Sunday, 15 December 2019

The battle for Britain is only just beginning.

When Tony Blair won his landslide in 1997 it was clear a new era was upon us. The long reign of the Tories had left them a shattered party. They were morally and politically spent. Like Labour now, they faced a long road to reconnect and rebuilt; a long process over four leaders before they became anything close to electable - and even then couldn't win an election in their own right.

Since then the Conservative party has done nothing to cement is position. They won in 2015 on the back of a promise to hold a referendum, and only scraped the right to govern in 2017. Fast forward to now and things still look precarious. There has been no intellectual renaissance in the Conservative party, no reinvention, and there is no sense of purpose beyond simply delivering a version of Brexit.

This is certainly not 1997. Johnson is no Blair. Blair had his own mandate built from the ground up, with a renewed party barely recognisable from what came before, with fresh energy with a sense of moral purpose. Not so this time. The Tory party is still the same soulless, rudderless husk elected on the back of a national revulsion at the prospect of a Corbyn government. 

Johnson, therefore, is a functionary PM; to get Brexit over the line and to stop Corbyn. He'll have served his primary and secondary purpose in a matter of weeks, after which there is no "Teflon Tony" honeymoon. We know what the man is and it was all priced in at the election. It won't take long for the wheels to start falling off. 

Johnson is a man whose temperament is simply not suited to long and detailed negotiation. He has neither the intellectual stamina or the attention span, and doesn't care enough about Brexit objectives just so long as the theatricals play well. The real work will be delegated to the Brexit and trade obsessives on the right of the party where the talent pool is more of a puddle.  

Their red lines and idiotic misconceptions will very rapidly bump into the EU's political and technical red lines and the problems thrown up by his dog's dinner of a withdrawal agreement. At that point Johnson is well out of his depth and we'll see all the usual pompous incompetent bravado that sees us ejected from a number of important EU markets while having nothing of a contingency plan to speak of. 

If by then the opposition can get their act together and appoint a leader who isn't a congenital cretin then they can hoover up votes as Johnson destroys his own majority. Right now Tories are drunk on their own success, but the gaping gulf of ignorance on technical matters of trade will soon expose them as the chancers and frauds they are. Everything up to now they could bluff their way through but now they're going up against hard nosed professionals in the EU Commission who have every intention of nailing Johnson's balls to the table. It won't be pretty.

But of course, it's too much to hope that the opposition will get their act together. There is a long and protracted war to reshape Labour and decontaminate it. They can expunge Corbyn's influence but it doesn't seem like there's anything salvageable glistening in the smouldering wreckage. We could be waiting beyond the next general election for there to be anything like a functioning opposition. For the interim the main political opposition to Johnson is likely to be the European Commission.

But then there's the question of which Johnson we're getting. Are we getting the Ukip courting populist or the "one nation liberal" (whatever that means). Either way, an unopposed Tory party is a most obnoxious thing, and will face public opposition from several quarters. This week the continuity remain campaign is shutting up shop, accepting finally that we are leaving the EU. But they are still a force in politics. We will now see a battle to shape Brexit with remain off the table.

The sad part is that the continuity remainers had a better chance of steering the process during May's tenuous regime. They had every chance of securing a softer Brexit. Now, though, they are outside the tent, with their main pieces swept off the board and lacking the numbers to make a dent in Johnson's plans. If they had just accepted the result in 2016 they would not now be out in the wilderness.

Ultimately the Tories will do the opposition's work for them. Their Achilles heel has always been their arrogance. You can't tell the Tories anything because they're certain they already know it all. Consequently they will walk into every ambush just as Theresa May did and we will all pay the price.

We have seen this week a more emollient tone from EU quarters, with its functionaries extending the hand of friendship in the hope of a closer relationship. I fear that hand will be slapped away as a boorish Tory party with a head full of defective "free trade" ideas will run rampant. It will then fall to whoever comes after to rebuild trade and cooperation with the EU, that could see a resurgent Labour party taking us into a customs union and regulatory union, and face little opposition in doing so having endured possibly two terms of witless free trade zealotry.

But then if a week is a long time in politics, five years is an eternity. Five years ago nobody saw any of this coming, and much is contingent on forces and events far outside of our control. With the election over and the nation getting back to business, relieved by a temporary political settlement, the real business of politics resumes free of the part-timers and out of the media spotlight. Now the real work begins. The battle for Britain is only just beginning.  

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