Friday 16 August 2019 4:34 am

Meat Loaf Remainism is just a return to politics as usual

I’ll give fellow journalist John Rentoul the credit for coming up with the term “Meat Loaf Remainism”, although he is just one of many commentators to have noted how the present political predicament resembles a certain epic nineties rock anthem.

Like the lover who swears “I would do anything for love, but I won’t do that”, those trying to stop the Boris Johnson steam-engine that is currently hurtling towards a no-deal Brexit are prepared to try anything, anything at all, except something that might actually work.

There is broad cross-party consensus about the need to stop no-deal. The SNP, Green Party, and Liberal Democrats have always been on the Remain side, but now they finally have backup – and not just because the Lib Dems’ ranks rose by a staggering 7.7 per cent (from 13 MPs to 14) when erstwhile Tory Sarah Wollaston joined the party on Wednesday.

Now the anti-Boris Conservatives are rebelling too, headed by former chancellor and Eeyore impersonator Philip Hammond, who came out swinging this week, calling no-deal a “betrayal” and warning it would devastate the economy. 

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn has also come off the fence (finally), with a last-ditch plan to avert a “disastrous” no-deal Brexit and, conveniently, put him in charge.

Logic dictates that this rainbow coalition should have the numbers, if it has anything like the passion its advocates insist. Alas not.

The broad plan to stop Boris hangs on holding a vote of no confidence in the new Prime Minister when parliament resumes in September.

To prevent Boris immediately calling a snap election, the six-week campaign for which would see the Brexit deadline of 31 October whoosh by causing the UK to crash out of the EU without a deal by default, a “government of national unity” would need to be formed.

Britain has never been a fan of grand coalitions with more than two parties, which have only ever been reluctantly formed surrounding times of war or economic depression, and have not been seen on these shores since the caretaker government of Churchill in 1945. 

But desperate times call for desperate measures, and a unity Prime Minister to steer Britain away from the no-deal cliff edge.

Any issues? Just a few. To start with, it isn’t remotely clear that parliament has the numbers to vote down Boris. Even with all opposition parties on board, they would still need a handful of Tory MPs to rebel and vote down their own Prime Minister. That’s a big ask, made bigger by the question of who they would be appointing in his place.

Last week, the talk was all about a unifying caretaker figure, someone whose time in the spotlight had ended, dragged back from semi-obscurity at a moment of national crisis. Suggestions included John Major and Ken Clarke on the Tory side, and Margaret Beckett and Harriet Harman on Labour’s. 

Immediately, the Corbynista outrider mill started grinding. If anyone deserved a shot at being Prime Minister, they cried, it had to be the leader of the opposition. Anything else would be a stitch-up.

The problem with calling for parties to put aside their differences and unite behind a compromise figure when that figure is highly uncompromising and wedded to his party would be obvious even if Corbyn were not so divisive a figure within Labour, let alone beyond. 

The anti-semitism scandal and the leader’s waning popularity that is seeing 100 members quit Labour a day should be a warning that this is not a consensus candidate. And that’s before anyone even looks at Corbyn’s barely concealed euroscepticism and multi-year resistance to a second referendum, upon which he has only this week reversed.

It should come as no surprise, then, that the Lib Dem response to Corbyn’s gracious offer to surrender himself to the national good as a caretaker leader was incredulous laughter. Other party leaders were similarly unenthusiastic. So the idea that Tory rebels would kamikaze their careers for the sake of a Corbyn-led Marxist government is ludicrous.

But then, so too is the idea that Corbyn and his team would stand aside for someone else. They don’t care much about Brexit – they care about being able to enact their economic agenda. Their best chance of that is with a General Election, and it doesn’t matter to them whether that comes before or after Britain leaves the EU.

If the Lib Dems, Tory rebels and co. really thought that a no-deal Brexit was an apocalypse worth sacrificing all to avoid, they’d back Corbyn and handle the political fall-out after. 

If Corbyn really thought Boris was armageddon in a blond wig, he’d acknowledge how controversial he himself is and throw his weight behind someone else. 

That neither side will budge is proof that, in some senses at least, this is politics as usual: everyone acting in their own interests, accusing the other side of playing games at the expense of the nation and hoping that, if it all goes wrong, voters will blame their opponents.

When the 2010 election resulted in a hung parliament, Gordon Brown knew that his leadership of Labour would prevent the Lib Dems agreeing to a coalition, so offered to stand down. It was widely considered a sign of his desperation and stubbornness to keep Labour in power.

The various factions of the no-no-deal alliance are certainly stubborn, but they are clearly not desperate. Like Meat Loaf, it turns out that their willingness to do “anything” has its limits. 

Perhaps they don’t think a no-deal Brexit is such a disaster after all.

Main image credit: Getty

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