Monday, 7 January 2019

Is Britain too sick to survive?

In just over a week we will know a bit more about which way this is going to go. Maybe. Mrs May might win her vote but then again she may not and if not that is surely not the end of it. What happens then is beyond anyone's ability to predict. The only thing I'm sure of is that the deal on the table is the only deal on offer, all other avenues are closed and if we don't take this deal it's either no deal or no Brexit at all.

The Ultras know this and they think, quite rightly, that with the referendum standing as a political artefact, that the balance of probability is in their favour should Mrs May's deal fail to pass. There is little Parliament can do to stop it save for bringing down the government. Something tells me they won't. A widely despised political class bringing down the government to overturn Brexit in the final hour is not a good look.

Procedurally speaking, they would be within their rights to do so but that is not a consequence free turn of events. Our politics would be lost. We would offset any immediate economic risk but there would be a huge question mark over British democracy as we know it.

If they did, I actually doubt I would be all that animated. The referendum was only the first battle in a long war and we were always going to have to keep fighting to get there - but somewhere along the line, Brexit was hijacked by the ultras to turn it into a radical economic agenda for which there is no mandate and if they were stopped, much of the nation would heave a huge sigh of relief.

Having set upon a game of double or quits, the Ultras have gambled the whole country and in so doing have put the prize up as collateral. They could take the Brexit on the table, but instead they are pushing it right to the wire for the no deal outcome they crave. Twitter is alight with no deal propaganda and they know as well as anyone this is the final leg. If they did lose the prize to the remain camp the fault would be theirs alone.

Speaking as a leaver I would be angered and disappointed but not at all surprised and I would view the ultras as complicit. The betrayal narrative carries little weight with me. They have had every possible opportunity to steer the outcome. They could at any time have proposed something viable of their own. They declined the invitation.

Either way, though, I think we are lost. If a no deal Brexit goes ahead we lack the preparation and planning to mitigate the consequences and lack absolutely the political talent to salvage the situation. It is beyond their absorptive capacity and on the face of it we really don't have the ability to self govern. Statecraft is a lost art on these shores. Parliament doesn't even want the job of governing.

The choice, therefore is sudden death Brexit resulting in a terminal decline, or a long slow slide into oblivion until the EU breaks up of its own accord in bitterness and acrimony. The internal stresses in France, Italy, Germany and Eastern Europe suggest to me that something in the intermediate future has to give. The ultimate irony is that Britain could still find itself as the last conforming EU member.

I suppose my ambivalence is more rooted in the fact that I have no real means to influence events any more than those within the machine. Each of the factions are labouring under their own tragic misreading of the circumstances and will act according to their own electoral triangulation. It's pointless trying to rationally predict when the players involved are inherently irrational. Article 50 fever has to burn out of its own accord. Either the cake will rise or it won't.

What's clear to me is that neither avenue brings about any resolution. Of all the acute issues, the only thing government knows how to do is to throw more money it doesn't have at the problem. UK governance is little more than plate spinning, limping from crisis to crisis, putting out brush fires but doing nothing bold or radical to address the root causes. That takes political conviction, leadership and determination. And also a mandate - which is difficult to secure when you have a nation of spoiled infants. The electorate is half the problem.

What passes for bold radicalism within the bubble is resurrections of obsolete and zombie ideas that fail every time - spurred on by tabloid populism, where parties adopt whatever is fashionable, plucking policy out of the generic Westminster tombola of half baked suggestions. Think tankery has nothing to offer save for the same mantras and nostrums they've been pushing for twenty years and they can't effect change for the rest of the country since they are only dimly aware that anything outside London exists.

As far as it goes, EU integration is the only professionally managed agenda in British politics, which largely bypasses our politics and travels directly to Whitehall and the respective quangos. You don't have to like it but at least there is food on the shelves which is more than our ruling class can promise.

All the while the Brexiter crapology is less convincing by the day. The "lexit" phenomenon is threadbare largely inspired by Foot, Shore and Benn with an injection of Corbynista fantasising fuelled by half understood critiques of EU state aid rules and a generic grunt against neoliberalism. It's either that on the fact free "fwee twade" agenda of the tory right, none of which withstands any sober scrutiny. Even my own creative destruction nihilism makes the assumption that burning it all to the ground results in renewal. Recent evidence suggests otherwise when our politics can't even organise a traffic jam in Kent.

I think, should we remain in the EU, I would simply conclude that politics isn't worth my time and voting not worth the use of paper. This is, of course, exactly what the EU would like to happen. It makes noises about its own lack of democratic legitimacy but that has never stopped it before and won't stop it in future. The EU question, though, would remain unresolved, and would continue to stalk British politics and once again destabilise it.

Whatever the outcome, British politics has lost its vitality. There is no coherence to it and no unity of purpose - and there's nothing even approaching a coherent political movement aimed at building something. This has become an all out tribal conflict where the aim on both sides is just to see the opposition lose everything. Nobody is interested in the national interest or pragmatism. This is not helped by the EU which is now deeply entrenched in its own dogmas in respect of Brexit. It's hard to see how reconciliation is possible. The only thing we have in abundance is resentment.

What I do know is that there is no return to normality either way because the illusion has been shattered. We all know that when there is an end to this current cycle of politics, it ends with a bang. We have a battery of stored up crises to which there is no obvious resolution and we lack the means to usefully address them. Things we take for granted will simply keep failing until nothing works. Remaining won't turn it around any more than leaving will.

None of this changes my view that I don't want to be ruled by a supreme government for Europe and I'd still rather be out, but I think the political future is bleak for the course of my lifetime. I do not see any viable agendas on the horizon nor any particularly convincing argument for any course of action. The intelligent options are closed down so we have to fumble through, falling to pieces as we go.

What ails our politics, superficial and shallow as it is, is also the same malaise our media is going through. It has a short attention span, no nose for detail, no institutional memory and has long departed from any system of instinctive values. The Westminster bubble morass will simply keep on churning and politics will continue to degenerate into light entertainment until no serious adult even bothers switching on the news. Even now I can't think of a single MP or radio/TV journalist I would save from a firing squad. Whatever the answer may be, it is not to be found in London. It is beyond their capability.

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