Friday, 10 May 2019

Village idiots

Gavin Esler, former BBC journo, is in hot water with leavers for saying "TV news must stop giving airtime to the 'village idiots' of Brexit - the dubious right wing supposed "think tanks" and pseudo-experts among ERG MPs who simply haven't a clue what the implications of Brexit truly are".

He remarks “Brexit is not only not just about left and right. Brexit is about expertise. You cannot and should not have someone who really knows what they are talking about balanced by someone who is essentially the village idiot".

I can't actually see anything controversial in what he says. All too often the case for Brexit is defended by the likes of Chloe Westley and Kate Andrews, both court prostitutes from the Tufton Street end of the bubble who have minimal knowledge of the issues. They occupy TV slots not because of their actual expertise but because of their brand prestige, low cost and high availability.

Any time I happen to catch a political television clip on Twitter, the Brexit advocate will always be a twentysomething telegenic know-nothing reciting scripture, offering up empty slogans in place of credible answers. It's either that or the bluster and bluff of John Redwood and Mark Francois. These people make me embarrassed to be a leaver.

But then if the media really did strike out those inside the Westminster bubble on account of their total ignorance we would be looking at a lot of dead airtime. After all, Remain has its own share of village idiots, not least Femi Oluwole, and as it happens, Esler himself has a minimal grasp of the issues - yet is afforded ample airtime on account of his public profile.

The problem now is that the entire Brexit debate has become a propaganda war where the actual outcomes are less important than ensuring the other side loses. Take Anna Soubry, for example. She wants to put the issue back to the people. We could do that but any referendum would likely end up splitting the leave vote, creating an inherent advantage for remain.

Soubry has no problem with this. She thinks it would be a walk in the park for remain and she might very well be right. But then what does that solve? Such a vote would always be seen a connivance (rightly) and would be a shot in the arm for a new UK populist movement. It would make more sense to constructively engage to ensure a viable Brexit outcome. But these are people who insist there is no such thing thus are not prepared to engage in the process.

I'm of the view that May's deal, though suboptimal, is just the withdrawal agreement. What follows is the real business of establishing the future relationship which will necessarily be the most comprehensive bilateral relationship in existence going well beyond an FTA, and over time could mature into something that balances the need for British political independence with our need for economic cooperation. Is that really so terrible?

When it comes down to it, neither side of the Brexit debate is interested in engaging with the issues. Labour has gone to painful lengths to avoid confronting the issues. They speak of a customs union as a proxy for the single market because they dare not take a coherent position on freedom of movement. Everything they do is electoral triangulation.

The central problem is denial on all sides. With the ink dry on a withdrawal agreement, if ratified, remainers know the game is up. The last thing they want to come to terms with. Similarly leavers don't want to ratify it because it means they also have some uncomfortable truths to swallow, chiefly that the fiction they have weaved from the beginning does not translate into reality. They instead retreat to the comfort zone of crying betrayal. At this point expertise becomes redundant since nobody is is willing to concentrate on the matter at hand.

But then Esler forgets that Brexit is not strictly a matter for experts. This is fundamentally a question of who governs us and where the the real power lies. The more power taken by Brussels, the less power citizens have over their own affairs locally and nationally. Sector experts might well be able to tell us what is in the best interests of business, but governance of a country must take into account the bigger questions.

Meanwhile, with a subject as complex as Brexit, very often the experts are just as likely to introduce critical errors into the debate and every bit as prone to their own personal biases. Being that many of them are dependent on the EU for their fame and prestige, they are the least trustworthy people to give us an honest appraisal of the alternatives. Many of the misapprehensions in respect of the Norway option came from supposed experts, which have on closer and fairer assessment have turned out to be less than honest. This is partly why we are where we are. This is what influenced May's red lines.

The faultline in British politics seems to be that we are run by the "village idiots". Anybody with any sense would have nothing to do with British politics. There are days when I wish I could tell my younger self to choose a different set of interests. I once assumed that acquiring a level of expertise would be an asset in political writing but with politics conducted through media as it exists now, expertise is an exclusionary factor.

Generally the media does not recognise expertise. It trades almost exclusively in prestige. So long as you have superficially impressive credentials or borrowed prestige by way of belonging to a high profile organisation, actual subject knowledge is neither here nor there. We're now at a state where they might as well drag people in off the street - and some networks pretty much do.

Supposing, though, that Esler got his way and that the "village idiots" were excluded from the debate, it would largely be a narrow band of remain functionaries talking among themselves, and while they can comfortably pick apart the risible "fwee twade" fantasies of the Tory right, they still cannot speak to the urgent questions of identity, democracy and sovereignty, which, while only partly addressed by Brexit, are central to the deep malaise in the country. These are issues that remainers routinely dismiss as trivial and archaic. Such supreme arrogance must be tempered by the voice of laymen even if they cannot speak to the intricacies of trade and economics.

Essentially Esler thinks his own brand of idiocy shoud have the monopoly over the debate. What he fails to recognise (or perhaps does) is that he's had it his way for the better part of forty years and this is all what happens when ordinary people don't have a voice and nobody to represent them. Successive governments, guided by our expert class have taken us deeper into the EU project knowing full well that if consent were sought it would not be given. Esler's brand of hubris is why we are here to begin with.

You'll get no argument from me that the Brexit debate is overrun by know-nothing gobshites, and the closer we get to D-day the worse it gets. Anyone treating the issues with the seriousness they deserve does not look to the noisemakers in the media. They are either looking elsewhere or tuning out entirely. The television debate is little more than displacement activity and airtime filler. The central issue remains the withdrawal agreement and whether or not MPs ratify it. The euro-elections are a noisy distraction.

Methinks, though, that Esler should be careful what he wishes for. Were one to eliminate the "village idiots" and move beyond the tedious talking points, we might actually get somewhere near an adult debate about Brexit, whereby he might find that his case for remaining is not the slam dunker he believes it to be. Remain should thank thier lucky stars that the "Brexidiots" are doing their work for them.

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