POSSIBLY YOU SAW last night’s “empty chair” Punch and Judy show, visited upon us by the ambitions of the reliably reach-exceeding-grasp programmers of Channel Four and the desperation of the Tory also-rans? It made me want to channel my inner Hunter S Thompson, or more accurately P J O’Rourke, railing at politicians for their lying lies told by liars.
Only Stewart was close to honest about Brussels’ settled disinclination to revisit the Withdrawal Agreement. But his pivot to accepting it is the worst kind of disingenuous, as he couldn’t care less about the nation’s current predicament. He’s taking inspiration from the Junior Senator from Illinois who famously cast the only vote against Bush’s invasion of Iraq.
Yep, that’s right: Stuart sees himself as the Obama of the United Kingdom, teeing himself up for a godalmighty “I told you so”. He could turn out to be tactically right, but this is the reverse of honesty with the electorate. We also know how Obama turned out: a do-nothing President whose aloofness paved the way for the discontent leading to Trump.
As for the others, Stewart may have accurately caught the sterility of their posturing, but his cunning plan held him back him from challenging them at the heart of the matter. In fact, all five are failing to square with the electorate as to the disaster of the Withdrawal Agreement. There were a few words about the wretched backstop, but silence about its “money for nothing” payments and “twenty years to life” obligations.
Stewart went so far as to use May’s dismal slogans to defend it, with the other four pretending that they hope to pull a rabbit out of the hat, but actually relying on Brussels’ inflexibility to get them (and the rest of us) off the hook.
It’s not so much that none of the four Leave-inclined contenders in the room wants to frighten the horses, by way of the general public and the private sector. It’s more that they wish to keep their powder dry for dealings with the Speaker, Tory Remainers, and such cross-party would-be Brexit wreckers as failed last Wednesday to take control of the Parliamentary agenda.
This is before we get to the Civil Service, judiciary and press.
No-one mentioned the ERG, whose destiny is either to keep the next Prime Minister honest by refusing fig-leaves from Brussels, or to get picked off by blackmail, blandishments, bribes and threats perpetrated by defter operators than the most recent incumbent.
The only winner this evening was the absent front-runner, Boris. He has now seen his rivals at their best and at their most vulnerable: Raab defending the disrepute of prorogation; Gove, Hunt and Javid as though clumsily coached by University careers departments, trotting out their contrived back-stories – no matter how irrelevant – for that crucial first-job interview; and Stewart winning the audience but cheating the country.
Now for Tuesday.