Sunday, 30 September 2018

CPC18: a gathering of zombies


Party conferences are generally tedious affairs. There is nothing more ghastly than a gathering of self-congratulatory political luvvies and the media. Why they even bother to stage an event in Birmingham when it's largely an outing for the functionaries of the Westminster bubble beats the hell out of me.

This one ought to be the exception to the rule in that events of the next few months are pivotal and the power struggle within the Tory party ought to be of some interest. But it isn't. Theresa May has doubled down on her Chequers plan despite its unpopularity with the party, entirely disregarding that small but somewhat important detail that Brussels has ruled it out.

The reason it isn't interesting is because this is not exactly news nor is it news that her opponents do not have a workable plan either. The effect is much the same. Without a plan agreeable to Brussels it scarcely matters who wins the day.

If there is a theme thus far it is an attempt to shift the blame on the EU for the current impasse. Jeremy Hunt has been at it for a week now - treating us the the risible spectacle of reinventing himself as a born again Brexiter. Meanwhile on the fringes we see the usual circus of thinktanks and lobby groups each pushing their own wares on a largely unthinking audience. No doubt there is a coordinated effort to drum up support for the IEA's "Plan A plus" which has thus far been panned by anyone with even half a grasp of the issues.

You might think that with this being the final conference before we leave the EU we would be hearing a torrent of ideas as to what comes after we leave the EU. There is, however, no real vision and the Tories are likely to keep their true agendas under their hats. We are instead going to get more of the same timid recycled mantras we hear every year.

This is not to say that the Labour conference was any better. They managed not to decide on a Brexit policy and, so far as I gathered, they intend to renationalise the railways which solves no problem I currently have. British politics generally doesn't do big ideas and they've even managed to turn a seismic event like Brexit into a wall of tedious noise.

It is, though, unreasonable to expect any big ideas from party conferences. Party politics, in this age especially, is an exercise in conformity and signalling to others your loyalty to the tribal scriptures. The entire apparatus is designed to exclude outsiders and other ideas.

For a while now I've had a sense that British politics is in the grip of a fever and have stopped trying to influence the debate. When it reaches the final round of a tribal deathmatch and is reduced to only two competing ideas, loyalties are chosen on the basis of where the gatekeepers are heading. Any alternate ideas are sideshows.

Being that the media is only interested in the biff-bam showdowns, it ceases to be interested in the policy outcomes. It doesn't matter to them that neither plan will work and likely haven't noticed. Being that the wider population is bored witless with it and unable to do anything about any of the no deal warnings even if they wee taken seriously, one gets a sense that most people have tuned out.

As to the public debate, one thing I find quite strange about Twitter is that it has moods. One gets a sixth sense for when it is busy and very often one can tell when activity has dropped off completely. For someone who practically lives on social media it's been a tedious old time of late. For a long time I was of the view that a good day on social media is better than good a day doing anything else - in that some days can be busy and richly rewarding. Those days seem long behind me now.

Here I have a feeling that the national debate will not reignite until something of significance happens. Possibly not until we have formally left the EU. That is when there are scores to settle. For thee years we've had the entire Tory machinery broadcasting its message that everything will be fine and that we can get a better deal than Norway. It's all on record. It's going to be a turkey shoot.

For the next week, though, and for the foreseeable future, the debate will remain a pastiche of itself. They have no understanding of the processes involved. They simply suck up the prevailing narrative and regurgitate it. We will not seem them attending to the urgent and the important simply because they lack the value system to realise what is urgent and important. This is the fag end of British politics and there's nothing left to do now but watch it all burn.

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