Tuesday, January 08, 2019

Fail

If Brexit goes ahead, in any form, it will enact a profound misreading of the nature of the contemporary political and economic world and represent an unprecedented failure of British statecraft.
This is from Chris Grey's latest assessment of British policy from his blog. It is a fine summary of the bizarre way Britain is abandoning all it's strategic and economic interests in favour of the unknown. Calculation has been replaced by wishful thinking.

This is the clearest brief description of the economics of Brexit that I have read:
It is not necessary to make or accept economic forecasts, only to understand basic institutional realities, to see that detaching a country from its regional bloc and then seeking to re-attach it on unknown, but by definition worse, terms to that same bloc, in an unknown time frame, is going to have adverse consequences for businesses and trade, and hence for employment and tax revenues. 
This is something no sane government would suggest, let alone attempt, especially one under no compulsion to do so. This is entirely voluntary and completely unnecessary. There are no benefits. The best that can be hoped for is damage limitation from the ruinous expense of leaving. This thread has gathered together more than one hundred and forty verified examples of disinvestment, costs to businesses, job losses, and extra government spending all because of Brexit. These are not predictions, they have happened. Billions have been spent - not on the health service or to fix the housing crisis, but on preparations for a no deal that may (I hope) be a bluff - such as ferry services without ferries, running from ports that can't handle them (on both sides of the Channel), with fake traffic jams as an added extra. This will continue. Unless and until Brexit is resolved everything stands in abeyance. It is no use wittering on about how we should be talking about bread-and-butter issues, because the remedies for our many complaints are wholly dependent on Brexit and the damage it will do.

It is indeed an "unprecedented failure." And it is an institutional failure on many levels.

First, it's a failure of representative democracy.

Rather than being 'the biggest democratic exercise ever,' the referendum was the biggest betrayal of representative democracy ever, and one carried out by its elected representatives.

What on earth were MPs doing when they voted for a referendum on a complex, specialist issue that was so manifestly unsuitable for decision by referendum? What were they thinking when they elevated the obsession of a small minority of fringe politicians and wealthy ideologues into a major existential question? How could hobbyists, who revelled in their intense anger over things that were not a problem and about which few others cared, be allowed to wreck the country? I suppose MPs justified themselves by legislating for it to be an advisory referendum only, but then they treated it as binding.

If that madness wasn't enough, MPs voted (on three-line-whips from both opposition and government) to give the absolute right to the government to submit article 50 notification to leave with no safeguards and without even a hint of a plan as to what we would want as a post-EU settlement. And guess what, there is still no agreement.

MPs have abandoned their responsibility and are only now, at the very last minute, wondering whether they should take some back to rescue the nation from this unholy mess.

(This is on top of the Party leadership questions showing us the folly of allowing policy to be controlled by self-selected and unaccountable party members, rather than those who have been elected by the voters at large.)

Second, it shows the failure of our attempts at the devolution of power to constituent nations in a centralised polity. What was the point of Scotland and Northern Ireland voting decisively to remain if they could be overruled by English votes and be removed from the EU regardless? And that's without mentioning Gibraltar. Brexit shows just how centralised our political system is, and how devolution has not remedied it. The devolved administrations are powerless to shape the most significant policy since the War.

Third, it was a failure of electoral systems and electoral law. The franchise was denied to some of the most deeply affected people and the law was broken with impunity, possibly with decisive effect, and with no redress for the laughable reason that the referendum was constitutionally advisory. To authorise this fundamental constitutional change on a majority of 50%+1 of the vote, regardless of turnout, was another piece of astonishing negligence.

Finally, it was a colossal failure of political communication. It didn't help that most of the electorate and many politicians, including the senior cabinet ministers, had little or no understanding of what the EU is, what it does, and how integrated we are within the single market. The result has been a debate dominated by fictions, fantasies, wishful thinking, and delusional generalities. People who actually knew something about the complications, costs, and problems were countered with fairy stories from the ideologically committed. The press had long prepared the ground with blatantly dishonest reporting. Social media became a cesspit of misinformation targeted at people through dubiously acquired data. Political parties have been more concerned with electoral strategy (Labour has also been disingenuous and delusional in offering its alternatives) rather than principle.

It's a mess. Though there is one way out.

