Sunday, 12 August 2018

Burkagate is a Brexit power game


Tories have convinced themselves that Theresa May's Chequers plan is a betrayal of Brexit. That's what they've told the Tory media, and that's what the Tory media has reported - and grassroots Tory tribalists now want rid of May.

This is a twin pronged attack because the Tory right wants a "no deal" Brexit and they will do virtually anything to get it. They continue to repeat the mantra that no deal is better than a bad deal. The rump of the Tory party will go along with this. They have persuaded themselves that if the Chequers plan goes ahead they will lose votes to Ukip and consequently lose the next election.

This explains Boris Johnson's remarks about burkas. It has nothing to do with the oppression of Muslim women. Johnson does not care about that. It's just a dog whistle. It exposes May as weak and wins the backing of the "Torykip" culture warriors who will support anyone who "triggers" the left. It doesn't matter to them that Johnson is a pathological liar, a fraud, grossly incompetent and an international embarrassment. British politics has become a zero sum game. Thus the stage is set for a coup in the autumn.

This is absurd on two counts. Firstly, the Chequers plan has already been slapped down by Brussels and if there is to be a withdrawal agreement then it will be struck at the last minute, reverting to only a vague political statement is respect of the future relationship, kicking the issue down the road.

Secondly the electoral calculus is all wrong. It's difficult to say what will happen if a deal is concluded. It postpones the cliff edge for at least two years in which anything could happen. If, however, the Tories pull a coup and take us out without a deal then the Tories are finished. The electorate will not reward them for trashing the economy and severing all formal relations with the EU.

This, though, is the power of tribal narrative. The Tory propaganda machine has for many months spun the line that we need not fear the "WTO option". Being that the average Tory loyalist is thick as a box of hammers and always willing suspend their critical faculties, they will believe absolutely anything they are told. This is where we see a further polarisation. So far as the Tory zombies are concerned, if it gets remainers and the left squawking then a no deal Brexit can only be a good thing.

The order of priorities is the survival of the Tory party, Boris Johnson's career ambitions - and Brexit at any cost. Nowhere in the list comes the national interest. So far as the Tory establishment is concerned, even Brexit doesn't matter all that much. The Spectator will run puff pieces for Johnson and talk up the WTO option because Johnson is their man.

All the while, public debate will be preoccupied by the burka decoy, not least because there is considerable boredom with Brexit. The factions have fought each other to a standstill and there is nothing new or original to be said about it. The fate of the country, therefore, will not be decided by substantive Brexit issues or even points of principle. Rather it will be decided entirely by tribal power plays on the fringes over completely unrelated issues.

This is all bread and butter for the Westminster court eunuchs in the media who would rather report Johnson's bowel movements than examine any of the urgent issues - most of which are beyond their capacity to understand. Their job is to generate clicks. Informing the debate comes way down the list. The business model of most media outlets is to identify a particularly ignorant cross section of society and throw all their resources at ensuring they stay that way.

Politicians and journalists prefer to engage in culture wars rather than real politics because they don't have answers to the biggest political issues. Not least because they are not interested. As a nation we have zero collective attention span and incapable of breaking out of tribal habits. There is an inability to focus on matters of importance and we are easily distracted by trivia. We don't have the raw material for a functioning democracy. The public will learn the hard way that there is a price for self-indulgent tribal bickering.

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