Thursday, 28 November 2019

Damned either way.

This has got to be the first general election where I've gone out of my way to avoid knowing anything about it. I don’t want to hear about it. I don’t want to listen to politicians lying to me.

That is not to say there are no important issues to concern ourselves with. Rather our media can only cope with subjects on a superficial level, confining themselves to a handful of half-understood issues while feeding into a national media narrative that has very little bearing on the real world.

I don’t even think I will even be voting this time around. The latest detailed polling hits home how futile it is. Only a fraction of seats are expected to change hands and that will depend on the mood of just a few thousand swing voters.

The decider in this election will not be whether the nation prefers one manifesto over the other, rather everything will depend on whether those swing voters can be bothered to go out and vote on a rainy December day. With it now looking like a stonking Conservative majority win, there may be a great deal of complacency which could still deliver another hung parliament.

But between now and election day there is nothing much to take seriously. The Labour party is offering little more than populist political bribes while the Conservatives look likely to win only because of their unequivocal position on “getting Brexit done”.

This, though, is a tawdry fiction. They expect us to believe that within months we’ll have concluded a trade relationship with the EU and will be moving on to other pastures, with the focus shifting away from Brexit issues and back to the standard domestic fare.

This isn’t going to happen. The Conservative party believes that the system of government we’ve lived under for forty-five years can be replaced with a quick and easy “trade deal”. A slimmed down trade agreement may well be possible, but it’s not a sustainable solution for a major first world economy.

This much doesn’t seem to have registered with much of the media and the wider public. Modern trade treaties touch on everything from fishing through to intellectual property, labour standards, data protection and species protection. They include measures to facilitate trade in services such as mutual recognition of qualifications and work visas. There’s a reason why they take years to fully conclude. The Tories seem to think there's a shortcut that means we can put it all behind us.

Supposing we bought into the Conservative fiction that a quick free trade deal will do, the absence of a comprehensive trade relationship means the UK will be excluded from several lucrative markets – not least airline services. A recession then looks unavoidable. By then it will be glaringly apparent that we need more than just a "free trade deal".

Whether we spend the next five to seven years negotiating a comprehensive trade and cooperation treaty with the EU within the framework of the transition, or whether we cobble together a wafer thin deal on tariffs and customs, the ramifications are sure to be massive and a central concern of government for the next decade to come.

This much is obvious to anyone who’s looked at the issues with any seriousness and if we had a media worthy of the position it enjoys it would be screaming this from the rooftops. Whatever spending plans promised by politicians on all sides, they are simply not credible when factoring in the enormous ramifications of Brexit.

For all that pundits warn of the dangers of a borrow and spend Labour party, leaving the single market is going to have unpredictable and incalculable effects. Of itself that is a major worry, but of equal concern is the complete absence of a realistic mitigation strategy. The Conservative Party have invested their hopes in a deal with the USA but this comes nowhere close to addressing the gaping policy gap.

This is the central issue that's been shunted to the fringes, not least by the Labour party who would prefer not to talk about Brexit at all in order to avoid having a conversation about their own credibility deficit. The issue is an open goal for Labour to exploit but their intellectual lethargy matches that of the Tories.

This election should be a full and frank debate on the options before us, but instead, bored rigid by Brexit, neither the public nor the politicians are engaging, instead choosing to treat the election as light entertainment. A matter of pivotal national importance has been kicked into the long grass.

This leads me to conclude that our politics (and our media) is not actually capable of engaging on a grown-up level. They will coast into the next major crisis having failed to anticipate the ambushes awaiting us.

What we’re looking at here is a polity that failed to adapt to the new reality. Prior to Brexit, elections followed a familiar pattern without much to choose from between the respective parties, with policy announcements safely confined within parameters defined by Brussels with no real major undertakings on the horizon. It suited the kind of retail politics we are used to.

Now, though, we have a mammoth political engineering task ahead of us with politicians manifestly ill-prepared and ill-equipped. Instead of doing the groundwork to get up to speed, they've retreated to the comfort zone – talking about building more schools and hospitals and hiring more teachers and doctors. This ought to be challenged by the media but the media goes along with it because it’s easier for them too. They know the routine and it doesn't demand anything of them. They don't have to learn anything new. Which is just as well given their limited abilities.

It's no great secret that the toughest EU negotiations are yet to come but it seems that's a reality we are happy to ignore. We collectively buried our heads in the sand. This election became more about stopping Corbyn than defining our future as a nation - and in so doing we have left our fate entirely in the hands of ideologue know-nothings who have a date with the crash barrier of reality.

This should have been a far more engaging election but with so little to offer in terms of a viable alternative, it would seem that Brits have quietly accepted that we have to put up with the least worst option and deal with the worst as and when it arrives. If that depressing pragmatism is now the foundation of our democracy then we are in bigger trouble than I thought.

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