Friday, 7 December 2018

Brexit is bigger than all of us

I'm at the brink of giving up trying to make any sense of Brexit. It is fragmented every which way. Even my corner of the debate in pushing for the EEA has been hijacked by a set of carpetbaggers pushing for "NorwayPlus" which superficially is in my corner but like everything else it all turns on the detail and the EEA Efta option is a very different animal to whatever Boles/Kinnock are pushing, not least because their definition mutates seemingly by the day.

This is where I become increasingly frustrated because the distinctions are arcane but crucial and not communicable through the medium of tweets. This has been much of the problem from the beginning. These issues are complex and even when you understand it there is still more to learn.

Here it is quite easy to understand why leave has always been on the backfoot. As much as the arguments for leaving are complex and multifarious, so are all of the remedies. The Remain brigade can easily trot out all of the headline perks of EU membership but the philosophy of Brexit is harder to communicate, more so in a debate environment full of disinformation, and the benefits are far less tangible than the rights and advantages of EU membership.

In a lot of ways it's not surprising that Leave has had to compete on Remain's turf, resorting to cheap sloganeering. The philosophy of Brexit is not really something that fits on the side of a bus. What makes it even worse is that there are no leavers that I know of inside the bubble who really get it either. They mouth the usual platitudes about sovereignty but there's no real thought going on there.

Worse still we are dealing with an opposition that does not value democracy. They think they do but democracy is one of those things we all talk about but few have ever given any real thought to what it means. Most remainers I talk to point to the fact we have euro-elections and laws are voted on in the EU parliament and the presence of those voting rituals qualifies as democracy. There's the textbook version of how laws are made and then there's the real world where nothing is ever straightforward, often opaque and subject to corrupt lobbying influences.

The result of this fragmentation is two sides talking past each other while the wider public is bewildered and increasingly bored of it. There are days when even I don't want to know. With the public sharply divided and no political coherence, events will drift until a last minute decision has to be made - and we are still none the wiser as to what that will be.

Meanwhile, much of the detail has become irrelevant - or at least secondary to the politics, largely because leaving has now become a point of principle against a breathtakingly arrogant and contemptible remain establishment who will use any dirty trick I the book to ensure Brexit does not happen. On both sides attitudes are hardening where the consequences don't matter just so long as the other side loses. This is why we see a renewed effort from the legacy remain campaign to trash the EEA option. It would give both sides much of what they value but this is no longer about outcomes.

This is where I need a reality check. Though the EEA is the logically and intellectually sound avenue, I know I am in the minority and a hugely outspoken one. Nobody wants to be told that compromises are necessary and nobody wants to be told that things are more complex and involved than they appear. And that goes for both sides. The detail is entirely subordinate to the politics. And I suppose that's really how it should be. A voting public is entitled to reject expertise and vote on instincts.

This is the fundamental flashpoint in our politics where europhiles tend to believe votes should be advisory and subordinate to the verdict of experts they approve of. This is the condescension and authoritarianism of Remain and the EU in general. Being that I have played my part in making the case against them, I can't really complain when my own assessment is summarily rejected also.

In some ways this is healthy. In a technocracy the public are excluded from the decision making thus take no blame - thus evade responsibility for their choices. The prevailing attitude among remainers tends to be that because Brexit has bad consequences the public should have their verdict overturned. This is essentially to treat voters as children.

In the end if a Brexit is a bad call then it is a call that is owned by the public. The consequences are theirs to absorb and to battle through. If they have said that is a price they are willing to pay and a risk they are willing to take then it is not for anyone to second guess that. Not even parliament - especially when there are few MPs commanding anything like the same electoral mandate.

Relatively early on in this process, just after the referendum, some of the smarter ones in the commentariat realised that we're damned if we do and damned if we don't. Parliament could exert their authority  to stop Brexit but being that this is now a point of principle, doing so would set a dangerous precedent for democracy.

Here I think Douglas Murray is on the money when he asks "If Brexit is blocked, will it ever be worth voting again". That has been my view throughout. We probably won't see French style riots. Brits will simply conclude that the whole thing is a stitch up and the voting rituals we partake in are empty and meaningless. That sets a dark backdrop.

In the event of pulling the plug on Brexit, the remainers will be cock-a-hoop. Through one side of their mouth they will speak of reconciliation and addressing the "legitimate grievances" of the plebs (resulting in regional funding grants that will vanish into the coffers of development consultancies) and out the other side of their mouth they will gloat and rub our noses in it. They more or less control the media narrative and will spin the line that Brexit was high fantasy, undeliverable and the referendum was a mistake never to be repeated.

