The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

Long night in London

The House of Commons have just finished slogging through 10 amendments to a bill tabled by Labour MP Hilary Benn that would prevent the UK crashing out of the EU without a deal, and have started voting on the "third reading." If the ayes have it, the bill would then pass out of the House of Commons and go to the "other place" (the House of Lords) for passage. After that, the Queen would give her Royal Assent, and Bob's your uncle.

And to underscore how weird all of this is, an amendment passed by accident (because the government didn't put "tellers" in the No lobby, never mind what that means for the moment) that mandates the failed Theresa May deal lurch back to life in the next Parliament.

No one has a good handle on how Lords will vote, or how long it will take, though there was talk of putting a time limit on the Lords' debate so the bill can possibly receive Royal Assent before Parliament prorogues next week.

Earlier today, in his first Prime Minister's Questions, PM Boris Johnson didn't answer any questions put to him by the opposition. It was quite a show. And like another head of government on this side of the Atlantic, Johnson demonstrated his lack of respect for his own office and for the institution of Parliament.

The vote is just in as I'm writing this: Ayes, 327; Nays, 299. The ayes have it, the ayes have it. Unlock!

Now Commons will now consider Boris Johnson's motion to hold an election in October, which will not be agreed because the Benn bill hasn't got Royal Assent yet.

What a day in London

With support of 21 Conservative members, the UK House of Commons this evening voted 328-301 to allow the introduction of a bill tomorrow that would prohibit the country from crashing out of the EU on October 31st absent a deal with the trading bloc. In response, Prime Minister Boris Johnson vowed to table a motion tomorrow calling for a general election on October 14th, and also expelling several of the rebels from the party:

The rebel lawmakers seemed furious on Tuesday. In another era, they would have been the past and future of the Conservatives, with lawmakers like Nicholas Soames, Churchill’s 71-year-old grandson, standing alongside Mr. Stewart, a rising star among younger voters who walks the country filming his conversations with people.

But they said the party was now being set adrift by “entryists,” right-wing newcomers who have rushed into the Conservative fold to push it in a more extreme direction on Brexit. Mr. Hammond accused Dominic Cummings, Mr. Johnson’s most senior adviser, of not being a Conservative at all.

“This is my party — I’ve been a member of this party for 45 years,” Mr. Hammond said in a radio interview on Tuesday morning, brimming with anger. “I’m going to defend my party against incomers, entryists, who are trying to turn it from a broad church into a narrow faction.”

Minutes after Parliament adjourned around 11pm BST, Hammond and other party stalwarts got phone calls from the Whip telling them they could not stand in the next election as Conservatives. With those expulsions and other defections, the Conservative government no longer holds a majority in Commons.

Guardian columnist Rafael Behr had some of the day's harshest (public) words for Johnson:

In part, Johnson is captive to the public school cult of effortless dilettantism that despises diligence as vulgar and swotty. He is also a hostage to his own breezy rhetoric. Even now that the technical complexities and economic hazards of Brexit are indisputable, the prime minister pretends that obstacles are trifling or illusory. He claims that leaving the EU without a deal would not be a calamity, but also that the threat of calamity is necessary to persuade the EU to grant a deal. He says that MPs’ demands for an article 50 extension make it harder to negotiate in Brussels because continental leaders will compromise only when they see that the UK is beyond reason. In short: there is no cliff, and even if there was one, the way to avoid it is by driving towards the edge at full speed with no brakes.

Johnson’s actions are best explained by his congenital aversion to things that are hard. He wants a deal but not the effort of getting a deal. He is lying to the public when he blames the opposition or Brussels for his predicament – but lying also, one suspects, to himself. A man who spent years in estrangement from the truth is unlikely to seek its company now.

I listened to Parliament TV this afternoon, and you can bet I'll have it on again tomorrow. At the moment, the calendar shows Johnson taking his first round of Prime Minister's Questions at noon BST. I can hardly wait.

More on Parliament vs the PM

More stories since yesterday about how Boris Johnson wants to wreck Britain:

Fun times, fun times.

Johnson whips out his Johnson

In a move that surprised almost no one but angered almost everyone, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced today that, at his request, the Queen prorogued Parliament from mid-September to October 14th:

The effect of the decision will be to curtail the time MPs have to introduce legislation or other measures aimed at preventing a no-deal Brexit – and increase the pressure on Jeremy Corbyn to table a vote of no confidence next week.

If Johnson lost that vote, there would then be a 14-day period in which the Labour party leader, or an alternative candidate, could seek to assemble a majority. If no new government emerges, a general election would have to be held.

