Wednesday, 30 November 2016

We need to "take back control" - from Westminster

The more I talk to Brexiteers the more I risk becoming a Brexit agnostic. The inane insistence that "they sell more to us" is one among many nostrums that really does aggravate the bejesus out of me. But then I have to keep reminding myself that it only Brexit activists who grind this axe and in fact the majority of people are capable of a more nuanced and rational view. But then there's the Brexiteers MPs. The Brexit politicians are actually so bad one momentarily imagines abandoning the cause entirely. I then immediately remember that the EU is a faceless, remote, corrupt, democracy-dodging entity with imperial delusions.

Were it not for that, crossing the floor, so to speak, would be a no-brainer since the economic arguments for Brexit are thin, the "free trade" waffle doesn't stand up, and for someone who believes that less government is generally better I have just voted for a massive expansion of the civil service.

Brexiteers would say that at least they are accountable to us but in reality the civil service is no more accountable to us than the Commission is. It does its own thing and skillfully pulls the wool over the eyes of our quarter-wit MPs.

As it happens, in the short to medium term there are few, if any advantages to leaving the EU. If I go back through this blog and examine some of the arguments for leaving, many of my arguments are hopes and aspirations rather than tangible consequences of leaving. But then it comes down to one principle - that independence is a virtue in itself.

As a young man there were no short to medium term advantages to moving out of my parents house. I had to pay my own bills, do my own administration, work for a living and do my own laundry on a regular basis. I still haven't mastered the latter - but the reason we go through that hassle is so that we can learn to stand on our own - so that we are not completely helpless in later life. It is that prism through which I see Brexit.

I am just old enough to remember a time when MPs weren't wall to wall drooling imbeciles, and though there is the distinct possibility that my memory is playing tricks on me, they can't have been as bad as they are now. I think that is consequence of having handed over so many functions of government to the EU. It has made us weak and incapable. It means that MPs have the mental space to ponder the nutritional content of MoD vending machines rather than the more pressing issues. This is why Brexit has thrown them so completely.

Having voted to leave the EU, we have dumped a massive chore on them that they are quite obviously under equipped to process and are floundering. That is no reason to call it off though. They may not yet have the understanding required of them but sooner or later if they don't shape up we will be kicking them out.

With any luck, at the end of this we will have entirely new departments fully dedicated to the execution of foreign and trade policy and we will, for the first time in a very long time, have domestic expertise. In this it is unreasonable to expect that we can seamlessly make our own way in the world from the get go. We can expect to have a few failures and a few false starts. In that regard, the bigger the mess they make the more it drives home the point that we had no business offshoring the real business of government in the first place.

I take the view that our membership of the EU has masked the growing incompetence within government and the infantilisation of politics. While the institutions of the EU have been silently administering the important functions in the background our own politics have been allowed to degenerate into the playground it is now. The consequence of that is that functions of government which are not as yet the remit of the EU have suffered as well, not least defence, where we have slashed the army to a skeleton crew and the Royal Navy has never looked more pitiful.

One thing that is often overlooked in any bureaucracy be it a private corporation or a government is institutional memory. Institutional memory is a collective set of facts, concepts, experiences and know-how held by a group of people. As it transcends the individual, it requires the ongoing transmission of these memories between members of this group. 

Once you dismantle a department or function of government you lose the most vital asset it has. You no longer retain the necessary experience and corrective influences that prevent basic and avoidable mistakes. This is, in theory, why we keep the House of Lords as an advisory chamber. Having completely eviscerated much of our capability with regard to foreign and trade policy it is little wonder that our Brexit efforts thus far are shambolic. 

That said, now that we are "taking back control" our officials are at least working in the direct national interest and notionally answerable to the government. As time goes on they will get better at it. That is the upside to Brexit. To complete the process, however, we need a major programme of domestic reform to ensure that we clear out our drongo MPs and make sure that our civil service is held to account and that we stop rewarding failure. 

On that matter, we've heard a lot about being dictated to by faceless bureaucrats but in reality we have made no real progress if we merely exchange Brussels for London. We know from the Brexit debacle that for all the intense intellectual effort in the public domain, little of it reaches the ears of the politicians who supposedly serve us. The bubble mechanics ensure there is a firewall around politicians to ensure their attention doesn't stray from controlling interests. 

We could tinker with the voting system as suggested by many, but exchanging one set of drongos for another doesn't really get us anywhere. I think it's time we admitted that parliament is a wholly obsolete outmoded system and there must now be a mechanism where the people can hold government to account directly, either as a community or as individuals. 

Succeeding in political change is only really likely so long as you have an attentive, intelligent and useful MP you can gain access to. When we live on an island of over sixty million people with only 650 MPs there is no possible way that people can ever really affect change. Only the self-selecting political class have a hope of influencing and they tend to be the dogmatists and ideologies.  

If we are to make government by the people, for the people, then we need to ask why so much of it needs to be in London, and why central government should even have a say given the diversity of peoples and landscapes in the UK. Why should our politics be funnelled through just one MP and why does that MP have total autonomy over how they vote? 

I can never imagine a UK where we don't have a jeering circus on the green benches in Westminster but if we are to bring real democracy to our politics we should be looking to minimise the role of MPs and increase access for citizens. There will always be a need for representatives to handle the day to day business of holding Number 10 to account in the daily decisions that cannot be deferred or delayed, but we do not need these people to rule us or tell us how to live. 

So much as Brexit is going to be shambolic and nobody is really going to be satisfied with the outcome, I think it is the process that will really demonstrate why we need change and it will show that things cannot continue as they have. It should serve as both a warning and a wake up call. Thus far the message has not sunk in and we are not seeing the change we had hoped for but that will not happen over night. 

We have to build on the bombshell we have dropped and we must convert that momentum into something more lasting. A managerial Brexit that doesn't frighten the horses is no bad thing but we would be fools to let it rest there. If Brexit really was a vote for self rule then it requires that we take power away from Westminster as well as Brussels. 

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