Tuesday, November 23, 2021

History of grip, losing of


Recent news from The Guardian on how parliamentary politics works in Britain.

Conservative MPs are increasingly worried about Boris Johnson’s competence and drive ... and [he] was accused of losing his grip over a series of key policies.
Nervousness among Tory MPs about No 10 intensified after one Downing Street source told the BBC there was “a lot of concern inside the building about the PM … it’s just not working”, adding that the “cabinet needs to wake up and demand serious changes otherwise it’ll keep getting worse.”
Another Tory MP referenced the process by which MPs can submit letters of no confidence to the chair of the 1922 Committee, Graham Brady, saying: “It might not only be Father Christmas’ postbag filling up towards the end of the year – Sir Graham Brady could find he needs a bigger one too.”
Today's headline: "Boris Johnson is not unwell and has not lost his grip, says No 10." Ouch!

These parliamentary reckonings, driven by the governing caucus, make a startling comparison with Canadian politics. It's fair to say that Jason Kenney, Justin Trudeau, Erin O'Toole and other Canadian leaders have all been suspected of "losing their grip" in recent weeks or days. But the most that happens in Canada is that there is talk about having a mass party conference some time in the far future, so that anyone who buys a vote can have a say in the leader's future and in the choice of a successor.

There is a great gathering of MPs in Ottawa today for a Speech from the Throne. But when Canadian MPs are generally accepted as having no part to play in making policy, holding leadership to account, or chosing better leaders, it's really hard to see what they are there for beyond the dignified rituals.

What's even more odd is how oblivious are Canadian MPs, journalists, and political scientists to this sort of backbencher stirring, although it's the parliamentary norm around the world. When anything remotely like this happens in Canada, they don't encourage accountability, but start mewling about revolts and coups, and demand that the leader apply a strong hand to put down disobedience.  

A dissenter from that chorus: Andrew Coyne. As he put it in a recent column, "There’s a word for a system that demands unanimous support for the leader, and it isn’t democracy."

(It's true that the rare and unsuccessful caucus revolts here seem most often to be the work of cranky, egomaniacal anti-vaxers, flat-earthers, and conspiracists, who mostly give backbenchers a bad name. But still...)
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