The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

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.

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.

The real divide

As someone who's had an online presence since 1983, I have learned a thing or two about online discourse. Principally, it's mostly crap. Most people know this.

But the dangerous thing is, in the last few years, people have forgotten it's crap. Everyone gets so worked up about the specific meaningless thing someone else posts they forget that there is a clear pattern of discourse going back to the beginning of politics.

The basic goal of the right is to consolidate wealth. The basic goal of the left is to live in an egalitarian utopia. And the basic goal of probably 90% of the world is just to live peacefully.

Notice the asymmetry. Living in an egalitarian utopia will never happen, for the simple reason that no one can agree on what that looks like. So the left's ultimate goal will forever be out of reach. We reform one thing, and discover inequality in another. So we try to fix that, and it turns out there's more inequality. It's Whack-a-Mole, for eternity. But the point is, we're trying. We will never live in a utopia, but we can make lives better anyway.

The right, on the other hand, has a long track record of achieving its goal, because it's easy to understand and easy to implement. They get your money; you lose your money; they win.

Now, most people don't vote to hand their money over to people who just want to get rich. So the challenge on the right has always been how to get people to give them money. And because their end goal is easy to understand, and tends to be popular with the people who achieve it, they've developed a few strategies to get your money and huge money-making enterprises to promote these strategies.

Right now, their main strategies are these: sell you things you want on easy terms and strangle you with interest, scare you into handing over your money, borrow from you to give you things you want and then make the other side explain how you were screwed (and not pay you back), make you borrow money to survive, or just steal it outright.

This post is really only about how the Right uses fear. Because everything else they do is just commerce.

As much as we may believe that the Right-wing parties care about jobs, the working class, traditional values, immigration, or whatever they claim to be for in any particular election, they really don't. Again, they care only about consolidating wealth. Because of that, they hate the free press, hate the poor, hate the middle-class, and hate anyone else who gets in their way.

It doesn't help that the center and the left have math, history, and numbers on their side. The right has a powerful message that appeals to a huge swath of people: give us your money and we'll protect you from everything you fear.

Only, they won't. They never have. One has only to look at every dictatorship ever, starting with the kleptocracy in Venezuela (or Russia or Zimbabwe or Hungary or Turkey...) right now to see how simple the whole problem is.

Since about the mid-1960s—not coincidentally, after a Democratic president passed the Civil Rights Act against the wishes of six states' worth of racist Democrats—left and right in this country have increasingly aligned by party, by geography, and by religion. Not just in the US: Canada just had an election yesterday in which a flawed center-left candidate almost lost to a frightening far-right candidate. And don't even get me started on Brexit.

The solution is equally simple: financial transparency. Demand to know where the money is going. Who voted to spend it; who voted to take it; what the actual effect of a government budget will be on you and your people. Then pay attention to what politicians actually say.

An honest person doesn't fear the truth.

Let's take Attorney General Bill Barr's speech at Notre Dame University this week as an example. He said a lot of controversial things, many of them just to rile up his base or piss off his opposition. Mainly, he said that people of faith are under attack from people who have read the First Amendment. (That's not exactly what he said, but given the miniscule portion of irreligious people in the US vs. the 70% who identify as Christian, it seems the top law-enforcement officer of this country fails to understand the Establishment Clause.)

But if you read how he concluded the speech, you see his primary  and clearly-articulated goal: he wants to send American tax dollars to religious private schools. Private schools owned by large corporations. Large corporations owned by the Secretary of Education.

Does Bill Barr care about giving every child in America the word of Jesus? Maybe. Who knows. Probably not. But he and Education Secretary Betsy DeVos care a lot about funneling public money to themselves. That bit is obvious.

I'm never going to have an abortion; you're never going to get fired for praying in your office. The vitriol ginned up about that sort of thing just distracts from the real issue of the early 21st century: Rich people are stealing from you, and you're letting them.

So do this. Vote your conscience on abortion, if your candidate discloses where he got all his money. Vote to protect your job, if your candidate doesn't get paid by your employer. Vote to protect your kids against bad medical research, if your candidate doesn't work for big drug company. Or better yet: run for office yourself.

And for fuck's sake, vote in local elections on local issues. Your alderman can't change foreign policy, but she can decide whether your alley gets paved this year, which might be more relevant to you.

To sum up: The "right" doesn't actually oppose the center or the left on philosophical or policy grounds. They oppose everyone on avaricious grounds. The religion and morality are just camouflage, meant to get votes from the very people they're stealing the most from.

A vote for the modern, movement-conservative Republican Party, or the Brexit-addled UK Conservative Party, or the Canadian Conservative Party (seeing a pattern?), is a vote for aristocracy and against your retirement account. (And hey, for everyone who isn't a trader on Wall Street, how did your private 401(k) accounts work out for you? Yeah, me neither.) It's really that simple.

If you really can only manage to vote on a single issue, then vote against thieves. We can find common ground on policy. We can't find common ground if someone else steals the land.