But government sources insist Johnson is determined not to go to the polls before Britain is due to leave the EU. “We have been very clear that if there’s a no-confidence vote, he won’t resign. We get to set an election date. We don’t want an election, but if we have to set a date, it’s going to be after 31 October,” said a senior government source.

In practice, given MPs do not sit on most Fridays, they are only likely to lose between four and six sitting days in parliament, depending on which day parliament is prorogued on the second week of September. MPs would have been due to hold conference recess anyway, from 12 September until 7 October.

The plan would leave Parliament out of session for the longest period since 1945. The Speaker, John Bercow, said he will "fight with every breath in [his] body" to prevent the recess.

Columnist Tom Kibasi says Johnson is trying to set up a "people vs Parliament" election:

The last time parliament stepped in to block no deal earlier in the year, the necessary legislation was passed in just three days. Johnson has deliberately left enough time for parliament to seize control again. That’s because Johnson’s real objective is to use Brexit to win a general election, rather than use a general election to secure Brexit. By forcing the hands of his opponents, he has defined the terrain for a “people versus parliament” election. Expect him to run on “Back Boris, Take Back Britain”. He will say that the only way to definitely leave on 31 October is to give him a parliamentary majority to do so. The man of Eton, Oxford and the Telegraph will position himself as the leader of the people against the hated establishment and “remainer elite”.

Johnson's Conservative party are polling ahead of Labor, but none of the four major parties is polling above 33%. A Labour-Liberal Democratic coalition could happen; so could a grand coalition of Remainers.

Parliament returns from its August holiday on September 3rd. Expect fireworks.

Sic transit gloria Brittania

Unelected former Prime Minister Theresa May tendered her resignation to the Queen a few minutes ago. Unelected incoming Prime Minister Boris Johnson is, at this moment, meeting with Her Majesty in hopes that she will invite him to form a new government.

May's last Prime Ministers Questions were at noon BST today:

I recommend just a few opinion pieces on Johnson out this morning:

Meanwhile, to underscore that the UK may have gone to hell today, the Met Office predicts that tomorrow may be the hottest day ever in the country. Ever.

Old, white Englishmen elect new leader

The Conservative Party membership have elected Boris Johnson, an incompetent layabout and buffoon, to lead the Party, passing over the competent and level-headed Foreign Secretary Jeffrey Hunt by almost a 2:1 majority (92,153 to 46,656). Wednesday afternoon, Johnson will go to Buckingham Palace where, no doubt masterfully hiding her disgust, the Queen will invite him to form what will probably be the last government of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland.

Johnson will become the second PM not chosen in a general election, sort of if Gerald Ford had stepped down and made Pat Buchanan President in early 1976. The 92,000 Conservatives who voted for him are nearly all old, white, male, and English, representing only a bit more than 1/10 of 1% of the UK population.

Johnson has pledged to crash the UK out of the European Union by October 31st "do or die," which he may accomplish, though a narrow window still exists for a vote of no confidence followed by the statutory 60 days of dithering before a new election can happen.

The fun bit is that now Johnson completely and totally owns Brexit. His misleading campaign in 2016 persuaded the UK's equivalent of Trumpland to vote by a narrow margin for the policy that will, everyone can see, break Scotland and Northern Ireland out of the Union. And now he gets to lead the country through all that chaos. Only, he hasn't exactly got a record of taking responsibility or even of acknowledging that such a thing can even happen to him, so the next few months should be entertaining. As Guardian columnist Gary Younge said this morning, "The leave campaign had no more plans for leaving the European Union than a dog chasing a car has to drive it."

It's hard not to look at Johnson as less than the apotheosis of upper-class twittery that the Conservative Party has kept alive for a couple of centuries now. And with Labour careening so far to the left under Jeremy Corbyn, it almost seems like we're in for a return to the Callaghan/Heath years of the early 1970s, with the British economy stagnating under state ownership of industry while a patrician right-wing Tory party offers to do in the NHS.

And the best part? All of this is in Russia's best interests. We're going back to the '70s all right, only this time, the Soviets are winning.

Between Iraq and a hard place

The Daily Parker will have a bit of activity today, so let me get the two political stories out of the way immediately.

First, Josh Marshall points out a yuge consequence of President Trump's constant lying: people have a hard time believing the administration's claim that Iran had anything to do with the attacks on oil tankers in the Gulf of Oman. He connects the dots:

[Y]ou don’t need to assume irrationality or perfidy on the part of the Iranians for them to be behind this. We had a deal with the Iranians backed by all the global powers. We broke the agreement and are now trying to strangle the Iranian economy with new sanctions. By historical standards those actions are reasonably understood to be acts of war. Low level attacks on commercial shipping just under the level that might trigger direct US retaliation has a clear logic to it.

