The House of Commons is a marvellous chamber. Its chapel shape, based on St. Stephen’s chapel in the original Palace of Westminster, gives the place a grand and imposing air. The benches that face one another in perfect opposition, based on the choir stalls that once brought beautiful harmony, now facilitate the (alleged) adversarial nature of the politics of the country. The distance between the two front benches is said to be the length of two swords…take from that what you will.
And yet, watching proceedings this week at home, astonished at the malaise into which we are sinking deeper and deeper as vote after vote passed by low single digits, the chamber seemed unable to accommodate the true combat.
It should be simple – I sit on this side, I aim at that side. Stand up, face the way you were facing anyway, and fire. No longer.
Shots were being fired around the House – not across, but along. Civil war on all sides, right in the middle of an all out war. Remain Tories spat at Leave Tories. Leave Tories sniped at Remain Tories. Backbenchers lobbed missiles at the front benches. The SNP railed at Labour, Labour members rebelled to side with the government, Lib Dems were nowhere to be found, Tories rebelled against rebellions, members turning and seeking out their targets – it was utter and total chaos. The dividing lines of the country are no longer represented properly.
This can’t go on. The Prime Minister is kept in place, strangely, by her own weakness. The great irony is that the best thing that could happen to her now is a motion called of no confidence in her leadership. That is no way for a Parliament to function.
As Stephen Daisley says in The Spectator, “[Anna Soubry], standing mere metres from the Treasury benches, enquired: ‘Who is in charge? Who is running Britain? Is it the Prime Minister or is it the Honourable Member for North East Somerset [Jacob Rees-Mogg]? I know where my money’s sitting at the moment.’
“Before the crazy set in, an MP taunting the Prime Minister as a feckless weakling would bring the full nuclear hellfire of Number 10 raining down upon their head. That Anna Soubry won’t proves her thesis. The PM is too feeble to insist that her MPs at least pretend to respect her in public. Theresa May is not in power without authority — she’s without power too.”
She is not leading, and neither is Jeremy Corbyn. She leads her cabinet, not her party. Jacob Rees-Mogg leads an internal faction opposed to the executive. Anna Soubry leads another. Corbyn leads his members, but not his PLP. Polls are shifting dramatically and getting to summer recess no longer feels like the dash to safety it once did. The Prime Minister has gone from surviving day to day to surviving hour to hour.
Something will have to give. But it is a fool’s game to predict what that will be.