Monday, 6 January 2020

Johnson will go unopposed while the left keeps promoting their imaginary version of Britain

I follow the fortunes of the Labour party only insofar as I think it dangerous to have a majority Tory government without effective opposition. By now everyone has their own take as to why the Labour party imploded last year and, to an extent, just about everyone has got them bang to rights. Were it not for the Brexit Party, Labour would very possibly be facing extinction - and very well still might. They need a leader acceptable to both the membership and the wider public which seems an impossible ask of anyone.

Part of the reason Labour failed started not with Jeremy Corbyn, but with Ed Milliband. Corbyn was just a continuation of a theme. Labour activists set about retailing the Daily Mirror vision of what modern Britain looks like - ie record homelessness, unprecedented child poverty and rampant inequality - all as a result of Tory cuts, all motivated by a hatred of the poor. A cartoonish depiction of Tories as cruel greedy fatcats sucking the marrow of the poor and disabled.

As childish as that is, Labour could never quite understand why ordinary people would vote Tory. Rather than examining their own inadequacy they assumed it was because voters are manipulated by red top tabloids, despite the tabloids no longer having anything like the influence and reach they once did. There are teenagers making slime videos in their bedrooms with greater reach than newspaper editorials.

The truth, though, is that Labour's diagnosis was simply not credible. Homelessness and child poverty are complex issues for which there are no easy answers. Moreover the statistics are highly politicised and manipulated and the more lurid the reading of them, the less credible they became. The vision Labour was retailing just didn't marry up with the lived experience of voters. Ultimately if you're in the persuasion game then you don't set about it by taking voters for fools, but that's exactly what they did. And they're still at it.

This is especially true in the Brexit debate where they are now retailing the narrative that Britain has had a lurch to the right having fallen for Boris Johnson's populist narratives and they're behaving as though the UK is going the way of Orban's Hungary, citing bogus hate crime statistics. Not only do they want us to believe it, they need people to believe it and will go to just about any lengths to ensure that people do.

As to who is actually buying it, it will no doubt be credulous hacks from the international press, from the Washington Post to the Times of India whose UK correspondents spend considerably more time in fashionable Mayfair clubs and Oxford university shindigs than Rotherham high street on a wet wednesday. Consequently the only version of Britain they will hear of is one filtered through Brexit derangement. We have a liberal intelligentsia now actively promoting a bogus narrative of Britain abroad.

Then, of course, when such narratives are dutifully regurgitated in The Times of India they can say "Look how the world sees Britain now" despite India being one of the most corrupt, racist, unequal, polluted slums on the planet. Not only do British progressive hate Britain, they hate themselves.

That is not to say, there isn't cause for alarm. It's just that while the left is engaged in full blown histrionics, nobody is going to buy it. The truth is somewhat more nuanced. We don't exactly know the shape of this government yet. In some respects it won't be much of a departure from norm, and though Johnson will make populist noises, the same pedestrian managerial ideas will still be central to governance of the UK. We'll see robust rhetoric on immigration and Brexit, and a bit of red meat on civil service reform, but the Tory party is still the same rudderless husk it was during the leadership contest.

Here we should note that Boris Johnson was the slam dunk leadership contender because there was no obvious alternative. That was the case immediately following the referendum where Theresa May was the best they could do as a compromise candidate while the big beasts were ripping chunks out of each other. But now that we have Boris Johnson, we can only speculate on the type of government we actually have.

Outwardly the Tories are retailing the notion that Johnson is going to get Brexit done and once it's put to bed we'll see a raft of far reaching reforms and major investment. The question is whether they believe their own bullshit. On the face of it Johnson is aiming for a bare bones "fast track" FTA that gives us little beyond that which the EU would grant unilaterally to third world countries. If that's where they're going with this then this government will soon be mired in the fallout of a Brexit only marginally better than no deal and big spending plans will have to be shelved.

So either the Tories know exactly what they're doing and are feeding the public a crock or they genuinely don't anticipate serious blowback from Brexit. I don't know which is more dangerous. If it's the former then Johnson is just a figurehead while policy execution is in the hands of the free trade radicals with no oversight to speak of, and if it's the latter then we're dealing with a extraordinary naivety and incompetence.

In either case there is an open goal for an effective opposition, but while the opposition is retailing the narrative that Johnson is looking to sell the NHS to Trump, wind back workers rights to the Victorian era and substantially lower food standards, they end up spinning another inaccurate and unbelievable yarn that simply doesn't tie up with the lived experience of voters.

What makes this all the more infuriating is that Johnson is a profoundly unserious man who doesn't do detail. He can easily be taken apart and shown to be a fly by night who doesn't have a grasp of the issues, but while the opposition is catastrophising and peddling their own ridiculous mythology, Johnson can continue to marshal tribal culture war ridicule in their direction.

What the country needs right now is mature and forensic opposition while Johnson makes an oaf of himself. That, though, is sadly not going to happen. Keir Smarmer is the closest Labour has to serious in any leadership contest, but having taken a resolutely remain line in the last three years, having voted down any compromise option, he can't then complain about Johnson's ultra Brexit approach when Starmer was one of those who put Johnson where he is. As regards to the other contenders they might as well stick with Corbyn. They're just not serious.

My feeling is that the whole country is just waiting for the shit to hit the fan. Nothing can be said or done to dissuade the Tories from their current approach and true believers will not start asking questions until the headlines start rolling in. We're in a second phoney war and we won't see the gathering of any coherent opposition until the Brexit noose tightens. It's certainly not going to come from the Lib Dems in the interim. For as long as the left is in a full blown sulk, blaming just about anyone but themselves for their shellacking at the polls, they will allow this administration to act without opposition.

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