Monday, March 25, 2019

End times

Brexit died last weekend.

By that I don't mean that it won't happen. There is still a threat of political stupidity hanging over us because of the capture of a political party by loons (not an overstatement after reading Johnson channeling his inner Moses in the Telegraph). What I mean is that it has returned to the margins where it used to lurk as an eccentric irritation rather than as a horde of vandals set on sacking Brussels. The majority are still bored and baffled, but, as a few dozen devotees followed Farage, up to two million ordinary people gathered from all over the country to march in London to oppose Brexit. The visuals of the comparative strengths of the two events would not comfort Leavers. Leaving is no longer a viable political option.

The march was to demand a second referendum, but an online Parliamentary petition to cancel Brexit altogether by revoking article 50 and remaining in the EU, has gone viral. At the time of writing it has over five and a half million signatures and is still climbing. The largest demonstration ever has been joined by the largest petition ever. Material reality is on the march against religious faith. All Brexit has left is the appeal to belief.

If Brexit happens, it will do so in the teeth of widespread opposition and confront the most surprising event of modern British politics - the rise of a mass, determined, pro-European movement. Leaving will not be accepted, it will be fought through all the torturous negotiations in the years to follow, and, given the overwhelming sentiments of young people, it will be reversed. All we will be doing is damaging the country, permanently losing our many privileges within the EU, making people poorer, and diminishing our power in the illusion that we are gaining sovereignty. For what? An interregnum. Brexit is an exercise in futility.

As I have always said, leaving is a project of the right. It is the means to two ends, redoubling the Thatcherite revolution and winning permanent control of the Conservative Party. Though a small group of Lexiters have jumped on the bandwagon as well, with the opposite aim of greater economic collectivism. Both see the European Union as a constraint. But there isn't much evidence to suggest that either have come to grips with the nature of the modern economy. In this excellent article, Duncan Weldon looks at Brexit in the context of 20th century economic history and concludes that there is nothing original about it:
For all the talk of a radical change in the economic policy set‐up, it is just as likely that the end result is a very British attempt to ‘muddle through’ with a model which itself is not working and of which one of the key props (EU membership) has just been kicked away. The implication of this is that Brexit will not generate a new model for the UK, but simply an inferior version of the existing one.
It's hardly surprising that Leavers haven't got the faintest idea of what they want out of Brexit or of how to achieve it.

But it is a political revolution. It recasts Britain's place in the world as one of vulnerable isolation -sorry Global Britain. It is driven by nationalism. And that's the problem. It's attraction is emotional. Get to the details and the justification falls apart. It's a vacuous revolution, whose main aim seems to be the entrenchment of the Tory right in the leadership, regardless of electoral consequences. Indeed. consequences of any sort seem to be the least of their concerns.

In a couple of interesting posts Will Bott describes the structural causes of the increasingly radical noises coming from Leavers as they shift from Norway to nihilism. there are a number of factors, but the most appropriate here is that Leave has always had a problem of legitimacy, which is why they have never been comfortable with their victory. From the very first they have attacked Remainers, often in vicious and provocative language. They claimed the mantle of 'democracy' and used it it to fix the referendum result as the only democratic outcome for all time.

The political parties have acquiesced in this game too, bowing down before the altar of 'respect the referendum result,' regardless of how it was achieved, whether opinion has changed, or, most startlingly of all, whatever the consequences of the result actually are. Crash the economy? Respect the result. Make people poorer? Respect the result. Strip people of their rights? Respect the result. Threaten peace in Northern Ireland? Respect the result. Utter madness.

The other line is the psychic perception of 'they knew what they were voting for,' which, by coincidence, is always the favourite option of the clairvoyant. Paul Evans skewers this one here.

Saturday's march challenged the complacency. The 'will of the people' might not be as clear cut as leavers insisted it was. Their first impulse was to denigrate the demonstrators to try and strip them of their legitimacy. They were marching against democracy, rather than practising it. Then we got the sneering. For a long time we have had the strange spectacle of multi-millionaires decrying ordinary people as the elite. Now wealthy commentators declared that Remainers are middle class and so are inauthentic, which means that their opinions must be invalid. Lexiters jumped on the Tory bandwagon too. Picking up on some naff posters, middle class leftists decried middle class protestors for being middle class. The reality of a diverse demonstration, showing a depth of anger that could bring coaches to London from as far away as Orkney, should have made them question their world view.

Both left and right Leavers were caught up by the myth of Brexit as a working class rebellion to be romanticised in different ways. Duncan Weldon summarised why that is not so:
It is tempting to try to describe the Brexit vote as a revolt by the losers of globalisation—communities that had experienced de‐industrialisation and stagnating wages simply voting against what the elite desired. One could argue that the Labour party and the leadership of the trade unions have been disconnected from their traditional support bases and that class politics (despite appearances) actually drove the Leave victory. Innumerable newspaper opinion columns have indeed attempted to make this case. But the evidence suggests otherwise. Despite the popular image of Brexit being something which finds its loudest proponents in a stereotypical northern working men's club, the reality is that the most hardcore Brexiteers are usually to be located in the bar of a southern golf club. 
Labour's nervousness about the possibility of losing 30% of its vote and recklessness with the risk to the other 70%, led to a curious decision. On the day of the biggest street protest in history, against a Tory government and in support of official Labour policy, the Leader of the Opposition dodged it and spent the day in Morecambe, grabbing a photo opportunity with the statue of a dead comedian.

A cynical politician would have looked at that demonstration and the distribution of signatures on the petition and seen millions of voters in strategic locations that they need to win over at the next general election. The less cynical would have realised that forty years in the EU have produced, for enough people, an affinity, identity, and attachment to the rights it offers its citizens, to make Brexit divisive and toxic. A realist would have read the hard-headed economic analyses, seen the joint alarm of the TUC and CBI, looked at the millions on the streets and thought - no, this mustn't be done. I think it might take a bit more time for our current ones to cotton on.

That's why Brexit is dead, but it still lives on. It's a bugger to kill. The temptation of a zombie Brexit remains. It would be a disaster. Now's time to hammer a stake through its heart. 

No comments: