Strong and stable? We’re a long way from that

13 Jun

Aware of the irony Theresa May noted “at least someone got a landslide”.

Had the Conservatives achieved the result expected when the snap election was called then John Bercow may not have been returned to the Speaker’s chair. Indeed, Philip Hammond would not be Chancellor, the reshuffle would have been a proper one and we would know the date of the Queen’s Speech.

Indeed, much about the first day back at the Commons was a continuation of what went before, but vastly different to what was expected.


Jeremy Corbyn has a dig at Theresa May's election slogans

Video:
May jokes while Corbyn gloats in good humour

The Prime Minister acknowledged the diversity of the new intake, but it was the standing ovation for Jeremy Corbyn from his own MPs which stood out, as bemused Tories watched on.

Nothing has changed, Mrs May might say of her position from the Government benches, but everything has.

Mr Corbyn proceeded to make a humorous speech littered with digs about the PM’s predicament.

He said he hoped the PM agreed that democracy “is a wondrous thing” and can throw up unexpected results. He looked forward to the Queen’s Speech when the “coalition of chaos” is ready, and that Labour was waiting in the wings to form a “strong and stable” government.


John Bercow is re-elected as Speaker of the House of Commons

Video:
Carry on at the Commons: Banter for Bercow

But the ominous line was Mr Corbyn’s quip that he looks forward to the new Parliament “however short it might be”. This is a Labour Party still in election upsurge mode, noting polls showing it ahead by five or six points, and waiting for the chance of another election.

This, alongside the appointment by Mrs May of the backbench Brexiteer-in-chief Steve Baker as a junior Brexit minister, suggests the calls for a more “nuanced” and “pragmatic” Brexit from within Cabinet will struggle amid a partisan parliamentary atmosphere.

The hung parliament delivered by the election is a message from the electorate that parties need to work together.


Senior Tories have expressed concern about a pact with the DUP and Arlene Foster. File pic

Video:
Who are the DUP?

In a minority government, ministers would struggle to pass all but the most anodyne of legislation, but Brexit involves a multitude of different controversial legislation starting with the Great Repeal Bill.

The House of Lords feels released from the Salisbury Convention, because the Conservative manifesto did not receive majority support. In these circumstances governing is the art of the possible.

It is not really a matter of the Brexit that various politicians prefer, but the Brexit that could pass through the House of Commons. The words “no deal” have not been uttered since the election. It seems impossible to see this Parliament allowing the Government to crash out of the European Union without a deal.

:: What does Arlene Foster want from May?

Delivering Brexit will require some compromise. Many in Cabinet believe this. It seems to be a statement of basic parliamentary arithmetic. But it is also the area most likely to see the sort of Tory split that would bring down the Government.

All the while, the negotiations are not dragging; rather, they have not started and 77 of the 730 days allowed for negotiation have already elapsed.

Right now it is unclear when we will get a Queen’s Speech, what will be in it, what mandate it will give to Brexit negotiators, how long the PM will be at the head of that negotiating team, how much cross-party support will be sought or given, and when actual negotiations will begin.

As far from strong and stable as can be imagined.

Negotiators expect this all to make the first couple of sessions “more difficult”. The expectation of the Leader of the Opposition that this Parliament will be short, even before it starts, was a joke, but it is a signal of intent too.

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