Here I cannot think of a better way to crush the hopes and aspirations of leave voters who will quietly seeth. But as a tweeter noted earlier, the British don't riot, they plot. And plot they will. Politically that spells trouble, but I see graver consequences in the meantime as a new anti-establishment movement builds.

I think it was yesterday The Sun alluded to the possibility of another Jo Cox style slaying - which predictably resulted in the faux outrage of MPs and polite society - chastising The Sun for saying what quite a lot of us are thinking. Many have waited decades to have a say and to be finally heard. The leave movement campaigned over decades through legitimate channels to win in a referendum that was as clean as clean can ever get in modern times, and if playing the game by legitimate means doesn't work then some on the fringes will obviously conclude that extreme measures are necessary.

In fact, the faux outrage that someone would even raise it as a concern tells you a lot about the censorious nature of the great and the good. This is amplified by Twitter where the remain mob increasingly mobilise to shut down voices they disapprove of. This is the creeping authoritarianism of the establishment where we will see the full force of the state brought to bear on private individuals for the sole purpose of shutting them up. Society cannot function in this way. With half the country deprived of a voice and browbeaten into silence, without a democratic safety valve, the rage will manifest elsewhere.

At this point we will see the state realising the dangers. MPs will be escorted by bodyguards and we will increasingly see armed police on the streets. This time the threat won't be jihadists. It will be lone wolf right wingers - and they will go for soft targets because there is a higher chance of success. That is why I suggested to certain lefty QCs that defying the 2016 vote might not end well for them.

It is far from hyperbole to say that this is a test of democracy itself. The establishment could overturn the vote and buy the status quo a temporary reprieve but the undertone would turn sour. If you thought the rhetoric of the referendum was ugly then you ain't seen nothing yet. They way certain individuals are having - not least Alistair Campbell et al, I wouldn't be remotely surprised to see one of their number cut down before their time - and more than a few wouldn't be sorry to watch it happen.

Remainers will say that this "implied threat" further underscores why the establishment should not cave in, but that's really not how the public will see it. A Sunderland fisherman doesn't buy that he was hypnotised by a bus or a Russian bot and all they will see is that they won the vote, London didn't like the result so decided to ignore it. That is what popular folklore will record. And they're not wrong are they?

The entire effort of the legacy remain campaign is with a view to not only reversing the 2016 vote, but to reassert their control over the narrative and once again bury dissent. In other words, a return to the status quo where they only ever pay lip service to the concerns of working class people.

This underscores how ensconced they are in their own self-righteous bubble. We only need to look to France and and recent troubles in Spain and elsewhere to see that there is something more fundamental going on than Brexit, and Brexit is a symptom rather than the cause. For the UK, Brexit may well be just enough to channel that anger, which makes it all the more important that we leave.

The hard truth of it is that the 2016 status quo has gone forever, and more to the point, it had been living on borrowed time for a while. Had there been no referendum, Ukip would still be growing as an anti-politics party. Conceivably it could have in the future formed part of a coalition that would have seen us leaving the EU anyway. Our departure was always a matter of when, not if.

With such high stakes it is not surprising that the average voter doesn't give a monkey's about customs controls and vehicle safety regulation. This is detail that can be sorted out after the fact. Whether or not we are in a better position once it's done is really neither here nor there. I am certain that if we do not have a smooth and planned departure than we are in for a rough old time of it, but at the same time, this may prove to be future proofing for that day when the EU does implode. It may not be soon, but there is a lingering stench of death about the EU recently.

I am of the view that economic turbulence is an certainty - and not just for the UK. The tides of global power are shifting but in Europe especially we are seeing a political reordering which transcends technocracy and for a time business is going to be a secondary concern to building a new political consensus in the continent. It is unlikely that we will see economic revival until we have a new political settlement.

In respect of that, it scarcely matters what mode of departure we choose. There's a huge shit sandwich in front of us and we all have to take a bite. In the worst case scenario, a crash and burn Brexit, it is going to have profound consequences for the economy, politics and society in general. The greater the shock the bigger the changes we are likely to see - and some in my estimation will be quite welcome. GDP may be limping along but our society has never felt sicker. What we know, though, is that politics will eventually find an even keel and the economy will adapt. It always does.

This, fundamentally, is what I think Brexit is really about. It's about killing off a long in the tooth political settlement that no longer works and is seeking sustaining the unsustainable to the detriment of everything else. We are at a point where a change of management through general elections is not capable of dislodging the establishment groupthinks. Brexit is the nuclear button.

