This week sees the commons asking itself to Brexit or not to Brexit? Maybe. Stark choices lie ahead. And, as our Political Correspondent Peter Spencer reports, ordinary MP’s will have more clout than ever before …
In mediaeval England and ancient Rome a random bloke was appointed Lord of Misrule to take charge during big festivals. And oversee everyone getting legless.
Nice work if you could get it, though there was a snag.
When the party was over it could be that with knobs on for the stand-in boss. As he’d often get sacrificed to the gods.
Something for Commons Speaker John Bercow to mull over as Tuesday’s big Brexit votes loom.
He’s already overturned centuries of custom and practice by giving ordinary MP’s the wherewithal to shaft the government in ways they never could before.
And thanks to him they might now flex their newly hewn muscles over the business of parliament. Over what gets debated, and when. What does and doesn’t get voted on. And what they can not just ask but force the government to do.
The mechanisms are impenetrable to anyone who hasn’t got a pointed head, but Bercow really has flipped the balance of power.
Which is why there’s a good chance he won’t get the peerage Speakers usually get when they retire from the post.
Not exactly getting roasted alive, but still a poke up the jacksie.
The reason all this matters now is that the vital votes before the Commons this week are not the work of government but backbench MP’s.
Though Theresa May would never admit it she finds herself, to use an iconic phrase from yesteryear, in office but not in power.
Parliament last week treated the departure deal she thrashed out with the EU like a kid offered a plate of lumpy mashed potatoes.
So instead, this week, there’ll be a vote on a delay in getting out – while we’re getting our act together.
That’s the starting point. Then there’s a mass of secondary questions about what should be ruled in or out of our deliberations.
Actually, deliberations is too delicate a word. Brexit’s reduced reasoned debate to the ideological equivalent of all-out war. Roundheads and Cavaliers. Puritans and Catholics. Cowboys and Indibums. Goodies and baddies.
The two most likely outcomes are still a delayed departure and second referendum, or crashing out with no deal.
A startling ICM poll this week gave the cliff edge option a clear edge over asking the people again.
But though Theresa May insists no deal’s still the default position, it’s said that up to forty ministers could resign if she won’t let them try and block it.
Against that, while Jeremy Corbyn’s finally included a second referendum on his list of options, a chunk of his team will walk if they can’t campaign against it.
So many negatives, so little time. Thanks to the Speaker the house of commons is the nearest thing to anything remotely in charge. Except that it too is a shambles.
MP’s on all sides of the argument can seem more determined to stop someone else winning than get their own way. Hence the unlikely alliances endlessly getting made and broken for tactical gain.
Shakespeare’s history plays are littered with factions in mortal combat both convinced they’re right. Which, logically, they can’t be. Not both of them.
An episode in The Life and Death of King John says it all.
Two opposing sides are both trying to get into a town. When the locals refuse to open the gates they join forces to beat seven bells out of the place before getting on with trying to kill one another again.
And it really is every bit as crazy at Westminster right now.
Any attempt to explain the Machiavellian machinations would be an invitation to readers to switch over to Tinder or feed the cat.
Suffice it to say everyone’s talking with tongues so forked they could double up as gun barrels.
And it all gets ridiculously repetitive. Or, as our soon-to-be maybe or maybe not ex-partners across the channel put it, ‘autre jour, même merde’. Another day, same fragrance. Something like that.
So no apologies here for quoting Andrew Rawnsley from last Sunday’s Observer. ‘I turned to a senior and clever Tory who is a close shipmate of the prime minister. How will it end? Came his sagacious reply: “I haven’t got a f**king clue.’
And this Sunday? Autre jour, même merde …
Peter Spencer has 40 years experience as a Political Correspondent in Westminster, working with London Broadcasting and Sky News. For more of his wonderful takes on the turbulent political landscape, follow him on Facebook & Twitter.
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