brown hen near white egg on nest

VOTE LEAVE LEAVES: Johnson Isolated and Isolating

And then there were none.

Last week saw divisions at the heart of Number 10 culminating in Boris Johnson’s two most trusted and senior political advisors being given their marching orders.

Lee Cain, Director of Communications, was dismissed on Thursday night, with self-described super-forecaster and Brexit architect Dominic Cummings following him on Friday. Given Cain’s propensity to dress up as a chicken and Cummings’ shining, bald bonce, we do finally have an answer to who left first at least – the chicken, not the egg.

While Cain’s exit was somewhat subdued, Cummings took the opportunity one last time to make the story about him. Specifically, him in the role of down-and-out hero at the end of the third quarter of a Disney film, just before his narrative arc completes itself and he realises that, “It wasn’t Britain what needed fixin’, it was me all along.”

And then, just to top it all off, Johnson announced that he is self-isolating for two weeks, having come into contact with someone who tested positive for coronavirus.

Put your feet up, Mr. J. It’s not like we’ve got a looming Brexit deadline, collapsing Test-and-Trace programme or upcoming vaccine rollout to organise.


LEAVE MEANS LEAVE, PREFERABLY NOWISH

Say what you will about Dominic Cummings, but he has had an astonishing level of influence over British politics for the last few years.

The beating heart of the Vote Leave campaign, Cummings’ ability as a campaigner is not in doubt. He tapped into the heart of something that the rest of the political world had decidedly overlooked for quite some time – namely, the electorate. Where politicians had been aloof and distant, he plugged the gaps. Where the left-behind and the desperate had been abandoned, he gave them hope. Where the people were ignored, he listened.

His campaigning for Brexit was nothing short of revolutionary and he deserves the utmost respect for what he achieved. It’s a shame, therefore, that Cummings’ output as a political advisor, rather than as a campaigner, has been an absolute shower of hot garbage from the outset.

The problem has always been that the actual day-to-day of running a government relies almost entirely on compromise. In order to get anything done, you have to listen to opposing views from the Opposition or Civil Service, form alliances, and have a willingness to be flexible.

Cummings is, by his very nature, as flexible as a stale Weetabix. A campaigner will take the issue that they believe in and find the best way to sell it, with no room for compromise. A campaigner at the heart of government, therefore, is probably going to ruffle a few feathers.

And “Dom” has clearly ruffled more feathers than a fox let loose at Birdworld. With a natural distrust of the Civil Service, a history of less-than-sympathetic views of the Conservative Party and a general willingness to blow things up to piece them back together again, it is unsurprising that he found his allies few and far between last week.

Having doled out millions of pounds to private consultancy firms, pushed an unwavering “No-one likes us and we don’t care” message to Tory MPs and the electorate alike and, lest we forget, breaking lockdown rules to have an eye-test on the A688, Cummings was never going to last forever.

Cain, a long-term ally of Cummings and fellow Vote Leave bigwig, caused quite a ruckus about Allegra Stratton’s appointment as the government’s new press chief, and ultimately made his position untenable. Cummings could have stayed, but chose to leave with him.

Thus ends the Vote Leave faction at the heart of British politics.

…Just as we reach the final (probably) deadline for agreeing a deal with the EU, or leaving with no deal.

Coincidence?


A NEW DAWN?

Unfortunately, we can only really speculate as to the timing of Cain and Abel’s departures.

Was there a serious, damaging rift in No. 10? Almost certainly.

Would this be enough, on its own, to see Johnson’s two closest allies leave? Probably not, especially seeing as one has already broken the law and stayed put.

Does this week’s Brexit deadline has anything to do with it? Maybe.

Have they actually gone? Probably, though Cummings is still doing work on Operation Mooncup or whatever the hell it is until Christmas.

One Nation Tories who remember Johnson as being the affable, more collaborative Mayor of London are praying that the Vote Leave team’s departure means that the Prime Minister can revert back to being “2012 Boris” again. Some are speculating that Trump’s downfall across the pond has shaken his trust in populist rule. Some believe that he might go for a softer Brexit without Cummings in his ear and accept a deal.

Don’t be so sure.

While Johnson might, at his core, be a more progressive Tory than he appears, he hasn’t forgotten the “Red Wall” seats that he gained at the last election. While Joe Biden is no fan of Brexit, as he has made abundantly clear, Johnson cannot renege on his promise to the Northern voters he gained last December.

With or without Cummings, Johnson has set a tone for his premiership. Yes, he might be able to repair some of the damage done to the Tory party and yes, he might be less combative when challenged. But do not think for one moment that we are suddenly going to get a brand-new, pumped-up Johnson (ew) just because Cummings and Cain have gone.