Remainers know this full well which is why they are trying to stop Brexit by any means necessary. They know this marks the end of the liberal consensus era (or whatever you want to call it) and with that goes all their means of control and all of their taxpayer funded perks and sinecures. They tell us that they really will listen this time if only we stop Brexit, but this has become a matter of trust - and they have pushed their luck once too often.

In fact, the absence of compromise in the whole Brexit debate is ultimately the product of that lack of trust. As much as the political establishment has bounced us deeper into the EU without consultation or consent, there is a widely held suspicion that even Brexit is just going through the motions and we will once again be told our voices don't matter. With the legacy remain campaign using its position of power to sabotage Brexit, there is no basis on which to strike a mutually agreeable compromise. It is this contempt for democracy that has fed the Brexit hardliners.

Remainers tell us that we Brexiters don't care about the economy or the consequences of Brexit. Some don't but for many it is simply a matter of priorities. For those whom the economy does not serve well, the principle of self-rule and self-determination comes far above whether London commuters can get their fruit yoghurts all year round. Ultimately this stuff must take a back seat. It's time to stand up for principles. Attempts at compromise get nowhere.

Over the course of the last four years I've had an assortment of people trying to persuade me to moderate my tone, and there's the usual shtick that if only I was a little more temperate then more people would listen but Brexit has shown that grovelling sycophants haven't got anywhere either largely because our politicians and media are incapable of acknowledging anything outside the bubble until one of their gatekeepers allows it to exist. But then I am also reminded that what is happening is bigger than all of us. It's bigger than Brexit and it's bigger than Britain and it's bigger even than Europe. It shows us how pathetic our attempts to control things really are.

What is happening here is the dawn of a new age in modern history. The nations of Europe have lost their way and their peoples are lacking purpose. As much as our economies are stagnating, so are our cultures. Our technocracy and affluence has abolished cultural and economic revolution and it is stifling us politically and spiritually.

The human mind is not designed to be caged in this way. All of the West's cultural exports have been the product of technological and social revolutions and this is how we grow and evolve as a species. Every now and then we need to tear down and revinvent for the sake of our own vitality. That is party why democracy is so necessary so that we can do it without bloodshed.

The mounting problems we face cannot be solved by more of the same thinking. We cannot expect good ideas and especially not  radical ideas from an establishment which is profoundly risk averse and one which only thinks as far as the next general election. A party only ever has a short window to do necessary and unpopular things and even then, opposition ensures it never happens or is watered down to the point of uselessness. Eventually systems and policies become so sclerotic that only factory reset can reinvigorate them.

One thing Brexit has shown us is that much of the reason our politicians (and most of our civil service) have no idea how anything works is because our systems of administration are so old and have been on autopilot for so long that nobody even remembers why they are there. We have lost that institutional memory which is why there is now so much redundancy in our governance. I encounter this often in business where process and procedures are done for the sole reason that they have always done it that way and nobody has ever questioned it. Government is much the same. This is also true of our politics.

As much as nobody truly comprehends how the EU system works, our own archaic system of politics belongs to another age and has its own inherent legacy processes, few of which are still relevant and produce their own internal dynamics that lead to the groupthinks we find in the British establishment. This is ultimately the cause of the gulf between the governors and the governed. This has created the widening rift in our society as politics is viewed as venal, self-serving and corrupt. It is not an unjust assessment.

In the end, only something seismic can dislodge our routines and reinvigorate politics and government. Until we do that we are not going to remedy our economic and social stagnation and if that is really what we want then it follows that there will be a period of uncertainty and economic turbulence. Brexit really comes down to whether the people think it worth the hassle. With a long campaign of finger wagging and condescension by the establishment, the public concluded that it is.

This, though, is why they have spent so much energy fannying around, attempting to demoralise the public. That is the consent they seek. They are satisfied with browbeaten resignation as the basis for their continued rule and to a point it appears to be working. But to undo what has been done they would need another referendum where we would have a repeat performance from the same troupe of miscreants and still we would conclude they are worse than the Brexiteers whose popularity is only a means to an end.

This is why I am ultimately sanguine about any outcome now. We can debate the timescales but I know a few things are indisputable. We will leave the EU, this regime will collapse and the democratic reckoning will happen one way or another. It cannot be stopped. The debate as to what mode of Brexit we have is really just haggling over the price. I'd prefer we didn't pay more than we have to, but in the end I think it urgent and necessary, so whatever the price may be, I will learn to live with it.

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