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Only an election can sail the ship of state through the Brexit storms

This piece by Michael Hayman originally appeared in City A.M, see here

“The world is not interested in the storms you encountered, but did you bring in the ship?”

So wrote the twentieth-century writer of sea stories, William McFee.

While the quote has some of the barnacles of age, it’s a good challenge to those seeking to steer the ship of state. For the briefly-abated Brexit hurricane has been whipped up into a category five calamity, and last week it crashed over the calm seas of a tranquil summer.

It’s back – and like some big budget disaster movie sequel, forget the content, observe the spectacle. It’s bigger, badder, more threatening than ever before. Yes, the mother of all parliaments is now at the core of the mother of all political storms. It’s a good job that they are planning a full refurbishment of the building – by the time this baby runs out of bluster, it’s going to need it.

Last Tuesday was full Captain Jack Sparrow, the ultimate walk-the-plank moment. It wasn’t one that needed a massive special effects budget either – so much so that a budget, in the form of a spending review, delivered by the chancellor the next day was barely noticed.

No, this was old-school: high drama on the high political seas. Some of the most prestigious names in the Conservative party, from former chancellors to Winston Churchill’s grandson, were packed off to a pirate’s life on the political equivalent of Elba. Exile.

But the saddest symbol of division must be reserved for the brother versus brother postscript as the Johnson siblings parted company. Not since the breakup of Take That have we seen a split so sorrowful. And despite the Prime Minister’s platitudes that he wanted his younger brother back for good, Jo Johnson went.

But if you think that this storm is just about the government, think again. The opposition parties resemble the guests in the opening scenes of the Poseidon Adventure: capsized ocean liner; half want to go up; half want to go down; most don’t make it.

The cause of the dither is the offer of an election, like the sirens of old, lulling the unsuspecting onto the rocks. Shall we take it matees? Arrrrr. Errrr. Aye, aye. No. Maybe. For Jeremy Corbyn, the Captain Birdseye of British politics, has taken a look through his telescope, and he clearly doesn’t like what he sees: us.

For politicians, the prospect of a General Election now is about as safe as a trip around the Cape of Good Hope in a row boat. It’s full of risk and danger, but it needs to happen – and fast.

Last week, politicians took to the top deck to pontificate about abstract notions of the future needs of the economy. But bobbing around in the fast-submerging engine room, business is getting the full roll of uncertainty. As chief engineer Scott used to say on the USS Enterprise, “she cannae take any more, Captain. She’s gonna blow.”

Increasingly, the only way to re-float the UK seems to be to clear out the bilge pipes, and that means ending this parliament through an election. Today will see another attempt to call one, and it is imperative that our parliamentarians take the opportunity.

The job of oppositions is not to thwart elections, it is to fight them. And for all of our sakes, we need an election to give us sight of shore.

The power of decision is perhaps now the only way we can bring any resolution to the woes caused by Brexit. And that means one thing: this parliament must end itself. The alternative is the daily destabalisation of our political, social and commercial life. A sea-sickness threatening worse to come.

Because we face so much more than Brexit. Last month, the governor of the Bank of England warned that trade wars could “shipwreck” the global economy. That turbulence threatens us at least equally as much and perhaps even more so than Brexit.

So, as this salty yarn concludes, its message to all hands in parliament is to have the courage to give us back our vote through a General Election. As the activist Faye Wattleton said, “the only safe ship in a storm is leadership”.

 

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