Sunday, 27 January 2019

ERG: the cancer on the right

This is less an attack on Brexiters as it is British political culture. At least I hope it's British political culture because if it's just natural human behaviour then we really are stuffed and there's no point engaging in politics. You can only hope to survive it. What disturbs me about the Brexit debate is the willingness to believe absolutely anything if it comes from a tribally appointed source.

I'm routinely told that I must be a remainer because I spend most of my time attacking Brexiters. But there's a reason for that. I am a person who is generally offended by people who say things that are not true. That is primarily why I am a Brexiter. I spent the whole of the referendum calling out the remainers on their lies which were very bit as bad as those put out by Vote Leave if not worse. But I'm no longer fighting the referendum. Leave won. And to me, the function of bloggers, being that the media has vacated to the field, is challenge the narratives of politicians. 

Early on the Tory leave blob decided it would cooperate with no-one from outside the bubble. They took ownership and the only people sanctioned to speak on behalf of leave are leaver MPs, their journo mates and junior wonks from within right wing think tankery. They may occasionally throw a bone to the likes of Spiked Online but the official rag of Brexiter record is The Spectator and Telegraph through which their narrative is promoted.

Since I am not on the inside and unwilling to be spoonfed, and they are driving the agenda, these people are not on my side. They are just the winning faction who happen to be the media resource because of their pre-existing presence in London. I owe them nothing. Certainly not my loyalty. 

When it comes down to it, I voted for one of two options on a ballot paper. There was no option that said "Leave the EU then surrender any further scrutiny over decision making and let the Tory right do as they please". If we are to leave the EU it throws up any number of complex questions with grave consequences and we need good answers. 

What we find, though, is that we're dealing with woefully clueless lords and MPs. Andrea Jenkyns, Kate Hoey, Marcus Fysh, John Redwood, Rees-Mogg, Boris Johnson, Peter Lilley, Owen Paterson and Steve Baker are all winging it, making things up as they go along and forever reaching into the magic Brexit tombla of half baked and half understood ideas to produce superficially plausible technobabble that bimbette TV presenters like Sophy Ridge won't challenge them on.

Here we should at least thank James Delingpole for admitting he's a bone idle chancer who doesn't have a handle on the issues. He basically came unstuck because he's not particularly nimble in front of a TV camera. The only difference between him and the ERG politicians is that they're not nearly as incompetent at media appearances and don't have the basic decency to admit that they're full of shit. Why, though, James Delingpole is now praised for his frank admission escapes me. Admitting you raped a donkey still makes you a donkey rapist.

Disturbingly, though, this whole debate is not about who is right. Hardly anybody is interested learning the truth of the matter. If a port boss with a posh title says everything will be fine then the ERG brigade will adopt that into their canon and there is no further investigation. The Telegraph will report on a CEO saying the channel tunnel is ready for action while Sky News retails any prestige opinion as gospel. Once such prestige opinions are lodged with sponsorship from a gatekeeper within the Brexit blob, no primary source is ever likely to persuade them of anything.

I used to think that the internet would smash the grip of of old media, and though traditional news sources have taken pasting and midranking outlets like Buzzfeed can't turn a profit, there still exists the same tribal hierarchies and the willingness to believe any source so long as it has prestige still plagues the national debate. It may be true that Youtube is stealing television audiences but many of the video bloggers are little more than self-reinforcing mouthpieces of the tribe. 

Remainers would be the first to point out that leave voters have been led astray by snake oil salesman and charlatans. I've written defensive blogs as to why that is not the case, but among the hard core activists, that much certainly is the case. This I suspect comes down to a more basic human need to belong to something and to be engaged in a struggle of some kind which produces its own social dynamics where the scriptures of the tribe are social bonds as much as they are arguments.

The same is also true of remainers though. In fact the remain arguments have even less sophistication because they don't have to solve any problems. They can simply wax lyrical about perks, benefits and entitlements of membership. They are every bit as credulous as the leave headbangers.

One wonders is this has a lot to do with how media has abandoned any obligation to inform. The Independent and Channel 4 have become unhinged leftist activist media while the Telegraph and Spectator have become the instruments of US lobbyists and deranged right wingers. But then the central problem here is consumers of media. If there was any profit in supplying readers with information then they would still be doing it. They've all sussed between them that the clicks come from telling people what they want to hear. 

Part of the problem is that we have politicians only too willing to engage in this deliberate manipulation. No lie is too big and any lie will do. We are supposed to have a media that won't let them get away with it, which has been one of the more frightening revelations of Brexit. If democracy is reduced to agenda driven propaganda wars without restraint and no system to uphold standards then politics becomes a free for all. 

There was a time where politicians taking large lump sums of cash from corporate sponsors would bring down governments. These days it arely stays in the news cycle more than twenty four hours. Corruption has become the norm. We don't even bat an eyelid. We see calls for more transparency at a time when it couldn't be more transparent. But what use is transparency when there are no consequences for political misconduct?

Though many lament the "chaos" unleashed by Brexiters, it is hardly an original sentiment to say that Brexit has shone a torch on the dysfunction and decay within our politics - but it is with some considerable irony that the Brexiters themselves should be among the worst offenders. The grassroots Brexiters rapidly adopted the American slogan of "drain the swamp" - a view I have some sympathy with, but if we are going to do any such thing, they should start with those they adopt as their idols.

There has never been a credible argument for leaving the EU without a deal, but if there is one highly tempting argument, it is that it would expose the Tory right frauds for what they are. It would be most interesting watching Owen Paterson explaining to his farming constituency why their EU exports collapsed. As a prominent remainer put it to me recently "I'm tempted to go for no deal just to prove to these bastards how wrong they are". 

I suspect, mind you, that patience is wearing thing among the wider public. The ERG lie machine has been running full pelt for two years but then so has Twitter which ruthlessly shreds each and every one of their assertions. Though Twitter may well be their means of dissemination it may also be our best line of defence. The BrexitCentral brigade may well have overplayed their hand by insulting our intelligence. They may yet win the Brexit battle, but there will be a reckoning. On that day, it will not be a good day to be a Tory. 

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