Brexit: All About May

Theresa May just had the worst day of any British Prime minister in arguably 70 years, the last time a treaty was voted down. As you no doubt know, she pulled the vote on her Withdrawal Agreement, an admission that it would have been defeated by a catastrophically large margin.

Yet Labour did not introduce a motion of no confidence, presumably because it knew it did not have the votes. And May has departed for the Continent to have a round of meetings with EU leaders, even though they have already announced that they are not going to entertain changes to the pact.

How long May lasts will determine how Brexit plays out. If she is not dispatched quickly after Monday’s epic defeat, it’s a strong indicator she will continue on into and probably though January, and conceivably even longer, despite being reduced to zombie-level effectiveness.

As we indicated, despite the widespread loss of faith in May, and even with May’s razor thin coalition majority, no or not enough Tory MPs are willing to break ranks to vote with Labour, which unless the Tories and DUP could coalesce around a new prime minister, would result in a General Election that could put Labour in power. That is anathema. And the 1922 process means if the Tories can rally round a replacement for May, they can do so without risking a General Election.

But May has been lurching from disaster to disaster, yet she is still in charge. The impediment to her ouster has been the lack of an alternative that the MPs could stomach. Boris Johnson has been eagerly presenting himself a a contender since Cameron’s resignation, but he remains too toxic for too many. Rees-Mogg is dim and even more of an Ultra’s Ultra, so that rules him out. Gove has been lurking in the wings since doing less well than Boris in the post-Cameron contest. Javid has made his interest clear, but my impression (and reader input is very much appreciated) his limited ministerial experience and his lean and hungry look make him a long shot.

The thin leadership pickings reflect the diminished state of the political classes in the UK, compounded by the fact that only an egotist desperate to become Prime Minister, someone deeply in denial about the poor options available, or a martyr would seek to run the country now.

Having said that, a push is on in the Tory ranks to scotch May. From The Sun:

Livid Tory MPs have vowed to mount a fresh coup to oust Theresa May after her Brexit deal stood on the verge of collapse. Party grandees are already looking at speeding up a snap leadership contest after she dramatically pulled the landmark Commons vote….

Members of the backbench European Research Group of Tory MPs banged the table in approval last night when told more letters for a no-confidence vote were submitted. Rebels are understood to be five short of the 48 needed to trigger a ballot on her future. The Sun can also reveal grandees are considering shortening a leadership contest to less than three weeks. Senior Tories who had previously refused to join an earlier coup were weighing up their actions.

If you read the entire article, you can see that a distressing number of Tories are carrying on about negotiating a better deal with the EU. And this was the considered view of ConservativeHome the day before May’s retreat from Moscow the vote:

Conservative MPs put in 48 letters, and the party has to have a confidence vote in the Prime Minister. If 48 letters go in, this would require a swift vote of confidence, where May must win more than 50 per cemt of the 315 eligible MPs. If she lost, the party then has to elect a new leader. Given the incredibly short timescale before 29th March, the Conservative Party would be signing its own death warrant to do this.

Recall that if May were to survive this challenge, it could not be attempted again for another 12 months. And vlade pointed out another risk:

One thing I’m not entirely sure is what happens if there’s a leadership challenge and May loses.

Because if someone like Boris/JRM is voted in as a leader, there are Tory MPs which will bolt. Which likely would mean that the newly elected leader would risk a GE if they wanted to be PM right away, so could well be a very short-lived PMship.

So I suspect, they could wait till after Brexit, unless they could see a chance of say A50 revocation, when sinking the government with the chaos in between could very well be their plan to avoid that.

As The Sun indicated, it’s the Ultras who are front and center in this rebellion and they are sure to try to install a more radical PM, so vlade’s concerns are valid.

If a party confidence vote does not come soon, it’s hard to see what May could do to get herself turfed out. And if May were to survive, her position would be strengthened despite her abysmal performance.

May’s plan, to the extent she has one, is disturbingly reminiscent of the strategy of the Greek government in the 2015 bailout negotiations: playing chicken. May is determined to produce a Brexit, and she is confident that it would wind up being hers rather than a no deal. She is running out the clock on the hope that fear of a crash out will lead the EU to relent on the backstop or Parliament to approve her pact. She’s not entertaining a second referendum or Article 50 revocation or any path to Remain. Recall the Telegraph revealed what her possible fallback is: a referendum that does not have Remain as a choice.

Bloomberg confirms this take:

Faced with a Brexit vote she can’t win, Theresa May appears to be gambling that running down the clock to a no-deal departure might change the arithmetic in Parliament.

A Cabinet ally of May’s, speaking on condition of anonymity, put the prime minister’s strategy more charitably, saying that if the deal can’t go through then the only option is to keep talking — to EU leaders, in the hope they might offer something more, and to lawmakers, in the hope they might ask a little less.

So May has a path she is doggedly pursuing. And if she continues to beat the odds and stay in charge, she will limit the options to her deal versus no deal. Not the the UK public will be happy with that.

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  1. JohnA

    There are 2 things about the Conservative Party:
    1. It is not known as the Stupid Party for nothing,
    2. It is the ultimate survival machine. Its admittedly ageing base will always vote Tory even if voting Tory means putting your own head in the guillotine or in front of a firing squad.

    Added to which the MSM in Britain is innately conservative and even notionally centrist or left of centre media have spent the past 2 years trying to bury Corbyn in all sorts of manure. So a balanced picture is never presented.
    Somehow the Conservative party will survive, that is its raison d’etre.

    1. California Bob

      re: “It is the ultimate survival machine. Its admittedly ageing base will always vote Tory even if voting Tory means putting your own head in the guillotine or in front of a firing squad.”

      Hmmmm …. sounds familiar.

  2. seanseamour

    Brexit leaves many in quandary as to how how the British can remain as insularly to not say hubristically close-minded as they appear with the belief they can still divide and reign -the how is very well depicted by Finton O’Toole here : which brings one to wonder what makes “Maggie” May tick here :
    Suggest you start with the exceptional piece by Finton O’Toole for May is a product of that culture.

