Sketch: Brexit, plots and the great mace heist

Written by Liam Kirkaldy on 14 December 2018 in Comment

What a cack-handed attempt to seize the mace in parliament tells us about the state of the UK

If the last week has shown us anything, it’s that it’s easier to remove a mace than a May, though that’s unlikely to stop anyone trying.

It’s also probably not a hell of a compliment for a prime minister, being harder to remove than an inanimate object, but then in the mace’s defence, it’s never tried to repeatedly bypass the will of parliament. Or thrown away a parliamentary majority for no reason. Or got stuck inside a car, at length, on live TV. And the mace doesn’t even have hands.

So no wonder everyone loves the mace. You could tell from the reaction of MPs during the heist. The debate on Theresa May’s Brexit deal was well underway when Labour MP Lloyd Russell-Moyle seized it. “Put it back!” they screamed, and he did, which also shows it’s easier to use the power of parliament to reverse a completely pointless piece of theatre than a decision affecting millions of people for generations.

Without the mace, MPs aren’t allowed to pass laws, which means whoever possesses it holds the key to power – leaving it with more or less the same constitutional significance as Sauron’s ring in Mordor.

In constitutional terms, it’s basically second only to the Queen in the list of things you’re not meant to pick up and carry around above your head. In fact, under parliamentary rules, the 1922 Committee would actually be safer picking up the PM in protest, though no one’s totally sure about that either because the book on correct parliamentary procedure, Erskine May (not a relation of Theresa, clearly), isn’t available online and costs more than £300 to buy.

But the main thing is that the horror didn’t go on for long. In fact, the only real indignity about the whole episode was the way Russell-Moyle carried the mace, with the Brighton Kemptown MP inexplicably deciding to walk backwards with it for five and a bit paces, before apparently panicking, wondering if he should try and do a bow, and then wheeling around in what seemed to be an improvised attempt at ceremony.

It was amateur stuff. You should never launch a heist without an exit plan. It’s also quite rare to see a getaway so heavily based on shuffling. Or brown corduroy trousers, for that matter. It was like watching a middle-aged geography teacher trying to navigate a bar stool across a crowded pub.

When the vote of confidence was announced, it came as no surprise. Everyone seemed to have lost it long before then anyway, and by the time the PM found herself dealing with questions from Dr Rupa Huq over “parliamentary ejaculation” in the Brexit debate, she was probably longing for mutiny. It already feels like the coup has been going on for years.

So, to recap, they moved the mace, and everything came tumbling down for the PM. It’s like something out of Indiana Jones – you try and lift an old artefact and suddenly the temple starts to crumble. Though usually in an Indiana Jones film, the building isn’t already falling down before they arrive.

And of course, there’s a danger, at this point, that the whole thing would risk looking ridiculous. That the ham-fisted coup, viewed alongside the government’s decision to bypass parliament, would serve to act as some sort of metaphor for the warped nature of UK democracy. So for a sense of perspective, or at least potential advice for the PM, it’s worth hearing from mace enthusiast Lloyd Russell-Moyle.

As he put it: “They stopped me before I got out of the chamber and I wasn’t going to struggle with someone wearing a huge sword on their hip.”

Well, indeed. And do the swords have some sort of ceremonial significance, Lloyd, or are they actual swords? It’s like the first two parts of some medieval version of rock, paper, scissors. Mace beats parliament, sword beats mace. You can only hope parliament still beats sword.

Explaining his plan with the air of an athlete dissecting a piece of improvised skill at the Olympics, he said: “I originally intended to just put it on the floor or something. I was worried that might damage it so I then turned around, walked out with it and handed it over to the security – the men and women in tights.

“And they then escorted me out of the building. I’m not allowed to go back until tomorrow. I have a day’s pay docked. But if it helps highlight what the government has done even further, a day’s pay is worth it...”

He missed out on a day’s pay. It’s horrible to think there could be real consequences for the farce in the chamber. In fact, TV isn’t even meant to show these sorts of protests due to a belief it will encourage copy-cat incidents, leaving the policy as one of the rare examples of elected politicians being treated in the same manner as streakers at a football game.

So who knows what will happen now. Could the PM sneak her deal through? A general election? A so-called People’s Vote? UK politics is in meltdown and no one knows. At least we still have the People’s Mace.

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