August 31, 2019

Horse 2588 - Proroguing Parliament, or, Why You Shouldn't Let Muppets Make A Lasagne

Now that we've all had a bit of time to stop running from side to side like brainless sheep, and now that the level of outrage has been tempered by the passage of time, I think that it is worth the effort to pause and consider what exactly Boris Johnson has done in asking for the House of Commons to be prorogued.
Despite most of the media in the United Kingdom crying blue murder, I actually think that proroguing the parliament is a semi sensible idea. Clearly the current procedure of yelling indiscriminately in all directions isn't working and the deadline of the 31st of October, which itself is an extension of time, will be here quicker than it takes to muster the 326 votes needed for parliament to pass a resolution to say 'Jack Robinson'. 

How did we get here? Asking the question of Brexit to the Great British public was like posing the question 'would you like a lasagne?' without having any idea of how to make a lasagne. After seeing the advert on the side of a bus and having a drunken night with a racist friend who had nine pints before swanning off to his racist friend so they could smoke cigars, the Great British public said 'yes, I would like to have a lasagne' before opening the packet and realising that all you get are a few sheets of uncooked pasta and a set of directions in French that have been covered over with the store's own barcode. Tear off the barcode and you immediately realise that you have no idea what you are doing and that you have never made a lasagne before.
Nobody could decide if they wanted a hard lasagne or a soft lasagne and after spending considerable time adding layers of potato, horse meat, marshmallows and arguing about what a lasagne is, the result will be by default, a hard lasagne with layers upon layers of inedible and unpalatable consequences which the Great British public will have to eat. 
Boris Johnson who is now the third chef in Hell's Kitchen, realised the terrible horror which has come and has asked the Queen to shut down the kitchen, before the timer goes off and the half-baked lasagne of horror is fully baked. 

On any given day where there are Prime Minister's Questions, the members of the House of Commons will be looking at what they need to do in order to win control of the narrative which appears in the House in the afternoon and the news in the evening. PMQs devolved into theatre of the absurd some time ago, where the aim is nothing more than scoring a point on the enemy. In contrast, actual legislative sessions are mostly as dull as dish water and are mechanical and procedural in nature.
By proroguing parliament, those days of unproductive pugilism are swept off of the calendar; which means that the more difficult job of negotiating with people can happen.
In our Muppet Theatre, Boris Johnson is Fozzie Bear who ended up becoming MC after Kermit quit and Abby Kadaby realised that she was a puppet and couldn't really do magic. By closing the front of the house and drawing the curtain, the Muppets like Scooter, Sam, and Gonzo, will be able to have their arguments without the audience looking on. They won't have to endure comments from the peanut gallery, if nobody can see what's happening.

Naturally, opinions have been flying about at tremendous speeds while all of the Muppets in the House of Commons go into a flap about the impending inedible lasagne deadline. Here are but two of them:

It is not often that I find myself agreeing with Jacob Rees-Mogg (Minister for the 1920s) but some of what he says here is true. Proroguing parliament is a completely legal procedure; which has happened in a completely legal manner. If you actually look at what happened here, Boris Johnson didn't prorogue the parliament either. The Queen did.

People tend to forget that it is the Queen who owns the parliament and it is the Queen who appoints all of the members of the executive (including the Prime Minister), and it is the Queen who appoints the times that the parliament sits and has the power to both prorogue and dissolve parliament. Boris Johnson as the head of Her Majesty's Government, had to go to the Queen to ask her to prorogue the parliament and she could have just as easily said 'no'.

If that sounds like an archaic system, bear in mind that in Australia, Section 5 of the Constitution explicitly provides those same powers to the Governor General. 

The Governor-General may appoint such times for holding the sessions of the Parliament as he thinks fit, and may also from time to time, by Proclamation or otherwise, prorogue the Parliament, and may in like manner dissolve the House of Representatives.
- Section 5, Commonwealth of Australia Constitution Act 1900 (Imp)

Now whatever else Jacob Rees-Mogg has to say here is quite a bit of rubbish but at least on this point, he is spot on. Controversies aside, all of the moral outrage and flapdoodling about the lasagne is unnecessary. Proroguing the parliament sounds like the least worst option under the circumstances.

Nicola Sturgeon is also completely right in her assessment that this is a mockery of democracy. She should also be aware that what has happened, is precisely because democracy as a process, hasn't produced a result.

David Cameron probably called the Brexit referendum with the expectation that it would fall over. It did not. He resigned and Teresa May took over the job at Number Ten after having campaigned for Remain. She found the problem to be as intractable as Cameron had found it and called an election to sure up support and create some kind of solution to the Brexit problem. It did not. Three years after the show began, after much flailing, no solution has been found.

The problem that Sturgeon has is that she can't muster the numbers to force a second referendum. Likewise, the problem that Jeremy Corbyn has is that he also can't muster the numbers to force a second referendum. He also has the problem that members of his own party might also vote against it.
Yet all of this is the result of democracy as it is currently constituted in the UK, functioning properly. The people voted to leave the EU and the people voted to return a Tory Government. Granted that nobody voted for Boris Johnson as Prime Minister but then again, in a Westminster parliament the people never vote for the Prime Minister ever. The Prime Minister is the head of the government, which is the party who controls the cheque book of the Treasury. Government is formed from a majority of the members on the floor of the House of Commons and technically they don't even need to come from the House of Commons.

At the end of all of this, we're left with a situation which is not particularly brilliant but not particularly terrible either. Parliament is set to be recalled before the October 31 deadline; so it's not like this is an act of a tyranny, as per Charles the First. The Queen was asked by the parliament to prorogue it and gave assent to that request.
For everything that this is, it isn't a coup, it isn't a denial of democracy, and it isn't an act by the monarch imposing power. This is the last attempt to thrash out something before the UK is forced to eat the lasagne that it made and which was put together and cooked by a bunch of Muppets. And if you think that that is one of the most ill-conceived metaphors in the history of the English language, at least it's better than Brexit. Brexit means Brexit, whatever that is.

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