Spectre of 'civil war'
And yet, on the other side, the One Nation Tories – moderates, centrists, insert sneering insult of choice – were threatening to rebel if anyone made the bill more extreme in any way. Thus far, but no further. They shall not pass. Dark mutterings were even issuing from the mouth of the usually placid Damian Green. Things were that bad.
Little wonder the pundits' heads were all a-spin with the possible consequences of this new 'civil war' in the governing party. In his vain attempt to predict the vote and its fall-out, Sam Coates had now become as unintelligible as the Delphic oracle. Jon Craig, meantime, was grinning from ear to ear and kept going on about how the ones who abstained could be known by the way they sat on the green benches and folded their arms. Others claimed they had sat on their hands. The psychodrama was palpable.
The vote was delayed owing to an opposition amendment that did not pass. The government's climate minister was suddenly recalled from Dubai to make up the numbers. Party whips meditated sticks and carrots. Pundit after pundit discovered and repeated an unattributed axiom that the only important knowledge politicians needed was how to count.
Finally, as the pundits came close to apoplexy, and as the tellers gathered before the Speaker to announce the result, an expectant hush descended on the world.
Someone dropped a pin with a deafening thud.
Then the tellers announced the result, the government had won, there were a handful of abstentions, and the Second Reading was over. Now we would all have to wait till January.
As one paper put it, this was the nightmare after Christmas for the prime minister. He was safe – for now. It was a brief reprieve. The Roman Empire would have to decline and fall at the hands of the next wave of barbarians, not this one.
We would all have to tune in for another thrilling instalment of the crunch deferred sometime in the new year. If Sunak got through that, which would require a miracle, it would be the Lords who would have a go next.
Even if the damned thing passed that test, there would be issues as soon as the government tried to apply it. The chances of anyone flying out to Rwanda before the next election were slim indeed. Unless, of course, they were home secretaries.
As if to put the whole parliamentary hullabaloo into perspective, it was announced that an asylum seeker, domiciled on the three-storey barge called the Bibby Stockholm, had taken his own life.
The Bibby is a kind of prison hulk. Not long after its first asylum seekers arrived on board, they had to leave again after legionella bacteria were discovered in the barge's water supply.
It was Stalin who once magisterially asserted that the death of one man was a tragedy, but the death of millions was a statistic. In modern Britain, however, statistics are seen primarily as an electoral tragedy.
The claims of yore that Conservative policies would reduce the numbers of migrants in general to the 'tens of thousands' look quaintly naïve in retrospect.
The latest annual figure for net migration to the UK was 672,000 in the year up to June, 2023. Apparently, for all their efforts, the Conservatives have simply not succeeded in making life here unattractive enough.
This despite Jenrick's insistence that characters from Disney be whitewashed in order to make the reception room for migrants and their children less welcoming. At least we finally have an answer to the question of who killed Bambi.
Is it possible that a government, like an individual person, can suffer the ravages of senescence and begin to lose the power of speech? If the new Home Secretary is anything to go by, we can answer in the affirmative.
He was appearing on Good Morning Britain and was asked by Ed Balls, himself a former shadow minister, what would happen to the Scheme he had inherited from his predecessors if there were a coup in the country a day after the bill became law. It's worth transcribing Cleverly's detailed reply:
'If the bill is still. Sorry, of the treaty that we signed with Rwanda, in the same way that if there are treaties signed with other countries, if the treaty on which the bill. So, the bill supports the treaty, the treaty addresses the reasons the Supreme Court, er, said that they felt Rwanda at this point, er, in time, er, um, and they were talking about, er, details from eighteen months ago, the treaty addresses the specific points of the Supreme Court, the bill refers to the treaty, if the treaty is being upheld, then for the purpose of asylum, er, um, er, erm, er, processing Rwanda is treated as safe, in the same way (becomes incoherent)'.
Now, that is what I call bat s**t crazy. It could be that James Cleverly is the first example of a politician scuppered by excessive mendacity. Or else he is just channelling the collective senescence of his fellow Tories. On the face of it, he seems far too young for such flights of nonsense.