Remember, remember the 5th of November
Gunpowder and treason and plot.
Now Johnson and Tories will rend and will sunder
What Fawkes in his madness could not.
After a few rounds of voting, (now former) Labour MP the Rt Hon Sir Lindsay Hoyle has been elected the 158th Speaker of the House of Commons. As Harriet Harmon said in her speech just before the first round of voting, of the 158, only one was female.
In other news, Voyager 2 has become the second human spacecraft to check in from the other side of the heliosheath separating the solar system from interstellar space.
One of these stories is probably a lot more important than the other...
The House of Commons have just voted 438-20 on the third reading of the bill to have a general election in December. This overrides the Fixed-Terms Parliament Act of 2011, as Plaid Cymru MP Liz Saville Roberts pointed out.
Because Amendment 2 to the bill, setting the election date of 9th December, failed about half an hour ago, the election will be on Thursday December 12th.
Under the rules of Parliament, the last sitting day will be next Wednesday, November 6th, and the campaign will officially begin on the 8th--the day I'm flying there.
The last time the UK had an election in December was in 1923. The Conservatives under Stanley Baldwin got the most seats in that poll, but they lost 89 from the previous Parliament. The Liberal Party won 115 seats, the first time a third party won more than 100 seats. The hung Parliament that resulted from this realignment forced another election 10 months later.
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.
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.
“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.
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:
- Boris Johnson has asked MPs to dissolve Parliament on Monday, which, if 2/3 of Commons agrees, means there would be an election on December 12th. The EU will vote tomorrow on whether to accept the UK's Brexit extension request, which is the Labour Party's condition for agreeing to new elections.
- Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, in a good position to win the award for Worst Cabinet Secretary of 2019, may end up costing President Trump re-election (beyond what he's doing to ensure a Democratic victory). It turns out people in Michigan do not want their tax money to go to private education companies like hers. The cherry on top of that is she might actually go to jail in the next few days.
- Josh Marshall argues that the goal of the interrupted-by-being-arrested-at-the-airport plan of Rudy Giuliani's friends might have been simply to get Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky to go on TV and say Ukraine was opening an investigation into Hunter Biden. Just having a head of state say that could tank the Biden nomination on its own, even if everyone knows there really is nothing to see.
- A group of 30 Republican House members burst into a Sensitive Compartmented Information Facility (SCIF) in the Capitol building yesterday to hold up the testimony of Deputy Assistant Defense Secretary Laura Cooper. Ordinarily, if you violate a SCIF, the intelligence services quickly remove your security clearance. I wonder if that'll be the case here.
- With Lake Michigan water levels consistently over 100 cm above average this year, the city will need billions of dollars to prevent and correct significant erosion of the shoreline.
- Finally, scientists have taught rats how to drive little cars. Seriously. It's adorable.
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.
Speaker of the House of Commons John Bercow retires next week after ten years in the job. Nine MPs want to succeed him:
The victorious candidate will assume one of the grandest and most important jobs in politics — a position so ancient that it makes the prime ministership, dating from the 18th century, look like a recent development.
Thomas Hungerford was the first to hold the speaker’s title, in 1377, although presiding officers were identified as far back as 1258, when Peter de Montfort is thought to have fulfilled that role in the so-called Mad Parliament held at Oxford that year.
The favorite [to succeed Bercow] seems to be Lindsay Hoyle, a deputy speaker and Labour lawmaker from northern England, who refused to say how he voted in the 2016 Brexit referendum. Mr. Hoyle promised to be neutral and fair, and to hold the executive to account. “I want to make this place happy,” he added, setting himself arguably a harder task.
Another prominent candidate is Harriet Harman, a Labour lawmaker who is the body’s longest-serving woman, who said she would be the “champion of Parliament.”
The House votes on November 4th. My money's on Hoyle, having seen him in the chair during Bercow's absences, though I fear he won't have the backbone Bercow has shown recently.
Today, for example, Bercow spent over an hour fending off enraged accusations of bias from Government MPs, to whom he pointed out the numerous times they've actually liked his rulings. Whoever succeeds him will not have an easy time of it.
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.
Extinction Rebellion, a climate-change protest group, targeted three working-class Tube stops near the Canary Wharf financial district in east London this week. In doing so they've given their opponents a massive boost:
The stations targeted by activists—Canning Town, Stratford, and Shadwell—are physically very close to the financial district of Canary Wharf. But they are a world removed from it. These stations serve some of the poorest areas not just in London, but in Western Europe. Most commuters shuffling to the train platforms at 7 a.m. (in a country where professionals usually start work after 9) are not wealthy financiers—they’re lower-income workers scraping a living in a notoriously expensive city. Footage of climate protesters with what British people would instantly read as middle-class accents blocking working-class men and women trying to get to their jobs soon after dawn—where they might be sanctioned for lateness—is terrible image-making. It plays into the hands of people who dismiss environmental activism as a hobby for privileged progressives.
These protests not only missed their intended target—the finance companies of Canary Wharf, which are located on private land with ludicrously tight security controls—they ended up creating a false dichotomy, setting up a conflict between the climate movement and public transit users. The optics of the incident end up wrongly implying that working-class London commuters neither care about, nor are affected by climate change.
As the urgency for climate action grows, Londoners who support Extinction Rebellion’s broader aims can only hope that the group can learn from this experience and adjust their tactics accordingly. The group suggested as much in a statement it released after the incident: “In light of today’s events, Extinction Rebellion will be looking at ways to bring people together rather than create an unnecessary division.”
If that happens, a vital lesson will have been learned. The U.K. capital is a critical player in the global battle for decarbonization. The climate movement needs victories here, and can ill afford to lose the sympathies of its residents.
Nice work, guys. Even absent the class conflict this particular action set up, I would recommend not disrupting public transport, which, you know, helps reduce greenhouse gas emissions.