    1. Ape

      Fintan is shallow. The EU is a stand in for the real victors of ww2: the us and ussr. But the total victory of the us over the british empire – its effective surrender to US forces early since the only other choice was surrender to Germany – is unimaginable and unstatable. So the uk struggles with fantasies about an apocalyptic struggle between the rump empire and a weak federation that isn’t conquering but saying, by god just go!

      The politics only make sense if the underlying mental structure is delusional.

      1. Anarcissie

        If the British surrendered to the US, does this not mean the US owns them, and can be expected to step forward and claim them lest they be taken by the Germans / Viertes Reich / Holy Roman Empire? This must be in the back of the Brexiteer mind. I am surprised there has not been more discussion of the US saving the UK from itself somehow. It could be presented to the Emperor Trump as a real estate deal.

  3. Anders K

    I can’t but agree, which is why I’ll provide some spelling nitpicks instead!

    “As you know doubt know” => “As you [no] doubt know”

    “or any path to Reman” => “or any path to [Remain]”

    “her deal versus no deal, unless .” => something missing after the unless (perhaps ???, but then profit should be the next step, not a step of a cliff or a rather lacklustre Brexit deal)

    The only other thing I can add is a view from outside the UK but inside the EU – a change in leadership of the UK will not lead to a better deal magically appearing, neither for Boris, nor for Corbyn. A temporary revocation of Article 50 will not be a pleasant experience.

    1. Yves Smith Post author

      Thanks for the fixes! More punchy than usual.

      I don’t think a temporary revocation is viable. According to the latest poll (YouGov, Dec 4), 46% is for Remain, 27% for May’s deal, 27% for no deal. That means a majority winds up favoring Brexit when you give them the three current options. Now that admittedly could change.

      But (to the comment re the conservatism of the UK press) the most the press and pols are talking about is a second referendum. The groundwork is not being laid for a revocation with no referendum backing it. And after being promised that the referendum results would be honored, backing out would be seen as a massive betrayal. After that, why would anyone believe, “Oh, we might try again,” particularly when the EU will say, “You won’t get a better deal.”

      1. Ohnoyoucantdothat

        But therein lies the rub. May and her cohorts could announce that their successful “chumming the waters to see how the EU sharks would react” had given them a good read on the limits for Brexit and they could now retract A50 to give Britain time to properly prepare for the next round in 10-15 years. They could then get all the technical fixes in place, prepare NI for the inevitable border in the sea, flesh out the foreign office with enough talent to successfully negotiate all the new trade agreements and do all the legwork they could to be ready for the next round. When ready, they make another run. Far fetched but might be a way for them to salvage their badly damaged reputations. Of course, they could also simply forget about all the preparations and in a few years all is forgotten … right? Brexit? What Brexit? Never happened!

        1. Anders K

          Unfortunately, what has been promised is a Brexit now, not in 10 or 15 years when the voters (rightly, IMHO) suspect it will be conveniently forgotten about. Especially with each iteration of Parliament being a totally unique snowflake that will not let itself be held back by petty concerns or promises of previous Parliaments, who totally doesn’t understand that Things Have Changed.

          Also, the chances of the current Tory Government cobbling together an improved deal is rather low; they would need to change how they make policy for that to happen, which is a tough row to hoe.

          Quite frankly, all of the hullabaloo now about different plans (Norway Plus Deluxe Super Saver Edition or whatnot) are stuff that should have been discussed and been decided upon before triggering article 50. This would remove some of the desperation and not piss off Norway by iterating through different “deals” some of which have included a cuckoo UK landing – temporarily – in Norways quiet EFTA pond before throwing its weight around then flying off to a better place (leaving the other EFTA countries to pick up the pieces).

          I do not think that Richard North’s Flexcit would work (especially not performed by the current crop of underwhelming UK politicians), but at least it had considered the implications, and with a decade-long timeframe had a chance at success. Unfortunately, it contained far fewer unicorns, and would have required a lot of international negotiation work from the government performing it.

          1. vlade

            Indeed. As I wrote yesterday, there were viable plans – but all of them had to be long dated, and painful. Which of them should be put in effect had to be decided before A50 trigger for any chance of sucess.

            The Leave had the advantage that it was sufficiently amorphous to attract a lot of different voters. But that breaks when you have to implemnet something, as a majority will hate any specific solution, as it seems too costly to them.

            This is where the UK pols failed, they did not even try to build any sort of consensus of what it should mean (except unicorns and sparkly ponies).

            1. Colonel Smithers

              Thank you, Vlade.

              I have heard Commission officials say that if Brexit was to be successful or job neutral, the transition out would have to be 12 – 15 years at least and require a wartime level of mobilisation.

              That begs a few questions: Who’s up for that? Who’s up to that? Does the UK have the leadership to manage that?

              1. Mattski

                This maybe answers the question why Labour doesn’t take some leadership, point the way forward with ideas about necessary social reorganization. I am at least in principal for projects like an independent Catalunya and Scotland for several reasons, but more than anything because I think the world needs projects of independent economic and social development at smaller (if interdependent) scale; I would like to see what they came up with.

                I’m also convinced that not having control over their own currencies has been disastrous for the likes of Spain and Greece, severely limited as they are in introducing social programs, constrained by neoliberal resistance in Germany, France and the Euro parliament. (Parallel currencies could remedy this, I am told, idea I’d love to see further examined.)

                But preparing the ground for such projects is the work of years–as you point out–and if Corbyn and Labour start to flesh out a vision or mechanisms for implementation they provide the Tories with many rich red-baiting targets. Better, they may have concluded, to watch the Tories self-combust, enter government and work from there.

                Would love to believe there is a vision lurking somewhere. The problem is that we always look for solutions in electoral politics rather than in the necessary shoe-leather work of building social movements, building wide consensus for necessary change.

  4. ambrit

    One aspect of the entire Brexit fiasco that I have not seen explored very much is just what the very fact of the popular vote split means for English society.
    Roughly one half of the English electorate voted to abandon the Neo-Liberal experiment, for which the European Union ‘experiment’ stood in as symbol for. Why? I don’t presume to know the ‘soul’ of a nation, but if conditions in England are similar to those in the America that I live in, the people are sick, tired, and scared. “Business as usual” has failed us. We see a slow slide into disaster for ourselves and our close neighbours. We also see the political class merging with the owning class and doing well for themselves. Simple fear and uncertainty become hate, given the right impetus. At present, that hate is being expressed, in England at least, through the electoral rejection of the policies associated with the “upper classes.” No matter that there will be concomitant pain. Blame that too on the classes that visibly have benefited from the Neo-Liberal order.
    The French “Yellow Vests” are spot on. It is time for French Revolution 2.0. Worldwide.

    1. FergusD

      Hmmm. I think many working class voters opted for Brexit as they saw the EU as part of the establishment shafting them. Many are also nationalistic in outlook, sadly, with illusions in Britain’s past glory. There are other factors as well, e.g. the consistently rabid anti-EU propaganda of the majority of the popular press with its own agenda.

      Sadly, in my view, there wasn’t really a coherent socialist analysis/perspective offered to those working class voters. Brexit will not end neo-liberal economics and austerity in the U.K., rather we will get more of it and the working class will hurt.

      BUT don’t forget a majority of Labour voters voted remain and a majority of Tory voters voted leave. There is a large Brexit community amongst the comfortable, somewhat xenophobic and nationalistic, middle class Tory base in England.

      The Brexit vote has some similarities with the election of Trump. Most votes came from the usual suspects but Trump and Brexit won due to some working class voters going for what they thought was the anti-establishment option.

      In or out of the EU is still rotten capitalism, which is in crisis, with all that entails.

      1. Harry

        I agree. I also think many in the provinces saw the Brexit vote as an opportunity to teach the Metropolitan “elites” a lesson for stuffing them over the last 30 years. London has increasingly gotten everything worth having in the UK. Even though Sunderland will be worse off by Brexit, it might be worth it to wipe the smug off those Londoner faces.

        Frankly I would be tempted to vote the same way. Its not like they ran a vote inviting you to choose which British politician to put in the stocks and throw rotten fruit at (Boris Johnson please!).

        1. vlade

          The problem there is that those who are the best off from the pre-Brexit approach will keep being best off, and if the proverbial hits the fan, they’ll just pick themselves and decamp somewhere else.

          1. Nick Stokes

            They don’t get capitalism and how this has been going on since the beginning nor how a debt liquidation will equally destroy them……..oh how I would have loved a political rejection of the 2008 bailout……

            1. ambrit

              That would have been an analogue of Brexit for America!
              We Americans, and the odd hybrid like myself, can argue that the election of Trump was a similar ‘gut level’ rejection of the “Business As Usual” method of governance. Trump was conman enough to find at least a half of the American electorate’s deeper fears and play on them to win the election. He has thus far failed to live up to his promises.
              On to Phase Two of this socio-political process. Here come the True Believers! (To the sound of martial music.)

            2. Harry

              One need not have rejected the bailout. One might simple have required top level management to step down and existing equity and subordinated debt to be bailed in. Not doing so has been extraordinarily costly.

        2. Ape

          The class envy that pervades the English speaking world is an amazing bit of sublimation. Really best if people stopped with the envy and instead took matters into their own hands.

          1. Fiery Hunt

            Says a self-styled John Galt.

            It’s not envy, just recognition of the corruption and moral bankruptcy of the 10%ers.

      2. Roquentin

        The ruling class, when faced with a rising tide in support for a politician like Corbyn, instead has tried to offer voters attempts to solve the problems of capitalism with nationalism. Of course, this was never going to work, but it at least retained a sheen of plausibility. The missing piece of the puzzle is the abject failure of traditional center left politicians (Hollande in France is a great example) to be anything but faithful stewards of the neoliberal order. This has allowed nationalists to portray themselves as a solution to the economic woes of most of the voting public, whom financial elites still need to get a degree of support from.

        When people are offered fake solutions, cakeism, contradictory and incoherent political policies, the more important question is why was such nonsense necessary? The bitter truth is that the ruling class doesn’t have any solutions to the problems of neoliberal capitalism because it is the very thing which guarantees they stay in power. They can only ever offer doomed projects like Brexit or MAGA in the US to the public because they have no real solutions, or to put it more directly simply won’t implement them because it undermines a social structure in which they are perched at the top of it.

      3. Stelsewhere

        Neo-liberal economics is dead, maybe the walking dead, but dead. Climate change by anyone’s hand is real and it means the end of fossil fuels, whether they are a peak or not. Based on many of the articles on this site, banking appears headed for a rapid and sudden death. All this will be global. The citizens of the U.K. have bigger things to worry about then the EU. Our current living arrangements are effectively over, i.e., ‘anything goes and nothing matters’. We are in the Long Emergency. The leave vote no matter how it was pitched was and is about democracy and citizens, being that – citizens. No matter what Labour’s platform is, the E.U. is neo-liberal and It’s entire legal frame work makes any form of socialism impossible. Doing the math, leaves one with the inescapable outcome that all things become local. Very local. Very few dream of past glories, then as now for most they aren’t. People are tired, sick, and scared.

    2. Nick Stokes

      Neoliberal experiment? What do you think the UK is? The amount of coloreds voting to leave the EU is the key. But nobody says that, because it isn’t dialectically relevant…..

      1. ambrit

        That is an interesting point.
        Is there data on this? There is, or used to be, a sociological concept of the “downwardly mobile.” How that group voted is the basis of my thesis.
        Do you mean that the EU project treats the English “coloured” population worse than Westminister, or better? Living in the North American Deep South, I see the effects of racialist politics all the time. But, going back and looking at the details, I will assert that the slave owning project was first and foremost a labour issue. How more basic can we get than, “you will work for me as my slave.” Power.
        Yes. I do call it the Neo-Liberal experiment. There is no society wide consensus in favour of the ‘experiment.’ There is a lot of push back from those victimized by the ‘experiment.’ (See: Brexit, Trump, the ‘Yellow Vests,’ multiple riots and civil disturbances in China, etc.) Any “public” support for the ‘experiment’ looks to be the result of elite propaganda and social manipulation campaigns.
        See you at the barricades.

      2. Yves Smith Post author

        I don’t think this is about non-Caucasians. It’s about the “Polish plumbers”.

        The UK expected 50,000 Polish immigrants and got over 800,000 in a decade. That pressured wages and housing/rental prices, particularly in the British rust belt.

        1. Harry

          But its been great for Catholic church attendances. You can’t get in the door of a Catholic Church in London of a Sunday

          1. shtove

            Deliver us from evil. But which evil do the UK Poles perceive as greater? Would a fair chunk of them flee Brexit UK for Ireland, rather than Poland?

        1. ambrit

          Yes I do, but can think of no better ‘code word’ for non-whites. (You do know that in English parlance, “coloured” includes people from India, Pakistan, and points east, don’t you?) The term “non-white,” though succinct for the purpose, caries dire associations derived from it’s use under Apartheid in south Africa, eg. ‘nie blank.’
          I am still somewhat confused as to whether the poster meant the word ‘coulured’ to mean strictly those of black african ancestry or the more expansive meaning.
          Otherwise, we fall headlong into a morass of words and phrases competing for the mantle of “Politically Correct in Chief.”

    3. flora

      I see parallels with US politics, too. That’s why I’m so interested in the developing Brexit politics. Thanks to NC for reporting this story in depth.

      1. ambrit

        Agreed. I see Brexit as a dress rehearsal for what is coming for us all in the near to mid future. The living conditions in England after Brexit are projected to be similar to long term effects of the syndrome maladies subsumed under the rubric “Global Climate Change.”

    4. Susan the other

      Yes Ambrit, it is very Trumpian. Some wag from the UK on the F24Debate made a similar comment – that the confusion (and that is what it is) stems from two different interpretations of Brexit. The Tories are all for no regulations and open trade but no immigrants yet. Whereas the working class has had it with austerity (imposed by the neolib EU – but the neolib Tories will be even worse) and they want better living conditions, not a neoliberal race to the bottom for the sake of (probably) financial deregulation, or some other exploitation of the masses. So Brexit was never actually defined. Which explains all of May’s absurd speeches wherein she defiantly says “Brexit means Brexit” but she never once defines it. What an artful dodger she is. And what a mess.

    5. Nick Stokes

      Nope, one quarter. The other half you think is abandoning the “neo liberal” project voted for a more aggressive neo-liberal project under the guise of the “UK”. This is the “Farage” goal. So this post is dead and void. You destroyed yourself and didn’t have the respect to understand your failure. The “Leave” vote was very neoliberal, probably about as neo-liberal as remain.

      This board just doesn’t get it or de Rothschild neo-liberals like Donald Trump real goals. I mean, you just don’t. You want to be a de-growther, you understand the whole thing must come down. Not just the US centric side of it that came to power after 1929. The whole effing thing. De Growth is where the real “left” went after the collapse of Marxism’s hold on it after WWII and the movement began to severely split. While idiot “righties” whine over identity progressives(who aren’t “left” what so ever), the real anti-capitalist movement rejecting Marxism is all about de growth. It is like the early 1800’s all over again before the obsession with competing with a ponzi-scheme like capitalism on who can provide the better self-gratification.

      1. ambrit

        I think you are reading too much into the purported goals of the Leave voters. Drop down from the Ideological Heights for a moment and consider that the basic issues for most voters, and the fellow travelers they represent, are The Basics. How to feed, clothe, house and care for one another. As has become apparent with Trump here in the U.S., the voters have been sold a bill of goods. So far, so bad.
        Now, if I read you right, the De Growth movement you mention looks suspiciously like a stalking horse for Social Darwinism. Repurposed Growth would be more useful, unless you are willing to see massive death and misery over the next fifty or so years. I won’t argue with you concerning the logical end game for the Neo-Liberal program. It would be the same Social Darwinian hellscape.
        If anything, Labour is going to have to go back to the basics. A New Second International.

        1. JBird4049

          Now, if I read you right, the De Growth movement you mention looks suspiciously like a stalking horse for Social Darwinism.

          The Elites, the ones who have, keep trying to find ways to twist any problems, questions, or solutions into ways to maintain what they have at the expense of those who do not, and hopefully even increase it. Ideology, morality, ethics, or fairness be damned. They want to have it all and will use anything, including the possible oncoming environmental collapse to do so.

          De Growth will become De Take, We Keep, Go Die.

  5. vlade

    I’d point out that May may win Tory leadership, but then still lose PM if the Ultras decide to sink her. Remember, her majority is ultra-thin – 7 votes need to switch and she loses.

    1. Yves Smith Post author

      But crossing the aisle to trigger a GE is political suicide. Are any members of the ERG willing to do that? And aren’t they retrograde enough to have an even more intense loathing of Labour than the typical Tory?

      I know procedurally it is possible, but 7 is a high percentage of the 51 or so names on the Stand4Brexit site.

      1. vlade

        Suicide only if they were deselected, which may or may not happen (a lof of their constituencies is so safe that if they put a pig in a hat as a Tory candidate, it would win).

        I’m not sure how well would Tory members react to deselecting JRM or Boris who are both immensely popular.

        1. vlade

          So say if you’d put JRM, Boris, Davis, Baker (JRM mini-me) and Raab, you have 5 already. All it takes two more then.

          1. dingus

            I understand the mathematical point but how many of those would consider the high risk of a Corbyn Labour government preferable to a zombie, but Tory, government, even if it means careening off the A50 cliff on March 29th? I’d wager not one of them would.

            Depressing as it is you can’t help but marvel at the spectacle of impotence and deadlock UK politics has managed to create for itself (it’s part of a global trend of struggling to come to terms with a change in the political/economic status-quo, but still, quite how well we seem to be digging a hole to bury ourselves with here is impressive), come March 30th I suspect we’ll still have no idea what will happen.

            1. vlade

              The question is, how many of those prefer Brexit to Corbyn?

              Corbyn could be 5 years, and even that is a maybe (the polls right now are closer to another hung parliament).

              Brexit, if it does not happen now, may not happen ever.

              1. dingus

                Political opinion is a fickle thing and I wouldn’t like to guarantee anything but I’m fairly certain any party whose seeming incompetence was deemed to have led to a collapse of government (which is how this situation of an early general election would look), could be expected to take quite a hit in the opinion of the public at the ballot box. A Labour majority would not be surprising. (Why it isn’t an absolute nailed on certainty is another thing entirely.)

                I agree though that if Brexit isn’t delivered by this Tory government on March 29th it is less likely to happen at all, the first thing any new government would likely do is revoke Article 50 to ‘give time to implement their own approach’, which could easily lead to it being conveniently done away with in the long run.

                By not collapsing the government and keeping the zombie going they can pretty much ensure no Corbyn in the short-term and some form of Brexit come March 29th. This still leaves the luxury of blaming it all on May afterwards and presenting themselves as the great hope of recovery.

                It’s not a good thing for the UK but keeping out of the way and waiting for the S to hit the fan does seem to be the only political strategy of the moment for a number of key figures.

          2. Redlife2017

            Very good point. It is a welcome reminder about May’s very precarious position. It’s easy to be brave when you will still get your salary guaranteed until death.

            I’ll quote the great Dr. Hunter S. Thompson (my go-to in times of the weird):

            “We are like pygmies lost in a maze of haze. We are not at war, we are having a nervous breakdown, again.”
            Kingdom of Fear: Loathsome Secrets of a Star-crossed Child in the Final Days of the American Century (2004)

            1. Tony Wright

              What a great title – I think it would be perfect for Mueller’s report when he produces it…..
              Thanks for the post – the HST book sounds like good holiday reading, and I havnt read any of his stuff since the ‘Fear and Loathing’ days.

        2. vidimi

          i am not sure about what you mean about immensely popular. both have their share of supporters, but both crucially lack wider national support. this despite the fact that the daily mail has been putting lipstick on JRM for over a year now. he is just too dorky and snooty even for most tory voters.

          1. vlade

            Immensly popular among Tory membership, which is all that counts here (i.e. deselecting them would be a very unpopular step with the party members).

            I’d have been more precise – they are not that popular outside of Tory members (even with Tory voters). But in the leadership challenge, it’s the Tory members who matter.

        3. Harry

          Ultimately it will come down to loyalty to party or country. Among those who actually understand the choice (which might be about half of the golf-playing incompetents).

          So far the Tories have chosen party over country. Which was pretty much my measure of the shiftless, useless bunch.

          It only takes a few to change this calculation. In the meantime we play “chicken”.

          I don’t understand why Corbyn has been so pillared for his stance to date. The 1st requirement is to keep the Labour party alive. Standing up and rescuing the Tory party at the expense of damaging Labour for a generation wouldn’t be much of a win.

          Let them bury themselves.

          1. vlade

            You say that Tories are chosing party over country, and then you say Labour should choose party over country.

            I dislike Corbyns stance because he’s sold as principled. Party before country is not principled at all IMO.

            Also, I’d point out that majority of Labour voters are/were Remainers (all polls are very consistent on this).

            I’ll also point out that Labour is tied neck to neck with Tories, despite this being universaly acclaimed the worst Tory government in living memory, Tory party undergoing a massive civil war – and that’s just on the issue of Brexit, forget all the other issues that matter to the country. And the Labour is STILL incapable of capitalising on it. By any reasonable means, it’d be 10 points ahead of Tories, at least.

            But hey, we’ll see who was right. I’ll be happy if I would be wrong. But if I _am_ right, Corbyn will have buried Labour anyways, at least his version (i.e. not Blairite) of it.

            1. Harry

              Yes, cos I am partisan. Labour is quite fragile. But your point is perfectly valid. Still, you cant really blame Labour for the current mess.

              And Corbyn doesnt have very friendly press. But still, my dislike for the Blairite wing is rather intense. I don’t expect other posters to share it.

              I have just head that the 1922 have 48 letters.

            2. Harry

              Forgive the brevity of the last response. I was trying to type and chew gum (ok, work) at the same time. So, to address your perfectly reasonable points properly….

              David Cameron called the referendum, and did so specifically to deal with internal dissent within the Tory party. One should applaud the patience if not the goal of Rees-Mogg. He forced Cameron’s hand. What Cameron didnt realize was the contempt the status quo was held in across the country. Losers have not been compensated for the gains of winners. Thats the problem with “efficient” solutions, when there are substantial groups of losers who are not compensated. They can be bitter.

              So this whole nightmare happened because the Tory party was afraid of fracturing. However once the genie was loosed from the bottle, the sterling work of Blair and his new Labour cronies came into play. The losses in living standards experienced by much of the country were a major explanatory variable in why the UK voted to cut off its nose to spite its face. Cos Sunderland might well consider losses to London a “good” in and of itself.

              Labour is tied with the Tories, which is unsurprising when EVERY media outlet in the country is opposed to Corbyn. But for those of us who support Corbyn, Labour winning is not an objective in itself because it makes bugger all difference having Chuka or Teresa. We would like to eliminate every trace of “New Labour” and start the process of widening the Overton window in the UK. So yes we could “win” by reverting to Centrism but what would that really do?

              So I support Corbyn and a broader discourse in British politics.

              I totally agree with you regarding Corbyn’s hopeless stance on Brexit. But the politics of it is tricky for Labour. The same split that Cameron was hoping to avoid in the Tories could easily happen to Labour. The party could be discredited with the Northern Working Class for a generation if it were to be perceived as betraying them. Its not the majority of the party which matters to win elections, but the broader coalition of interest groups and voters it represents. Betraying Brexit supporters in the North would be disasterous for Labour, as that might be the winning margin for a huge number of seats. The party should not do it just to bail the Conservatives out of the box they have put us all into.

              In many ways, Corbyn’s best strategy is to just to keep his mouth shut and wait for his chance. Then he should repudiate Brexit, but only when the Tory government has fallen. Which it will.

  6. Chris Cooke

    Re a GE being political suicide for Tories. Two points: firstly Brexit itself is suicide (giving your voters an ever-worsening economic slump is not going to prove popular); secondly how is Corbyn going to win an election? Last I heard he and Labour were still clearly behind in the opinion polls.

    1. Avid remainer

      It is not a good idea relying on opinion polls in the UK. On the eve of the last GE only one called the election correctly. All the others were calling a 50 seat Tory majority. Well we know what happened.
      Most UK voters don’t take much notice of politics until the GE campaign starts and then the ground can shift remarkably quickly. Corbyn destroyed a putative 20% Tory lead at the start of the last campaign.
      Having said that prepare for anything.

      1. vlade

        The by-constituency poll (that called the last GE right) shows the same. While I agree that the polls cannot be over-estimated, I believe that the Labour (and some of their fans) are making the opposite mistake, of ignoring inconvenient polls based on the last result.

        The fact is that in the last GE, Labour sucked up a lot of LibDem supporters, who voted for Labour in the hope of soft Brexit. That didn’t happen, and they will NOT vote for Labour anymore (this is based both on anecdotal evidence as well as on some polls). That will cost them, especially in some very marginal seats.

        For example, look at Hampstead and Kilburn constituency. It’s not even a marginal for Labour. But if you look at 2010 election, it was the closest three-party run (The difference between winner – Labour and third LD was about 800 votes, approx 1% of all the votes in the constituency).

        In 2015, the LD electorate moved mostly to Labour, and some to Green, rest to Tories. It was still a pretty close run – about 1000 votes difference.

        The massive swing from Tories in 2017 to Labour was because the Remainers in the constituency dropped Tories and went Labour.

        But those can very easily swing to LD – quite possibly enough to deprive Labour of the seat.

  7. Matthew G. Saroff

    Well, May managed to negotiate a deal worse than a hard Brexit.

    Not a surprise that it’s about as popular as a Dick Cheney nude photo shoot.

    1. fajensen

      Get Real. May’s deal is not worse than a hard Brexit: It keeps the blood flowing while those Sparkly-Unicorn WTO-deals are being prepared (or for the Brexiteers to once again ooze away from actual work, this time to a nice sunny location, thus ending the debate).

      The time bought by May’s deal will be needed because We Know from the ongoing Brexit shit-show that the UK government will probably not be very effective in drafting any of those agreements, except of course with the US, because the US Department of Trade will write the whole thing for the UK, with US spelling, to better rub it in!

      Time is beginning to matter, One begins to wonder what actually happens when one writes or buys 3-month duration derivatives or futures without knowing what the status of the UK will actually be on March 19’th 2019. A little bit later into December, with more of the same, and “Markets” will begin to wonder too. Absent a deal, will these things clear or not?

      1. DaveH

        Get Real. May’s deal is not worse than a hard Brexit:

        The terminology of all this is horribly vague, but it’s important to clarify – on the prism that was being discussed when those terms were first used, what May has negotiated is a hard Brexit.

        Soft was leaving the political structures but remaining within the trading institutions of the Customs Union and Single Market.

        Hard was leaving those institutions and negotiating a more basic free trade deal.

        The Thelma and Louise approach that some are now advocating and is currently the default wasn’t even part of the discussion.

        1. shtove

          Yes, I think YS established the ranking last year – no-deal is not a hard Brexit, but the chaotic of the species. Scientists are arguing whether it is, in fact, a different species. Then they say, Sod this – let’s trash the lab and go out and spunk our redundancy money on a big party.

  8. Ataraxite

    Another excellent summary of the chaos, which swirls and swirls, though there are scant signs of it being resolved.

    I want to talk about a couple of over-looked possibilities, which may yet factor into what happens.

    1. Phillip Hammond and Michael Gove. To my mind, these are the two ministers in the government whose resignation would be unsurvivable for Theresa May. Gove is an oleaginous careerist, who will do whatever he thinks best for himself. Hammond is more interesting – he strikes me someone with a firmer grip on reality than most in the UK parliament, and someone who will not countenance No Deal. So if things move further in that direction – as they will with Theresa May’s game of euro-chicken – then he could prove to be decisive.

    2. The Labour consensus breaks. So far, a carefully built consensus has been built in the Labour party, which has managed to stay quite united despite the obvious varied viewpoints held by its MPs. This could yet break down – todays’s letter signed by 50 Labour MPs demanding a vote of No Confidence in the government be moved is an early example. As the clock ticks down, and no deal becomes a more distinct possibility, Labour MPs might be encouraged to vote/act in ways different from the Labour leadership. The fact that Labour’s official position on Brexit is unicorny and cakeist will not help as reality becomes ever more intrusive.

    1. Harry

      Yes, absolutely.

      If anything, the risk of de-selection is far higher for Labour MPs who break ranks. However what would be the point of forcing a Vote of NC if it fails? One needs to have the votes, and really, delaying till the last minute might actually suit Corbyn too. Consider the choice moderate Remainers on both sides will have as the clock ticks down. As it stands, May is still trying to deliver Brexit. If Corbyn times this right he might be able to force a no confidence vote at a time when the Conservatives will be split between any Brexit and Remaining at the expense of the GE.

      1. King

        A GE as a second referendum seems too logical for UK politics. The reasons why this won’t happen and even if it did, why it would be another train wreck along with the current Brexit one are real windows into the UK system. Thanks NC for helping to explain this nonsense.

        1. DaveH

          It’s not all that logical because it wouldn’t solve anything.

          The position of the two main parties is (officially) basically the same and unrelated to what most of the country wants – in both directions.

          So it wouldn’t be a second referendum by proxy, as they would all still be promising the same unrealistic choices that they are doing now.

          Then one side or the other gets in with a small majority (or there is still no majority for anyone), having been elected on the same “sort of Brexit but also not really, depending on who we’re talking to and trying to appeal to at any given moment” nonsense that we have now.

    2. Yves Smith Post author

      Good points. I was in fact wondering this AM why Hammond hadn’t resigned. That makes sense, that it would be fatal to May and he doesn’t (yet) want to bring down the Government.

      Is the Labour consensus (or need to maintain it) part of why Corbyn has been offering such puffery on Brexit?

      1. DaveH

        Is the Labour consensus (or need to maintain it) part of why Corbyn has been offering such puffery on Brexit?

        It’s a combination of three things.

        (1) Exactly what you say. That Mansfield, Stoke, Walsall, Middlesbrough apparently won’t vote for Labour if they don’t follow through on Brexit. It’s also why plenty of Labour MPs such as Caroline Flint are keen to back (nearly) any deal that they get to vote on.

        (2) He doesn’t need to do any more. If there are a bunch of rats in a sack eating each other, why climb in with them. Now is really the point when he should, but when you’re in opposition you always promise the earth safe in the knowledge that you probably aren’t going to actually follow through with it.

        (3) He doesn’t really care. I don’t buy the idea that he’s a big eurosceptic, it’s just not the bit of politics that he’s interested in. If the country were all talking about Palestine, the Rohingya, al-Khashoggi, then you’d never be able to shut him up. The pros and cons of a common commercial policy and common external tariff? It wouldn’t surprise me if he’d not even heard those words before he became leader.

        There may well be more, but the above covers the bulk of it I think.

      2. Harry

        Those who live in the UK are better placed to comment but its very hard to get a clean read. Its definitely part of the ambiguity. But i suspect Corbyn is hoping to have his cake and eat it. Ideally the UK would exit and Labour would not be blamed. The Tories would schism and Labour could win without tacking right. But that’s not his immediate goal. That is to keep control and keep Labours core support intact. He can’t be seen to betray those working class supporters in the North. Not till there is a chance of winning a GE. Right now there isn’t even a chance of a GE.

    3. DaveH

      This could yet break down – todays’s letter signed by 50 Labour MPs demanding a vote of No Confidence in the government be moved is an early example

      Bear in mind, this is still just politicking.

      A no-confidence motion will fail. The DUP have said that they will back the Government, unless the withdrawal agreement passes. That’s the point at which they change their allegiance.

      Labour know that it will fail, and that’s why they aren’t calling for one. Those Labour MPs all want a new referendum, and know that the tedious admin of a failed no-confidence motion has to happen before the official party position switches to what they want.

  9. Summer

    Re: Adam Curtis…Economist

    “They’re (journalists) locked into describing the pantomime politics and they’re not looking to what Mr Michael Pence is really up to, and what’s really happening outside the theatre.”

    Indeed. Don’ t look where the magician wants you to look.

  10. Alex morfesis

    Can corbyn lead a government without having to be prime minister ? If May is technically leading a failed government can he not pull a stunt ?? One of two…do somethings crazy…suggest the country is so divided and attempt to move forward on temporary legislation allowing the Royal family to step forward and lead by appointment and decree and acquiescence by Parliament…or call for an ecumenical war cabinet with all former prime ministers (except may) returned to government with a committee of five ( including himself) with veto of day to day management of the government…

    Removing himself from the argument while still holding the largest block of votes in Parliament will present the argument he wants what is best for the future of the UK…

    Right now he is getting a little to close to a sell by date…his moment may pass if he doesn’t place himself in power by removing himself from direct power…

  11. George Phillies

    If the Conservatives manage to dump the current exit, by retracting on A50, it would appear that they might revive UKIP, though more likely the similar party not yet in existence that is focessed on Independence and nto on religious issues. Mr. Farage may rise again.

    As I said on another thread more than a year ago, it did not appear that the red lines of the two sides overlap, so no settlement was possible.

    1. shtove

      Both main parties poll at 40+%, pretty much at GE 2017 levels, figures not seen since the 1940s. The Lib Dems are pretty much on no change since 2017. UKIP has collapsed as a front, Farrage is spent. The electorate wants this sorted, no messing about.

      Judgements have to be made by the politicians, and I reckon Corbyn is right to wait until May has seen the whites of the eyes of the EU. We’re not quite there this side of Christmas, but what’s crucial is her reaction – go down with her Titanic, or revoke the Art.50 notice? From his point of view, the latter is perfect.

      Revoking the notice is another battlefield in UK constitutional law, but once the sealed executive order is received by the European Council, Corbyn can move with ease no matter what outcry there is domestically.

      [*crosses fingers*]

  12. David

    Somewhere in all of this, I suspect, is the Labour Party’s terror of a split in the party. The last time this happened, from 79-81, the result was a realignment of British politics for a generation, and Labour out of power for 18 years. The party only recovered power by selling its soul. It’s understandable, perhaps, to put party unity above everything else, given recent history.

    1. NotTimothyGeithner

      Labour outpolled the Tories by 23 points when John Smith died. Blair won by 13 points. Maybe Labour didn’t have to sell its soul. Its kind of like how Bill held a commanding lead in the early Summer in 1992 and wound up with 42% of the vote. How would Blair have fared in a longer election season?

  13. Brick

    Theresa’s options have run out as far as I can see and I am not sure she is actually consulting with the EU but advising them it is going to be a hard brexit. As far as I can tell her options are.

    Option 1. Announce a hard brexit and avoid a parliamentary vote and try to continue. In this case I think she faces a successful leadership challenge. Think there are enough remainers in the conservative party to challenge. Result 1 is the most likely result.
    Option 2. Announce some fudges to wording in the deal and have a parliament vote.It will still be rejected but Theresa can claim she worked really hard.Result 1,2 or 4 will come into play at some point.
    Option 3. Announce a general election .Result 5.
    Option 4. Resign . Result 3.
    Option 5. Referendum on Theresa’s way or no way.Result 1 with outside chance of result 6.

