September 25, 2019
As Lady Hale delivered the shattering verdict yesterday that Boris Johnson’s advice to the Queen to prorogue Parliament was “unlawful, void and of no effect”, it felt almost inappropriate to dwell on the ramifications for the Conservative party’s electoral machine. It would be an overly wary response, ill-timed and disproportionate to the magnitude of what was unfolding in the Supreme Court. And yet, it is profoundly necessary.
After the Supreme Court Ruling, Boris Johnsons People Versus Parliament Rhetoric Is His Only Hope
Boris Johnson has failed spectacularly. The media’s mistaking of Dominic Cummings’ iconoclasm for insight must now be brought to an end. But there is still a latent worry that yesterday’s verdict, however decimating, will somehow be incorporated into Johnson’s line that “elite remainer institutions” are frustrating the Brexit process, forever oxygenised by the right-wing press. 
Even today, the power behind Johnson’s People versus Parliament narrative is its potential for rapid and uncontrolled expansion. Any institutional block that the Johnson administration faces in its pursuit of a no-deal Brexit is swiftly typecast as opposing “the will of the people”, with “Parliament” becoming a toxic byword for “anti-democratic Europhiles”.
READ MORE: WHAT HAPPENS TO Boris Johnson NOW?
The constitutional standing of the obstructive body — whether judicial, legislative or political — is irrelevant to this government. Perhaps only the Pope’s authority would escape Jacob Rees-Mogg’s disregard. And although the House of Commons and the European Union’s negotiators are most familiar targets, the philosophy is a flytrap capable of capturing pests from across the political spectrum. 
Worryingly for advocates of a second referendum via a Labour administration, this vilification of opponents often requires little effort from the government. Instead, hard remainers simply volunteer themselves through their own misjudgement, with Jo Swinson leading the charge into oblivion via her pledge that a Liberal Democrat majority would revoke Article 50 without a further referendum. Though maddeningly irresponsible, the clarity of Johnson’s “pro-democracy” campaign may yet prove the decisive factor in the weeks ahead, leaving opposition parties ruing their inability to unify around a single remain option, leader or electoral pact. For this reason, Labour should be wary of celebrating Swinson’s overstretch. 
But Johnson’s devotion to a People versus Parliament message also illustrates his team’s belief in the decentralised nature of favourable public opinion towards a no-deal Brexit. Natural, of course, given that beyond his inner circle and the offices of increasingly kamikaze ERG members, little such support resides in Westminster. Although Cummings’ throwaway advice to journalists this month to “Get out of London. Go and talk to people who are not rich remainers” was ridiculed in the wake of several embarrassing encounters between the PM and voters, it epitomised the internal confidence that a Conservative majority is the natural conclusion to this sustained courting of a democracy-starved, Brexit-backing, Corbyn-fearing public. After yesterday’s events, that confidence now looks increasingly misplaced, but Johnson’s refusal to resign only increases the Tory party’s reliance on this single strategic thread. 
Cummings’ disdain for Whitehall is well-documented, as is the reality that, like the 2016 referendum, any forthcoming campaign will be fought on the Facebook pages of millions of undecided voters in targeted advertising. Clearly, the wheels are already in motion. However, to the dismay of many who share the title, Johnson is a former print journalist: editing The Spectator after five years spent launching polemics at London as The Daily Telegraph’s Brussels correspondent. Returning to a passage from his 2006 collection Have I Got Views For You reveals a conception of the profession which underpins his adamance that if managed correctly, noise, novelty and spectacle have the ability to eclipse the truth. 
Journalists, Johnson argues, “are just part of that growing and all-encompassing free market system. […] the institutions of the free media — newspapers, magazines, the internet, radio and TV stations — are just broking houses in the gigantic bourse of public opinion. They are traders in news and views; and like all traders, they can be caught out by someone who is prepared to be original and daring.”
This has been Johnson’s intention for the last four months: from likely leadership vote-lending, to allowing his special advisors to purge long-serving MPs from the party. What he thought was original and daring has proved to be a humiliating disaster. Reckless shock tactics and constitutional gymnastics should have allowed public opinion to be inverted — duped to produce a favourable result as the grip of convention on Britain’s institutions loosens.
Instead, Johnson returns to Parliament with a track record verging on the openly treacherous. With the Supreme Court declaring Johnson’s prorogation unlawful, the prime minister will surely now seek a general election when returning to the House of Commons. Labour is unlikely to grant it at this moment. But in refusing to do so while also withholding a motion of no confidence, the chorus of Parliament versus the People may only grow louder. It is now this government’s only remaining rallying cry. It must be drowned out at all costs. 
Ravi Ghosh is a freelance journalistRelated... Jeremy Corbyn Confirms Labour Will Not Back An Election Until Brexit Is Delayed What Happens To Boris Johnson Now? Here's How The PM's Week Could Play Out This 'Lady Hale Inspired' Spider T-Shirt Sold Out In 24 Hours Raising £18k For Shelter
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