlawful.

Speculation before the ruling was that the court would find against the prime minister; that they were unanimous came as a surprise.

Speaker John Bercow, in consultation with his counterpart in the Other Place and with party leaders across the House, said the House of Commons would sit tomorrow at 11am. According to the Parliamentary Calendar as of this writing (15:40 BST), nothing has been calendared, but it seems likely that things will be lively.

Guardian editor Martin Kettle hails the ruling as a triumph of Parliament:

The power to prorogue parliament has now followed, in effect, the power to make war and to make treaties. All were once prerogative powers exercised in the past by ministers on behalf of the crown, but without parliamentary scrutiny. That is no longer possible. The process that began in the court of appeal in the 1960s under Lord Reid – the development of judicial review of public law – reached its ultimate and triumphant goal this morning.

Constitutionally, this is a magisterial landmark in the assertion of parliamentary sovereignty against the residual power of the crown and ministers. But it also bolsters parliament against all the other forces that claim to have higher authority too – from referendums to the tabloid press to the crowds in the streets.

If he's correct, Parliament has the power (but not necessarily the political capital) to ignore the Brexit referendum, or call a new one, or hold an election where that's the principal question.

Seven times Johnson has challenged the institutions of the UK since becoming Prime Minister, and seven times he's lost. Leader of the Opposition Jeremy Corbyn suggested Johnson "consider his position," which is English for "resign now."

Of course, Johnson won't do that he believes he can win the next election, which will without doubt take place before the end of November. He may be right. This Parliament could win every battle and lose the war, but only because the next Parliament lets it happen.