August 2019 Archives

(Back from Worldcon, where I didn't win a Hugo, and Eurocon, where I was awarded the ESFS Hall of Fame award for Best Author, 2019. Whee!)

So I guess I don't need to give a detailed run-down of political events while I was travelling, save to say that we're now getting into 1642 territory constitutionally, with the unelected Prime Minister declaring his intention of asking the unelected monarch to shut down parliament so that he can force through an unpopular policy that everybody was assured was not a possible outcome of a referendum that was only upheld by the courts because it was non-binding (so the foreign interference and straight-up vote rigging couldn't be held a violation of election law). He's also proposing to pack the House of Lords with unelected pro-Brexit members just in case the HoL tries to to throw a spanner in the works.

Reminder: the legal wellspring of British authority is the crown-in-parliament (i.e. the powers of the monarch, as vested in parliament after the king picked a fight with that body and lost, comprehensively). This is an end-run around British sovereignty. It's a bit like, say, a US President packing the supreme court and then issuing an executive order suspending the 14th amendment (with a manufactured court rubber stamp): procedurally suspect and ethically outrageous. BoJo is gaming the British Constitution on a scale never seen before; if he's allowed to get away with this then, never mind Brexit (and a no-deal Brexit would be very, very bad in its own right), it means the end of British constitutional governance and a shift towards rule by executive decree implemented via the Civil Contingencies Act and/or Henry VIII Orders. In other words, a dictatorship.

Oh, and if the Queen gives Boris his rubber-stamp prorogation, it's quite possible that Brexit will not only take down the British economy, the British constitution, and the Conservative Party: it could well take down the monarchy as well. The Queen is personally popular, but she's in a horrible cleft stick: if she prorogues Parliament she pisses off the remainers (over half the population) and personally gets some of the blame for a no-deal Brexit. If she refuses to prorogue Parliament without a bulletproof legal precedent then she acts unconstitutionally and takes a fire-axe to the relationship between Parliament and Monarch ... and she pisses off a not-much-smaller segment of the population. The Queen is 92. Being put on the spot like this can't possibly not be incredibly stressful for her: there's no good solution, unless I've overlooked her having some magic constitutional power to, say, require the PM to prove that he has the confidence of parliament before he prorogues that chamber. The whole point of the post-1688/1832/1912 British Constitutional system is to put the theoretically-absolute powers of a once-absolute monarchy in a lead-lined safe at the bottom of a very deep mine shaft. So expecting the Queen to ride to the rescue is ... excessively optimistic.

To add to the fun and games, the political advisor at Number 10 who has the PM's ear is Dominic Cummings, who is noted for being both an Accelerationist and a closet singularitarian (he keeps the latter out of the public eye but it's on his blog). He can thus best be approximated to an ultra-capitalist rapture-of-the-nerds embracing Trotskyite, merrily intent on pouring gasoline on the bonfire of British constitutional traditions.

Opposition--both internal, within the Conservative party, and external, split between the minority parties--is divided. I'm seeing tweets by Labour MPs proposing that if parliament is prorogued they will conduct a sit in and establish a People's Parliament. (I was not exaggerating when I invoked the spectre of 1642.) But the situation is not helped by the new and rather right-wing leader of the Liberal Democrats, Jo Swinston, refusing to vote with a Corbyn-led national unity coalition. Or by Labour's perpetual on-going snit with the SNP (Scottish Labour has an unofficial policy of "whatever the SNP are for, we're against", because the SNP are their deadly rival for the peculiarly Scottish niche of "left wing party of government"; this has spilled over into Labour/SNP relations in Westminster). In theory there is an absolute majority in Parliament opposed to a no-deal Brexit, or indeed almost any form of Brexit. In practice, they seem to be more intent on forming a circular firing squad.

Sterling, needless to say, is down 1% this morning, trading at $1.20 to the pound, and the London stock exchange is tanking. Remember that this is nominally a conservative government, the party of business ... except Boris Johnson when asked about the effects of Brexit declared, "fuck business": he's actually got the Financial Times, the Confederation of British Industry, the Institute of Directors, and the Trade Union Congress lined up against him (which is the British equivalent of sheep and wolves holding hands in solidarity).

Folks, I have no idea what happens next. Lewis Goodall (a Sky News political commentator) noted on twitter that Johnson's strategy seems to be:

  • Get through first 2 weeks of Parliament in September (by prorogation)

  • Survive Party Conference season

  • Unveil a new brexit deal at council on 17th October

  • Survive the Queen's Speech because if they don't there'll be no deal by default

  • Ram the new deal through a terrified parliament in the days before October 31st

But it's not obvious that there's any scope for such a new deal to happen. Ireland will veto any arrangement that leaves out the Northern Irish backstop, and the EU 26 have their back. The ERG will veto any deal that includes the backstop. The EU negotiators have already declared that there's no more room for negotiation; they're fed up with the UK's perfidious nonsense and they spend three years negotiating with May in good faith: take it or leave it.

This isn't new. It was broadly the shape of affairs while Theresa May was in charge. What's new is a Prime Minister who is ruthless and willing to destroy the constitution, the monarchy, and the economy to get his own way--and who is listening to the accelerationists.

That's profoundly frightening.

UPDATE: They did it:

(via twitter)


Ruth Davidson resigns as Scottish conservative leader (actual resignation reported on the BBC in past 15 minutes; she's strongly opposed to a no deal Brexit and there's personal animosity with BoJo)

Legal move filed in Court of Sessions in Edinburgh to have Prorogation of Parliament ruled illegal (it's a cross-party move)

List of protests in cities around the UK

(I can't keep up; this is all news that's broken in the last couple of hours.)

Next week I'm off to the land mass to the west of me, visiting Dublin and Belfast for the World Science Fiction Convention, then the following weekend Belfast for Titancon, the EuroCon (European annual SF convention). This is not without complication: sensing vulnerability, my ancient and venerable washing machine picked this week to finally expire, forcing me to embark on a perilous quest for a replacement—not to mention a launderette with service wash facilities—during the Edinburgh Festival. (Which is why this update is late.)

(Note: this is not a solicitation for advice on whether a hand-powered mangle and hot tub combination is more environmentally sound than a Miele TwinDos automatic washer-drier, or the best way to dry my jeans in the toilet, or suchlike helpfulness. As I approach my 55th birthday I'm pretty sure I'm on top of these issues.)

Anyway, I'm on the program at both conventions, and I'm posting an abbreviated version of my schedule below the fold.



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