DAN HODGES: So where were you the moment they killed off British democracy?
By Dan Hodges For The Mail On Sunday
29 September 2019
It will be a new generation's Kennedy or 9/11 question. Something people will casually ask each other while preparing to get one final round in before last orders. 'So where were you the moment British democracy died?'
I'll be spoilt for choice.
Sitting in a Brighton hotel room watching Lady Hale calmly announce 'the Prime Minister's advice to Her Majesty was unlawful, void and of no effect'.
Perched up in the parliamentary press gallery as politicians of all persuasions screamed obscenities at each other while trampling the memory of a murdered mother, colleague and friend underfoot.
Standing in Westminster's Portcullis House, asking a succession of MPs the basic question 'So what are you actually going to do now?' and being met by blank stare after blank stare.
At least each of those MPs will be able to appropriate a little bit of history, and like me say 'I was there' when the democratic institutions that have sustained the United Kingdom for centuries started crashing down around their ears. But what they will not be able to say was 'I wasn't warned'.
I sat in a Brighton hotel room and watched Lady Hale calmly announce 'the Prime Minister's advice to Her Majesty was unlawful, void and of no effect'
This is the situation we face this morning. In Boris Johnson we have a Prime Minister who has been bound in chains by the Supreme Court. We have a Parliament that has been allowed to fall apart both literally and figuratively by a Speaker drunk on his own vanity and corrupted by political partiality. We have a legislature that refuses to legislate, refuses to allow the party of Government to legislate and steadfastly refuses to implement the instructions it was given through two General Elections and the largest democratic exercise in British political history.
And we have an electorate that is finding itself marshalled further and further away from the scene of the chaos, via an increasingly brutal form of constitutional crowd control, for fear if they are let near a ballot box they may again deliver 'the wrong result'.
Over the past week a phrase has been confected to encapsulate this madness – 'Parliament v The People'. In fact, if you speak to Government insiders, it is more than a phrase, but an entire masterplan constructed by the Prime Minister's controversial adviser Dominic Cummings.
But either way, it's false framing. What we are witnessing is not politicians turning on the people. It's our political class systematically destroying itself from within.
Take Boris Johnson. He began his premiership by casting himself as the charismatic pragmatist who would deliver Brexit, then recast the Conservative Party's fortunes with the optimistic panache that delivered them the London mayoralty.
'Parliament v The People': An entire master plan constructed by the Prime Minister's controversial adviser Dominic Cummings.
But over the past few weeks – as his judicial and political opponents have closed in – he has opted to reinvent himself as the Red, White And Blue Hulk. Enemies crushed. Inconvenient conventions smashed. Minor inconveniences, like the rule of law, brushed aside.
And the 'Hulk Strategy' could theoretically be successful at a moment when the refrain 'We need to just get Brexit done' has virtually become a national catchphrase. But there is a huge danger with this approach. As every superhero knows, the powers that sustain them one minute can so easily be snatched away the next.
Each day Boris trots out the mantra 'We are leaving on October 31'. But it is increasingly hard to see how. The courts will almost certainly prevent it. If they don't, MPs will sweep in, remove the Prime Minister, insert one of their own and enforce an extension.
And, having 'Hulk Smashed' his own majority, it's hard to see what Boris can do to stop it.
We have a Parliament that has been allowed to fall apart both literally and figuratively by a Speaker drunk on his own vanity
'They're hoping people will blame the MPs and the courts and forgive him,' a Minister says.
Plans to build the next Election campaign around the pledge, 'Only Boris can deliver Brexit' are, I'm told, already well advanced.
But that is a tacit admission that Downing Street knows the October 31 promise is unlikely to be delivered. And it involves abandoning the 'Hulk Strategy' for the 'Have Sympathy For The Puny Kid Who Just Got Picked On' strategy.
As another Minister acknowledges: 'No 10 keep saying, 'Look at the polls, this is working.' But the polls were solid for May when she was pledging to leave, right up till the moment she didn't. Then they fell off a cliff.'
But if the Prime Minister is struggling to free himself, the rest of our parliamentarians seem intent on destroying themselves through their hubris.
A nation saw the triumphal scenes outside the Supreme Court, as MPs punched the air and demanded they be allowed 'back to work' to tackle the Brexit crisis.
Remember when Nick Boles and his colleagues were raging against the catastrophic impact of ongoing Brexit paralysis?
So when they returned I asked several what they would be doing. Would they act to end the crisis by removing the Prime Minister? No. Had they made any progress on identifying an alternative Prime Minister? No. Were there plans to bring forward the extension timetable? No. Were there any more thoughts to backing a General Election? No. Was there anything they could point to that could demonstrate they were serious about bringing our national Brexit agony to an end? 'We may do something around publication of the legal advice on prorogation,' one rebel told me.
We were all told last week a vital blow had been struck for Britain's constitutional integrity. But the true motivation behind the historic Supreme Court challenge was inadvertently revealed in a tweet sent by former Tory rebel Nick Boles.
'Anyone who wants to beat Johnson, and I am one, must understand it will be much easier to do so after he has been compelled to seek and implement an extension. Let him twist in the wind until early November, and then strike,' he said.
Remember when Mr Boles and his colleagues were raging against the catastrophic impact of ongoing Brexit paralysis? Jobs were being lost, they warned. The nightmarish uncertainty for families with European dependants or those who relied on drugs from abroad.
But all that is forgotten now. This morning, we are all twisting in the wind. Our Prime Minister cannot govern. Our Parliament refuses to govern. And the voters are being told: 'Butt out, and leave this to us.'
In August, 100 MPs from all parties demanded Boris Johnson recall Parliament to deal with the 'National Brexit Emergency'.
Well they have their wish, they are back now. And by their own admission, they are not planning to tackle it for several months. No move on an extension till October. No move against the Prime Minister till November. No Election till – well, no one is entirely sure.
But sooner or later that Election will come. When it does, our parliamentarians will again be able to say: 'I was there.' After the events of last week, I suspect many of them will wish they were not.