At moments of fundamental change, I wonder: what is the first rule of politics? A lot the possible first rules of politics are cynical or so basic it’s easy to forget their importance. I like James Hacker from the BBC series Yes Minister: “Never believe anything until it’s officially denied”. Another rule in that vein is: “It’s never the crime, it’s always the cover-up.” One of the more useful first rules, attributed to a US politician, is: “You can’t win unless you’re on the ballot.” That rule I’ve often practiced. It doesn’t matter how low the likelihood of winning a vote maybe the simple fact is that; first your name must be on the ballot paper.
Here’s a first rule that’s fundamental in a democracy. Lyndon B Johnson’s first rule of politics is one of the best, namely: “practitioners need to be able to count.” Commentary and speculation fill enormous amounts of air-time and space but in the end the kind of Brexit we get, if at all, will be down to a count.
Learn to count as a basic first rule. Even with the most fantastic deal, if the votes are not there to make it happen it will not happen. That means; European and British politicians lining-up in Parliament to vote for a deal. It means; Countries lining-up to ratify a deal. It means; getting from A to B without too many major hiccups.
Reports are that UK Government whips are in talks with 25 Labour MPs to push a deal through Parliament. May’s Cabinet is giving her one last chance to sell a Brexit plan.
The run up to the 18 October, European Council (Art. 50) will see complex arithmetic being done repeatedly. Will the sums add up? And if they don’t why shouldn’t the question be put back to the people?
Anyone able to count can see that the current situation is extremely precarious. My personal judgement is that the current optimism, that there will be a non-disruptive Brexit Withdraw Agreement, that satisfies enough of the key players is inappropriate.
Maybe that’s why it’s being reported that the European Commission plans a fast-track a process to address the potential turmoil of a “No Deal” Brexit. That would mean putting in place emergency means to amend rules in just a few days.
There’s wisdom in being prepared.