Saturday, 22 June 2019

Brexit: the long war

As I understand it there are four weeks left of this Tory leadership race left to endure. With something like three out of four Tory members backing Johnson, this is just a timewasting charade. The Tories know it, the public knows it. So too does the media which is now completely distracted by trivia. This is almost understandable given how tedious it all is, but these are news organisations whose job is to report news - and there is no shortage of that of you look outside of the Westminster bubble.

The central problem here is that our media class is not interested in reporting actual news, not least because that takes actual work. Westminster soap opera is far more entertaining for them and there is a massive demand for court gossip. It's ideal fodder for the ideological trench warfare that replaced our politics. Even the Americans have more substance in their politics of late. It seems we no longer do politics of consequence.

Instead of a debate on events in the Persian Gulf, Hong Kong, or even France, we are left to opine on whether it's right to frogmarch a ginger eco-loon out of a private dinner. As to the alleged shenanigans over at the Johnson residence, I scarcely see that it matters what happened. Nobody would be remotely surprised if we added wife beater to Johnson's CV but Tories will still make excuses for him and they'll still want him as leader. He's going to have to murder someone before they care. As one tweeter remarks "I suspect if he was caught on film having sex with a donkey Tory geriatrics will be complaining about the presence of a the film maker". Quite!

The only thing passing for serious debate in respect of Brexit is yet another tedious argument about the application of GATT Article 24, which is another zombie argument, dug up for another spin round the block by Duncan Smith and the never knowingly correct Campbell-Bannerman. There is now a queue of trade professionals and Commission wonks lining up to tell them they are wrong, but this has no bearing on the debate because this is all about shoring up the belief system among the no dealers that everything will be alright on the night.

How ever many times these little nostrums are debunked, nothing penetrates the wall of propaganda. Even if the no dealers were to finally admit Article 24 was no basis for a transitional measure, they would simply invent something else. 

All of this, though, is somewhat irrelevant. Everything really depends on what Boris Johnson actually does and the collective hunch, chiming with my own, is that Johnson will do whatever is necessary to save his own skin, and when brought up to speed with the facts of life, there is no guarantee he will allow us to simply drop out without a deal. I've been wrong before but where Johnson is concerned, nothing he does surprises me.

Between now and then we have conference season followed by "silly season" where year on year it becomes harder to tell the actual difference. None of the essential facts of the game have changed and are not likely to between now and October. The withdraweal agreement is not up for negotiation, the backstop is here to stay, there is no "managed no deal" and on Brexit day we become a third country and are treated as such by default. Until our politics is able to confront these home truths, we are simply waiting for the train to hit the buffers.

What many forget, though, is that the government is now down to a working majority of under ten MPs, five if I recall, and if it looks like Johnson is about to take us out without a deal then it only takes five remainer Tories to derail the whole show. In any case, Johnson may wish to renew his mandate by calling a general election anyway. How that plays out is anyone's guess.

Recent YouGov polls suggest the Lib Dems and Brexit Party have overtaken both Labour and the Tories but I don;t buy it even for a nanosecond. I don't see that the Brexit Party is sufficiently different from Ukip, or any more organisaed or credible, and I don't see it withstanding the barrage of negative press. I don't see them doing much better in 2015 where the court sage Matthew Goodwin was predicting a Ukip "earthquake".

If anything I see a migration of swing voters from the Tories to Lib Dem, which will be the real story of the election as the Brexit parties slug it out between them. It's difficult to see how Labour will fare given its own internal contradictions and its inability to take a coherent stance on Brexit. They have made lukewarm noises about a referendum but will crumble when pressed for details and the remain vote will likely migrate to the Lib Dems too. Those wondering if their 2016 leave vote is safe won't risk voting for Labour either.

If I was a betting man I might put money on a hung parliament. If Farage does manage to inflict serious damage on the Tories then we are looking at a seriously fragile coalition where the price might well be a second referendum. This worry is probably why cautious leavers will think twice about voting for Farage. Farage is in no position to deliver Brexit, but Johnson is. Whether he will or not... your guess is as good as mine.

