Friday, 10 August 2018

It's time to do politics again.


Casting my mind back to 2008 I was a foaming libertarian. Were it not for the corrective educational influence of my father I would, to this day, be reading the likes of Tim Worstall and not be utterly appalled at the man's stupidity. Life was much simpler then. The answer to every problem was simply "less government".

If the complexity of modern governance does not intrude then the actions of government will very often seem absurd and easily resolved by a dose of good old fashioned back-to-basics common sense. Back then I would have been delighted to see a properly right wing government, but Brexit has shone a super-trooper beam on their galactic ignorance in ways that nothing else ever could.

Now I join the swelling ranks of the politically homeless where there is nowhere for my next vote to go but in the bin. I don not want a seventies throwback Labour government and I have no desire to experience a try "free trade" experiment when the Tory party has zero collective idea of how modern trade functions.

What is more disturbing than the overall dysfunction is that I see no obvious remedies to it. At one time I thought Brexit might bring some resolution - and to a point it will - in that one has to expose the problem before one can repair it. But beyond that, I do not see an obvious way out.

Part of the problem is that we have forgotten how to do politics. We are no longer in the business of devising and popularising policies. We simply churn over whatever is fed to us by the media. Even I am guilty in that I have, largely through boredom on the Brexit front, chimed in with an opinion on burkas.

There is no particular reason for burkas to occupy the Overton Window, only it seems that if Boris Johnson farts, the media puts it stage centre. Even then the issue is largely a proxy for Tory internal posturing in the midst of a low grade civil war. This is less to do with the oppression of Muslim women as it is a leadership bid by Johnson - and leadership bids usually become the sole preoccupation of the media.

The only thing Johnson hopes to achieve is to get people talking about him - and in this instance has pulled quite the coup. He has tickled the chin of the Tory grassroots whose position on Brexit is more in line with the ERG with a similarly hostile attitude to Muslims as Ukip.

The response from the liberal wing has been illustrative of a political groupthink hopelessly mired in political correctness and "virtue signalling", showing us that for all we sent a message at the referendum, it has not been heard by the ruling classes. This is compounded by the news that the Conservatives have committed to ensuring half of their Parliamentary candidates are female.

Nothing better illustrates the fact that what's left of the Tory party is living on another planet and incapable of relating to the rest of us. The only man (in the eyes of the grassroots) in touch with the common man is Boris Johnson. The grassroots are easily swayed when there is so little else on offer. All it takes is a dog whistle.

Depressingly, Johnson has his electoral calculus just about right. Should he snatch the leadership, he is probably just enough to keep Corbyn at bay. Being that conservatives are gagging for anything even remotely conservative, they will fall into line if Johnson continues to make the right noises.

In normal times, Johnson's record as a liar and a charlatan would keep him out of the picture, but voters are fickle and the next election will be decided by those who still haven't seen through the deceptions of messers Corbyn and Johnson.

Should there be a leadership contest Tories will go for any port in a storm in the certain knowledge that Mrs May cannot win an election. Assuming we leave the EU with a deal then cliff edge day is postponed for another two years which means the worst effects of Brexit will not yet be felt. If, however, we leave without a deal then there is zero chance of any Tory winning the next election.

We could devote enormous energy churning the possibilities but the point that should concern us is that there is no outcome where we have a government equipped to deal with the fallout of Brexit. Any which way we cut it we are end up with an inept government without the first idea how to bring the country back together or bring remedy to the acute economic problems Brexit will bring.

Things are not going to get any better any time soon. In fact, they will become manifestly worse. It has to get a whole lot worse before it gets better. Worryingly, though, the problem lies not with the politicians per se, rather the structure of our politics.

No doubt it would be refreshing to have a clear out of our miscreant politicians but it wouldn't actually do any good. Each generation of MPs is more dreadful than the last largely because the parties as they stand are little more than marketing brands for any hapless biped with political ambitions to exploit in order to get their nose in the trough Nobody sane or sensible would enter politics in its current state.

And then it wouldn't actually matter if we did have an influx of halfway intelligent politicians. The problem is as much the political culture and what the Westminster ecosystem does to people especially when you apply the distorting prism of our ever more inane media. With politicians ever keen to avoid the minefield of political correctness they end up saying nothing of substance, meaning eventually we get a Trump like figure who simply ignores it and is worshipped for doing it. I fear Johnson may be that man.

Politics as we know it is dead. We are now entering a prolonged culture war to dislodge the many orthodoxies within the bubble. Until we've been through that process, where we are not held hostage to political correctness, we shall not see a return to stable government. Brexit may have forced the country down a different path but it did not dislodge the establishment groupthink.

As a blogger it's easy for me to get frustrated that the technocratic concerns of Brexit fall between the cracks but then I am reminded that the politics are no abstract and that this is not a happy country right now. No single faction in parliament commands anything like a majority and the traditional party divisions do not reflect the the current divisions in the House or in the country.

