Monday, 28 March 2016

Post-democracy politics

In my most humble opinion, this referendum really has shown up Tories for what they are: Duplicitous, unprincipled, gutless liars. It has also revealed Ukip as a dustbin for haters. That completes my UK political education in that I have always known Labour were a bunch of incompetent, squandering crooks and Lib Dems are are entirely without a core. 

In light of this, I am entirely without a choice at the ballot box. Worse still, if we end up staying in the EU, electing MPs will matter less than it ever has. It will be safe to say that democracy in any real sense is dead.

I don't think I'm alone in thinking this and I have seen plenty of former Ukip voters, burned by Ukip's incompetence, simply giving up on party politics altogether. For those who believe in genuine democracy, localism, good governance, accountability, low taxes and civil liberties, there is nothing left to do but watch and weep.

That has some pondering what lies in store for a post-referendum Ukip. Matthew Goodwin has it that Ukip may well rebrand as new party hoping to emulate the SNP success.
As one of Britain’s most senior Euroskeptics told me: “UKIP needs to rebrand itself and change after the referendum. There is a huge opportunity coming. You could have that SNP effect where you lose the battle but win the war. I am keen to look at how we can reposition UKIP to take full advantage of that.”
This isn't going to happen. The SNP has three distinct qualities. A coherent philosophy, well rooted local branches and ruthless discipline. Ukip cannot replicate that.

At the heart of Ukip there is little more than a generic whinge. It is the manifestation of a sentiment with no intellectual core. All it knows it what it doesn't want. While it notionally has branches, most are dysfunctional, lacking organisational skills with no real back up from the central operation. Without an army to command and no well defined mission there is no hope of of them mobilising in a disciplined way.

In my experience of Ukippers, they tend to be universally nasty online, breathtakingly ignorant and wholly immune to reason. Most decent, switched on people have now peeled away from Ukip and written it off. Farage has destroyed it beyond redemption. The raw material simply isn't there. Goodwin thinks it is:  
Some point to the sheer quantity of data that Brexiteers will hold after the referendum — detailed information on hundreds of thousands of voters who have either registered their support for Euroskeptic platforms or voted for UKIP during a succession of national election campaigns. Leave.EU, an organization with close ties to UKIP, now has 600,000 fans on Facebook, more than the Conservative Party, Labour, Liberal Democrats and UKIP. It is also revealing that they are now employing the same social media analytical teams that are scraping data for Ted Cruz and others in the United States.
There is a problem here straight away in that Leave.EU is being very liberal in what it calls registered support. Their "fans" on Facebook are one click likes, largely purchased, and no meaningful affiliations can be divined from this dataset.

The generic scattergun approach of Leave.EU, having got progressively worse over time means that even their real support will have tanked. People hide them from their Facebook timeliness without unliking.

Meanwhile we don't know for a fact that Leave.EU is using advanced data-scraping. Rumour has it that no contract was ever signed with Goddard Gunster - and they have simply lied about their activities. That has a real ring of truth in that Arron Banks is a man for promising all things to all people and then getting distracted by the next fad. There is no evidence that Leave.EU is using any data driven conclusions. Andy Wigmore says they do, but Andy Wigmore is a pathological liar.

In any case, a party tailored to appeal to a subset will never expand beyond the confines of that which it was designed for. The only logical way to win by that methodology is to design a party to fit the largest identifiable cohort - and there is no guarantee people would vote for it even if you can reach them. Chances are, it would look nothing at all like Ukip.

And this really underscores the inherent flaw in contemporary Western politics in general; the warped idea that if you tailor a message to reach a particular audience that you can count on their vote - as though people were not living, breathing, thinking entities with moral agency. No movement can ever succeed unless it has an idea of what it wants and how to get it - and then goes out and sells it. You don't bend to the message, you set out your stall and persuade.

It is movements that gather momentum. Protest is one thing but turning a protest into political momentum is a wholly different skillset. A concept that escapes Ukip entirely. And Goodwin for that matter. The answers are not to be found by poking around in the numbers.

It is an energetic sense of purpose that inspires people. And that can only happen if you have purpose. A real agenda for change. Then there is the inherent suspicion and cynicism of Brits to get around. We dislike popular movements and we don't trust them. Most likely in the cultural psyche after watching the rise of Nazi Germany. There is a steep hill to climb for any revolutionary movement and Ukip doesn't have what it takes. It knows it wants out of the EU, but has largely forgotten why.

Goodwin has it that "There is also no doubt that Britain’s current political climate would be receptive to a broader movement anchored in cultural conservatism, even if the country votes to remain in the EU. Beneath the specific referendum question lies deeper currents that have been eroding loyalty to the main parties. Over the past 50 years the proportion of voters who feel only weakly attached or not attached at all to Labour and the Conservatives has surged from one in five to more than one in two. Britain has become less welcoming to the old parties and more open to new ones."

