Sunday, 12 August 2018

So you want to remain in the EU...

Even now we have crossed the event horizon there are still those pushing to remain in the EU. There are certain convenient advantages to it. It means politicians are off the hook and don;t have to apply themselves to anything technical. We don't have to think abut having a trade policy or even a foreign policy. All the questions such as the structure of the energy market will be decided in Brussels, and it will tell us how to implement global climate accords.

Brussels will then take care of fishing and agriculture for us. We won't have to develop any policies. It will tell us what our transport strategy is along with our water policy and increasingly it will decide our public health policies. To an extent it already does. 

If we remain in the EU our MPs will celebrate. They can sweep all the nastiness under the carpet and pretend it never happened and go back to their usual habits of telling us what we can eat and drink and what we can say. They won't have to apply themselves to the real business of governing. 

Remainers will point out that this is a good thing since our lamentably stupid politicians couldn't run a bath. I have some sympathy with that view. Asking this pack of miscreants to do anything more complicated than open a packet of crisps and their tiny brains capsize. But in saying that we would effectivly be giving up on government from Westminster, where our own ministries, and indeed Number Ten are little more than the press office for the Brussels machine.

Just lately we have seen a number of ministers announcing new initiatives and Remainers take great delight in pointing out these are actually EU measures re-branded by the Tories. That, though, is nothing new. That was in fact a central theme of the eureferendum blog for the last decade - that very often the influence of the EU is concealed by national politics because it suits ministers to pass EU measures off as their own accomplishments and we've had a media which simply hasn't bothered to look any deeper.

This explains why leavers and remainers alike have no idea as to the extend of EU influence. Both sides cannot see the hypocrisy of their own positions. Remainers will say we have retained functional sovereignty yet they point out that on leaving it creates a multitude of major problems - and all the while Leavers have been telling us about the all consuming EU monster but then tell us we can simply walk away without a deal and it will have no real effect. 

Should we remain, though, we will revert to the norm of having EU measures reach our statute book automatically with no media coverage and virtually no parliamentary scrutiny. What little scrutiny is applied will be done in a foreign country by people we don't know. We will, therefore, have no real idea where policy comes from implementing laws the public had no say in. 

Eventually, by the back door of course, more powers will be handed over to Brussels or appropriated by ECJ rulings to the point where the levers of power in London are not actually attached to anything. Politics then becomes more akin with an inconsequential Love Island style reality TV show where we elect 650 morons to see what they get up to. Politics as we understand it will simply become part of the entertainment industry. 

At this point we will have abandoned any notion that votes can actually change things. We might register a protest vote at Euro elections but since the EU parliament has limited powers and the UK is structurally outnumbered, there is little point in engaging in EU politics, if indeed there ever was. 

Many have been shocked to see just how appallingly inadequate to the task our politicians have proved to be int he face of Brexit. We have politicians arguing to remain in the customs union without being able to give us an adequate definition of it or even describe what it does. These are the same people telling us we did not know what we voted for. 

This is essentially a consequence of removing politics from policy. The real business of governing is considered above their pay grade and matters of importance are decided by policy engineers deep within the European Commission.

Remainers actually have no problem with this. We can't have people with unfashionable opinions influencing policy can we? It's best if everything is left to the experts! Again, given the performance of our politics over the last two years, you can see why this is a popular point of view. The idea that trade decisions could end up in the hands of Boris Johnson is terrifying. 

What makes it more inconvenient for leavers is that the EU of late is doing quite well in the competence stakes. It doesn't handle a crisis particularly well but when it comes to the day to day minutia of technical governance the Commission does it better than anyone. 

The problem though, is that there are times when the EU gets it badly wrong. Not least the incremental attempts to regulate the internet. We get policy that nobody wants, doesn't achieve what it sets out to do and the unintended consequences are worse than the original problem. Individuals and businesses may complain, but that's really all they can do. You might get marginal reform some time within a decade but in the meantime all we can do is manage our response to bad policy. This dynamic is what sees us dumping over-quota catches into the sea.

The danger here is that people then become used to the idea that they have no power over what happens to them. The EU issues its instructions and we enforce it whether we want it or not - no matter how many people it puts out of business, no matter whose life it destroys. There is no point involving an MP because they have no influence in it. The same can be said of MEPs, most of whom are intellectually subnormal. 

The point here is that unless you have a fully engaged public you don't have a democracy. You have managerialism. We simply elect administrators who carry out instructions from EU officials. What we then have is totally unaccountable governance free to do as it pleases without pushback. Without public participation, individuals and organisations exerting their own influence, we become passengers of global events, where things start to happen and we have no idea why or how to stop it.

To a point, much of what I describe has already occurred. We have a largely demoralised electorate who in recent years do not make the effort to participate in elections, a parliament so badly atrophied that it barely functions and politics forever in a state of bicycle shed syndrome. Politics is ill-equipped to manage change because the EU stands in the way of change happening at all. Remaining will only see it get worse.

Right now there isn't much to be said for British democracy in that, of the choices we are presented with, none of the options look especially appetising. Soon we'll be lumbered with either a boorish sociopath or an antisemitic terrorist sympathiser. Unleashing politics doesn't seem particularly appealing when all it stands to do is make us poorer and less stable.

This is where the Brexiter argument for returning sovereignty to parliament was misconceived. All the criticisms directed at Brussels are just as true when applied to London. It's corrupt, bureaucratic, opaque, remote, out of touch and based on long obsolete ideas. As we step into the era of hyper-globalisation, Westminster is no more fit to govern than Brussels. 

As it stands our parties no longer reflect the divisions in the country or even reflect the breadth of ideas. Moreover with our regions having larger populations than a great many countries, we might wonder what business it is of London how Manchester governs itself? If Scotland has its own assembly, why not Yorkshire? Why not recognise that people are perfectly capable of self-government if allowed to do so? 

Government above all must be participatory. We no longer bother with local elections largely because we view local politics as inconsequential. When all the big decisions are made in London, it very much is. If we want responsive politics then we have to put power back in the hands of the people. That simply cannot happen while inside the EU and it certainly won't happen if we leave the power in London. 

There are no sunlit uplands from Brexit. It was a gross folly of Vote Leave to say there were. Vote Leave were very much the Johnny Come-Latelys who never understood that the core of the leave movement is primarily motivated by the desire for sovereignty and meaningful democracy. Brexit of itself does not give us that but it does give us a window of opportunity and the tools we need to set about building a better society. It won't come overnight and we will have to work at it - and things will probably have to get worse before they get better.

What Brexit does mean, though, is that there is space for new ideas and the potential for change. Brexit has already exposed the inadequacy of our politics and politicians and and recent events show how vulnerable our politics is to corruption being that the power is in the hands of a malevolent few. If we are to "take back control" then we must take it back not only from Brussels, but also from London. We must take back for ourselves the powers that should never have been taken away. Power cannot remain in the hands of Westminster - because they're the ones who did this to us in the first place. 

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