Edwin Hayward added this tweet to his comprehensive list that I linked to earlier:


A functioning democracy would do just that. It would explain precisely why it is necessary. It wouldn't privilege the decision making method over the quality of that decision. Having done that, MPs and their parties would be answerable to the electorate at the ballot box. That is why we elect representatives. At last there are signs of life. The success of Yvette Cooper's amendment designed to obstruct a no-deal exit shows that MPs are beginning to realise what their job is.

I would love to be wrong, but I still don't think it will happen the way Hayward suggests. At best we could be plunged into another referendum. But, when this whole episode is over, it will be time to brush off our self-congratulatory complacency about our democracy, address the failings, and actually decide what sort of democracy we want to be. God forbid that we turn to plebiscitary populism, instead I hope that we reaffirm our nation as a representative democracy, preferably one augmented through enhanced participation and a commitment to local and national devolution of power.

Tuesday, January 01, 2019

A new year

I don't make New Year resolutions. I never keep them and these days I would probably forget about them. Instead, in the spirit of such failure, I want to make some wishes for what I would like to see in 2019, none of which will come true.

1. An end to the delusion of British greatness.

Both Remainers and Brexiters cling to this. Brexiters think that we can be a global power once again, Remainers that we should "remain and reform" - take the leading role in changing the EU from within. Well, if this was a job interview for the post of EU Lead Reformer, then the way Brexit has been handled would mean we wouldn't make the short list. Remain and reform ourselves after this shambles would make much more sense. As for the global power nonsense, I though we got over that one after Suez in 1957. Brexiters forget that before we entered the EU, we were known as "the sick man of Europe." If we leave, we will become like a broken down drunk sitting in the corner of a seedy pub telling all the people trying to avoid him that he used to be an empire.

How about a bit of humility and realism. Being a partner in a successful international enterprise is not vassalage, it is not oppression, it's what a successful and prosperous modern nation looks like.

2. The abandonment of the word 'weaponise."

This is a Corbynista favourite. Anti-Semitism is being weaponised to get at Corbyn. The latest version is that the campaign for a "People's Vote" on the Brexit deal is another weapon invented to attack their hero. It's an old ploy, an accusation of bad faith. It's also a classic logical fallacy and a diversionary tactic. Actually, people attack anti-Semitism because it's poisonous and growing. They support a second referendum because they oppose Brexit. It has bugger all to do with Corbyn. But when his supporters suggest that it is being weaponised, they are saying that it can be, and that therefore there must be some truth in the accusation that he is an anti-Semitic Brexiter. I don't think that they have spotted that bit.

Can we just recognise and deal with the real issues please?

3. People stopping rabbiting on about the "will of the people" and misusing the term "democracy."

So many examples, but here's one drawn from my own prejudices. It's the tiresome Brexiter line about how 17.4 million people voted for Brexit as if the 29.1 million who didn't don't count (16,141,242 voted Remain and 12,949,258 didn't vote as opposed to the 17,410,742 who voted Leave) let alone the 4-5 million people who were most affected by the decision but were not allowed to vote (UK citizens overseas and non-UK EU citizens legally resident in the country). On top of that there is the tiresome insistence that opposing Brexit and trying to stop it is failing to respect democracy. I'm sorry, but democracy gives you the right to oppose policies, campaign against them, and overturn them. Opponents of leaving the EU are not betraying democracy, but practising it.

4. Going on about how the Brexit vote was all about "the left behind."

The Brexit vote was not predominantly working class. There was an identifiable section of working class Brexit voters, mostly from smaller urban areas, however, taken on their own they could never have won the referendum. There wasn't anything like enough of them. No, dig down in the figures and you will see that the majority of Brexit voters, as well as being older and more socially conservative, were relatively affluent and typically suburban. Fed on decades of anti-EU fabrications drawn from a genre established by Boris Johnson in the Telegraph, and embedded in a saloon bar culture of moaning about how everything has gone to the dogs, the majority of leave voters were anything but "the left behind." Brexit is the triumph of the suburbanisation of politics, a phenomenon that hasn't been discussed often enough.

Of course we should deal with the problems of 'the left behind," and with poverty and inequality. But we shouldn't do it because of Brexit. We should do it because we should.

***

This post has been an exercise in futility, but wishing a happy New Year to those who pass by this place isn't. Have as good a one as possible.