A Game of Christmas Chicken

Clarke's Comment

This week, Boris Johnson's attempt to undermine the parliamentary system for punishing corrupt practices has backfired spectacularly. At first, backbenchers were simply upset and being whipped into voting for a pretty shabby and indefensible idea. Now, however, things are much worse. Just as the Government was putting the issue to bed, with a plan to push through a back-peddling vote 'on-the-nod', veteran eccentric Tory MP Christopher Chope objected, triggering a further, damaging debate on the Paterson affair. This has metastasized the issue, deepening and widening the media's investigation and the public's ire, putting MPs commercial affairs under the microscope again and causing them a good deal of extremely unwelcome attention. Chope had previously pulled the same trick on other issues, including a posthumous pardon for Alan Turing, the outlawing of 'upskirting', and a decision to hold a global women's conference in the House of Commons. Who'd have thought that installing cantankerous and superannuated contrarians in extremely safe seats might have a downside? On the upside, it did provoke the superb headline in 'Politico' - 'It's the Chope that kills you'.

Things got worse for the PM, with news that inflation could cost households an extra £2000 a year, highlighted by The Institute For Fiscal Studies and splashed across the Mail front page on Thursday. In this cost of living squeeze, household incomes are being eroded by rising prices of food, fuel and energy, with an interest hike on the cards. Inflation at 4.2% is the highest for 10 years, and rising, as the underlying issues of the supply chain and Covid are amplified and exacerbated by Brexit.

Lastly, the PM faces an unwelcome stand-off with the EU over the seemingly insoluble issue of Northern Ireland. He cannot afford a trade war that sees empty shelves at Christmas, and he knows it (and the EU know it). Johnson has a weak hand, and is, belatedly, looking to the EU to save us from ourselves, but with any mutual good-will or trust utterly depleted after 5 years of bad-faith negotiating tactics, scapegoating, tantrums and clumsy duplicity.

Brexit, contrary to the thoughts of many, does remain salvageable; it simply requires our leaders to admit that there is a trade problem (that is hurting us more than anyone else), and to address it using existing tools and pathways, the most obvious of which is reobtaining access to the Single Market and Customs Union. Indeed, there is a case to be made that the so-called 'Norway-plus' solution is where we would have ended up in 2017-18 had Labour not been so impossibly ambivalent under Corbyn, allowing the ERG to hijack the Conservative narrative and approach to negotiations. In this scenario, Theresa May might even have survived, sparing us Johnson for a few more years, imagine that...

It is the inadequacy of the current deal, stemming from this ideological aberration of an approach to negotiations that Johnson and Frost have pursued, that leaves us in perpetual limbo. Frost has as much as admitted it himself, stating in a speech in Lisbon that the original deal was “a moment of EU over-reach when the UK’s negotiating hand was tied”, suggesting that the UK was somehow bullied into signing a deal it had no intention of honouring. And this idea is very much out in the open now, with a senior EU diplomat telling journalists “Their approach is very ideological. They even accept that their actions make Britain poorer and see this as a necessary price to be paid for a purist Brexit. They are pursuing the illusion of being completely independent. They live in their own Brexit world.”
In this game of Christmas Chicken, it will be Johnson that blinks first, as he always does when fantasy meets with reality.

The Renew position on this has always been clear. We stand for root and branch reform of the political system, its peculiar recruitment system, and inadequate current personnel.

At our conference last month we outlined a number of reforms:

Renew wants to fix our broken politics and change our political culture for the better. Renew would change the incentives politicians face and reduce the power of patronage exercised by political parties. Renew wants to open politics up to bring in high calibre outsiders and independent thinkers, to radically overhaul transparency in our public life, and to put people at the heart of our system in a way that will reinvigorate the development of ideas.

- Clean up money in UK politics.
- Overhaul all UK political donations.
- Strict limits to be applied to individual and company donations Sensible caps to be set on election spending.
- Increase transparency and accountability in our politics.
- Make elected officials as accountable as private citizens for their actions. Put the Ministerial Code on the statute book.
- Make every vote in Parliament a free vote.
- Ensure that elected officials vote according to their consciences and the mandate of their constituents, not under the duress of party officials.
- Introduce Term limits for MPs.
- Make the job of MPs a public service, open to all, rather than a full-career role offered as a reward for party loyalty. Term limits will allow MPs to be more independent and broaden the pool of potential candidates.
- Establish Citizens Assemblies on constitutional and voting reform.
- Examine models for regional devolution and equal votes.

For us in Renew, we will stick to our principles of supporting reform, fairness and participation, and when the moment is ripe, we will stand up to be a part of what comes next.

It's time for something new.

If you want to be a part of this new chapter for Renew, look at our refreshed website to learn more and sign up to be a member or donate to help us continue this work!

Have a great week,

James and the Renew Team