Thursday, 26 October 2017

Brexit: breaking the social deadlock

There are two Brexits. There is the culture war Brexit and the technocratic Brexit. There is very little overlap. The former has no knowledge of the technical issues and prefers to ignore them. Brexit is just a stick with which to beat their opponents with. Consequently, as the culture war is so heavily polarised, they favour the hardest Brexit possible. These tend to be the robotic Tory tribalists who tweet Guido Fawkes blogs.

Their adversaries are the pompous celebrities, hard leftists and the Guardian brat pack. Owen Jones et al. These are the politically correct ghouls engaged in witch hunts against not only right wing figures but also political rivals in their own camp. The whole damn thing is a sordid cesspit. But this is what currently passes for political discourse.

On the whole, if I had to pick a side it would still be the right, ghastly as they are. As footsoldiers in the culture war they only really understand the classic divides and when it comes to that I will always be on the opposite side to Jeremy Corbyn and the antisemitic cult that is Momentum.

The problem, however, is that this kind of skirmishing does the right no favours at all. The left have successfully dragged them down to their level. They can scream from the rooftops that Corbyn is a socialist and a pretty foul one at that but it won't matter. Similarly anyone with any political nous can tell that Corbyn is a political lightweight and unencumbered by knowledge of any kind. It's not even going to matter that the modern left are depraved. There is plenty to vote against, but the tories are similarly unattractive.

As you know I am no great fan of Jacob Rees-Mogg and I worry when the anti-abortionist Catholics are on the march. Similarly the free market theologians are just as dangerous as the Momentum crowd. I am very much a advocate of competitive markets and the private sector, but I am also primarily interested in good governance, maintaining the balance of interests. This doesn't factor into current right wing thinking. The only measure of a policy for them is how much the far left hates it. It may be a useful weathervane but that is not a basis for government.

By my reckoning, once this lot deliver a pig's ear of a Brexit, and with a party remodelled to the designs of Matthew Elliott, the public will roll out the red carpet for Corbyn. And to be honest, I don't blame them. It's coming anyway so we might as well get it done and dusted.

This, though, will not be a mandate. Rather it will be the stay at homes who decide the next election. I will be one of them. I will never vote red, but I can't vote Tory and the Lib Dems are an utterly ineffectual mess of virtue signaling opportunists. I will have to endure whatever democracy coughs up. One way or another, by voting to leave the EU we have provoked a political reckoning and the next few years are not going to be pretty.

But then I am not complaining. This is what I voted for, in part at least. I did not expect that Brexit would be this badly mishandled. I had expected that certain realities would present themselves which would dictate the course of events. What I did not anticipate is how detatched from reality Wesminster has become. I have always known about the disconnect and the remoteness of the establishment but since the referendum it has become even more impervious to outside stimulus.

I suspect the reason for this is that even a glimmer of reality is disruptive to their narrative and so they have circled the wagons. Meanwhile an easily distracted and woefully under informed parliament flounders, unable to bring any coherence to the process or usefully apply influence. The whole of Westminster has become self-absorbed and insular to the point where only something like a no deal crash and burn Brexit will bring them into focus.

Even then I expect them to fight like rats in a sack. The government will be forced to step down and perhaps the ultras will be pushed out of the way, or perhaps the hard right will gain control. I can't say. What I can say is that the public will be furious and they will have no patience for the Tories. The following election will return a verdict of "anyone but them".

Ultimately we are at the the very fag end of the post-war political settlement. I rather suspect the EU has been the life support machine and now we are unplugging it, we are having the long deferred democratic correction. There is a long and arduous process to go through, including a failed Corbyn government in order to weed out the garbage. Effectively we will have to rebuild politics from the ground up. 

Before we can do that we need to have this out. This corrosive culture war must play out. In this, the economy is a distant secondary concern. Too much has stagnated for too long and the political impasse is gradually corroding the social fabric.

I saw one such example of this dynamic today. A new NHS-funded scheme had planned to pay a private Airbnb-style company to cut costs of accommodating hospital patients. Through "CareRooms", the NHS would have paid home owners up to £1000 per month to host patients. The aim is to reduce the number of patients remaining in hospital, or other care settings, for the duration of their recovery.

Now I think this is a cracking idea. After all we use foster homes to get kids out of institutions. It provides a decent supplementary income while cutting costs to the NHS, and if the inspectorate is any good, chances are the recovery environment will be far better than some grubby council home staffed by unskilled illegal immigrants sharing the same bogus work permit.

The idea would need some refinement and could only be used in certain cases, but there is a good chance it would see a better surgery survival rate as private homes are not breeding grounds for MRSA etc.

There is another reason why I love this idea. There is a pensioner loneliness epidemic - and there are plenty of retirees with spare rooms who could usefully offer their services. Just because you are retired doesn't mean you are decrepit. The extra income would be valued, it is communitarian in nature, and in some way goes toward restoring the voluntary ethos that New Labour destroyed.

So why isn't it going ahead? Well, you guessed it the NHS socialist cult whined about it. And what was their imaginative solution? Yep. Piss more money way on the NHS. That's always their answer. Anything that isn't the monolithic mega state employing their own is a threat to their powerbase.

This dynamic goes for free schools, playgroups, hospitals and the rest. Everything has to be stamped, sanctioned, numbered and approved by the state and social entrepreneurship is stamped out under the guise of health and safety.

At the heart of it is a deep mistrust of people. Childminders have to be state registered. It's all professionalised now where working mums have to fork out minimum wage. The informal, community based support networks have been replaced by the state. This didn't exist before Tony Blair. Gradually we have been conditioned not to trust the community and instead delegate to the state.

