Tuesday, June 11, 2019

La-la land

What can you say about British politics? It's completely dominated by Brexit of course. At least there's some data for us to look at. The local and Euro elections, together with the Peterborough by-election, all fell in line with the trend in national opinion polling. They show that there is around a ten-point lead for remain over leave. The core leave vote is no more than 35%. There is no demand for an ill-defined new centrist party, especially one called something as vacuous as change without specifying the change they advocate. Labour's vote is far more vulnerable to the loss of remain voters than it is to leave voters. And surveys keep coming in to show that the dominant narrative of leave as a predominantly northern working-class phenomena is either overstated or downright false and persists mainly as justificatory cover for a pre-determined ideological preference. See here, here, and here.

The trouble is that British politics has abandoned reality for the land of make-believe.

How else can you explain the Tory Party leadership contest? If Cameron's political and constitutional abomination of a referendum was an epoch defining error, the determination of his terrible successor to make it worse was ineptitude of the highest order.

Never ones to shirk a challenge, the candidates to replace her as Prime Minister are displaying levels of mendacity and mediocrity that should exclude them from being anywhere near power. Could they be any worse than May? Yes, without doubt.

This video has gone viral, understandably so. Behr nails it.

But there is something else. Why are politicians failing to face reality and rehashing the 2016 arguments all over again? The answer lies with the mental dishonesty of Brexit. Although it's being done in the name of democracy, nobody wants it. They don't want real Brexit anyway. Some still want the one that they were sold. It's true that there were warnings about the consequences, but they were dismissed as "project fear." It is perfectly possible to leave the European Union. But, once you get into the practical details, the process would be lengthy, costly, and of little benefit. The democratic mandate was flimsy enough, but the vote to leave was sold on a fictitious view of the European Union, a fictitious account of what leaving entails, and a fictitious vision of the consequences. The trouble is, they sold it rather too well, especially in the Conservative Party. It is now impossible to win the leadership without pandering to a fantasy.

It had been a long time coming as Andy Beckett described in his long read about conservative thought.
Yet during the 90s, instead of pondering Thatcherism’s unintended consequences, many British conservatives, like their American counterparts, had switched their attention to a scapegoat. The European Union, like Clinton, was pro-business, hardly a fundamental threat to free-market conservatism, and the European single market had been partly Thatcher’s creation. But like the Clinton presidency, the EU was a rival power centre, and also provocative to conservatives in other ways: it saw politics as about compromise rather than conviction, and was relatively liberal in its social and cultural values. As a new enemy for conservatives, it proved irresistible.

Euroscepticism gave British conservatism a dark new energy. There was a malicious glee in the distorted accounts of EU activities produced by the Telegraph’s early-90s Brussels correspondent, Boris Johnson. But there was also a cost.

With some justification, conservatives had long prided themselves on their attention to facts, to how people actually lived, or wanted to live – rather than trying to build utopias, as they accused the left of doing. Even the most dogmatic Thatcherites had been keenly aware of social trends such as the rise of individualism, and how they might be politically exploited. But, starting in the 90s, on both sides of the Atlantic, much of the movement “ceased to be empirical”, Gray says. And without an interest in facts, it is hard to govern well for long.
The problem with facts is that they are facts. They don't change. The new Prime Minister will have promised the utterly impossible to win the leadership, and will have to confront their guaranteed failure instantly. The future of the nation depends on how they respond – yes, the response of one of this dismal crowd of inept nonentities. Yikes.

In the meantime, the sole justification for carrying on has disappeared. The fictitious "will of the people" is not even the preference of a slim majority any more. And those who still want it, don't want the reality, they want the Brexit they were sold. But it doesn't exist, never has and never will. Their cognitive dissonance makes them perfect recipients for the myth of betrayal. Brexit has returned to being a minority obsession that the right want to impose on the rest of us.

Brexit is dead, even if a zombie Brexit may happen. It will fail. It will ruin peoples' lives. But who will get the blame? And even if sanity prevails and it is laid to rest through the revocation of Article 50, despite the stake through its heart, its ghost will haunt us for some time yet.

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