Tuesday, 29 August 2017
Brexit: the sound of white noise
There is a debate on Twitter. The chatter is about transitional agreements and the single market. None of this is going to matter unless we resolve the immediate issues - which nobody seems to want to talk about. Unless a framework for the financial settlement can be found, along with a solution for Northern Ireland then we are looking at a tsunami of trouble coming our way.
This doesn't seem to be registering and the debate is distracted by trivia. The Telegraph is pushing the right wing narrative that the EU is refusing to negotiate and Brexiters are in a world of their own. The serious issues are lost somewhere in the white noise.
When it's like this I usually find it wise to retreat from the field and let the noise-makers make their noise. To quote Homer Simpson, "if you can't win, don't try". This, though, puts me in a peculiar no man's land where I have virtually nothing to say at a time when so much needs to be said.
It seems all but inevitable that the Tories will blow it. Their entire concept of how to conduct these talks is flawed. They are playing crazy-bad games that we cannot possibly win. Consequently I think we are in the end game. It's really only a question of when talks fail and whether anything can be salvaged.
We now know from experience that the political bubble is largely impervious to external stimuli so much of the debate is falling on deaf ears, and there is next to no chance that we will see a last minute Damascene conversion from the Tories. So all we can do is wait here in limbo. Until then all we can do is watch the outward signs of a collapse of confidence in the UK.
Many have asked me recently what my choice would be if this comes to a choice between the WTO option and remaining. I'm evasive in answering that because I think both are miserable choices. I do not, however, think we will get that choice. If the Tories blow it then everything we have warned about will come into play.
Should that happen then we will go into a political meltdown. We lack the direction, leadership and competence to be able to craft any kind of adequate response. There is no serious preparation in the works and there are no serious proposals on the table as to how we manage the fallout.
Just recently I have been exchanging thoughts with Dr Mike Galsworthy, a leading remain campaigner. Surprisingly, we agree on quite a lot in that the motives behind the leave vote can scarcely be attributed to the European Union. The EU in many ways has been a convenient scapegoat and a go to excuse for our own political inertia.
Remainers would argue that the issues are entirely domestic thus there is no need to leave the EU. This is where I disagree. As politics has turned inward and insular - cut off from reality, we see that politics is incapable of crafting an adequate response to any of the serious underlying societal issues. There is no drive, no vision, no competence. The same disconnect between the Brexit debate and government exists on every single issue.
In that I might even argue that the EU is the only thing propping up any kind of functionality in governance. It is just competent enough to slow the rate of decay so that we don't notice what's happening to us. This is why I think we need the wake up call. The EU is acting as a life support machine for a patient that isn't going to recover without an entirely new treatment.
The reason I am talking to Dr Galsworthy is that he is, I suppose, my opposite number. Being a self-starter, Scientists for EU was his initiative, and commanded a very respectable body of support. He was, however, frozen out of the campaign by Stronger In, in much the same way that The Leave Alliance and others were deliberately kept at bay by Westminster bubble dwellers who wanted to own the campaign. It is interesting how his experience mirrors my own.
The political bubble, as we have previously discussed, functions entirely on prestige. One glaring example of this could be found on Twitter today. Oliver Norgrove, formerly of Vote Leave, had his latest blog republished in The New Statesman. Not wishing to discourage Oliver, but none of the points made are anything especially new, and indeed other bloggers have been making these same points for months. Oliver though, being a former Vote Leave staffer, has that glimmer of prestige.
It doesn't matter that Oliver is quite young and had a non-strategic role in the campaign - and in fact was quite junior. All that matters to the media is that he carries a scintilla of official Westminster bubble institutional gravitas. Nothing outside of the bubble exists. That is true of Brexit and it is true of everything else. Though I am extremely pleased that Oliver is getting this exposure, I am also quite annoyed because it tells us that those of us toiling in obscurity have largely been wasting our time.
Right now we are seeing a gradual drip of reasonable competent material coming out of the Institute for Government, but nothing to date matches the depth and and quality of that as produced by EUreferendum.com several months and years previously. You have to be a denizen of the bubble to get any kind of traction.
What that means is that the points do gradually filter through but the process takes too long and that which does filter through is detached from the originators, riddled with error, diluted and considerably less detailed.
We therefore have an establishment functioning way behind the curve where nothing exists until they discover it, and only if it has some kind of official sanction from within the bubble. The only shortcut to the filtering process is if an FT hack plagiarises your blog. Then we have the distorting factors where the debate is clouded and warped by private commercial interests like Legatum Institute - pushing their poison to anyone who will listen.
So what we have is a detached, aloof and warped political debate that is insulated from any authentic voices. Power is centralised, in the hands of a few and we have no checks or balances to keep it on an even keel.
It has been like this for as long as I can remember. I suppose this is how power games work. Human nature even. But now, we can no longer afford it. Brexit tells you that. Shaping the decisions made in our name is impossible. It is beset by corruption, nepotism and cronyism.
Very often people talk about the need for political reform. Lords reform, proportional representation, run-off voting - none of which represent any real deviation from the norm. The problem is not the voting rituals - it is the concentration of power in London - and the fact that the people have no useful exercise of power for themselves beyond appointing a new witless biped every five years.
As much as this political decay is what will ultimately bring us crashing on to the rocks of Brexit, it is also responsible for nurturing the conditions that triggered it. For years the political establishment has done as it pleases without consent or consultation both in connection with Europe and in domestic policy. From the smoking ban to the ratification of Lisbon to the Iraq war - and all points between, voters have no real say in what is done to them. The referendum was the first real chance we have had to speak in decades.
I am of the view that if we cannot achieve a negotiated settlement that sees us form a new relationship with the EU then I will settle for the second prize - a collapse of British politics. Should we leave with EU without a deal then very rapidly the supermarket shelves will empty, flight-plans will be diverted, prices will skyrocket and the value of the pound will plummet further. Our exports will be in chaos and Operation Stack goes into effect. No government can survive that.
Should these events transpire then we will see a total collapse in confidence in Westminster. We can already see the signals. Corbyn's Labour is level pegging in the polls, but on the whole, neither party commands the trust of the public. The system is at tipping point already and Brexit will give it that little shove over the edge. After that, all bets are off. Politics as we know it is over. A new era of political turmoil begins.
It is said that if we crash out without a deal then Britain will take a substantial hit to its credibility and lose its standing in the world. Personally I think we are already there and it is only the EU that has sustained our delusions of grandeur. The signs have been there for some time. Britain was sidelined inn Syria and had little of value to contribute during the Ukraine crisis and we made a bloody mess in Libya.
If Brexit achieves anything it will shatter our collective delusions about ourselves, our place in the world and our mythical "Rolls Royce civil service". It will show that Westminster is no longer capable of governing even the basics. Then we will have a reckoning. If we do not rid ourselves of the cancer in Westminster then we will not survive as a nation - and will not deserve to either.