Friday, 27 September 2019

All hell let loose

This week there is a distinct change of mood on Twitter. The Brexiters are running with the "surrender bill" meme capitalising on the suspicion that it's a mechanism to derail Brexit, further massaging the people versus parliament narrative. It's working too. There's a lot of people who hoped it would get to this point and have been nudging it along because Brexit has long been a vehicle for the culture wars which have now overtaken the central issue of EU membership.

This has now turned toxic where the worse one side gets the worse the other side gets, feeding off each other. And main reason for that is it's good sport - much more interesting the ploughing through the incomprehensible details. All the while the media cashes in on it. Another reason is that it fills the long spaces between significant events along the way - which are very often too boring to distract from the everyday bickering that people seem to quite enjoy. I've indulged a little myself this week and as much as it's fun, it's a good deal more popular than dry observations about process. People use politics for their weekday entertainment.

That, though, is pretty much how it's been for years and it wouldn't be so bad were there not a looming cliff edge with grave consequences. But now we've all taken our eye off the ball, as indeed has the media. Brexiters wail that remainers are attempting to sabotage any deal but if that's true they may as well not bother. The UK doesn't have an alternate proposal to the backstop that meets the "legally operable" criteria and we are not going to see any credible "concrete proposals". Only decoys.

Worse still the narrative has been twisted to the point where any deal at all is somehow a betrayal of Brexit. One suspects part of the reason is that those behind the Brexit Party recognise that if there is a deal they need to keep a grievance alive lest they vanish as rapidly as Ukip did. They've built up a movement and they want to stay in business after the main event. I've long remarked that the ERG only care about Brexit insofar as it affords them an opportunity to impose their radical economic agenda. One could be forgiven for thinking that Brexit is also an accessory for the Brexit Party who have a long term populist agenda of their own.

Still, though, I do not expect a deal largely because we lack the wits to do anything else. When it does happen it will probably be a result of an accident of events where at every major test the political process and the media has failed. It could have been prevented and it didn't have to be like this but remainers behaved in such a way that stopped caring about the consequences of no deal. Quite understandably they take the line that no deal is better than no democracy.

We are now at a point where the SNP have hinted they would be open to a coalition with Labour to form a "unity" government. I don't think that would ever actually happen but the very suggestion of it, putting a hard left party in power with the intention of stopping Brexit (while trying hard not to be seen to be stopping Brexit), is so repulsive that even I prefer no deal as an outcome.

The problem here is that there are a number of possibilities and conflicting narratives that it's increasingly difficult to know who stands for what and what the government thinks it's doing. There are days where I lose sight of the big picture because the gulf between the Twitter debate and reality widens by the day - and if you're in the game you can't help but get swept along with it. If you want to know what is going on you're best staying away from Twitter and media in general.

All this noise, however, is extremely useful to the government not only because it's bolstering support for Johnson, it's also a distraction from what seems like a deliberate wrecking policy. The media believes there are negotiations in process and we're heading for the final showdown in Brussels. Even members of the government seem unaware of the deception in play.

What happens next is really anyone's guess and I have never known the situation so unreadable. All we can say for certain is that the longer this drags on the more toxic it's going to get. The only relief is the knowledge that if there is an extension it is sure to be the last. Soon parliament will make its move but I have it feeling it will be as cack handed as everything else they've tried, further feeding the (justifiable) perception that parliament is the "enemy of the people".

These simplistic narratives take hold largely because most people struggle to cope with all the different strands and they like clean binary narratives which is why, I suppose, that is what the media keeps serving up. There is more reward for doing so and plenty of material available to paint the picture. Parliament's confected outrage episodes and the finger wagging from the great and the good is doing nothing at all for the reputation of politics to the point where I start to wonder if there is anything salvageable at all.

I suppose part of the reason I've thrown caution to the wind and joined in with the mudslinging this week is because I don't see an outcome other than no deal, it can't be stopped, and since it's inevitable I might as well have a little fun at remain's expense. They are as guilty as anyone for bringing us to this point. It remains the case that no deal is a self-defeating mess that will cause untold damage but at this point I prefer that to remaining in this atmosphere where I wouldn't rule out a state of low intensity civil war.

If there's one certainty in all this it is that politics as we have known it is dead - and that's no bad thing. Adversarial politics is now alive and kicking and all the politics put into stasis by EU membership are being dragged back out into the light of day. We can now see what they're all made of and we're going to have it all out once and for all. Chaos, for the time being, is the new normal as we start the long process of rediscovering who we are and what we're about. That is a large part of what I voted for. After this toxic episode there is no going back.

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