Boris Johnson ends first week in parliament with no majority and no mandate

© UK Parliament / Jessica Taylor
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Another dismal day for Boris Johnson. It turns out leaving Westminster wasn’t the answer. First, his brother Jo resigned as a minister and Tory MP citing “the national interest”, which gifted Labour with an election slogan – “even his own brother doesn’t trust him”, as Angela Rayner soon commented. Then came the seriously odd spectacle of his speech in Wakefield. The backdrop was not letters falling off a set but rows of police officers, who were forced to wait over an hour under the beating sun as the Prime Minister chose to be late in rockstar fashion. That was just the start of his insolence.

Unsurprisingly given the conditions, though still shocking to watch, one police officer – directly behind the Prime Minister – almost fainted and had to sit down. In response, Johnson simply asked whether she was alright and then… carried on delivering his (utterly incomprehensible) speech! Just like Jacob Rees-Mogg’s lounging across the frontbench earlier this week, these supposedly well-mannered members of the upper class are making their sense of superiority plainer than ever with naked rudeness. Theresa May’s inability to show warmth held her back in the 2017 election; Johnson is openly displaying callousness, and it doesn’t bode well.

How about that early election, then? The government has confirmed that it will again try to force one by putting forward a motion under the Fixed-Term Parliaments Act on Monday. There has been some speculation that this wouldn’t work because the same motion was already voted down on Wednesday – remember when Speaker Bercow rejected May’s deal on the third go and she had to strip out the political declaration for ‘MV3’? – but No10 reckons it’ll be alright as the Benn Bill’s passing will have changed the dynamics. If Bercow did choose to rule the motion out of order, Johnson’s alternatives are much trickier: a one-line bill, which would be amendable, or a vote of no confidence in his own administration, which would be politically embarrassing (not that this has ever stopped him before).

The grassroots Labour left have been most likely within the party to call for an election as soon as possible, and there are good arguments for that route. If the Tories are so dangerous, how can the opposition justify allowing them to govern for even a little longer? Isn’t part of Corbyn’s appeal that he is authentic and straight-forward, not a parliamentary gameplayer? But, as happens increasingly often these days, the leadership seems to have folded in favour of the Remainer-heavy PLP’s wishes – after all, it is Labour MPs who have the power to defy the whip, and a rebellion is not what Labour needs right now. Emily Thornberry has confirmed that Labour will not be backing the Prime Minister’s second early election motion either. Although the Benn Bill will have gained Royal Assent, the motion would allow the government to set the date of the election, which Johnson now needs so desperately to take place before October 31st.

With Labour set to reject the early election motion again – and the SNP apparently on board with that plan – the Prime Minister will be subject to the Benn Bill when parliament returns in October. He has said he would rather “die in a ditch” than abide by that law. Has the opposition just forced him, therefore, to resign next month? Whatever happens next, a November election looks more likely than ever. Let’s hope the best-laid plans of the opposition do not go awry. Sign up to LabourList’s morning email for everything Labour, every weekday morning.

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