Saturday, 27 May 2017

Let the chips fall where they May

I've made a lot of arguments for Brexit. Not all of them have been correct. Some of them depend on the circumstances, others have been flat wrong or based on faulty assumptions. One of those faulty assumptions was the competence of our government. I knew we were in a predicament but I had not expected a government this awful. Were the clock to be wound back I would have taken a wholly different angle.

If you ask me there are few, if any, economic benefits to Brexit. To find them you have to climb into the microscopic world of high end trade policy - and though there are opportunities, none are guaranteed and there are no automatic benefits. There can be no escaping the fact that Brexit has consequences and the Article 50 process is one of damage limitation rather than seeking to gain advantage. In this the first and most pressing priority is ensuring that under no circumstances do we drop out without a deal.

Throughout the referendum I argued that staying in the single market would offset or delay most of the initial impact. That now seems to be the consensus view among anyone who has looked at this in any serious detail. That much, though, is not getting through to the government. They have their own ideas rooted in their "Brexit means Brexit" dogma - and they have yet to confront the alarming inconsistencies in their approach. It is only a matter of time, but for now we are still in Brexit limbo.

As each day goes by without any serious debate around the issues we drift further toward a "no deal" Brexit. The government has not understood the rules of the game and the media is not alert to this. But for a very narrow Brexit bubble on Twitter, there is no substantive debate at all.

What surprises me is how the Brexiteers have scattered. What passes for Brexit debate tends to be the softer subject of the Brexit culture war and the respective attitudes of each side toward each other. In this, nothing original has been said for months. It's a rinse and repeat cycle for the chattering classes. Nobody wants to take the bull by the horns and start looking for answers.

There are good reasons for this. As much as anything public debate doesn't seem to have an impact on our "strong and stable" government and we're not going to get any sense out of the opposition. It seems we have all reached our Brexit boredom threshold. 

Not until we hit crunch point will we see a revival of Brexit debate. By then it will probably be too late. One might venture that if May does not have a handle on how the system works by now she isn't going to. The intent may not be to drop out without a deal but it increasingly looks like the indecision and ineptitude will lead to a collapse. If I could say for certain that the woefully ignorant Corbyn would fare any better I would be voting for the opposition. It would appear that we have the worst politicians at the worst possible time.

A friend of mine remarked that the Cameron-Clegg administration is probably the last we have seen of semi-competent governance for some time. I fear he is right. That said though, that veneer of competence was wafer thin. All it took was half a dozen politicians to vacate the field to fully expose how bare our political cupboard really is. Brexit really does hit home how broken politics has become.

I said above that were the clocks to be turned back I would take a different angle. And this is really it. We are at the fag end of representative democracy. Our political system is exhausted. The party system has collapsed and instead what we are looking at is two empty shells, easily captured by niche interests. While Brexit may be a major economic risk, the one thing that poses a greater threat is the complete collapse of our politics.

May's social care policy is symptomatic. A Facebook friend remarks that manifestos should be (and traditionally were) an 'in for a penny in for a pound' type document. Once published, you stand by it. If the media and some of the public don't like it, the storm is yours to weather. Quite so. Parties were well aware of this dynamic which is why, in days of yore, considerable effort and money would be poured into policy research, utilising the think tanks, to produce bulletproof manifestos. You put it out there and you fought for it.

That dynamic is now dead. Most of the traditional think thanks have forgotten their purpose, churning out second rate tribal dogma, research is undervalued and serious policy making is a dead art. We now have menufestos, where "policies" can be dropped at the first hint of discord. We have a rootless, spineless, intellectually bankrupt polity.

As each day passes I find myself writing yet more despondent prose, aghast at what looks like a slow motion plane crash. Remainers now ask me "what else did you expect?". Well, that's a good question. I had expected that no matter how bad our government is, eventually it would be forced to confront certain realities and modify its approach eventually. It seems now I was being naive and we are in deeper meekrob than I imagined.

In this regard, the only thing preventing a political implosion was in fact EU membership, where we could drift without having to confront the systemic collapse of political competence. The technocracy works sufficiently well to tolerate it. Except of course the referendum has changed all that. Where the culture war Brexiteers are right is when they say that we are past the point of tolerance. We can no longer afford this inexorable slide into political oblivion. The collective narcissism, vanity and venality of our political class can only pull us deeper under.

Again May's social care u-turn exemplifies the problems. Personally I am opposed to the policy, but everybody is acutely aware that cuts have to be made somewhere. National finances are not in a good shape and we are certainly not able to withstand another economic shock. Some decisions have to be made, we can't keep kicking our problems down the road and we can't keep on with a government which is still making policy as though the financial crisis never happened.

In this, we can see that the cultural balance is also in trouble. The younger and less politically engaged tend to prefer Corbyn and his magic money tree - where we're seeing a complete lack of political maturity.

In this I might paraphrase philosopher and comedian, George Carlin. Everybody complains about politicians. Everybody says they suck. Well, where do people think these politicians come from? They don’t fall out of the sky. They don’t pass through a membrane from another reality. They come from British parents and British families, British homes, British schools, British churches, British businesses and British universities, and they are elected by British citizens. This is the best we can do folks. This is what we have to offer. It’s what our system produces: Garbage in, garbage out. If you have selfish, ignorant citizens, you’re going to get selfish, ignorant leaders.

As a nation we have become infantilised, disengaged from our politics, easily distracted by trivia and completely unable to prioritise. Our politics has become a grubby pissing contest between corrupt tribes seeking to dole out largesse of the state to their respective powerbases. The model is corrupt. Politics is now more of a firesale. Everything must go - to those who vote for us!

So as much as Brexit threatens our status as a serious trading nation, our politics threatens our very survival as a functioning country. It would appear that nothing but a very serious shock to the system is going to correct this. Nothing else will focus our collective attention. We have a system on autopilot, locked into a collision course and nobody seems to care.

I am now of the view that whatever happens, whatever the consequences, it needs to happen. Each and every one of us are the architects of our own demise. The leavers with their bogus and flimsy Brexit arguments may have much to answer for, but remainers were ultimately advocating ignoring the problems and kicking the can down the road. Leave or remain we were on a course to oblivion. The rot was already there. Brexit just exposes it. Only when the UK is forced to confront the consequences of its decades long political slumber can it hope to reform and move forward. It's as well we do it now since our fate was already sealed.

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