A Second Brexit Referendum On The Horizon?

Be careful what you wish for. You might receive it”. That’s how the English author W.W. Jacobs began his classic horror story, “The Monkey’s Paw”, which was first published in 1902. As the wiseGeek website has pointed out, this expression – which has become almost a cliché – constitutes a warning to those people hoping for something without considering all the negative consequences that could accompany obtaining it. Boris Johnson, the former Mayor of London and British Prime Minister since July 23rd, could well be reflecting that this applies very much to the situation in which he currently finds himself.

In September 2018, the Guardian columnist, Steve Richards, noted that Johnson “obviously aches to be prime minister” but that he would never get the top job in British politics because his vaulting ambition is too transparent” As we now know, Richards was wrong. On 30th August, Johnson told a group of young prospective journalists aged 9 –14 who’d been invited to 10 Downing Street that in fact his early aspiration had been to be a rock star or a supermarket tycoon rather than Prime Minister and that he regrets he isn’t allowed by his bodyguards to ride his bicycle any more because someone might try to attack him.

Although Boris appears so far to have retained his popularity with much of the public, he has been depicted by his opponents as a dictator for proroguing Parliament from 10th September until 14th October and as a bully for suspending from his party the 21 Conservative MPs who voted in Parliament against his Government. Furthermore, the Guardian correspondents Jessica Elgot and Peter Walker, in a front-page article on 6th September, described Johnson’s speech in West Yorkshire the previous day as “rambling and occasionally incoherent” and Emily Thornberry, the Labour Party’s shadow foreign secretary, on the BBC’s Question Time programme that same evening, denounced him as a “reckless liar”.

Irrespective of whether such harsh remarks are justified, most recent British Prime Ministers and opposition party leaders have had to accept that being ridiculed has become an integral part of their job. Theresa May was constantly mocked for her “robotic” speaking style, her stiff way of walking, her embarrassing attempts to dance in public, her social awkwardness and even her leopard-skin shoes. In the House of Commons on Tuesday 3rd September, during Johnson’s fierce verbal exchanges with the Opposition benches and some of his own MPs, May looked alternatively happy that she was no longer Prime Minister and gloomy that she was no longer the centre of attention.

The Labour Leader, Jeremy Corbyn, has often been taunted for having an allotment and growing his own tomatoes, potatoes and marrows. At the end of an appearance on the BBC TV’s “The One Show” in May 2017, he gave the presenters a jar of his home-made jam. His predecessor, Ed Milliband, is remembered mainly for the inelegant way he ate a bacon sandwich, a photo of which featured on the front page of the Sun newspaper.

In the opinion of the Jaded-media.com contributor, Jonathan Bacon, on March 13th, the image then in circulation of a “beaming and ruddy-faced” David Cameron (Prime Minister 2010 -2016), perched on the steps of his £25,000 garden shed, encapsulated the out-of-touch complacency of a man who had plunged his country into the worst crisis in decades by calling the Referendum, then had promptly left when he lost “to spend time with the baubles of his wealth and privilege”.

Boris Johnson has responded belligerently to his critics. On the 4th September, he characterised Corbyn as a “chlorinated chicken” and accused him of being prepared to “surrender” to Brussels. The Labour Leader retorted that the Prime Minister had “no mandate, no morals and no parliamentary majority”. The Washington Post commentator, Adam Taylor, has queried why British politicians insult each other so much. He considers it could be partly due to the adversarial design of the House of Commons itself, where government & opposition MPs sit, “at a distance said to be slightly more than two sword lengths”, glaring fiercely face to face at each other.

In the era of social media and 24-hour news, Taylor observes, British politicians are increasingly rude to their opponents and “have become aware that a quick insult might be a better way to gain popularity than a serious debate”. He cites the examples of Cameron advising Corbyn to put on a proper suit, do up his tie and sing the national anthem, MPs pleading with Boris Johnson to tuck in his shirt and the former transport minister Simon Burns being reprimanded for apparently portraying the “diminutive” House of Commons speaker, John Bercow, as a “stupid, sanctimonious dwarf”.

So what happens now? Boris might resign rather than ask the EU for another extension or win the next election and then try to get a revised deal. If Corbyn becomes Prime Minister, he’ll probably also attempt to renegotiate with Brussels, then hold a 2nd Referendum, with many (but not all) of the Labour Party advocating Remain. The Liberal Democrat Party Leader, Jo Swinson, has declared that if the country votes “Leave” again, she won’t accept the result.

Filed under: Politics | Posted on September 9th, 2019 by Colin D Gordon

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