    Result 1. Vote of no confidence in Theresa.
    Result 2. Resign . Result 3 comes into play but Theresa may be able to influence the outcome.
    Result 3. New conservative leadership.Betting suggests this ends up with Dominic Raab or Michael Gove as leader and a hard brexit. Since these votes never go as expected I would not be surprised if Mathew Hancock becomes leader in which case we get a softer brexit.
    Result 4. Vote of no confidence in the parliament. Result 5.
    Result 5. General Eelection which I think the conservatives will win. This puts us in the same position as before.
    Result 6. Referendum result with low turnout for hard brexit.

    Looks like hard brexit to me and most likely significant changes to politics and democracy in the UK down the road.Governing is obviously too complex and rule and deal making too slow for the modern world.

  14. antonbruckner

    If there is one thing that politicians understand, it’s a fudge. I strongly suspect that the withdrawal deadline will be extended (for further negotiations, of course). Then everyone will say, when the matter goes off the front burner: ah, this is too hard, let’s forget about it.

    1. Grisefox

      There is a view that, assuming the EU agree to an Article50 extension (via an EU Parliamentary vote, which will itself take time), the most the EU will offer is 4 weeks, so as to avoid a clash with EU Parliamentary elections which commence in April, 2019.

  15. John D.

    Perhaps our British friends can inform me as to how simple-minded the following theory is, but I would have thought Corbyn being elected PM would suit the Tories in at least one way. When the entire Brexit mess degenerates even further and becomes completely unsalvageable – as we’re all pretty much expecting by this point – they’d get to point at him and scream some variation of the following: “It was him, not us! We didn’t do it! Him! Him! Him! Everything that happened is entirely his fault!”

    Whether the British electorate would be dumb enough to swallow such a line, I don’t know (though I’d certainly hope not), but I don’t doubt for a second that the Tories would be shameless and brazen enough to try it. I also don’t doubt the media would do everything in their power to help the bastards peddle this particular lie.

    1. Avidremainer

      The Tories have been ruling the UK for about 70% of he last 140 years using the above ploy. Gain office, cock things up, lose office, blame everything on the new government then win the next election. Rinse and repeat ad infinitum. The only time it failed was in 1992 when they thought they had lost but in fact won.They had to clean up their own mess.They did so badly that they didn’t win another majority ’til 2015 and then it was only 15 seats. Two years of majority Tory rule in 26 years. The Tories have given we Brits the two worst Prime Ministers since Lord North-the one who lost the American colonies- in a row. Some record eh?
      Your theory is bang on and my complements for being so perceptive.

      1. Grisefox

        I’m sure they’ll try, however what will work against them is their Brexit history. The submission of the Article50 letter to assuage rightest concerns that the PM wasn’t serious about Brexit implementation, the absence of any negotiation plan from DExEU in the 6 months gap until negotiation start, in no way offset by verbal assurances that FTAs can be negotiated in “days”, the ideologically-driven negotiating “red lines” which both limited exit options and constrained negotiating flexibility, the excessive and direct influencing of the Government’s course by unelected “think tanks” and Special Advisers, each with their own agendas, the lack of a collaborative as opposed to adversarial approach to negotiations, the failure to understand that the EU had in its principles and rules its own “red lines”, in fact the failure to understand the EU as an organisation, the woeful lack of progress after over two years of negotiations, the “demand and supply” agreement with the DUP in order to gain a Parliamentary majority after a disastrous General Election result, (using c£1.1bn of public money to fund an inter-Party agreement), contributing to the domination in negotiations of the Irish border issue, the adoption of a Cabinet-only approach to planning, thus excluding other Conservative MPs, also excluding devolved UK Governments any meaningful role and exacerbating divisiveness at a political level.

        Any attempt by them to blame a future Labour Government for the consequences of their sheer inadequacy has IMHO a steep hill to climb ;-)

        Not that Labour has covered itself in glory either. Its official Brexit option (a “Customs Union”) doesn’t withstand close scrutiny, and arguably as the Loyal Opposition in the current Parliament it has singularly failed to hold the Government to account, preferring instead to indulge in very public internecine Party warfare.

        What this whole process has done for me (and I’m sure others) is to expose the naked underbelly of UK politics – and it’s not pretty.

  16. antonbruckner

    Of course, if the high-tory brexiteers don’t get brexit, they will get something even better: the claim that they were stabbed in the back and are the true representatives of the British people in exile. Nor will they have to shoulder any blame for the mess they have made. So I’m not sure their strategy is to achieve a hard brexit. Rather, it’s to make it look like they were after a hard brexit. There is a difference.

  17. antonbruckner

    Surely, the trick for labor is to wait as long as possible (until Armageddon has almost arrived) a then bring a no-confidence motion and, at the same time, make it clear that if May (and the govt) goes it will seek an extension of the Brexit withdrawal deadline while a general election is held.

    Surely, with Armageddon on the doorstep, that would get sufficient votes in Parliament to go ahead with that. Even some Tory bedwetters would be forced to come onboard.

    Labor would also have good cover for seeking the extension (Tory mismanagement of Brexit).

    Corbyn is 100 per cent right to play a long game and wait until he sees the whites of Teresa’s eyes

  18. VietnamVet

    This is muddled. The Elite don’t want it clear. It is their portfolios and necks at risk. Brexit is similar the Greek disaster. To break loose from the EU requires cunning, planning and guts. All gone in politicians who pander on the wealth of others. With the crisis spreading across the West and time shortening, the common good must be the future governance; if not, the collapse of the civilized West is inevitable.

  19. ChrisPacific

    It sounds like Sinn Fein are now pushing May for a unity referendum in the event of no-deal Brexit (positioning it as an escape option for NI). I was wondering if/when they would take that step. It will be interesting to see what DUP make of it, and if it changes their calculations at all.

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