On the other hand, pretty much every regional adversary has a strong incentive to mount some kind of false flag operation, or rush to blame the Iranians. At least a couple have recent histories of reckless, high-risk gambits to advance their perceived goals. The obvious player here is Saudi Arabia and its de facto ruler Mohammad bin Salman. Others seem possible as well.

US claims are further undermined by statements from the owner of the Japanese tanker. The President of the company didn’t dispute or validate the US accusations about who was at fault but contradicted how the US claims the attack happened. The US says it was a mine. The tanker owner said it was a flying object (presumably a missile or projectile of some sort) which had an impact entirely above the ship’s waterline. That doesn’t inspire a lot of confidence in the US version of events.

The truth is all the players involved have huge incentives to lie. And a few of them have very recent histories of the most flagrant falsehoods and dirty tricks on an international scale.

Second, the Atlantic's Adam Serwer bemoans the right wing trend to abandon democracy when they lose their arguments:

The tide of illiberalism sweeping over Western countries and the election of Donald Trump have since renewed hope among some on the religious right that it might revive its cultural control through the power of the state. Inspired by Viktor Orbán in Hungary and Vladimir Putin in Russia, a faction of the religious right now looks to sectarian ethno-nationalism to restore its beliefs to their rightful primacy, and to rescue a degraded and degenerate culture. All that stands in their way is democracy, and the fact that most Americans reject what they have to offer.

The past few weeks have witnessed a nasty internecine fight among religious conservatives about whether liberal democracy’s time has passed. Sohrab Ahmari, writing at First Things, attacked National Review’s David French for adhering to a traditional commitment to liberal democracy while “the overall balance of forces has tilted inexorably away from us.” Would the left have stood by liberal democracy in the face of such circumstances? In fact, the balance of forces tilted away from the left’s cultural priorities for most of my lifetime, and the left’s response was to win arguments—slowly, painfully, and at incalculable personal cost.

We've always known the right were crybabies. And we've always known that they are on the losing side of history. But they're not going quietly into the night; nor are they trying to convince anyone through logic. Same as always.

Our man in London, part 2

Britons' revulsion of President Trump knows few bounds. Fortunately they seem to have drawn a distinction between him and the country he represents:

But despite the sense of (bad) business as usual, two things are already becoming clear that both highlight the particularly disturbed nature of current British politics, and the U.S.’s general loss of global standing under Trump. Firstly, the president’s popularity in Britain is so low that attacking him has become an easy way for local officials to build political capital. And secondly, that even among potential allies, Trump is now mainly seen as an agent of chaos.

A few pro-Brexit words from Trump might help this future leader sell the process to a doubtful and divided electorate—or at least the small part of it that will vote for a new Conservative leader—but so far, they’re not getting it. Indeed, on Sunday, U.S. ambassador to the U.K. and Trump ally Woody Johnson did the exact opposite. In an interview with the BBC, Johnson said “all aspects” of the U.K. economy would be up for negotiation during a post-Brexit U.S./U.K. trade deal—including healthcare. By this he meant opening up Britain’s National Health Service to tenders from U.S. health companies, a move that could well presage the break-up of the system as we know it. Whatever party they support, this kind of talk turns most British people’s blood to ice.

Yes, that's right. And the president doubled down on putting NHS "on the table" in his news conference today with soon-to-be-ex PM Theresa May.

But this is Trump. Protests? What protests?

11:27 a.m. EDT: Trump dismissed a news conference question about London protests during his trip. “As far as the protests, I have to tell you… yesterday we left the prime minister, the queen, the royal family,” he said. “There were thousands of people on the streets cheering.”

“Even coming over today, there were thousands of people cheering, and then I heard that there were protests. I said, ‘Where are the protests? I don’t see any protests.’ I did see a small protest today when I came. Very small. So a lot of it is fake news, I hate to say.”

“You saw people waving the American flag, waving your flag. I was tremendous spirit and love. There was great love. It was an alliance.”

Washington Post London correspondent Karla Adam has been out in the streets with demonstrators all day. She writes: “A giant blimp of a diaper-clad “baby Trump” and a talking “Trump robot” sitting on a toilet were among the most vivid props on Tuesday as protesters descended on central London to register their disapproval of President Trump.” Read her full report.

Oh, dear.

Britain, on behalf of the majority of voters in the U.S., I apologize.

