In the 1969 film “Putney Swope”, directed by Robert Downey Snr (yes, Robert Downey Jnr’s father), the chairman of the board of an advertising company dies in the first scene. The board thus need to elect a new chairman. Putney Swope, the only black man on the board, is elected by accident – since the rules stipulate that you can’t vote for yourself and all of the other members of the board loathe each other, they unanimously vote for Swope since they reason that no one else will.
A strange version of this has happened at most large scale UK electoral events in recent times: a lot of people voted Leave thinking Leave would never win and they wanted to “send a message”; in 2017, many voters plumped for Labour thinking they had no chance of winning, and they didn’t like Mrs May’s bid to be a sort of second queen, only one with full executive powers. If there is an election in 2019, this could happen again in the form of a lot of ex-Labour and ex-Tory voters voting Lib Dem to “send a message”, and this resulting in the Lib Dems getting 300 seats.
It looks like those around Boris Johnson in Number 10 have considered this or at least something like it happening. For all of the bluster of the right of centre political press, it seems clear to me that Johnson has figured out that going into a general election having not delivered Brexit and standing on a clear no deal Brexit platform would be electorally suicidal.
I think the narrative that is being put into play by Downing Street is that Johnson is getting close to a deal and needs a majority to achieve it. But it looks like this may be taken a step further by the government: rumours abound that Johnson will try and claim that he got Brexit “done” before October 31st by dint of the fact that a deal is in sight and that the extension we have just embarked upon is “strictly technical”.
This would be the final nail in Brexit as anything other than an abstract concept’s coffin. If we can be said to have left the EU when a). we are technically still in it and b). the idea that actually leaving the EU (as opposed to pretend “leaving”) is based on a set of technical discussions that are in the EU hands almost completely to timetable, then that would take any meaning out of the term “Brexit” for good. Still, I can see the advantages of this strategy. People are so desperate to get Brexit done and move on with their lives, they could willingly buy into the fantasy. With no deal off the table and yet Brexit “done”, many Tory voters who would otherwise be very tempted to vote Lib Dem will suddenly see the reasons they have voted Conservative in previous elections make sense again.
There are huge problems with the plan, however. One, it is always a huge risk lying to the public in a fashion both grand and easy to detect. The idea that a deal is pretty much done and by that yardstick we have left the EU when in actual fact we have not has the potential to backfire massively in the Tories’ faces. Particularly when you consider that Nigel Farage, who is intelligently lying relatively low at present, waiting for his moment, would use his considerable platform to blow the strategy to smithereens. The Leaver contingent of the electorate trust Johnson for now; if he tries to sell them on the idea that we’ve already left when we haven’t, that could all go down the tubes.
Anyhow, we’ll wait and see what the government comes up with. They have to sell the extension to the public somehow and it will be interesting to see how much bending of the truth is involved.