Sunday, 24 November 2019

A squandered revolution


Despite all the caveats I'm still a sucker for opinion polls. We seem to forget that Theresa May started with a commanding lead yet managed to deliver a hung parliament. This time, though, it seems like the genuine article. Boris Johnson is apparently steaming ahead.

This has remainers in a tailspin. Tweeter Chris Kendall tweets "I cannot account for this. I simply can’t make sense of it. The most incompetent, truly diabolically awful government in my lifetime and probably in British history. Why am I so far out of sync with voters? What is wrong with people?".

I don't know why this is difficult. This is a general election, not a referendum, and we are choosing a government albeit from some pretty dreadful options. Of those options any pragmatist has to conclude that the Tories, as dreadful as they are, are the best of a bad job. There's no getting away from the fact that Labour are degenerates. They're bad at the best of times and they only win when we really need to boot the Tories in the balls, but this time around even borked Tory Brexit looks preferable to a pack of intellectually subnormal deviants. Britain certainly does want change - but not that.

I fully accept that Boris Johnson is all the things they say he is. There can be few less deserving of power. Britain needs and deserves better but this is where we are. When Labour decided to put Corbyn in charge they created a hard left socialist party but one that actively despises ordinary working people and their values. They were told Corbyn was unelectable but they didn't listen.

The real mystery though, is not the size of Johnson's lead. What's truly unfathomable is why Labour are doing so well at 28%. One suspects it's the Brexit factor in that remainers are having to make a similarly depressing compromise. Though the Lib Dems are offering to revoke Article 50, the only way they get near a second referendum is if Labour calls the shots. In any other circumstances Labour would be circling the drain.

What's interesting is that back in the real world nobody is talking about the the leaders debates. In fact there's no chatter about the election either. A great many have simply tuned out. If you're doing a twice daily commute and a long day at work there simply isn't the energy to engage, especially in the sleepy wintry months. Every hour outside of work is precious and nobody sane would pollute it with politics.

There will, though, be a high price. This election has become a typical retail politics bidding war where the primary concern is fending off Corbyn when it should be a full and frank debate about the shape of of Brexit. Instead Brexit has been parked. The elephant in the room being that getting an Article 50 deal over the line is far from "getting Brexit done". There is a debate to be had about the future relationship where we should hearing competing visions but seemingly nobody is interested.

The Tory spin machine has it that Johnson can pull off a trade deal before the end of 2020, there will be no need to extend and those of us who say it can't be done are wrong because we said the withdrawal agreement couldn't be reopened. You can try to argue but there's no point. They repeat the narrative just to hold the line. They won't let reality intrude and they'll cross that bridge when they get to it. Our politics can only cope with one battle at a time. There is no value in being ahead of the game.

Of concern is the fact that the trade debate is still underdeveloped and it still hasn't sunk in that there are FTAs and then there are comprehensive trade and cooperation treaties. The notion that a first world advanced economy can operate without a comprehensive relationship with its similarly advanced continental partners is still one that occupies the minds of Brexiteers and nothing can shake them from it. They don't want to know.

It seems that everyone in this is going to much of what they deserve. The Corbynites are going to get a bucket of cold water thrown over them while the remainers will soon come to realise that they have slandered, smeared and insulted voters once too often. They'll see their hopes turn to ashes. But soon after we shall likely have a majority Tory government with nothing standing in their way, giving them a clear run at Brexit. With parliament no longer a barrier the main obstacle will now be a little thing called reality, and with no one else to blame, having painted themselves into a corner, they alone have to account for the consequences of their arrogance.

Whatever this "bare bones" trade agreement entails there are questions that need answering - such as what happens to our trade in services without a data adequacy agreement. Without a regulatory relationship how are we supposed to sell cars to the EU? Without a formal agreement with EASA how are we meant to sustain our aerospace industry? Without an EU approved fisheries plan how are we to sell fish to the EU? There are are three hundred areas of technical cooperation for which we have no credible answers.

Now I could raise these points on Twitter and creative Brexit activists will make some impressive excuses and dream up some plausible (but wrong) nostrums, and no doubt BrexitCentral will do their bit to shore up the flagging free trade narrative and that's fine just so long as all you need is for believers to keep on believing. That is part of their function. The problem being that when it comes to negotiations, simplistic mantras aren't going to cut it. That's when a man as facile as Johnson can't bluff it anymore.

There is now a view, though, that with a general election out of the way and no danger of fresh elections, Johnson will be more able to let the cat out of the bag that not only will there be an extension, there will be a further holding pattern framework agreed so the new relationship can be brought on stream as and when it's signed off. That does seem to be the EU way of doing things. The only way the UK gets anything like a comprehensive deal inside a year is to sign one already drafted by the EU with very little UK input. The ERG are not going to like it - assuming they keep their seats.

Whatever the case, we're not going to get any sense this side of the election - and to a point I suppose it doesn't matter. It would matter were there a credible alternative but since Labour are degenerate morons, and with no sign of the Lib Dems engaging, being too wrapped up in adolescent identity politics, the Tories are the only game in town. Consequently the debate only gets serious when the situation gets serious - and we are a long way off that for the time being. We still have to go through the tedious withdrawal agreement ratification process which could drag on a while longer.

But with that, gone is any hope of using Brexit as a catalyst for meaningful reform. The absence of a Brexit blueprint means we will play it by ear in reactive mode as each new (entirely predictable) stumbling block hoves into view. With the Brexit Party vanishing down the plughole and the Brexit deed done, there is no force in politics capable of leveraging meaningful change, while the Tories won't know what to do with Brexit when they've got it. The chances of any coherent politics emerging afterwards are nil, especially with a Labour civil war to come. We have years of perma-shambles to look forward to. 

For now politics is in its comfort zone talking about all the familiar themes and personalities, but this revolution will remain incomplete until something is done about the Westminster morass. It survived Brexit when it had no real right to and it has successfully fended off the interlopers. But it has done nothing at all to secure its place in our politics nor is it winning hearts and minds. 

The likes of Chris Kendall can't fathom the appeal of Johnson, but they've made the same mistake in 2016. We didn't vote for Vote Leave or Boris Johnson. We voted to reject the alternatives on offer. It's been a long time since we actually voted for something. Had a viable alternative presented itself the Tories would also be facing extinction.

In an alternate reality there is a Britain going through a similar process but with the insurgent Brexit party led by a man with a vision, surrounded by talent, with an intellectual foundation within a whisker of taking power. In this dimension that post is occupied by a shallow narcissist surrounded by half-witted yes men and sycophants who after twenty years still can't cobble together a credible proposal. Consequently it may take another twenty years to rebuild momentum. Whatever comes next will emerge from the Brexit wreckage left by the Tories. If there was a window for change, leavers have squandered it.  

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