Friday, 1 June 2018

The Brexit I forget.

This blog primarily looks at the process of leaving the EU. Trade, borders, regulation - the boring stuff. I think, though, that I have covered Brexit from every angle, from the core concepts through to the more metaphysical. Were any future historian to look at this blog, I like to think they would gain some insight from it.

What they are certain to detect is a certain oscillation. Throughout there has been a battle between head and heart. My head says stay in the single market. My heart says let the whole thing burn. I've said plenty about the single market to the point where I can really say no more. But then there's that other Brexit that a big part of me is quietly wishing for. The Brexit I forget when I get caught up in the technical debate.

A wonderfully sardonic tweet today summarised my feelings. "The real issues with London are the lack of gender neutral toilets, the 'offensive' ad posters of scantily clad women, and the fact that cyclists are too 'white' 'male' and 'middle aged' - thank god we have Sadiq Khan to help us battle through and prioritise these problems".

It's not an original point to make to say that our political class indulge in virtue signalling nor is it especially original to say they are holding a progressive facade while neglecting the basics. We have an epidemic of grooming gangs and now it seems not a day goes by without a knife murder or acid attack. That's what the public are talking about while our politicians would rather indulge in politically correct navel gazing. 

Though much of the scorn is directed at Sadiq Khan, an especially loathsome creature, I see him as a proxy for our entire political class and a figurehead of the "progressive" establishment. This is an establishment that doesn't want to have a blunt dialogue with the public. This is an establishment which wants to keep a lid on problems that the public are not minded to be patient about. Too much is wrong to keep pretending everything is ok. 

This brings me to a loose quote from radio presenter James O'Brien. It''s the one thing he is right about. You cannot expect people to stand up for a capitalist society if the people themselves cannot acquire capital. Increasingly we have frozen people out, trapped them in high rents with insecure futures - with a political class on another planet and a media not far behind. Too much has been brushed under the carpet for too long and the cracks are showing. A big part of me wants to see a crash Brexit because we need to sort this out once and for all. 

What one notices in politics, though, is that every issue of importance is a proxy for the culture war. And it is a war. Even Brexit itself is incidental to that - where many Brexiters don't care about the outcome just so long as the progressive remainers lose. I have some sympathy with that given the behaviour of Grayling and Bearder - along with Adonis, Major, Clegg and Blair et al.

What I'm talking about here is nothing at all new. I could well have written the above in the exact same terms a decade ago. Elections sure as hell made no difference in all this time so we can hardly be surprised by an anti-establishment vote in 2016. Now we see how the establishment has declared open war on the result. 

For quite a long time now I have argued that Brexit is not an economic proposition and Brexit is as much a social issue as it is anything else. I do not think that bumper trade deals exist and I do not think being free of the EU presents bountiful opportunities in global trade. I say this as the closest the leave side has to an expert in trade (except for the Boss) - unless you know different.

I think Brexit at best is survivable and have argued for strategies that can help us - but they involve remaining in the single market and spending on international development aid. I'm on my own on that one. This is because Brexit has taken on a life of its own and anything the remainers want, leavers do not want by default. This is the tribalism that has taken hold over both sides as blogger Sam Hooper details here

Hooper argues that tribalism is the obstacle to a favourable and amicable outcome - and he is right, but as it happens nobody is interested in an amicable outcome. In a culture war it's winner takes all and it is a total war - a war of attrition. 

Unsurprisingly immigration is the fault line here. Again, in some respects, Brexit is a proxy for immigration. There are downsides to immigration which our dishonest establishment cannot bring themselves to admit. That moral cowardice and obstinacy is what brings us to Brexit, not xenophobia. 

People are asking why the rape gangs are Pakistani Muslims and why the stabbings in London are perpetrated primarily by blacks. They ask why the Grenfell compensation fraudster are all black. All of this requires an honest debate that we aren't going to have. What we are going to get in place of honest debate is dissembling and equivocation. Fertile grounds for culture war. 

Remainers might well ask what of all this is solved by leaving the EU. I would say not a lot. But then if we have a status quo Brexit where we can contain the economic disruption, or if we remain in the EU then the government can smooth over the cracks and carry on as normal. Again we would kick the can down the road. I do not see that as sustainable. 

The point for me is that there is not much appeal in fighting to maintain the status quo. Remainers tell us we are robbing the youth of their futures but their futures are uncertain anyway. They won't get on the housing ladder, their savings will have poor returns, their jobs will be uncertain and freedom to move around the continent won't be much use. Something has to give. 

So my dilemma is one that remains unresolved. On the one hand we have a Brexit where we can intelligently manage the consequences and maintain the political order, or we can have a Brexit that demolishes political order but also the economic. Both to me, for my own reasons, are equally appealing. It's why I would vote to leave every single time. 

In the end though, I'm kidding myself if I think for a moment that whatever I decide has any influence on the outcome. We have already set the wheels in motion. Either the soufflĂ© will rise or it won't. All I know is that the UK stands at a crossroads. 

We could see a united Ireland, we could see a major recession, and we could see sever civil strife. But all of the effects of Brexit are the consequence of using EU membership as a substitute for resolving political differences. We put politics into hibernation and now we've let the genie out of Pandora's box (to mix a metaphor).

We can already see the working class is on the march again. For all the the continuity remain campaign is well funded with full time operatives in Millbank, their feeble demonstrations on College Green cannot compare to the Football Lads Alliance marches or the protests to free Tommy Robinson. Something unpredictable is unfolding. 

Meanwhile politics is taking on a bizarrely solipsistic quality where wonks and politician churn over Brexit proposals which have already been rejected by Brussels - and the remain campaign is indulging in fantasies of a second referendum when we have already crossed the event horizon. Opposing sides to chose their own disparate fantasies, to which the public are invited to subscribe - irrespective of their relationship with things happening in the real world.

It seems to me that the facadism upheld by politics stemming back to 1997 is crumbling and the so-called liberal democracy is in the wane. I detect a social conservatism reasserting itself while economically we are drifting toward protectionism and socialism. The irony being that Donald Trump's "Buy American, Hire American" executive order would be replicated by a Corbyn government.

What we are looking at is a renewal process. We have to relearn the lessons of the past while correcting what we got wrong. Thatcher's reforms may have modernised the economy but at the same time we are lumbered with vulture capitalism and PPP's sucking the life out of the NHS. The Tory party is a a miserable choice between sell-your-own-granny capitalists or a low toner photocopy of the New Labour authoritarians. Nothing I could vote for.

We are told that Brexiters are fantasists, and to a point that is true. The Tory right have ridiculous and dangerous fantasies about trade and what Brexit can achieve. Brexit is no Singaporean miracle and the free trade they pursue does not exist in the modern world. But when it comes to laughable fantasies, there is no more ridiculous fantasy than the notion that we can overturn Brexit and everything goes back to normal. We have started something here and it is beyond you or I to see which way this goes. 

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