Has the Prime Minister been reading “How to win friends and influence people”, by Dale Carnegie?
It would make a change from “The bluffer’s guide to negotiating”.
The thought came to mind when I read of Theresa May’s latest attempt to get Labour MPs to support her withdrawal agreement in the vote next week – that divorce settlement where the couple will end up staying together in the same house.
The UK will be seen but not heard; the unhappy spouse wanting to leave will still be handing money over on a regular basis, but be bound by all the same rules of the past and given no say in the future.
Never mind the Brexiteers, why would any self-respecting Labour MP vote for that?
The Prime Minister mistakenly calls it a “deal”, but she has conspired to achieve “no deal” at all, for it is far worse than leaving the EU using World Trade Organisation rules.
Thus May desperately needs Labour support to counterbalance her own MPs who claim that the withdrawal agreement is fraudulent and does not represent Brexit – and she is going to great lengths to try and convince them to defy their own Labour whip.
First, she sprayed Labour MPs with saccharine words about making strikes easier and beefing up workers’ rights, like some honey monster hosing them over in sugar puffs.
Fortunately, they do not seem to have fallen for this sweet seduction, for they do not trust her. They would rather remain on the thin gruel that passes for porridge dished out by Jeremy Corbyn than vote with the Tories.
Now she is spraying them with government largesse, hosing their constituencies down with taxpayers’ money.
Costing us all £1.6bn over six years, the “stronger towns fund” launched by the government on Monday has immediately become a subject of ridicule, as Labour MPs point out that it is dwarfed by the scale of budget cuts which local councils in their seats have faced in recent years.
Neither is it lost on Labour MPs that the DUP won £10bn for giving the Prime Minister the backing of its 10 MPs, or that Scotland’s nominal deficit of £13bn is bailed out every year – and neither the DUP nor the SNP will vote for the agreement as it currently stands.
Labour MPs don’t see themselves as a cheap date. Indeed, it’s baffling why May thinks that they can be bought at all.
She herself ensured that the Labour MPs who want to stop Brexit have no incentive to back her, as she is giving them a vote that can potentially stop a no-deal scenario, and then a further vote for a short extension of Article 50.
To get to these votes, her withdrawal agreement has to first be defeated. This is clearly where the incentive for hard Remainer Labour MPs lies.
As for Labour MPs that were Remainers but feel nervous because their constituencies voted to leave, May could perhaps think that there is an electoral incentive to vote for what she is selling as a deal.
This runs the risk, however, that many of their voters will see through the sham of the withdrawal agreement and will not forgive them.
If the Prime Minister wins, it will quickly become apparent just how bad a deal it is. There will be two more years of these appalling negotiations that will yet again go to the wire (because they always do).
The British public will face a continued barrage of propaganda and scaremongering from the EU’s artillery across the Channel.
Likewise, the usual fifth columnists at home will be sapping the public’s morale with never-ending tales of shortages of muesli or telling children how Christmas is about to be cancelled.
In such circumstances, the Labour MPs that backed May will reap the whirlwind. The smarter among them will have considered this, and will have factored in the point that, if May’s deal is miraculously to pass, they do not want their fingerprints anywhere on it.
Much better to stand to the side and then blame the Tories when the public realise what they have been sold.
For the small but principled members of Labour that have consistently and openly backed Brexit, there is nothing to be lost by rejecting the withdrawal agreement, and I expect them to do so. No amount of bribes will change their minds, and they will only gain respect in their constituencies as a result.
The quickest way to end the uncertainty and nervousness that is beginning to eat into the confidence of many doing business is to forget all talk of extending Article 50 and leave on the 29 March, deal or no deal.
I doubt that we shall know what will happen until the very day itself, when the most apt text for May could be “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner” – as we end up like some Flying Dutchman, lashed in perpetuity to the EU.