Thursday, 31 August 2017

A downfall we deserve


Returning to remarks made Guy Verhofstad, I was struck by his version of events when David Cameron went to renegotiate UK membership with the EU. Referring to a recent Telegraph piece by William Hague implying that the EU forced the UK out, Verhofstad asserts "I was in the room at the time of the renegotiation and substantial additional exceptions were offered – a new special status of EU membership, with an opt-out from the core principle of “ever closer union” and an emergency brake on benefits for EU workers. I even offered to work with the UK to develop a new form of associate EU membership, but UK ministers rejected it, as they argued that it would mean losing the UK’s seat at the top table. If this is not showing flexibility, I do not know what is".

I cannot be sure exactly how trustworthy Verhofstad's remarks are but if they are true then, in a way, it demolishes the argument that we could have stayed in the EU and reformed it - simply because our establishment, even under the threat of Brexit, would never even ask for it.

This builds on a number of themes in my thinking of late. One of the more convincing remainer arguments was that the EU was not really the source of our problems, rather it is the overall ineptitude of UK domestic governance and the dysfunctionality of our politics. Both are acutely observable right now. The second point commonly made was out lack of engagement in the EU process.

One wonders if the UK could have secured reforms to broken EU policies had we even tried. I recall that in a select committee meeting last year that Owen Paterson spoke of attempts to get a fundamentally bad aspect of the Habitats Directive amended. (Crop rotation I believe).

To cut a long story short, he was told categorically that he could forget it. It took several years to reach an agreement and nobody was keen on reopening a Pandoras Box for renegotiation. Open it up to one amendment and then everybody else wants one and it must then go through the legislative process again. So bad one-size-fits all policy stays in place without the possibility of reform with no opt outs.

I do recall, however, that Ed Davey as energy minister had a wholly different experience. I suppose it all depends on who is asking and what they are asking for. As to whose testimony you believe, you pays your money, you takes your choice. Either way, we can conclude that reform is difficult and that very often our own politics is the broken link - and one thing Brexit does achieve, if nothing else, is remove their go-to excuse.

Prior to the referendum it could be said with ease that I knew more about the EU and its workings than most. That is no great achievement. Most people have next to zero idea how it works and dont; want to know. Of those who do, it tends to be remainers, who hold an uncritical and largely theoretical version of how it works. I think it dishonest to say that the referendum was an informed debate. On that score, we are told that we shouldn't leave because voters did not know what they were voting for. But by the same token, if that be true, then we had no business being in it at all.

Even now, as we race toward an unholy mess of a Brexit our own government is incapable of understanding that which it is subscribed to - and there is little sign that our MPs have much of a grasp of it either. It would appear that the EU as a construct is totally alien to British political culture. It is too self-absorbed and insular to engage in issues of substance.

I rather expect that as a leading campaigner (so I am told) that when Brexit goes tits up I will take rather a lot of abuse for being the midwife to a stillborn. I do not, however, accept the blame. This blog is on record for opposing the appointment of Vote Leave, the individuals involved and the manner in which Brexit is being executed. I did not vote for this government and have spent every day since the referendum attempting to inform the debate in the frankest of terms.

In this, I would observe that the same incompetents in charge of Brexit are the same incompetents in charge of everything else. This dysfunctionality is scarcely new and has been self-evident to anyone paying attention. Brexit drags it into the light of day.

If our politics was working then much of what has been written would by now have filtered through into the high offices of the land and we would be seeing some of that expertise influencing the proceedings. But this isn't happening. The system is impervious and immune to external inputs. This is as true of everything else as it is Brexit, hence why successive governments have failed to address any of the systemic societal problems.

Moreover, the ultimate blame lies with Parliament. This government does not sit with a majority. It would only take the defection of a handful of MPs to bring this government down. It could either bring about a coalition government led by Labour or force another election. The very least they could do is bring down May - or threaten to unless Davis is replaced.

If our MPs were sufficiently informed and suitably concerned by the drastic consequences of a no deal Brexit, they would already be making noises. If they are going to act then it needs to be soon. Very soon in fact. But as a point of fact our MPs are not sufficiently informed and are not sufficiently concerned enough that they would break from their tribes for the good of the country. That, more than anything is a sign of a political system that is not fit to govern.

Now that we have arrived at this juncture it is likely we will feel the full force of an ignominious retreat from Europe. Not because of Brexit of itself. There was nothing preordained about Brexit being a disaster. This is entirely a consequence of our political culture - the one that created the conditions that led to the Brexit vote to begin with.

I take no pleasure at all in predicting a bloody mess. Even for one who has a strong affinity with the doctrine of creative destruction, this may be a bridge too far. But in the final analysis even the EU cannot protect us from a fundamentally spent political system. Continued membership of the EU is only really delaying the inevitable. British politics as we know it has to die in order for it to reinvent and Brexit makes that possible.

I think it was in the mid-nineties that, alongside many of my countrymen, I decided that voting was a futile endeavour. For the better part of twenty years any vote would still result in an establishment government which subscribes to the social democratic consensus. One that is unwilling to take any of the radical measures necessary to kickstart productivity, continuing to pile on a toxic blend of its own legislative creations along with EU entitlements - which ultimately hit the poorest the hardest.

For just a very brief moment in time it looked like Ukip could rattle that settlement into action. That though, did not transpire. It wouldn't have made a difference if they had. We have seen how this plays out. The SNP had their surge, they had their chance to whine and rock the boat and then they were irrelevant, having accomplished nothing. The system knows how to deal with political insurgency.

The short of it is, only something big, only something radical, and only something carrying a serious threat was likely to break that political slumber. Now it has, it is faced with the first and only real test of its mettle in forty years. It will fail. It is then up to us to get rid of it. And if we don't, we will have the government and the country that we actually deserve.

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