Much like an actual civil war there is no possibility of normality until one faction wins decisively. Until that happens Brexit will be be a proxy issue for all manner of factional hostilities. Not until things start breaking down will we see any kind of urgency and even then there is no guarantee that our politicians will drag themselves away from their self-indulgent navel-gazing. This dysfunctional rabble could well be the new normal for the next decade or so.

Here we see all the usual demands for proportional representation or brainstorming as to what a new party would look like. It won't do any good. Until our media is robbed of its potency and its ability to set the agenda, our politics will continue to follow every passing bandwagon. It will take a movement with ruthless zeal to rediscover politics and start setting the agenda for themselves. Whatever the solution may be, it is not going to come from within the political apparatus.

In this, various pundits are churning over what a new centrist party would look like. Their default assumption is that a centrist party would necessarily have to be pro-remain and liberal when that is no longer the political centre. The cries for a renewed centrist movement are a desperate plea to return to the pedestrian inconsequential politics of yore, failing to understand that the public not only wants change. They demand it.

Until such a time as our political differences are tempered, cooler heads will have no dog in the fight for a time to come. All of the options available are unpalatable and it will take something quite ugly to dislodge the political morass.

To understand why this is happening, you have to understand what the establishment actually is. There are powers inside Westminster. Competing factions play their little games but the establishment is really just a groupthink. A set of immovable rules which are unaffected by voting. They are equivalent to the Ten Commandments to avoid falling foul of manufactured media outrage.

Thou shalt not criticise Islam, thou shalt toe the line on climate change (however absurd our policy response), thou shalt not refer to rape gangs by their faith or ethnicity, everyone is a victim, nobody is responsible for the consequences of their choices and we must always cave in to leftist identity politics no matter how absurd or depraved.

The function of this groupthink is to ensure that nothing contentious is ever debated. To even suggest or start a debate results in demands for apologies. A careless word can end a career. Consequently our politics doesn't do politics. Things which should be debated and addressed with legislation qualify as too political and too hot to touch. We sweep problems under the carpet and instead devote our energies to anodyne talking points and politically safe subjects.

Moreover, since the structures of markets are locked in by EU directives and the means of executing policy are similarly dictated by directives like the Large Combustion Plant Directive, we no longer have politics related to technical governance. We simply drift along with whatever is permitted or politically safe.

For twenty years now the left have exploited this political cowardice to push us further into a state of compliance and conservative leaders in the name of "modernisation" have sought to bury conservatism and mute the conservative instincts of the grassroots. This is ultimately what we call centrism.

The consequence of this is a political culture divorced from the conservative values of the country, resulting in an alien breed of politician who simply cannot relate to the concerns and troubles of ordinary voters. Their world is not ours. The great disconnect existed in 2008 and the referendum has done little to wake them. Brexit to our political class is just an inconvenient administrative chore and a distraction from their business as usual.

This is also why Brexit doesn't go far enough. Just because we are notionally free to change things doesn't mean we will. Our politicians are not interested in the arcane detail of water supply and energy production. They are not interested in the intricacies of trade and foreign policy. Time devoted to governance is time they cannot devote to virtue signalling and doling our cash to victim groups.

That the Conservative Party has launched a formal disciplinary investigation over Boris Johnson's burka remarks shows the weakness in the system. Our politics does not have the self-confidence to brush off media histrionics as irrelevant noise. They are not in touch enough with voters to see that the views expressed are fairly pedestrian and shared by most of the country. They instead pander to witch-hunt culture. This is a politics in its death throes from a prolonged period of auto-cannibalism.

Our politics is now so weak that it only takes a calculating charlatan like Boris Johnson to run rings round it and win public backing. Conservative tribalists will welcome any sign of life at this point. 

Not until the edifice of political correctness and self-censorship comes crashing down can we have a frank debate about what we stand for. The liberalism defended by centrists was always a self-delusion and far from being centrist is was simply a political consensus that survived through silencing alternative thought. Far from being liberal it's a from of middle class authoritarianism which is why Waitrose liberals are fuming that the working class were allowed a say in the direction of the country. 

Until we have an ideas revolution, overthrowing the liberal consensus, we will see political and economic turmoil. We will continue to see Tommy Robinson manifestations until there is a sign that government is willing to act openly, decisively and without equivocation. Politics hamstrung by liberal contradictions cannot survive. At some point decisions have to be made that will trample on the values of the establishment. This is why burkas are such a flashpoint in our politics. 

The game in play by Johnson is a cynical one but he is really just a symptom of a political settlement on its last legs. It would appear we are going to have to put up with a Corbyn or a Johnson,whether we like it or not. Should it be Johnson then the Tory grassroots will have unwittingly breathed onto the embers of a dying establishment party. The moment he reaches office he will revert to type and the establishment will limp on for a while longer. Johnson will throw the occasional bone to keep the troops happy - and they'll fall for it, but sooner or later we will be back here again. 

From my vantage point, unappealing though Corbyn may be, it may well be time for a little creative destruction and in the national interest to kill off the zombie conservative party until it comes back with something approaching a conservative agenda. The only real talent Boris Johnson has is manipulating the weak of mind to serve his own ambitions. The country may not deserve better, but we certainly need better.   

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