Sunday, 8 December 2019

British politics has become an ideas desert

This week the nightmare is over. After months of uncertainty and delay, the A14 Huntingdon bypass is finally going to open. The roadworks over the last few months have forced me to listen to more Radio 4 than any normal person could tolerate  - which is bad at at the best of times but excruciatingly awful during an election. They seem to think that sending a sound van out to Warrington to get vox pops from the regionals constitutes getting out of their bubble, but wherever they go, they seem to take it with them.

Happily though, the election is also coming to a conclusion. An election I couldn't have been less interested in. I shall be glad to see the back of it. Normally everything goes on pause to do politics during an election whereas this time real politics seems to have gone on hold to indulge in the standard fare that goes with any election, ie blether about austerity and the NHS. Yawn-a-rama.

That is not to say that such issues are not important, but I don't have the energy in the day to engage with the sort of deranged histrionics we see on Twitter. We have NHS privatisation scares at every election and if it was going to work for Labour then it would have done by now.

What's been missing, as complains, is a comprehensive debate about the next phase of Brexit, but the bottom line is we're all sick of it. There's nothing much new to be said and nothing that is likely to change anyone's mind about anything. This election you do have a choice. You can either vote Tory to ensure we leave the EU or vote Labour for months more fannying around, presumably followed by a wearisome kangarendum and years more wailing. Other issues will not come into play until the election is over. 

It is not a happy choice though. We have to choose between the antiquated socialist dogma of Corbyn or the incompetent zealotry of the Tories so whoever gets in, we're looking at turbulent times and no sign of good governance any time soon. It might actually be better if we have another hung parliament to clip the wings of the Tories, ensuring they don't have a free run at whatever it is they are planning on doing.

This prompts fellow leavers to ask if I actually want to leave or not. The simple answer is yes, I do want to leave, and if I really was forced to pick a side I would have to vote Tory, but seeing as though I live in one of the safest Tory seats in the land I don't have to give my consent to this mob who have certainly done me no favours over the last five years.

Then, this week, we saw a minor Brexit civil war break out on Twitter between the Tories and the Brexit party (the one thing eurosceptics do well) yet I found myself with no dog in the fight. So often do I utter the words "beneath contempt" but seldom is that actually true. I seem to find the time and energy to hold a great many in the deepest contempt, but when it comes to the Brexit Party, braindead drongos that they are, I simply don't care what they do. The public were smart enough to vote leave so they are smart enough not to vote Farage where it matters. I'm not going to lose any sleep over it.

But my indifference to the Brexit Party does not put me in the Tory camp. If Johnson wins the election, the withdrawal agreement will make it through and then there's a whole new battle over what comes next - at which point I cease to be a leaver (as indeed we all do) in that we will have formally left the treaties of the EU. From that point I have virtually nothing in common with the leave blob.

The last three years have seen leaver attitudes harden where Brexiters compete to hold the most macho Brexit position possible, and though they didn't get their no deal Brexit in the last round, they're still going push for a minimalistic future relationship that in no way is going to be adequate for cooperation between the EU and the UK. Again parliament will have to rise to the occasion and assert whatever authority is has. After the technical Brexit day, Brexit is not owned by those who voted for it. This is a shared endeavour.

In that, I have no time for the free trade delusions of the Tory right any more than I buy into the threadbare "lexit" prospectus. Any action the UK takes domestically or externally does not happen in a vacuum and other nations will craft their own responses. Unilateralism has its penalties. We may reclaim our sovereignty but we have to have a sensible idea of what we intend to do with it and a destination in mind. 

This is where there is no functional difference between the Tories and the Brexit party. They've been chasing the Brexit holy grail for so long that they'll have no idea what to do with it when they get it. Leaving the EU for the most part has become an end in itself rather than a necessary step on a road to something better. Consequently post-Brexit politics will be yet another ideas free vacuum, where we'll see the Brexit blob grasping at any and all misapprehension and folly to give Brexit a purpose, be it banning live exports or propping up failing industries - half of which was probably never prohibited by the EU.

It has been suggested by remainers that if I'm so convince Brexit will be a damp squib then surely it's best to abandon ship and maybe try again some time in the future. But it is what it is. If we remain, the powers that be will make damn sure we never get another shot at it, and there is no reason to believe there is a point in the future where politicians are any more capable than they are now. We let our institutional knowledge of statecraft trickle away and the only way to rebuild it is by doing, albeit terribly. It's going to be a huge shit sandwich and we are all expected to take a bite.

As it happens, it looks like Johnson's Tories will probably win, primarily due to the intellectual and moral collapse of the left, shored up only by a desperate bid by remainers to blunten Johnson's majority. The respective tribes wail about Johnson's absent moral compass while the Tories beat the drum over Labour antisemitism. It's all pointless. It's all priced in and a great many who do bother to vote will be holding their nose while they do it.

What comes next is entirely contingent on what happens at the margins in just a handful of seats, which could still defy all the polls, but more detailed analysis still shows a comfortable win for Johnson. From that day the whole equation changes, where old alliances are broken and new ones begin to shape the final outcome. 

At that point there agenda is there for the taking for anyone with a remotely tangible prospectus. The week after next begins a new space race to define the next decade - which is a wholly welcome development, but it seems for a time we'll be crawling through and ideas desert as politics degrades further still. Maybe that's what it takes, but if there are sunlit uplands I shall likely not see them in my lifetime.   

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