Thursday, July 14, 2016

Know-nothing Arrogance or Machiavellian machinations?

As Theresa May forms her new government, she has certainly sprung a few surprises. The appointments of Boris Johnson as Foreign Secretary, David Davis as the Secretary of State for Exiting the EU and Liam Fox as International Trade Minister have placed a large part of the future interaction between the UK and the EU in the hands of the Brexit campaigners. Some regard this as a subtle plan to ensure that the Leave campaign takes responsibility for what they have wrought. To be honest I think the jury is still out. The utter chaos of the last few days has been largely down to a proven lack of responsibility amongst the leaders of the Leave campaign. Mrs. May is given points for Machiavellianism in forcing the Leavers back into the Conservative tent, however what she has also done is that the Conservatives must now take responsibility for the future process of EU-UK relations. The Tories are now irrevocably the party of Brexit.

The problem with the "Brexit mean Brexit" discourse is that no one has yet determined precisely what Brexit does actually mean. Even now there is a clear difference between the ideas of an associate membership, an EFTA solution, and EEA solution or a complete exit from all EU-led structures. It is by no means clear what version carries with it the support of the Conservative Party. Increasingly there seems to be some traction that the "Brexit means Brexit" narrative actually means complete withdrawal. If so, then Mrs. May's "safe pair of hands" risks being the instrument of strangulation of the economic well being of our country and its political survival as a single unit.

While 51% were not clear about what version of Brexit they wanted, 48% - led by the young and the better educated- did not want to lose any of the features of the European Union. A complete exit is a very clear minority position. The appointment of Mr. Davis- who apparently does not understand that Germany and France will not do any trade agreements separate from the rest of the EU, because that is the whole point of the EU- is nearly as controversial as the appointment of Mr. Johnson, and potentially even riskier.

Mrs. May has squared the circles of her party, at the cost of irritating all the UK's international partners. The fact is that the ignorant who have wrapped themselves in self righteous tosh about British democracy fail to recognize the idealism that also lies at the heart of the European project. That cynical and lying journalists may have persuaded the old and the poor that the EU is all about bureaucracy does not remove the fact that the rest of Europe regards the Union as a noble project designed to support European prosperity as a whole. Lecturing those who believe in the European ideal in the way that many right-wing Conservatives have often tended to in the past will isolate Britain still further, and the divorce could become very bitter indeed.

As the new government takes its first baby-steps, Mrs. May must know that, despite the current implosion at the heart of Labour, it is the Conservatives who stand to be tarred with the contempt of history if a suitable and moderate path is not established soon. 

Even Machiavelli ended up in exile.    

  

Monday, July 04, 2016

Open Politics

The rumble of the Brexit earthquake continues.

As both Labour and Tory politicians jockey for leadership in their prospective parties, it is becoming all too clear that a new political system is now struggling to be born. The traditional left-right split has for some time been overlaid with a different matrix. Partly one might call this a socially liberal vs socially conservative spectrum. David Cameron, by campaigning on issues such as gay marriage, laid claim to a socially liberal stance, and such issues were not always split on conventional party lines. More to the point there are now far wider signifiers- it case become a matter of an entire political culture. 

In short the Brexit has revealed a totally different political spectrum: those who support globalization and the open society and those who oppose it. Broadly speaking, the metropolitan, young, educated remain voters are supporters, while the rural, older and less educated leave voters are not. This cultural split seems set to create still further upheaval.

The political system, as currently constituted, does not reflect this fundamental split. Jeremy Corbyn's reactionary Socialist dogma barely even recognizes the growing power of the open society, and to be honest, Theresa May is not exactly in touch with the open minded concerns of youth either.

Thus there is now an obvious opportunity to recast British politics in a more modern and responsive form. Though the Brexit crisis is only just beginning, the result may lead to some fundamental changes in the future. As Corbyn continue his stubborn resistance, it seems more and more likely that a Labour split might form the core of a new grouping- though not necessarily a particularly cohesive one.

The tedious managerialism that has been the bill of fare in the UK since the fall of Margaret Thatcher and the Berlin Wall has led nowhere.

The new politics will not rest on questions of administration but of philosophy. Those who believe in the open politics and the open society will still need to carry the unconvinced, but in the end the closed society can not deliver the prosperity that the open can. 

I shall return to this debate, but the political sea change may throw up some big surprises in the coming months and years. Though Theresa May offers the comfort of a pause for breath today, by 2020 the pressure for real change may have out played her caution. 

The Brexit campaign leaders- Farage, Gove, Johnson- have demonstrated both a cowardice and a dishonesty that will rightly blacken their name for the foreseeable future, Brexit may be their victory, but it is already a Pyrrhic one, and as their hollow promises are revealed for the lies they were, there will be little forgiveness for any of them.

The vindication of the Liberal Democrats has been far swifter than they hoped, albeit that it has come with such a price for the UK. However, the party can now lay claim to being in the vanguard of political change. The game's afoot.