Saturday, 4 August 2018

Matthew Goodwin's 2016 nostalgia

It's interesting that though I am in the Brexit business I am now a million miles away from the referendum debate. The bickering carries on as before but I have tuned most of it out. Carole Cadwalladr's campaign against Vote Leave and Arron Banks still rolls on, Matthew Goodwin is still churning out his cliched "Left behind" articles and Spiked continue to produce low grade teenage revolutionary garbage.

Meanwhile the remain crowd issue daily decrees on Twitter, bristling with hashtags and campaign acronyms calling for a second referendum, none of which is newsworthy. There isn't going to be another referendum and it doesn't matter which celeb they roll out to support it, they are wasting their breath. We all know what they want and it's to reverse the referendum even if that means a rigged referendum that splits the leave vote. It's just not interesting. Never has a campaign wasted more energy on a cause so futile.

The remain crowd are now largely talking to themselves, living in their own echo chamber, failing to challenge the ultra-Brexiter message while the rest of us in the real world are left to make sense of a situation that worsens by the day. The two camps become ever more polarised while the Brexit press and Tory propaganda mills churn out pro-no deal poison. We are, therefore in a full blown information war where the Tory side is actually winning.

In fact, the latest offering from Matthew Goodwin tells us a lot about what's going on. Not especially because of what it says because there is nothing at all interesting or new there. It's the fact that for Goodwin and Spikedophile crowd, the battle was won in 2016 and the world stopped turning. We are now expected to pore over polls, narratives and data collected from a single moment in time, without any reference to the war of attrition that has carried on since.

What it tells us is the commentariat have found their comfortable narratives to dine out on and that is the fullest extent of their engagement while those of us at the sharp end are engaged in a fight to the death for the future of the country. It's no longer leave versus remain. It's a battle between those of us who live in the real world and those who very obviously do not.

What has happened since the referendum changes the battle lines entirely. My daily discourse is as much with remainers as leavers and most of my conversations with leavers tend to be futile exchanges trying to explain the basics of the WTO and why we cannot use it as a fallback position.

I cannot pinpoint precisely when it happened but the goalposts have shifted and the real fight is between those who recognise that we need an orderly negotiated departure and those who think we can simply pull the plug and expect things will carry on as normal. It is, therefore, a little premature to be writing the sociological history of Brexit. It's not over yet.

At the time of the referendum, the establishment was looking pretty odious and deserved a smack in the chops. Since then, though, we have seen the duplicity, mendacity and incompetence of the Brexiteers. We have seen the cavalier attitude of David Davis. We have seen the poverty of ideas and the absence of knowledge among the Brexiteers. We have seen Farage robbed of his stature. We've seen Boris Johnson for the bullshit artist he is.

Public sentiment almost certainly has changed. We don't know precisely what that sentiment is, but virtually nobody thinks the Brexit process is being handled well and if we do crash out without a deal then all bets are off as to what happens next.

The Westminster bubble holds it that if Theresa May makes any concession to Brussels then the grassroots of the Tory party will again drift back to Ukip. Again this is without reference to anything that has happened since the referendum. With Ukip having all but packed up their Brexit shop, preferring instead to grunt about Muslims, taking up the cause of one Tommy Robinson, they have painted themselves into irrelevance. Ukip is bankrupt, sans Farage, and lacking the organisational infrastructure to mount a serious national campaign.

Moreover unless the consequences of a no deal are fully understood, the political responses will be muted and distorted. Since they are not, we get a drip feed of warnings that a compromise deal with the EU could lose the next election for the Tories. This hardens the pro-no deal sentiment.

In reality, however, a no deal Brexit is likely to be so shambolic that no government could expect to recover from it. Lorries backed up to the M25 and flights grounded is not a good look for a party that only a few months ago was promising sunlit uplands and an extra £350m a week to splurge on nurses.

Mindful of this we see Liam Fox today, getting his excuses in early, telling us that No Deal is odds on as a result of EU intransigence. There will be a concerted effort to shift the blame to the EU. A lot of people will buy that but there will also be countervailing propaganda. The EU is not going to take that lying down. The blame game will only get the "ultras" so far. The effects of "no deal" will be severe and difficult to hide that there is bound to be a push back.

We then find that many in the regions who voted to leave in good faith suddenly find themselves on the dole through no particular fault of their own, there won't be much forgiveness of those who told us everything will be fine. It is this chapter that will define what comes next more so than the referendum.

Arguably the pet theories of Matthew Goodwin gives us some clue as to how to forge a response to the Brexit vote, but in reality, Brexit creates so many change issues that higher politics falls between the cracks. The more problems we create for ourselves the less we are equipped to deal with them. As to the mode of Brexit we choose, which, if any, provides any remedy to the multifarious reasons for the leave verdict?

