Saturday, 19 January 2019

Remaining in the EU would be a disaster for democracy

For as long as I can remember general elections have been pretty meaningless affairs. If you didn't want further integration into the EU then you had nobody credible to vote for. The Tories are eurosceptic in opposition but europhile when in power. Labour will give them the family silver without them having to even ask and Christ alone knows what the Lib Dems would do to us.

The only general election vote that has ever meant anything to me was in 2015 when finally I was able to vote for something I wanted. The referendum. I am far from alone in this. For the first time in my adult life I had a genuine stake in the outcome of the election. Then, come the 2017 snap election, I didn't bother to vote since I live in one of the safest Tory seats in the land, but had there been any danger of a Labour MP, I would have voted Tory to safeguard my referendum vote. Once again, to a point, my vote matters.

In all the time my vote has been worthless there has been one disturbing trend. Each Parliament seems somehow more debased than the last; ever more narcissistic, cringeworthy and trivial. That's bad enough in ordinary times but these are not ordinary times. This parliament is tasked with one of the most complex and risky undertakings probably ever. 

It actually says something that Theresa May is Prime Minister. She was my first choice to succeed David Cameron, not because of any intrinsic merit. Rather she was the last dregs of gravitas in the Tory party and only by comparison with her rivals. We are represented by some profoundly unserious people. One thing Brexit has thus far accomplished is to expose just how far out of their depth our MPs are.

What should be a careful deliberative process has been, to be blunt, a total shitshow. A carnival of criminal incompetence. The recurrent feature is the number of MPs bluffing their way through it, failing to grasp the details and even now at this critical stage have no concept of what they are talking about. The system doesn't work.

There are a number of reasons for this, not least the collapse of the committee system which has been utterly undermined but it's as much to do with the state of the parties themselves. There are also various cultural considerations in that the system seems to be overburdened with PPE Oxford graduates.

The why's and the wherefores have been better explained elsewhere on this blog but the glaringly obvious fact is that our politicians and the wider Westminster ecosystem is simply no longer fit for purpose. It's not capable of listening, especially so the executive which has far too much power, and it does not respond to external inputs - not from Brussels or the public. 

This is not something that started to happen the day of the referendum. This is the result of a long and slow degradation of politics that has simply become more apparent now that the stakes are higher. And this is why suspending Article 50 would be so bloody dangerous.

Some predict riots in the street should Parliament suspect Article 50. I rather suspect they won't be mass protests and would be rapidly contained by the police. For reasons I don't fully understand, leavers have never been demonstrators or protesters. Plotting and campaigning seems to be the way we do things. Parliament would then take that as a signal to carry on as normal.

This is the real danger of cancelling Brexit. I'd give it about three weeks before they were brushing the whole saga under the carpet - only the cancellation of Brexit would then serve as a pretext for what they would view as compensatory reconciliation measures which would amount to more of the same. More regional quangos, more metro mayors, a people's assembly, tinkering with the voting system, possibly even a PR referendum, but nothing that would in any way allow us to challenge their incumbency. 

There are those who put great stock in PR as a means of reform, but we are still in the end talking about electing a moron and sending them to that place by the Thames with 650 other morons and give them power over us. That to me is not meaningful change. Whoever you elect, they soon go native.

Should we remain, that solves all of the difficult problems such as trade, customs, regulatory frameworks. All the things that underpin the status quo could once again be put to the back of their minds allowing them to get back to their tedious retail politics and vanity spending, storing up acute crises as they go.

If that happens it sends several messages. The first being that anyone who waited for twenty years to have a voice will remain voiceless. It will also say to those who put their energies into democratic participation were wasting their time. It will say that the vote is meaningless if it in any way inconveniences our rulers. It will say that voting cannot change anything.

For me that will be the death of politics. Game over. We will simply be passengers condemned to watch the further decline and hollowing out of politics, powerless to influence it. That has a number of deadly consequences for the future. 

With politics the way it is, incapable of making the hard choices, evading the necessary reforms the housing, pensions and care crises will go unaddressed. Immigration will similarly be ignored. At some point this all comes to a head and probably within my lifetime. 

Of itself that is problematic. What concerns me more, though, is the more subtle societal impact of what happens when the social contract is ripped to shreds. The psychological impact will be profound. It will have negative implications for civil society in the literal sense. Any respect will simply vanish.

A number of fellow leavers on Twitter reckon it would cause civil unrest but I think it will manifest in many different ways. We can expect to see a new public belligerence and a collapse of civility. Public servants of any kind will likely bear the brunt of it. Respect for the rule of law will collapse. If the basic rules of our society no longer apply to our ruling class, why should anyone respect them? What moral authority does the law then have? 

When government has lost its legitimacy, when the people no longer have hope, and half the country are rendered second class, in effect disenfranchised entirely there is no obligation to uphold basic social norms. I can rapidly see us becoming a lawless country where the authority of the state is diminished. We are halfway there already. The legal system doesn't work, council CEOs are paying themselves £400k bonuses while services are cut and council tax goes up. Already the system is held in deep contempt. Revocation of Article 50 will be the final straw. 

Eventually when the reality starts to hit home that we can no longer afford to run the state the way they do, leading to more homelessness, a massive pensioner poverty problem and rentals crisis like never before, will individuals having no savings and no assets, the foundation will be laid down for a "people's revolt" that makes Brexit look trivial. 

Leaving the EU is the only way to lance the boil here. The whole system is currently on trial and all eyes are watching. I am not one of the no dealers and I do not relish the thought of it, but if parliament cannot agree to a deal then we must still leave. That's the basic understanding. To defy that is nothing short of a declaration of war.

I don't see it being a yellow vest rebellion with a few burnt out citroens. Brits don't operate that way. The overt expression of anger will be muted. Politicians, lacking a social antenna, won't detect the burning resentment. They don't have that level of self awareness. What they won't be attuned to, will be a quiet determination born of zero tolerance for any further insult. At some point there will be an opportunity for payback. At that moment, god help our ruling class... because nobody else will. 

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