A surreal week where I've helped shape the news, but can't watch it
PUBLISHED: 19:19 08 August 2019 | UPDATED: 19:19 08 August 2019
Broadcaster Iain Dale reflects on his role in the news this week in Edinburgh
It's been an odd week in so many ways.
I'm in Edinburgh at the Fringe, interviewing people from the media and politics in my 'Iain Dale - All Talk' show. It's my Fringe debut so it's all a bit new. Because my less-than-luxurious student accommodation doesn't have a TV, I feel I'm living in a bit of a news-free bubble. In addition, it's almost impossible to buy a newspaper here because there are so few newsagents or convenience stores. All of which means that instead of following the news I've had a hand in making it, with my interviews with Nicola Sturgeon and John McDonnell, the shadow chancellor. It's what Mr McDonnell said in his interview with me on Tuesday about the possible formation of a Government of National Unity that I want to concentrate on here.
No one knows what will happen over the next few months with regard to Brexit - a no-confidence vote in Boris Johnson's fledgling government or whether there will be a general election.
However, the talk of a government of national unity is increasingly being talked about. Sir Nicholas Soames told me on Wednesday that he fears we are about to enter a period of crisis which is the greatest this country has experienced since 1940. Hyperbole from an ultra-Remainer maybe, but we all need to consider the different permutations which might be thrust upon us over the next few weeks.
In all likelihood, the Labour Party will table a motion of confidence in Boris Johnson's government as soon as the week that Parliament returns on September 3. The result would be on a knife-edge.
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The government enjoys a majority of one, but at the moment no one knows how the Change UK and Independent MPs would vote. If they voted with Labour they would be the proverbial turkeys voting for Christmas. Stranger things have happened, though.
Let's imagine then that Corbyn wins the vote. Under the terms of the Fixed Term Parliament Act there then follows two weeks in which a new government could emerge. All the talk is that this is where all sorts of discussions might be held between the opposition parties about trying to form a government which could command a majority of the House. It would, of course, need the support of Remainery Conservatives. Who would be prime minister in that scenario? Some are talking about Kenneth Clarke, Dame Margaret Beckett, Hilary Benn or Yvette Cooper.
This really would set up the kind of Parliament v The People general election which some of Boris Johnson's senior advisers appear to think is either desirable or inevitable. It has echoes of the 1910 constitutional crisis over the powers of the House of Lords.
John McDonnell, though, threw a rather large spanner in the works in his interview with me in Edinburgh. He made crystal clear that Jeremy Corbyn would be leading any Government of National Unity. I told him I thought that would be an impossibility, and the whole point of such a government would be to build a consensus across the House and Corbyn would be no more capable of doing that than the prime minister. He was absolutely adamant that Labour would insist on it. If they do, it will scupper the whole idea and make a no-deal Brexit ever more likely.
The reason I say that is that there is no constitutional means of forcing Boris Johnson to then call an election before the all-important date of October 31. Indeed, it would be difficult anyway. Following the two-week period outlined above, there then have to be seven sitting days in parliament to wrap up the session. Given that couldn't happen before mid-October and an election campaign has to last a minimum of 21 working days, you can see why Boris Johnson's advisers are now very confident that there is little anyone can do to stop us leaving on October 31 with or without a deal.
Brussels also knows this, and that's why many people are coming around to the belief that they may well at the last-minute shift their position. One can but hope.
Email Iain at email@example.com or follow him on Twitter @iaindale