The consequence of this is ever more creeping control and surveillance of the public. It dictates where and how we can interact, it now polices thought, and controls what we eat, drink and smoke. We are managed like cattle. Admittedly things are better since the days New Labour and the financial crisis. Austerity has significantly reduced the state's ability to interfere.

I have always been of the view that government should need the money it gets - and not get the money it "needs". If you want to have anything like a functioning community then the public must be allowed to be involved and encouraged to do so. That though is not how big government thinks.

I would ask why are we farming out park maintenance to large contract firms when they could be maintained by community groups and schools? Why can't volunteer groups work with the Environment Agency to build natural dams to slow flood water? Why are the public not involved in managing their surroundings?

I think this is what Cameron tried to sell with his Big Society vision. I was totally on board for that. Getting the public re-engaged and active is no bad thing. As I keep pointing out the biggest killer of men my age is either heart attacks or suicide. And what are men my age doing?? Sitting indoors playing computer games with the curtains drawn while many of the mums are single and children grow up without dads.

And then I also note some other corrosive habits we have picked up. When the local school near my parents house finishes for the day, the road is choked by cars occupied by waiting parents. They turn up twenty minutes early just to get a parking space. Could they not have walked? They used to. I hear plenty of this selfish behaviour. Doctors being bullied until they prescribe antibiotics or antidepressants, and nurses assaulted in A&E.

And then sometimes I listen into my colleagues whenever I work an office contract. I don't take very kindly to hearing some obese slobbish woman in a full time professional job phoning to complain to the school that she has to pay for a school uniform (after announcing to the office she's just been to Barbados). And then a teacher friend of mine tells me she has parents dropping their children off in pyjamas expecting the teachers to dress and feed their offspring.

Now I know this is anecdotal stuff and I'm starting to sound like Victor Meldrew, but as a people we really are the most selfish, overindulged and petulant bunch. Our society is morally, socially and physically unhealthy because our every whim is fulfilled which in turn stops us thinking long term. It makes us feckless and frivolous. This is why the UK has the worst savings rate in Europe. We expect to be catered for.

Brexit is going to drive a horse and cart through that. Every branch of government is going to have to reappraise what it can be expected to do and Brits are going to have to get used to being told no. No more dumping granny on the council, no more universal freebies, and yes, if you miss a hospital appointment you will be expected to pay. Maybe you won't get to run two cars, and maybe you'll have to walk to pick up your offspring from school - and maybe even talk to other parents. 

Humans are a surprising species. It is interesting how we rapidly adapt. Left to their own devices they will eventually organise for themselves. Humans do not waste away without a monolithic state to wipe their backsides for them. We saw in the wake of the recent Manchester atrocity how people utilised social media to offer a bed for the night, and how taxi drivers took people home for free. It is at these times we see people at their best. So much as the left whine about food banks they are a manifestation of public decency that we should celebrate. This would happen more were we to roll back the state. 

Being in the EU may well have made us wealthier but I do not think it has made us better people. When I look at the entrepreneurship, gumption and self-reliance of the Polish immigrants in the UK I see all of the qualities that have been eroded in British culture. Their very presence is an indication that we have delegated hard work to immigrants and now the natives are the ones "left behind". I see a culture that has had it too good for too long.

As a society we are not used to having to make the sacrifices many immigrants do to get ahead. We are too used to our creature comforts. We are wedded to convenience and we expect to be catered for at the expense of the state. It is hard to see how a culture in such decline can remain globally competitive.

It is interesting that my remarks the other week triggered such widespread outrage – even attracting the ire of The Guardian. People are very attached their entitlements and the good things in life. But what if the good things aren’t good things? What if family, community, self-reliance and personal growth are better? I rather expect that it is – and I wouldn’t mind giving it a try.

British politics become little more than a procession of grievances where people try to shift their own burdens on to others in the name of “compassion” and “fairness”. As a wealthy nation we caved into this to become a nation of victims and deserving cases. Governance has become a horse trading act between competing interests for electoral advantage. If bringing this to an abrupt halt is the one thing Brexit does achieve then, for me, it cannot come soon enough.

All the economists are telling us that leaving the EU is a mistake. The more I learn about trade the weaker the economic case for Brexit is - and it was never that good to begin with. But then I have been aware of that since before the referendum. Perhaps in the longer term Brexit will produce new habits that deliver different results, and we may restore our trade, but I wasn't thinking of the national GDP when I cast my vote.

For me Brexit is about kicking off a social and cultural revolution. A revolution that rocks the public out of their political slumber so that they come together and demand better. After a decade of political turmoil we'll start to work it out. 

Ultimately the status quo was incapable of delivering radical economic and social reform. Good ideas are killed stone dead by the social orthodoxy. The reactionary knee-jerk reaction to social innovations that do not involve the state make any kind of progress impossible. Consequently public service groan under pressure while placing unsustainable obligations on the next generation. All the while the status quo prices the young out of the market for pretty much everything.

Reaminers tell me there were other ways to go about it but it was never going to happen. The politicians are shallow and gutless and afraid to treat the public like adults. The only way to break the deadlock is for a seismic shock like Brexit. The people as much as our politics needs a kick in the complacency. 

I expect that the coming years will see a number of political rows over how we reorganise society. Unions will have to get back to doing what they did. Rights and entitlements will have to be fought for and won rather than imposed by the EU. We will decide and broker our own rights. We will become political again and in so doing we will transform ourselves from docile herd to a human community. 

It might not pan out they way I hope but this is at least an opportunity to build a country that we can all live in and one more at peace with itself. I am routinely told that Brexit has divided the country and broken our politics. I do not subscribe to this view. As a political animal I have been acutely aware that this country has been divided for some time and Westminster has been its own insular bubble for all of my adult life. Now we have an opportunity to correct that. However much I may regret the circumstances of Brexit, I would have regretted passing up this chance alot more. 

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