Week in Review: Things fall apart, the centre cannot hold

Really monstrous week, this one. Even by the usual standards, which are very poor indeed, it was acutely bad.

There came a point, around Thursday morning, when whichever way you looked you found behaviour which was so abysmal, so lacking in anything like basic moral or patriotic decency, that your instinct was to try and switch the country off-and-on again, in some desperate hope that we might reset to a better place. But there is no switch. There's no escape. We're stuck here. And only really serious drinking or political activism is going to change it.

It began, of course, with that diplomatic leak, detailing the entirely reasonable assessments from British ambassador Kim Darroch of Trump's White House. It went straight to Brexit-campaigning journalist Isabel Oakeshott, was then used to as a self-promotion campaign by Nigel Farage, and led to an outburst of the usual emotional inadequacy from the US president. So far, so normal. Everyone acting as they usually do. Britain, which offered Trump the full state honours a few weeks back, now blocked from high-level diplomatic contact with its supposed ally.

And then the story reached Boris Johnson. He was the new element. After all, he'll likely be prime minister before the end of the month. He was repeatedly asked if he would stand by the ambassador. And after a bit of babble praising Trump it was quite clear he would not. Darroch watched that performance and then handed in his resignation. He couldn't do the job without political support from Downing Street.

The American president had as good as fired the British ambassador. Johnson's campaign chair in Scotland, Ross Thompson, basically admitted it. "The game was up when the president of the United States himself, rightly or wrongly, said he could no longer work with the British ambassador," he said. "That's when that then undermines the national interest of having a relationship with the US."

If you watch the video closely, you can see his face stretch and strain as he says the words, as if some inner part of his personality, some last bastion of personal conscience, is fighting against the obscenities coming out of his mouth. But the resistance falters. Out the words come.

The executive summary is that Britain is no longer independently appointing its own ambassadorial staff. Will this apply to all countries? No, of course not. It will apply to the United States, a country we have been in a subservient position to since the end of the war and who we are now to be utterly controlled by. It is a grim foreshadowing of what will come if Brexit succeeds.

The natural human instinct is to ask: what can be done? Who can stop Johnson from turning the country into a vassal state? What can the opposition do to try and protect the core constitutional functions of Britain against the deranged form of Tory Trotskyism which has overtaken the governing party?

But things are, if anything, even worse over there. To observe Labour this week was to feel as if you had somehow dirtied yourself, like you'd stained your clothes just by reading about them. After you'd finished an article you'd stare down and be amazed by the fact you were still actually physically clean.

On Wednesday evening, Panorama broadcast an account of the party's anti-semitism problem. It showed several young party officials to be distressed, haunted, traumatised, driven to depression and even suicidal thoughts, by what they'd gone through. It showed a party high command which auto-defined anyone questioning their behaviour as a factional enemy - "Blairites", obviously, because that apparently is the worst thing in the world. It showed a party where anti-semitism had begun to run rampant.

The leadership singularly failed to put in place an effective disciplinary system for these issues, either because it did not understand them, or because it didn't care enough, or because some of the stain of those sentiments exists there as well. Pick one of those options. It has to be one of them.

The response of Labour, with grim inevitability, was to attack the programme before it had even aired, then paint the people speaking out as figures with axes to grind. It wouldn't put up anyone from the party to actually answer the charges, so instead the airwaves were full of its so-called 'media outriders' - journalists whose views happen to coincide with whatever is most useful for the party high command. The most godawful sight.

It is like gazing into a black hole. There's no point looking for light in it. It's just straight-up darkness and a sense of collapse so strong that even gravity can't escape.

The leadership claimed it was doing something about it, but you could see the lie even as it was uttered. Every effort it made was to cover it up, hide the stories, conceal the evidence and impune the reputations of those who dared to talk about it. This is why the problem exists and why it grows. Because Corbyn's Labour considers everyone who criticises it - whether a voter, a journalist, a member, or an official - to be an enemy by definition. There can be no legitimate criticism, so none of the criticism is ever treated as legitimate.