That said, when it comes to this stuff, it's all empty speculation to fill space. Everything depends on the sequence of events and whether the remain wing of the Tories have a single backbone among them. Labour may even be forced to get off the fence. Stranger things have happened. All I know for certain is that Johnson is a Battle of the Bulge scale gamble for the Tories. Johnson has been able to bluff his way through his career, but one wonders whether even he can survive his own unforced errors when at the centre of national attention. 

One might have thought that as we got closer to Brexit day things would look a little clearer. Just last week it seemed a near certainty that we were leaving without a deal but when you factor in that Johnson has no convictions whatsoever, and is an unpredictable shambles of a man, not even Brexit is a certainty. With this level of uncertainty and with there being no fixtures in parliament, the situation defies any prediction.

As to how any of this plays out in the long term, very often it is signals on the edges that give us more of a clue. The news today that trial speed limits on the M4 of 50mph are to be made permanant is much more significant than just a local news story. The BBC reports "Temporary 50mph speed limits on two stretches of the M4 - introduced to cut air pollution through built-up areas - are to be made permanent. The limit was reduced on the motorway and on stretches of A-road in December 2018 in an attempt to cut nitrogen dioxide emissions. The High Court had ordered ministers to act after they failed to meet EU targets on air pollution". This was a case brought by a campaign group ClientEarth.

If there ever were a reason to vote to leave the EU then, with caveats, it's measures like this. Many argue that it's not the EU that does these things to us. Rather it's our own government. That is the central deceit of the remainers in that the EU is "our own government". Our system of government has been transformed so that private lobby groups and NGOs can bring their agendas to court (very often financed by the EU), more often than not based on junk science and weak statistical extrapolations, so that we end up with impositions such as this which are on the face of it article of UK law but in essence are a consequence of EU membership. The EU just doesn't leave fingerprints at the crime scene.

Naturally this will eventually go nationwide, very probably without any new laws being passed or any serious debate in parliament, basically allowing the safety zealots to do to us what they've been itching to do for decades, resulting in slower roads with more accidents (and probably more pollutions). Another example of how politics is something that is just done to us rather than a process in which we participate. Just like the smoking ban and much else.

This is ultimately the piss off factor where the moralisers and fanatics can impose their will on ordinary people, bringing about yet more petty rules, fines and taxes, usually inviting harassment by bailiffs and vehicle clamping - so it become another one of those things where we simply obey for the sake of an easy life. Eventually it sucks the life and vitality out of everything. In respect of that Boris Johnson does tap into an electoral instinct when he talks about petty rules from Brussels even if he gets the details wildly wrong, often weakening the case.

The problem, however, is that Brexit brings little remedy to any of this in that what what done to the UK in terms of changing the culture of governance is not so easily undone, and with many of these "EU targets" being the product of international climate conventions that we will be signatories to in our own right, the petty jobsworth haven we have created over the last four decades will be one of the main legacies of EU membership that wouldn't be erased even if we do leave without a deal, and definitely not if we leave with a deal.

To that extent, Brexit is only a partial diagnosis for what ails this nation. Leaving the EU is a worthwhile starter for ten if we want to be anything even approaching a democracy, but as we have seen in recent weeks with all the "Climate Emergency" histrionics, the mindset of the technocrat authoritarian is here to stay until we have major structural reforms in our politics that go beyond the mere method of voting.

To a large extent, winning the 2016 referendum was not enough. This is something we recognised in Flexcit, which incorporated the Harrogate Agenda. The administrative exercise of leaving the EU is only the beginning and we have a long fight to take back control of the country. It was never solely a matter of taking back control from Brussels, rather it's about taking back control from the spreadsheet sociopaths who have so successfully exploited EU membership to sideline meaningful public participation in politics. To win that battle we have to make people realise that the empty charade we have now is nothing even approaching democracy and that we are so far from democracy that we've forgotten what it even looks like. What was done to us took decades and will take decades more to undo.

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