It is so very easy to laugh at Oliver Letwin’s legendary cock-ups: the poll tax, the Dorset toga hunt, the NHS Lansley fiasco, the do-come-in-and-make-yourself-at-home-Mr-Burglar, the throwing of constituency correspondence into public bins in St James’ Park (please note: not confidential state papers).
And harder to grasp that in over 40 years in politics that is roughly as many major blunders as many prominent politicians – not more. But Letwin has a Professor Branestawm quality, so the caricature is easy to pin on him.
Yesterday evening’s indicative vote results should be seen in the same light.
At first glance, they seem to be a disaster for Letwin. The Commons can’t agree on anything. There seems to be an impasse.
But he and his crew are still in control of the House’s timetable – aided and abetted by the Speaker. Yesterday was only a trial run: a limbering-up process, if you like. Softly softly catchee MP.
He will be back next week with a plan to whittle down the options that have already been whittled down. (Bercow selected eight of yesterday’s 16 original motions.)
It will probably involve AV or some form of preferential voting. Yesterday’s results suggest that the Commons choice may narrow down to: a second referendum of some kind, or the Withdrawal Agreement plus Customs Union membership. If so, which way will Labour MPs jump? They are the crucial swing voters.
Finally: is Letwin a double agent? Or even a triple? Is his real aim to stampede MPs into voting for May’s Deal rather than vanish into these unknowns?