Even when you're used to bad weeks in politics, this really was a new kind of low. It's an arms race in reverse. Neither government nor opposition functions, so both parties have felt free to get completely lost in their own terrible derangement. If Labour was even vaguely competent, a Tory leadership would be wary of becoming fully-owned by a foreign power. If the Tories weren't dismantling the country, Labour might feel more compelled to sort itself out.

It's like the British constitution turned in on itself: a system of checks and balances obliterated in a mutual suicide pact.

Get a drink. Get several. If you've read even one news story this week, you thoroughly deserve it.

Ian Dunt is editor of Politics.co.uk and the author of Brexit: What The Hell Happens Now?

The opinions in Politics.co.uk's Comment and Analysis section are those of the author and are no reflection of the views of the website or its owners.

Trump ambassador revelations: Brexiters reveal the Trump-love game-plan

The only story here is about the fact of a leak, not its content. But of course the Brexit culture war is such that it has been greeted by the most absurd wave of mock-pearl-clutching.

Yesterday, the Mail on Sunday published private communication between the British ambassador to the US and Downing Street on the Trump administration.

Yes that's right. Contain your horror. The British ambassador in America sends private communications to the British government about the state of American politics and the disposition of the president. It is one of those anti-news stories, the sort where it would only be newsworthy if the headline was negated.

And you'll never guess what? The ambassador thinks the Trump White House is a mess. "We don't really believe this Administration is going to become substantially more normal; less dysfunctional; less unpredictable; less faction riven; less diplomatically clumsy and inept," he wrote.

Again, it would be a news story if the ambassador did not think this. In fact, it would be grounds for dismissal on the basis that he was unable to exercise sound judgement.

So the content matters less than the fact of the leak. Someone - maybe a civil servant, maybe a minister - seems to be after the ambassador, Kim Darroch. The contents were leaked to Isabel Oakeshott, the journalist who acts as the de-facto communications office of Aaron Banks, Nigel Farage's donor. The Brexit party leader quickly popped up to demand Darroch be sacked. And their Leave.EU outfit then stepped up to launch its campaign to make sure Farage replaced him. Incredible timing.

Darroch is facing the usual fate of the non-believers, those have not achieved full Brexit transcendance and therefore must be ejected from their position before they can keep asking critical questions.

But the story also shows something else: When you scratch at the surface of this movement for total British sovereignty, you quite often find servility to the US lying underneath.

Look at the way Oakeshott's piece is written. "Darroch," it says on the second paragraph, "used secret cables and briefing notes to impugn Trump's character". 'Impugn' is an extraordinary word to use. It sits there in the middle of the sentence, tucked away and yet extremely revealing. What exactly is the implication? That Britain's ambassador should not dare to criticise the American president, even in "secret cables" to his own government, which he is tasked with briefing?

Look at the Leave.EU message, which focuses on Trump's desire for Farage to be US ambassador. Darroch, it says, "needs to be banished from Washington and replaced by a favourite of the President". The suggestion is that the US President should be able to choose who Britain selects as US ambassador. The position of representing Britain overseas should be left up to the leader of the country the official is supposed to be representing us in.

And then there is the broader implication to the national interest. Imagine you are a UK ambassador in any other country right now. Exactly how would you feel about sending back clear reports on developments to your government, given they are now public property on the basis of political campaigns? How does that help Britain maintain an effective foreign policy, when it threatens to silence its eyes and ears overseas?

The message you can take from this leak is simple. Loyalty to Trump, for parts of the Brexit movement, overrules loyalty to the British government.

We are told never to criticise the American president. We are told to let the American president effectively pick our ambassadors. We are told that the basic operating effectiveness of the Foreign Office must be dismantled so that those who question the president can be unmasked.

Britain prostrating itself before a foreign leader defined by the phrase 'America first'. It's a funny kind of patriotism.

Ian Dunt is editor of Politics.co.uk and the author of Brexit: What The Hell Happens Now?