The one clear message coming out of multiple Westminster sources is that Johnson is gaining a deep-rooted reputation as being indecisive. The direction his government has tacked to since taking office might have been largely influenced by “Classic Dom” Cummings, but much-needed leadership at No.10 will not simply appear by magic now that he’s gone.

Additionally, Johnson’s two-week isolation period could not have come at a worse time. With Brexit negotiations expected to be completed, one way or another, in the coming days, an absent Prime Minister does not a good omen make.

That being said, the circumstances might be fortuitous – should the coronavirus vaccine be rolled out quickly and effectively, should the economy bounce back strongly, and should Brexit be negotiated without catastrophe (arguably more likely with the PM sidelined), then Johnson will undoubtedly get some of his swagger back.

And frankly, a confident, happy Boris Johnson at a time where we’re celebrating the end of the pandemic might just be something of a tonic for an embittered nation.

Until the next scandal comes out, at least.

PURDAH LIKE IT’S 1999 : An Announcement

Hello BTLers.

It’s been a little while, I know. Since last we spoke, the election train has chucked a load of coal in the engine, released the brakes, and is now slowly starting to chug out of the station.

We’ve seen the opening salvos of what seems destined to be a vicious few weeks, with blame-games and insults being thrown around with the nillest of willies.

We also have some intrigue in a report that Number 10 is trying to suppress about Russian interference in the referendum, a new speaker, the concept of tactical voting and Nigel Farage stepping in to cock up the one thing he’s been so desperate to deliver for about forty years.

But, dear reader, I have some news. While I am going to do my best to keep Between the Lines going over the next few weeks, I’m not going to be able to cover the election as much as I would like.

This is because I am now working for the Liberal Democrats.


WHODDA THUNK

Yes, I know. I lambast and belittle Johnson and Corbyn as frequently as a trip to the urinals after your sixth pint. I furiously wrote about how appallingly Johnson had acted in trying to bypass Parliament, and I lambast the way that Corbyn wants to take us back economically, politically, and socially to the 1970s.

It’s almost I’m some sort of chap who likes Democracy, and Liberal policies.

I’ve been a Lib Dem supporter for years now, ever since the coalition government. This is ironic, considering that the reason why the Lib Dems found themselves in the political wasteland until only recently was due to their going back on their word during that period.

But the Liberal Democrats drove what I liked about that government. 5p plastic bag charge? Lib Dem policy. State pension triple lock, ensuring pensions were protected? Lib Dem policy. Same-sex marriage?

Yep, you guessed it. Lib Dem policy.

Also, the B-word. I have always tried to write impartially about Brexit, and I will never, ever, say that those who voted to Leave should be told that they got it wrong. They didn’t, but I do believe that the lies, overspending and suspicious activity of the Vote Leave campaign should also really be talked about more.

But Brexit, at its core, is a hugely damaging decision. Not just financially (and it will be a major financial faceplant), but diplomatically – we have a seat at an entity big and strong enough to compete against the US and China in terms of trade.

To throw that away to pursue the vision of historical, empirical glory is utterly bonkers, to me.

I will be honest – the Lib Dem position on Revoking Article 50 without a referendum is something that I have my doubts about. But I do understand why that’s their policy – they are now, legitimately, the only party that is openly campaigning to Remain, rather than Labour’s renegotiated deal followed by a referendum.

Ending Brexit by revocation is also the only way that we make this Brexit mess go away immediately. If we pass a Johnson deal, or leave with no-deal, the negotiations for the future trading relationship will go on for literally years.


LIB DEM SPIRITS UP

It made perfect sense for me to support for the party that espouses these values, and I somehow managed to snag myself a job writing for them. It’s literally my dream job, and I feel incredibly lucky.

I’ve been told about some of the stuff coming in the Lib Dem manifesto, and it sounds brilliant. So many of the issues that I care about are at its core, and I think it should be well-received by the wider public.

I have adored creating Between the Lines, and I’m so lucky in that I’ve been able to express my deep interest in and burning fury at our national political meltdown through writing for you all.

But there’s been one itch it hasn’t quite scratched.

I want to help make society better. I know, I know, some of the kinder of you right now are saying “Oh, glorious BTL editor” (and if you’re not you should be), “you are already making society better by explaining things to us.” Which I sincerely hope is true, and why I will make every endeavour to keep Between the Lines going as much as possible.