We are told Brexit means taking back control of our money, borders, laws and trade but of itself that is no remedy. Reclaiming the fabled £350m a week is little use having lost a £270bn a year trade relationship, absolute sovereignty over technical regulation ensures far less favourable single market access and it is difficult to see how Brexit has any mid term trade advantages. The only argument in its favour is control over our own trade defences, but that's not a lot of use of the Tories opt for unilateral trade liberalisation.

More likely such a policy will exacerbate regional imbalances and the only real decline in immigration we will see is when those workers relying on a favourable exchange rate realise the UK isn't worth the bother. No policy on EU migration does anything to remedy what really riles the Kippers... Pakistani rape gangs and forced marriages etc. 

Of course, one can argue that will a general collapse of the status quo and free of the EU we will have the tools to forge our response to these issues afresh, but that is assuming we are then operating in a vacuum when actually, our decisions will have ramifications for EU relations and our trade with it. There is no chance of any of these issues being satisfactorily resolved without first resolving the crisis of competence in Westminster.

Moreover, if we examine any of the reasons cited for voting to leave, much of this is caused by globalisation and the shift of retail from our high streets to the internet. What remedy does Brexit bring to that? Should we leave the single market, ultimately seeing a long pause in investment into Airbus and similar regional employers, there is every likelihood we will see an acceleration of decline. 

We know the public know what they voted for. They voted to leave the EU. Beyond that, though, are a thousand urgent questions, all of which require intelligent responses from our political apparatus. The constitutional question can be answered by the public but for the more technical questions we do need experts and specialists. We have proved to destruction that the average Brexiter (or remainer for that matter) knows dick all about trade. 

Every one of these questions requires a compromise to one or other degree and though our policy responses have to be mindful of the vote, they cannot be slaves to it lest we become the isolationist and bankrupt country we leavers said we would not become. Yet where is the discussion of any of this? Certainly we get nothing from Goodwin or wider academia.

Goodwin tells us that "a rapprochement seems unlikely, at least in the short-term. Consider what Leavers and Remainers want Britain to prioritise in the coming years. Leavers say Brexit, sharply reducing immigration, curbing the amount spent on overseas aid, and strengthening the armed forces. Remainers say build more affordable homes, raise taxes on high earners, increase the minimum wage, and abolish tuition fees. The only point of consensus is that both want to increase funding for the National Health Service".

Leavers are likely to be disappointed. Foreign aid is essential to an active trade policy, a body blow to the economy will mean cuts to defence, and then the remainer wishlist looks implausible in that there will be less economic activity to tax and a lot less to spend and having torched our most important international relationship, scant options for borrowing money. We will even have to ask existential questions about the NHS.

All of these questions hang in the balance right now and unless we have decisive answers as to our approach to Brexit then our fate will be decided by circumstances. Should we leave without a deal we will be left with an embittered wreck of a country with near universal contempt for our governing class. 

Perhaps that is what infantile revolutionaries might wish for, and indeed in my more nihilistic moments I have some sympathy with that view, but a zero sum game Brexit ultimately serves nobody except for the foreign "investor" predators the Tories invite into government via their crooked think tanks.

Whatever multifarious reasons may exist for voting to leave, public attitudes can turn on a sixpence, and as much as the Brexit process up to press will have shaped attitudes, a calamitous crash out seeing food prices skyrocket and austerity like we have no seen in my lifetime, narratives will change and voters will judge accordingly. 

One thing remainers are right about is that a sample of a opinion at one point in time in advance of a a raft of new information is an inadequate yardstick on which to forge policy for the next few decades. One can respect the result of the referendum but there is no reason why the losers should not be every bit as engaged in forging the future of our country. Brexit may have been a mandate to leave the EU, but it wasn't a mandate for an ultra capitalist experiment nor do I imagine the majority voted to sever all formal trade relations with the EU. 

With all this water under the bridge, the kind of prattle we see from Goodwin feels more like 2016 nostalgia than an attempt to engage in the issues. The crucial question is not if we should leave the EU or even why we voted to leave the EU. It is now a question of how we leave - and on that question all of our fates hang. Without application of serious thought, acknowledging the limitations of sovereignty and the shifting sands since the referendum, we will get nowhere near a good answer. 

Instead of a full and frank national debate we are fighting a war against unprincipled, anti-knowledge propagandists - which undermines the notion of democracy. A functioning democracy depends on an informed public but instead we find public opinion is skewed by deliberate misinformation without an adequate media response, with many players in the media being a party to the deception. Eventually the truth will hit home - because it always does, but by then it won't matter. The damage will be done. Mr Goodwin might wish he'd used this time to ask better questions. 

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