A feature, not a bug

Writing for the conservative National Review, Jim Geraghty correctly diagnoses a fundamental problem with Movement Conservatism as a governing philosophy, forgetting that Movement Conservatism is actually a wealth-generating philosophy:

Back in 2014Politico researched 33 political action committees that claimed to be affiliated with the Tea Party and courted small donors with email and direct-mail appeals and found that they “raised $43 million — 74 percent of which came from small donors. The PACs spent only $3 million on ads and contributions to boost the long-shot candidates often touted in the appeals, compared to $39.5 million on operating expenses, including $6 million to firms owned or managed by the operatives who run the PACs.”

Politico didn’t specify which 33 PACs they reviewed; if their list overlaps entirely with the RightWingNews list, then the total sum listed above would be $127 million; if they don’t overlap at all, it would be $177 million. That is money that could have gone directly to candidates’ campaigns or other actions that would have advanced the conservative cause in recent cycles. But instead it went into more fundraising expenses, more overhead costs, or into the pockets of those running these PACs.

Why is the conservative movement not as effective as its supporters want it to be? Because day after day, year after year, little old ladies get called on the phone or emailed or sent letters in the mail telling them that the future of the country is at stake and that if they don’t make a donation to groups that might as well be named Make Telemarketers Wealthy Again right now, the country will go to hell in a handbasket. Those little old ladies get out their checkbooks and give what they can spare, convinced that they’re making a difference and helping make the world a better place. What they’re doing is ensuring that the guys running these PACs can enjoy a more luxurious lifestyle. Meanwhile, conservative candidates lose, kicking the dirt after primary day or the general election, convinced that if they had just had another $100,000 for get-out-the-vote operations, they might have come out on top.

We can apply this beyond the realm of politics, as well. Why is America not enjoying a widespread revival of Christian values? There are a bunch of reasons, but we can start with televangelist Kenneth Copeland attempting to justify his purchase of a third private plane, a Gulfstream V.

Yeah, but here's the problem, Jim. Movement Conservatism has always been about getting and maintaining power for its own sake—and using that power for self-enrichment. Look at the policies on offer from the right: smaller government, less oversight of business, lower taxes on the wealthy, private ownership of utilities (monopsony, in other words), etc., etc., all in the service of the wealthy getting wealthier.

If your party's fundamental policies serve greed, why are you surprised that your party's apparatus encourages it as well?

No short delay, UK: Juncker

Theresa May has fewer and fewer options available to complete the one job she signed up for today after EU President Jean-Claude Juncker flatly rejected May's request for a second short Brexit delay:

Speaking to the European parliament, Juncker instead set an “ultimate deadline” of 12 April for the Commons to approve the withdrawal agreement.

“If it has not done so by then, no further short extension will be possible,” he said. “After 12 April, we risk jeopardising the European parliament elections, and so threaten the functioning of the European Union.”

Juncker said that at that point the UK would face a no-deal Brexit but that the EU would not “kick out” a member state, in a reference to the certain offer of a lengthy extension of article 50.

The EU27 is looking at an extension until at least the end of the year, with the most probable end date being the end of March 2020.

Juncker said: “Yet I believe that a no deal at midnight on 12 April is now a very likely scenario. It is not the outcome I want. But it is an outcome for which I have made sure the European Union is ready.

No word yet from Number 10 on whether the government would seek a longer extension.

Back in the US, New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman, who went to university in the UK, says the country has gone mad:

The entire Brexit choice was presented to the public in 2016 with utterly misleading simplicity. It was sold with a pack of lies about both the size of the benefits and the ease of implementation, and it continues to be pushed by Conservative hard-liners who used to care about business but are now obsessed with restoring Britain’s “sovereignty” over any economic considerations.

They don’t seem to be listening at all to people like Tom Enders, C.E.O. of the aerospace giant Airbus, which employs more than 14,000 people in the U.K., with around 110,000 more local jobs connected to its supply chains. Enders has warned the political leadership here that if the U.K. just crashes out of the E.U. in the coming weeks, Airbus may be forced to make some “potentially very harmful decisions” about its operations in Britain.

“Please don’t listen to the Brexiteers’ madness which asserts that ‘because we have huge plants here we will not move. …’ They are wrong,” he said. “And, make no mistake, there are plenty of countries out there who would love to build the wings for Airbus aircraft.”

Britain is ruled today by a party that wants to disconnect from a connected world. The notion that the U.K. will suddenly get a great free-trade deal from Trump as soon as it quits the E.U. is ludicrous. Trump believes in competitive nationalism, and the very reason he is promoting the breakup of the E.U. is that he believes America can dominate the E.U.’s individual economies much better than when they negotiate together as the single biggest market in the world.

Madness indeed. The two-week reprieve from a no-deal Brexit has only 9 days left to run. This is terrifying. Since her premiership is over no matter what she does, Theresa May should just cancel Article 50 entirely and then take her seat in the House of Lords.