When some of the best-known Conservative figures of the last half-century are booted out of their party, when a new prime minister loses his first parliamentary vote and his governing majority on the same day, when historians are referring to this as a “revolutionary moment”, you know something of great significance is going on. But what exactly is it?
What we are witnessing is another round in the same historic struggle that powered the English civil war of the 17th century: the contest between the executive and the legislature. At its simplest, the House of Commons has voted – once again – to take control of the Brexit process, in order to prevent the UK crashing out of the European Union with no deal on 31 October. That’s the substance of the bill that MPs will vote on, and are likely to pass, today, having cleared the procedural hurdle in dramatic fashion last night. The comparisons with the 17th century are not hyperbolic, because what this move represents is a bid by the legislature – parliament – to grab powers that have traditionally been the preserve of the executive.