But I really do believe in the Lib Dems, their vision for a progressive, fairer and forward-thinking Britain and I really want to help them get the best election result they’ve ever had. I’m going to be throwing myself into it headfirst, and we’ll see what happens.

I’m quietly confident that this could be a pretty big year.


PURDAH ON

Now, back to BTL. It’s not just the fact that I’m about to be helping to fight an election campaign that is probably going to be absolutely mental, but I also have to be careful with what I write, too. Purdah is an understanding that’s put in place during election periods, which basically accounts for balance and fairness.

While I have next to no doubt that anything I write on here wouldn’t be picked up on (or even deemed relevant), I would also kill myself if I made a Bozzle Konks dick-joke that meant I couldn’t work in politics anymore.

It would be objectively hilarious, for sure. But ya boi gots ta eat.

So while I will try to write a few blog posts here and there, they’re going to have to be a bit more impartial and a bit more factual. I’ll still try and throw in a dick-joke here and there for good measure, but it’s not going to be quite the same.

And after the election I have every intention on getting Between the Lines back up and running again – consider this a hiatus, rather than an end.


Before I Go…

I’m not going to tell you to vote Liberal Democrat.

…Though you should.

But it is of the utmost importance that you vote. Don’t you dare come back to Between the Lines on December 13th without exercising your political privilege, or I will come to your house and drive a shopping trolley through your front door while screaming “SUFFRAGE” at you.

But one other thing, too – the next few weeks are going to be tough. The language will be spiteful, the anger palpable, the debate dire.

But don’t lose hope.

I really do get the impression that we are, slowly, moving away from the Johnsons, Trumps and Bolsonaros in the West. We’ve seen what happens when we give populists a platform, and it’s about as pretty as a dog turd on a bit of plastic stuck around a dead turtle’s head.

Common sense is coming back, even if it’s at a snail’s pace. But in the meantime, listen to the arguments presented to you, think about them, challenge them, and support them if they resonate with you. Don’t let anyone tell you how to vote, whether it be your parents, your partner, or someone you follow on Twitter.

Democracy works when we vote for what we believe is best for our country. We cannot know this unless we’re give as much information as possible to make an informed decision. Unfortunately, we don’t always get the latter, but we can damn well make sure we strive to do the former.

Good luck, everyone. I’ll see you when I see you.

Matt x

SATURDAY NIGHT’S ALRIGHT FOR INFIGHTING : Brexit To Be Decided On Saturday

My hat is currently being doffed to within an inch of its life. Somehow, despite it seeming almost certainly impossible just a few days ago, Boris Johnson has managed to negotiate a deal with the EU.

That is a big, big deal, pun semi-intended. And something of a coup for the man who has been, thus far, arguably our worst ever Prime Minister.

I humbly apologise, and am genuinely incredibly impressed.

Anyway, back to normality. He remains, almost certainly, completely and utterly f*cked.


Wait, What?

I know. It doesn’t feel that way. It feels like Brexit is right on the cusp of being delivered, at long, long, loooong last. But there are some serious hurdles that Johnson has to overcome if it is to become a reality.

I do note that I said that he stood very little chance of negotiating a deal with the EU and yet he managed it.

But.

Big, big but.

Kim Kardashian levels of but.

In achieving a negotiated deal, he has had to concede on far too many issues. The deal is unacceptable to his opponents in Parliament.

As I wrote in last week’s Weekly Wrap-Up, Johnson’s position last week was this:

  • If he wanted to retain the support of his allies in Parliament, he would have to negotiate a deal that the EU had frequently, frankly, and firmly said they would not agree to;
  • But if he wanted to negotiate a deal that the EU agreed with, he would have to give away too many concessions and lose the support of the DUP and ERG in Parliament, whose votes he needs for a majority.

This second point is exactly what has happened. Despite the optimism surrounding a new deal, the DUP immediately rejected the deal. The ERG, or at least some of them, may well follow them.

So, when Johnson brings the deal back to Parliament on Saturday, the first time the House of Commons has sat on the weekend since the Falklands crisis, he will probably (maybe) lose.

But it’ll be close. Single-digits, absolute knife-edge close.

Saturday is going to be seismic.


(MARINA) WHEELER-DEALER

This morning, a BBC News notification popped up on my phone. I genuinely thought it was a mistake when I read it : “Boris Johnson announces a deal has been struck with EU.”

And yet he had managed it.

At a cost.

So, what is this new deal? Simple Politics, a brilliant company that makes politics palatable (hey, wait…), created the infographic below that explains it:

So. What does this all mean?