The opinions in Politics.co.uk's Comment and Analysis section are those of the author and are no reflection of the views of the website or its owners.

Week in Review: Remain starts to gather

It's easy to get depressed. Boris Johnson versus Jeremy Hunt is an intellectual death-spiral. Each day brings some new moment of horrible stupidity, another promise they know they can't deliver, another strategic blunder.

Because Johnson is so obscene, he eclipses Hunt's foolishness, which is really very substantial indeed. In any normal contest, it would be widely noted, but here it simply blends in with the culture around him, like political camouflage.

The former health secretary seems congenitally incapable of maintaining any political position whatsoever. This week he told the Telegraph he would "vote to repeal the ban on fox hunting" and then, mere hours later, insisted "this is not something I will seek to change as prime minister". It was like someone had left a jelly on a railway track.

Just imagine the state of him in charge of Brexit, as he tried to navigate the positions of the Conservative party, parliament and Brussels. He can't even navigate his own positions.
Johnson himself continues to be surprisingly bad. It's quite alarming how similar he is to Theresa May. We could have at least expected to get some charisma out of him. That, after all, is really the only advantage of his candidacy which his supporters in parliament are able to articulate. But he resembles the old boss in nearly every way.

Tactically, he pursues the same approach, saying whatever is to his advantage today, even where it makes his aims harder to accomplish tomorrow. Presentationally, he's honestly little better than his predecessor: lacking in empathy, seemingly disconnected from the words or even existence of those around him. They seem to share, despite their different temperaments, a sociopathic streak, an inability to comprehend the internal life of others.

He is similarly unable to speak off the cuff. His bumbling witticisms, if that's what you can call them, are repeated so often, word-for-word, that they are clearly heavily scripted. But when he is asked questions he has not prepared for, he falls apart.

When asked what he did for fun a couple of weeks ago, he babbled away about imaginary buses. It was at least as bad as May's fields-of-wheat moment and suggested that he, like her, simply has very little real personality and no pastimes outside politics.

But despite all that, there are glimmers of hope. Last night Remain parties worked together to establish a candidate for the Brecon and Radnorshire by-election on August 1st. First the Greens dropped out to make way for the Liberal Democrats, then Plaid Cymru did.

Remain now has a straight fight for the seat. The Lib Dems have an 8,038 Tory majority to overturn, but they will do so in the most advantageous scenario possible: with a united Remain front and the pro-Brexit forces divided between the Tories and Brexit party.

That should scare the hell out of Labour. But it also has one more immediate and prosaic effect. It would cut the Conservatives' working majority down to three.

Can that last? It is not clear. Several more Tory MPs than that are considering giving up the whip in the event of a Johnson leadership. They're not likely to do so as soon as he takes over, but they certainly will if he's pressing for no-deal in October. It might be possible to find that many Tory MPs who will support a no-confidence vote in their own leader, as extraordinary as that sounds, in the no-deal scenario.

But even if all that falls away, the numbers would be there for a parliamentary move to block no-deal. "Given that we have an activist speaker, given there is a parliamentary majority against no deal, a way will be found," justice secretary David Gauke told House magazine this week. Chancellor Phillip Hammond told the BBC's Political Thinking podcast: "Let me quote the Speaker, who has said if the Commons is determined to do something, it will find a way. I am quite confident it will find a way."

You can't get too optimistic. In the current climate, optimism feels like saucy postcards on the pier, or VHS rental shops - a part of Britain which faded away a while back. But there are little seedling bits of hope growing out the ground if you search for them carefully enough. Remain is being tentatively united, Brexit forces for now seem divided, and the next PM's grasp on government is hanging by a thread.

This autumn will see one of the biggest political battles since... well, since the spring. And the battle formations are beginning to look more reassuring.

Ian Dunt is editor of Politics.co.uk and the author of Brexit: What The Hell Happens Now?

The opinions in Politics.co.uk's Comment and Analysis section are those of the author and are no reflection of the views of the website or its owners.

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