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.

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.

Lunchtime link roundup

Of note or interest:

And now, back to work.

Long, long time to sit

After sitting for 824 days—the longest time since World War II—the UK Parliament prorogued last night in a scene reminiscent of 1629:

The chaos unfolded in the early hours of Tuesday morning, after a day of high drama in which Boris Johnson lost his sixth parliamentary vote in as many days and Bercow announced his impending retirement as Speaker.

As the prorogation got under way, Bercow expressed his anger, saying it was “not a normal prorogation”.

“It is not typical. It is not standard. It’s one of the longest for decades and it represents, not just in the minds of many colleagues, but huge numbers of people outside, an act of executive fiat,” he said.

As Bercow spoke, opposition MPs held signs reading “silenced” and some attempted to block his way.

One of those involved in the protest, Alex Sobel, Labour MP for Leeds North West, said the action “echoes the action of members to try and prevent the speaker proroguing at the request of Charles I”, referring to the 1629 incident when MPs, furious at the closure of parliament, left their seats and sat on the Speaker, preventing him from rising and closing the house, allowing MPs to pass a number of motions condemning the king.

Bercow was not sat on, and was soon allowed to pass through the House of Commons to attend the House of Lords.

I found the whole session yesterday completely fascinating. PM Boris Johnson lost his sixth consecutive vote when the House declined to hold an early election (for now), as the opposition parties united in a demand that a no-deal Brexit be forestalled. But what will happen on October 31st is anyone's guess at the moment.

The Liberal Democrats have announced the will call for a repeal of Article 50 (i.e., Brexit) in the next election. The Conservatives, under Johnson and in collusion with Ukip extremists, will continue to support a no-deal Brexit.

This has been an historic Parliament. The next one will be even weirder.

Lords passes Benn bill

The Benn Bill, which would prevent Britain from crashing out of the EU without a deal in place, passed the House of Lords this afternoon and may receive Royal assent as soon as Monday evening.

Andrew Sullivan, meanwhile, sees a real possibility that the Conservative Party could win a snap election by a considerable margin, with or without an October 31st Brexit:

Here’s why: It seems inevitable now that a general election will happen this October or, at the very latest, November. If Brexit has not happened — and it’s pretty clear at this point that it will not have — then the election is effectively going to be a second referendum. This time, the choice will be starker than in 2016: a no-deal Brexit or staying in the E.U. And this week, by firing the dissenters, Johnson has succeeded in making the Tories the uncomplicated “Leave Now” party. By clearing up any confusion, Johnson will thereby stymie the threat to Tory seats by the Brexit Party, which stormed to victory in the recent European elections. He may even secure an election “nonaggression” pact with the Brexit party on a clearly “no deal” agenda. What Boris has effectively done is rerun the referendum as an election campaign.

His argument is a simple and powerful one: In the referendum, a majority voted to leave the E.U., and this decision should be honored or democracy itself is undermined. The E.U. will not let Britain eat its cake and have it too, and has insisted that the U.K. remain largely under E.U. rules even as it leaves the E.U., offering a compromise that was rejected by the U.K. Parliament decisively three times. So a “no deal” exit is the only realistic version of Brexit left. It’s the people’s will against the elites’. The idea that voters did not know what they were doing in 2016 is delusional. They were told endlessly that leaving would mean catastrophe in economic terms, and they still voted to leave. The real question is: Why have we not left on time? What’s left to argue about? Get on with it. (A more elegant case for the restoration of British sovereignty — not empire, as some ludicrously claim, merely sovereignty over its own citizens — is made by the invaluable Christopher Caldwell here.)

Caldwell's essay is quite good, but quite pro-Brexit:

Brexit was not an “outburst” or a cry of despair or a message to the European Commission. It was an eviction notice. It was an explicit withdrawal of the legal sanction under which Brussels had governed Europe’s most important country. If it is really Britain’s wish to see its old constitutional arrangements restored, then this notice is open to emendation and reconsideration. But as things stand now, the Leave vote made E.U. rule over the U.K. illegitimate. Not illegitimate only when Brussels has been given one last chance to talk Britain out of it, but illegitimate now. What Britons voted for in 2016 was to leave the European Union—not to ask permission to leave the European Union. It is hard to see how Britain’s remaining in the E.U. would benefit either side.

And yet, given that Britain is the first country to issue such an ultimatum, given that pro-E.U. elites in other European countries have reason to fear its replication, given the moral ambitions of the E.U. project, given that the British who support Remain have transferred their sentiments and their allegiances across the channel, given the social disparity between those who rule the E.U. and most of those who want to leave it, how could the reaction of Britain’s establishment be anything but all-out administrative, judicial, economic, media, political, and parliamentary war? The battle against Brexit is being fought, Europe-wide, with all the weaponry a cornered elite has at its disposal.

It has proved sufficient so far.

It's probably the best pro-Brexit argument I've heard. It didn't change my mind, but it did get me to think a bit more about the other side.