Was it vaguely flattering to be called to speak in the House of Commons this week by Mr Speaker Bercow as “James Gray, a sort of Gandalf figure”? He was (unwittingly perhaps) accurate, since in the Hobbit, Gandalf is known as ‘Gandalf the grey.’ But I will graciously accept the intended accolade and its hints of aged wisdom and great leadership, with all due modesty, and without speculating as to whether the soon-to-depart Speaker is himself a bit of a Gollum?
For having secured a Deal, (which to the purist Brexiteer may be less than perfect, but not as bad as Theresa May’s), our Frodo Baggins Prime Minister was all set to have it approved at the special sitting of the House last Saturday, and to press ahead with it this week. But Gollum then allowed Sir Orc Letwin to scupper that idea with a Remainer amendment. Undeterred, Frodo secured a general acceptance of the Withdrawal Bill at Second Reading by a handsome majority of 30, only to have the essential timetabling which would allow it to become law frustrated by the Orcs. (Enough Hobbit references, ed.)
So as I write there is a great debate at the heart of government. The bolder element would have us declare an end to it all with an immediate General Election. They argue that even if we gave Labour more time to scrutinise the Bill, the risk is that they would wreck it by amendments, and/or delay it even further. “Labour are in disarray”, they would argue, “but they might get themselves sorted out if we give them time to do so.”
The more cautious wing of Prime Ministerial advisers urge caution. “We have got a reasonable Deal; you got a record majority at Second Reading of the Bill, so let’s now find time to debate it in full even if that means a few weeks’ extension to the 31 October deadline for Brexit. If the Remainers really do try to wreck the Bill, that’s the time when we can go to the people and ask for their endorsement.”
It’s the old debate - weighing up the merits of urgent and dramatic action against caution, reason and steadiness under fire. I personally also feel uneasy about some of the logistics surrounding an Election on 12 December - problems with the new Electoral Register, closeness to Christmas, poor weather are but a few of them.
So Gandalf Gray calls on the PM to celebrate having got as far as we have with his deal and Parliamentary approval of it; allow, however, as much more time as may be needed for proper consideration of the detail of the Bill, while always reserving the right to pull it if its opponents seek to wreck it. That would secure Brexit, and Frodo Johnson could then then go to the Country for approval of it in the Spring.
The Quest of the Ring may otherwise start to look like a piece of cake by comparison with getting Brexit over the line.