Well, it means that it’s got all of the issues that came with Theresa May’s deal, but this time it’s Boris Johnson delivering it. Somehow this means that it stands more of a chance of passing, because… charisma? Funny hair? Raw sexual appeal?

Eurgh.

I don’t know. But, somehow he stands a real chance of getting enough support to pass it.

It still remains unlikely, however.


SUPER SATURDAY

So what comes next? Well, first and foremost, an almighty row in Parliament on Saturday. Bear in mind that Saturday will be the only time that our MPs will get a chance to examine and scrutinise the deal, let alone vote on it.

Johnson had, initially, tried to limit the Parliamentary sitting time to just ninety minutes. In the space of time that it takes to play a football match, Johnson expected the House of Commons to decide on legislation that will determine our politics, economics, and arguably society for the next few decades.

Which is typically Johnsonian – all of these negotiations have been left to the last minute in the hope that momentum carries him over the line. The devil, for Bozzle Konks, lies in the detail, and he is desperate to avoid scrutiny wherever possible.

But today, MPs voted to extend the debating time – it will now go on as long as it takes. Which means that it could end up being a very, very late vote indeed.

Odds-on that Boris will crack out a bottle of the old vino tinto at 6pm.


NO VOTE FOR PEOPLE’S VOTE DURING VOTE

Momentum for a second referendum has been building, slowly but surely, over the last few weeks. It was widely believed that an amendment would be tabled to the Brexit bill on Saturday that stipulated it would only be passed if a referendum was guaranteed with it.

Boris’ new deal vs. remain.

Jo Swinson, the leader of the Liberal Democrats, even came out this morning as being in favour of this plan.

But, as the day dragged on, reports came out that the People’s Vote team wouldn’t table an amendment this weekend – instead, they will focus all of their efforts in defeating the Brexit deal. Then, when Johnson has lost, and has to ask the EU for an extension, they will strike – second referendum time, with a hope that it will be sorted once and for all.

It is worth noting that Jean-Claude Juncker, the President of the European Commission, did say that an extension wasn’t necessary earlier today. But whereas some normally reputable journalists excitedly reported that “AN EXTENSION IS RULED OUT”, that isn’t what he said, nor does he have the power to decide.

An extension will be granted by the EU Council, the leaders of the 27 member states, not him. And, if they refuse an extension and we leave with a hugely damaging no-deal, they will take the blame. Unsurprisingly, they will do their absolute utmost to avoid this scenario.

An extension, if requested, will almost certainly be given.


So. It all comes down to Saturday.

Pay-per-view, 9.30am. Johnson vs Corbyn / Swinson / Blackford / basically over half of the House of Commons.

It will be, without a shadow of a doubt, the most intense and important day in contemporary British politics.

By Sunday morning, Brexit will either be sorted, or we will have a good idea as to what comes next.

The end is finally in sight. One, final battle in this horrendous war. It will be the bloodiest yet.

I’ll see you there.

Stewart Stewed, Stupid

A short News In Brief article today team. Another vote was held in the Tory leadership candidacy race yesterday and Rory Stewart, the candidate of choice for anyone who wasn’t Conservative, was eliminated.

He lost ten votes since the last Tory vote, going from 37 to 27.

This is the tricky thing about politicians voting – they can and often do change their minds.

They can also vote tactically to eliminate those they don’t like the look of.

While you can never definitively accuse people based on a secret ballot, and while Stewart himself laughed off the suggestion of tactical votes by saying that there are more important issues to concern ourselves with, there’s something not quite right about it all.

Lest we forget, hard-Brexiteer Raab was eliminated before Tuesday’s debate, leaving Boris as the only hard-Brexiteer representative. Stewart did surprisingly well in that ballot.

Now that Raab has gone, Stewart lost ten votes.

While he had a pretty poor debate on Tuesday, along with the rest of them, to have that base of votes disappear suddenly is… surprising.

Like finding-out-your-jilted-ex-has-been-somehow-reading-your-WhatsApp-messages surprising.

But, anyway, what does it matter. The one, truly different candidate is now gone, leaving us with:

  • Boris;
  • Boris-lite;
  • A taller, handsomer, “fuck abortion rights” Boris;
  • And “I am the son of a bus driver,” slightly more diverse Boris.

With Stewart gone, a Brexit involving a deal is all but gone. No candidate can negotiate a better one, despite their campaign slogans, so in 100 days (yes, it’s only 100 days), we will have a stark choice.

No-deal, which Parliament will refuse, or a second referendum, with Parliament will refuse.

Or revoke Article 50.

Shit.


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A Call To Arms

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