Unity Prime Minister: Is Margaret Beckett The Answer?
The past week in UK politics may have been more divisive and depressing than ever but at least there is one consolation. Almost every hour brings another twist to an ever-increasing array of political betting opportunities.
The end of this particular parliament is imminent, but few can confidently predict when or how it will be dissolved, when the election will be or who would win it. Let alone whether Brexit will happen next month or at all.
Before any of that is resolved, the priority of opposition MPs who now make up a majority in parliament is to stop Boris Johnson pursuing a no-deal Brexit.
Few expect a last-minute deal with the EU will emerge and even fewer that he will sign the letter requesting an extension to Article 50, that the new Benn Act demands.
Opposition Expected To Try And Sack Boris Johnson
For weeks now, there has been much chatter about a so-called ‘unity government’ - an awfully inaccurate phrase - taking over.
Enacting the legislation to extend Article 50 requires a willing Prime Minister. Therefore the plan would involve removing Johnson govt via a vote of no confidence, to be replaced by a caretaker administration set with two tasks - extend Article 50 and call an election.
This could happen within days, as the SNP are mooting the idea of calling a Vote of No Confidence this week, and are in discussions with other opposition parties. Forging common agreement between all the opposition MPs, representing various different parties and interests, will however be anything but straightforward.
Corbyn Unlikely To Command Majority Support
As leader of the opposition, commanding three-quarters of the MPs opposed to Johnson, Jeremy Corbyn is entitled to have first crack at forming that majority. Any claims otherwise are simply disrespectful to Labour and parliamentary maths. The problem is that virtually nobody believes he can gain the support of a majority.
It is one thing expecting the twenty-odd Tory MPs sacked by Johnson and all those independents to unite in order to prevent no deal Brexit - a shared ambition. Quite another for them to endorse a PM that several of them have accused of being a threat to national security or anti-semitic. Moreover, such a move may well backfire.
Dominic Cummings - the Machiavellian advisor behind Johnson’s deliberately divisive tactics - has probably already factored this scenario in to his gameplan. An admirer of Vladislav Surkov - the so-called ‘Puppet Master’ behind Vladimir Putin - Cummings is creating ‘political theatre’ in order to frame the next election as “Parliament versus the People”.
Are MPs Walking Into A Cummings Trap?
That in my view is the fundamental dynamic behind recent events. Proroguing parliament, ensuring the court challenge dominated the agenda. Doubling down, with no attempt at conciliation, when parliament resumed. Compromise and humility at this stage won’t win the war or more pertinently, win over Brexit Party supporters, they calculate.
Better to provoke the VONC - thus freeing Johnson’s Tories from blame if Brexit is delayed as the betting indicates - you can get 2/1 with Betway about it happening anytime this year, let alone by the end of October. When that VONC arrives, Johnson will have his wish. The deeply unpopular Corbyn will take centre stage, seen to be thwarting Brexit. The PM either survives or gets his preferred election narrative.
Therefore if the opposition is to remove Johnson, it needs to play this very carefully. Calling the VONC before the EU Council meeting on October 17th would be attacked as undermining negotiations. The time to do it is immediately after, assuming no deal is found and that Johnson refuses to ask for an extension. It is also critical that they pick the right leader.
Corbyn Could Benefit From Standing Aside In The National Interest
What happens next could be the most important decision of Corbyn’s career. If he can see it, this is a golden opportunity. A one-off, time-limited opportunity to rebrand and improve, perhaps substantially, his atrocious personal ratings.
Corbyn needs to very publicly stand aside in the national interest and endorse this cross-party plan. The new caretaker administration would last only a few days. To gain legitimacy, it would need to be led by someone with non-partisan credentials.
Corbyn would be a terrible choice in that regard and would draw unnecessary Brexiter anger towards Labour. So too Speaker John Bercow, whose name has been mooted this weekend. Better, as the Lib Dems have argued, to pick an elder statesman or woman - a parliamentary veteran with no ambitions of their own.
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Caretaker PM Must Be A Less Partisan Figure
When Jo Swinson suggested this plan, she named Ken Clarke and Harriet Harman. Clarke - a former Tory Chancellor and three-time failed leadership candidate - has already been heavily gambled into 13/2 with Unibet.
Clarke does fit all the above criteria - he is retiring at the next election - but picking a Tory is problematic for Labour. Doing so would indeed demonstrate non-partisanship on Corbyn’s behalf but I’m sceptical the grassroots would find it acceptable. Backing a Lib Dem choice would also be humiliating.
Harman - a 50/1 chance with the best betting sites - has known and been allied with Corbyn since the seventies in many a campaign.
Making her PM could be presented as a tribute to her lifelong commitment to equality. However she’s also running for Speaker of the House of Commons - best-priced at 11/4 with Betway.
The candidate I like, and the person I have been tipping from 79/1 down with the best political betting sites, is Margaret Beckett. She is also retiring and strikes me as by far the best Labour figure to fulfil this role. A former Foreign Secretary and caretaker Labour leader, Beckett has never been a divisive, polarising figure. She has also co-sponsored pivotal Brexit amendments.
Now just 13/2 with 888Sport, the value has pretty much gone but the bet that could land in pretty quick time. If - and it remains a considerable ‘if’ - opposition MPs go down this route, there are very few plausible caretakers.
It is hard to think of anyone besides will Corbyn - after surprisingly proving able to form a majority. In truth, I can’t realistically see beyond Clarke and Beckett.
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