Wednesday, 16 November 2016

PMQs Review 16th November 2016: The Post Truth Edition

We are living in truly tumultuous times. There was a time when supposed intellectuals and experts talked about the end of history. 2016 could spell the end of history just because it will leave the historians exhausted.

We thought events here on this little island were exciting enough back in the summer. We voted to leave the EU, changed prime ministers, watched as Labour botched an attempt to dump their liability of a leader and as various careers imploded. Oh and Ukip disappeared up its own fundament, lost a leader, then another one and is currently...well, frankly I've lost track of what's happening there on account of not caring.

But now America has trumped us. See what I did there?

Yes last week, while parliament was enjoying a recess and Theresa May a trip to India to talk trade and student visas, the US of A elected a television celebrity and alleged billionaire as its president. The man who had insulted and generally offended his way to a takeover of the Republican Party has now taken over the entire country. He does not really know what he will do now but he is of the opinion that the White House is altogether too white and nothing like gold enough. And its penthouse is only on the 2nd floor. I mean, come on.

The Donald is currently engaged in the process of appointing his government having learned that the process involves the recruitment of literally thousands of personnel to run the country. He was unaware of this. This is not encouraging.

Here in the UK Ed Balls is currently on a path to celebrity status via Strictly Come Dancing. I'm told this is a dance competition, although you would not necessarily know this by watching Balls. Still the public seem to like his spirit and never say die attitude. Or possibly they just like laughing at him. It's probably between him and Alan Sugar to be the next leader of the Labour Party. Laughing at Labour is now our default position.

Chauncey is the current leader of the Labour Party. You could be forgiven for not knowing this because the poor old chap struggles to make any kind of impact. He and some of his lieutenants did opine that he will be the Trump figure in this country when the next election comes around because he has such understanding of ordinary working class people. Apart from their attitude to immigration and Brexit obviously. He does want to be nice to Putin though.

And Chauncey does have plenty of fans still of course. Some are even putting together a song for him which they hope will vie for the Christmas number one slot. Called JC4PM4Me it is presumably not set to the tune of God Save the Queen. But I'm informed that Ed Balls has been approached for a terpsichorean interpretation.

Post truth is apparently the word of the year. This is the eponym that is being sprayed around by those who seem to have a difficulty with what electorates are deciding. What is truth anyway? It is apparently whatever those who are annoyed or frustrated by whatever electorates decide it is. The truth is what Tony Blair with his dodgy dossiers and Gordon Brown with his creative accounting used to tell presumably. Nick Clegg, David Cameron. All  purveyors of truth. Donald Trump is an egregious liar. But he is hardly new.

The phrase that better describes the position of Labour is post reality. They have Chauncey on their front bench, now performing a little better than a year ago but clinging to his world view as tenaciously as he clung on to his job this summer. Labour are getting a little better at this spin business though. Today, perhaps as a contrast to his post smart and post shaven appearance he was surrounded on both sides by two female black members of his Shadow Cabinet, Kate Osamor and Dawn Butler. Ms Butler in particular kept saying 'wow' at his various utterances. I think this was because she felt he was saying something pertinent and indeed incisive, although it is hard to tell with Labour. She could have been saying it because she felt like the rest of us that he is a pre-scripted disaster who is talking what the Foreign Secretary might describe as 'bollocks.'

Chauncey does look a little better these days because the PM is not particularly good at PMQs. Not yet anyway. We do tend to forget that she is new to the job and there is a steep learning curve. She's improving but her answers can be disjointed and hesitant. She is clearly afflicted by nerves. She often trips over her words. Dave did too, but he did it with style, ploughing on regardless as he committed spoonerisms or got his facts or names muddled. When May does this she corrects herself, goes back to try again. She is also of course not so proficient at the quips that make these sessions memorable.

Chauncey this week wanted to question in his usual wide ranging and discursive way. Post reality he wanted to talk about the alleged divisions in government relating to Brexit. This is fantastic when you consider the contortions that are affecting Labour on the subject. It has no position on it at all for the same reason it doesn't talk about nuclear weapons. It is facing both ways on Brexit and was going to oppose invoking Article 50 until it changed its mind. Now they all seem to be doing both at once.

Chauncey however had his pre scripted questions about some of the reports that have come out this week and the words of the Foreign Secretary, one of which begins with b and ends with ocks. A Deloitte report claimed that the Government is struggling with Brexit and needs thousands more civil servants to cope. Number 10 has rubbished the report in strong terms.

Yet Chauncey wanted the Foreign Secretary, who was chuntering across the Dispatch Box at him, to explain what he had said which has got the papers so excited.  In truth they have been less excited by what Boris said but by the fact that he said it. The old Boris is back. Hurrah!

Chauncey also raised the issue of Boris having said that we will make a Titanic success of Brexit. This is of course a classics reference and does not refer to the ship of that name. But it has to be said that there is confusion in Government about what Brexit will mean. They simply don't know, for the good reason that for now they are still compiling the information, debating the issues and waiting to see. Their position that it would be damaging to reveal too much about their negotiating position is of course a stall, but its not a post truth or post reality one. It is one based on the simple proposition that nobody has ever exited the EU before, we have been in it for 40 years. You can't just throw all of this together. Quite what Labour would do in this position is a mystery. Perhaps they would have a push me pull you type Brexit. They recently had a leadership election in which Chauncey's opponent wanted to ignore the democratic will of the people altogether. Maybe they were trying to set a precedent for ignoring the results of elections closer to home.

Though Brexit is the subject de jour, albeit one overshadowed by regime change in Washington at the moment in which there is a great deal of confusion too, there seems little point in pressing the Government and PM about what it all means at this stage. She would be as well to shrug her shoulders and say 'I dunno.' Not that she would ever be so vulgar of course. That is the reality and truth of where we are at the moment. Article 50 may need an act of parliament, it will then have to be invoked and then we will have two years of who-blinks-first negotiation. On the plus side however European leaders are fighting like rats in a sack on the issue too with elections and referendums coming and events in America discomfiting the bonds market and potentially leading to the break up of NATO. Our negotiating position is evolving. It will be based on pragmatism. That is a word that Chauncey would never use. He would no more say it that mention the name of Tony Blair in polite company. That is the truth.

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