This is very much an establishment narrative, of which Goodwin is one of the authors. Again he reads the runes wrong. He sees this as fertile ground for a new party - and because such ground exists that one necessarily will appear and will succeed. The general election has taught him nothing. As ever he has failed to look up from his spreadsheets and take a serious look at what is there for all to see.

Ukip is already undergoing a serious internal feud. There is no guarantee that Farage will let go. I find it wise never to underestimate his egotism. We cannot take it for granted that he will resign and he does have a cult following that can take much of the intellectual property (stop laughing at the back) with him. Only one faction can win, and since they are are all losers, whatever comes out the other side will be as repellent a Ukip if not more so.

The civil war will largely shine a torch on just how intellectually debased Ukip is and without the anchor of Farage they will fight like rats in a sack, unable to produce a single presentable replacement. It could be that Suzanne Evans and Douglas Carswell pull off a coup but they are not popular among the Faragistas. The way I see it is that Farage and his worshippers are the poison in Ukip, but if they succeed in cleansing Ukip of the poison, there isn't actually very much left. At best they are left starting from scratch.

In this, the public will conclude that it is a party of losers, tainted by electoral failure at every test. That cultural conservatism Goodwin speaks of will look elsewhere. It will go three ways. There will be a leadership contest within the Tories resulting in either a Boris Johnson party or someone anodyne figure from the right of the party. Many kippers will drift back. Others will back Corbyn. Though most won't forgive and will simply bow out.

They will count themselves among the voiceless disaffected and go into a dormant state waiting for the next glimmer of a credible insurrection. They will be waiting thirty years at least. What we are likely to see is a reversion to norm, not least with the EU issue being buried. The public will be sick of it and won't wish to entertain further debate.

Goodwin says "it could be only a matter of time until the secretive plans to build a new populist army translate into a far more impressive breakthrough". Given that he said Ukip had at least four seats "in the bag" I'm now using Goodwin as my wrong-o-meter. If Goodwin thinks we will see a surge from the remnants of Ukip then he has failed utterly to examine the constituent parts, doesn't understand the nature of political movements and cannot see past the numbers. He has no instinct for British politics and a false reading of Ukip's abilities.

Should the UK vote to remain in the EU we will see a period of unsettled politics but having resolved nothing by having a referendum, the clock will reset back to zero and we go through the whole cycle again. If there is a place for Ukip it will be a sanitised replacement for the BNP to fill that space in the political void. It can expect no political earthquakes.

What remains to be seen is whether what is left of Ukip can maintain its presence in the European parliament. We are to some extent in uncharted waters. I expect we will see even lower turnouts. Ukip MEPs were elected on the basis that there was political momentum and hope of leaving the EU. In June, that hope likely dies for a generation. We might see more independents elected but on the whole I see an overall decrease in political engagement.

While on the surface it would appear that the question has been settled, seeing a reversion to tribal norms, the era of mass party membership will be well and truly over, and though it may seem like business as usual, I can imagine the ever more venal and disconnected political elites becoming even more deeply despised. If Boris Johnson, after a long career of lying, fraud and bullying can become Prime Minister, then the corrosion is complete.

I then see politics becoming more toxic not least as it becomes increasingly apparent just how much Westminster has neutered itself. After a ten year debate on immigration, nothing will be solved and the numbers coming in will travel upward. The effects will not be masked by economic prosperity as per 2007.

And though public sentiment to politicians will be more hostile, it will be business as usual for the establishment and the media - who will play their shrivelled little games - and Matthew Goodwin will pen yet more drivel for the Times despite being proved wrong time after time, republishing more or less the same article each and every time.

We will then see more forelock tugging from various think tanks who have focus groups about "democratic reform" hoping to bridge the gap, proposing yet more tinkering with the house of lords, people's panels, random selection, open primaries, proportional representation and the likes. All missing the point that voting rituals and democratic street furniture does not equate with actual democracy.

They will tinker but they won't solve anything. They will scrabble around for answers but nothing will be solved until they understand what democracy is and why we need it.

Ultimately the entire establishment needs uprooting and shaking up. Every corner of UK governance needs a gale of fresh air blowing down the corridors. There needs to be a rocket up the backside of of creaking Whitehall departments and we need a total rethink of parliament and the function of MPs. Only Brexit will do that.

Only Brexit will remove the thorn from the paw and only Brexit will answer that long time question... why does everything in British politics suck so much? Only then will politics start to be responsive and only then will people be moved to apply themselves to politics. They will not engage if the levers of power are not attached to anything.

Until we have that catalyst event that says we are changing direction we will be caught in this corrosive death spiral of politics - and the more the establishment fights to prevent that happening, the more despised it will be. If that change doesn't happen, I expect we will know an unpleasant Britain where few politicians dare venture out at night unescorted. Should they come to harm, I expect few will shed a tear.

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