Thursday, 18 July 2019

Boris Johnson is almost a reason to remain. Almost.


I think one of the most pathetic arguments for remaining in the EU was that we would end up with Boris Johnson as prime minister. Don't get me wrong, I do not relish the prospect. I didn't think it would happen and I thought we'd probably seen the last of him when Theresa May took over the premiership. But here we are. It still does not stand as a reason to remain though. This is a process we have to go through in order to find our way back to a political equilibrium.

Presently Twitter is alight with debunkers now looking into smoked kipper regulations, looking to nail Boris Johnson on his latest flatulence. There's no point though. They are wasting their time. Nothing Boris Johnson says needs to be true. He's not trying to convince the public of anything. This is purely about flattering the ignorance of the Tory grassroots. He will say anything in pursuit of his personal ambitions. The man is barely a Brexiter, so if he can adopt a leave position as easily as he could adopt a remain position, it should be easy enough for him to waffle about virtually anything else.

This is the very essence of modern populism. Knowingly dispensing with the facts to manipulate the gullible in pursuit of agendas they do not speak publicly about. In this instance Boris Johnson is just the useful idiot. The man whose ambitions provide cover for the ERG no deal agenda which is primarily about unilateral trade liberalisation and deregulation. The classic free market scriptures. Over the last decades it is largely EU membership that has kept this agenda at bay. The single market and customs union stand in the way of a Tory government implementing any of it. 

This is where Brexit become a matter of personal preference. Either you prefer the dead hand of technocracy that keeps a particular approach locked in and out of the hands of national parliaments, or you think these ideas must be debated and contested. Democrats think the latter. As much as the EU keeps Tory ideas at bay, it does much the same for left wing ideas too.

Here you could be forgiven for thinking we are better off being ruled by Brussels. On the one hand we have the likes of Iain Duncan Smith, John Redwood, Rees-Mogg and Mark Francois and on the other we have Diane Abbott, Angela Rayner, Jeremy Corbyn and Rebecca Wrong-Daily. Who in their right minds would want to turn over the governance of this great nation to these imbeciles?  

This is where you have to ask how we ended up with the worst crop of MPs in living memory with nothing even approaching leadership to be found anywhere among them. It's a wonder anything works at all. 

But as it happens these people are barely in charge of anything. Agriculture is run by Whitehall, education is run by quangos and the state bureaucracy quite successfully neutralises political input from Westminster. As for anything of greater importance, that much is all in the hands of Brussels. Westminster implements what it is instructed to implement. It doesn't require any thinking or strategising from politics. We no longer do serious political analysis of problems in this country let alone see it translated into policy. Statecraft is a dead art. 

Of course we cannot blame the EU in entirety. Much else has happened that has degraded our politics, not least the way in which we engage with politics through the internet - and other reasons we have explored before. Political apathy also plays a part. You can only really get people to engage if their votes have meaning. the EU, for instance, was never really at the forefront of public concerns, but when offered a meaningful say in the atter, voters turned out in droves.

Over the years the chief complaint about politics is that it didn't really matter who you voted for because the result was always the same. Politicians make promises but never deliver, say they will do one thing and do another, and when it comes down to it, will do whatever they please in defiance of public opinion and moral norms in the country.

This is why Brexit, of itself, does not solve very much. We have a long road ahead to repair our politics and to find a way to restore vitality to our decision making processes. Removing the EU is part of the solution, but to go the whole way we need major constitutional reforms.

Here we have to ask why so many would prefer the dead hand of Brussels to democracy. The answer being that no matter how bad the EU might be, it can't be much worse than what we  would do to ourselves unaided. Remainers see the EU as a necessary constraint on our "democracy". But then that's only really because we the people have no real means of constraining government. We have general elections where we can elect our dictators for the next five years but beyond that our involvement is minimal and our votes to a large extent are meaningless.

Right now we have an executive that can largely bypass parliament and operate in secret, and as I understand it, does not need parliamentary approval to do all manner of things in respect of trade. Should we leave the EU without a deal, there are few means available to curb the excesses of the executive and none at all available to the public.

For the UK to be a meaningful democracy, the constraints to executive power cannot be an overseas technocracy. The ultimate authority must rest with the people themselves otherwise, by definition, you do not have a democracy. This is essentially why we arrived at the six demands of the Harrogate Agenda.

First of all we need to constitutionally recognise that the people are sovereign. It must be a declaration to the effect of "We, the Sovereign Citizens of the United Kingdom do hereby redeem and declare our Sovereignty. We assert our right, jointly and severally, to the ownership of the United Kingdom, and to the unfettered control thereof. As a sovereign people, owing no allegiance or duty to any other government or state beyond these shores, we are not bound by any statutes or laws other than those, which we ourselves approve".

From there, we need our own written constitution defining the parameters of state power but more importantly, placing the emphasis on public consent by way of direct democracy. The idiocy of Westminster certainly does need constraints but if that constraint comes in the form of a foreign supreme government over which we (the people) have zero power to direct, then democracy dies completely.

The Brexit process itself is evidence that our political institutions are unfit for purpose. By now we should have seen parliament able to exert itself to direct the government but time after time we have seen its impotence. Even now it finds there is little it can do to prevent a disastrous no deal Brexit. For all the difference it has made, parliament might as well have gone into a three year recess. the future of the country is now to be decided by a handful of Daily Telegraph readers. Hardly an improvement.

After Brexit there is much to be decided. It won't take very long for the Tory free trade ideas to fall flat on their face so it will then fall to the rest of us to decide what our actual international strategy is, and where our interests lie. There is also a debate as to how we reshape our political institutions and respond to the challenges of being a self-governing state. This cannot be entrusted to a political system only marginally evolved beyond the feudalism it was built on.

The idea that post-Brexit we would have an unrestrained Tory or Labour government is as horrifying to me, a brexiter, as any remainer. But to tie up our future further into an apparatus such as the EU not only makes us spectators to what is done to us, we are barely aware of what is happening or why - or who is even responsible. This latest bickering over smoked kippers is instructive being that it takes some digging to know precisely where the rules came from - with each side denying responsibility.

But this debate is bigger than mere smoked kippers. This is a fundamentally a question of who governs us. As much as the EU already goes far beyond trade governance, the direction of travel is always the same. Power flows in one direction only and it always wants more. More power over taxation, more power over social issues and more power over foreign and defence affairs. And the more power it has, the less power you have.

The EU the economic equivalent of "the science is settled". The embedded model of "ever closer union" and economic and social integration is baked into the treaties and no euro election is ever going to change that. The EU may be a workable system of constraints for now, but part of the reason politics is presently so volatile is that real politics has been in deep stasis the whole time we have been members. There's a lot to sort out and a lot that has simply been buried. 

To that extent, Boris Johnson is really just a symptom of the unhappy predicament we find ourselves in. This is blowback for thirty years of public disenfranchisement. Happily though, this does not mark the end of the process. Certainly if we leave the EU without a deal, Johnson is by no means assured a general election victory, and even if he wins, he'll have only one term in which to act - assuming there isn't yet another vote of no confidence. No government can withstand the torrent of bad press that goes with a no deal Brexit, especially over the longer term as the full effects become known.

After this episode, it is we who will have to pick up the pieces, and perhaps, with the Tory right utterly discredited, we can progress and set about shooting down the next set of bad ideas. I have always taken the view that Brexit will come at great cost and that as much as leaving the EU is a process, so too is repairing our democracy - where there will be much trial and error (mostly error) until we have a new political settlement. Only then can Britain prosper. Prosperity is not just a matter of trade deals and alliances. Prosperity comes with political stability - and we are not going to get to that point until we have this out.

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