Sunday, 28 January 2018

Brexit: nothing to do with Brexit

Writing in the Independent, John Rentoul outlines why he thinks the Lib Dems are failing to make a splash. It's quite a good piece. Ultimately he describes a party with nothing of value to add pegging its hopes on occupying a pro-EU vacuum. If you're a flagging party with nowhere to go it seems like a smart move. Rentoul, however, sees the problem.
So why doesn’t the party’s clear opposition to Brexit translate into higher support? A large part of the answer is probably that few normal people care about Brexit to the exclusion of all else. For most voters, Brexit was something about which they were asked in 2016 and they are waiting for the Government to get on with it.
He really has got it in one. Brexit is rapidly becoming a fringe issue. I have noted in recent weeks how grassroots Remain campaigns have had to plug into NHS histrionics and travel further to the fringes of the left to stay in the public eye. The public's attention span on Brexit is utterly spent. It has bored all of us to death. 

One might have expected there would still be some life in it on the right but the latest spat between Hammond and Rees-Mogg is not about Brexit. Brexit is just the proxy issue and nobody is actually interested in the substance or the mechanics of the dispute. It's just factional bickering and an attempt to oust Philip Hammond clearing the way for a Rees-Mogg leadership bid.

As ever this dispute is happening tangentially to reality. The dispute between the aligners and divergers is largely redundant since the UK has already entered a politically binding agreement on alignment in respect of the Northern Ireland issue. The wheels are already in motion. That, though, will not stop the low grade civil war which will carry on burning away in its own parallel dimension irrespective of what happens in Brussels in the coming weeks. 

The consequence of this is that most of the media chatter about Brexit will in fact be very little to do with Brexit also. The internecine warfare will always be the main ring for the media as exasperated Brexitologists scream about the issues from the rooftops to no avail.

Depressing though that may be, it is in fact a reversion to the norm. As politics drifts further back into its comfort zone of trivia, the media (and subsequently the public) will fall into their default habit of being passive consumers of effluvia. Already the public debate has turned to other matters on the fringes of Labour's implosion. 

Thus, as the momentum from the referendum evaporates, euroscepticism too will revert to its dismal tribalism with the footsoldiers of Brexit blindly following Rees-Mogg as their substitute Farage who will undoubtedly damage the cause in much the same way; exploiting the devotion for personal gain. The revolutionary potential of Brexit will fade and we'll be parked in a political settlement that nobody wanted. 

Effectively British politics is so self-absorbed an insular that not even Brexit shakes it out of its stupor. Those of us who hoped it would reinvigorate politics are going to be further disappointed and Brexit could end up as merely a waypoint in Britain's pre-existing slow decline into irrelevance. 

We do not as yet know what form the final Brexit deal will take but it is now certain that with no political movement driving it, no clear destination and in the hands of a managerial Tory party, the establishment will likely turn Brexit toward its own ends to the applause of eurosceptics and the window for change will close. Handing the game to the enemy will be Farage's legacy. 

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