A Tory-Labour Centrist Alliance? The Self-Serving Establishment Will Stop At Nothing To Stay In Power

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The British people have made clear that they want their two main political parties to once again stand for recognisably different policies, values and objectives. But the response of calculating, stale and ideology-free centrist MPs seems to be to reorganise themselves in order to avoid dealing with a reality they would rather ignore

Politics is finally getting interesting again. After more than two decades of stale, centrist managerialism following the resignation of Margaret Thatcher, we are finally starting to see real ideological and intellectual dividing lines re-emerging in our political discourse.

After a long and dismal period where it barely mattered whether you voted for Team Red or Team Blue, so similar were their policies, we face the delicious prospect of which way people vote actually mattering once again. This is a good thing. Dry, stultifying conformity might just about be acceptable when things are in a good state, everyone is prosperous and happy, and a safe pair of hands is all that is required to keep the good times rolling.

But while many prosperous, metropolitan professional types (including nearly the entire British political class) may have been coasting through life thinking that everything was fine and dandy, in fact things were not fine for millions of their fellow citizens. And when the status quo is failing so many people, a consensual, moderate and determinedly un-radical form of politics is the very last thing which will bring about the required change.

This is why we should celebrate the short-term chaos which is roiling British politics. For too long we have been cursed by a Labour Party which cares more about making its middle class, urban supporters feel good about themselves than actually delivering tangible improvements in the lives of the working poor and the dispossessed or responding to their concerns about our democracy and our country. And since Thatcher’s departure, the ideologically rootless Tory Party – this blog describes the Cameron cohort as Coke Zero Conservatives, the same conservative taste you recognise but with none of the caffeinated, calorific oomph which makes it worth drinking – has adopted one socialist, redistributionist policy after another in a desperate, failed bid to shake off their so-called “Nasty Party” image.

In other words, within the space of twenty years the two major political parties have converged to such an extent that they were almost indistinguishable from one another – Ed Miliband’s Labour Party went into the 2015 general election flogging coffee mugs on their campaign website which promised to “control immigration”, while David Cameron’s Conservative Party manifesto was creepily subtitled “A plan for every stage of your life” – statist control freakery if ever there was.

The result of this, we all know, was the rise of the fringe parties – the incredible success of the Scottish National Party despite their utterly woeful record actually wielding power in Scotland, and the rise and rise of UKIP which set the wheels in motion for David Cameron’s bitterly regretted decision to offer the country a referendum on our continued EU membership.

Since the shock victory for Brexit in the EU referendum, things have only gotten worse for the forces of dull, greyscale centrism. David Cameron resigned in justified humiliation having waged a deceitful and bullying campaign in favour of remaining in the EU, in which he threatened his own citizens with punishment if they voted the “wrong” way, and yet still managed to lose. Meanwhile, the Labour Party, whose parliamentary caucus never accepted Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership and sought to undermine it from Day One, decided to make their last stand. Unfortunately, that last stand appears to be the utterly bland and uninspiring figure of Angela Eagle, whose coming leadership challenge will be utterly obliterated by Jeremy Corbyn, who remains very popular with the expanded Labour Party membership.

In other words, this has been a bad time for the establishment. Our poor superiors have endured setback after setback, with their preferred centrist candidates being routed as the public justifiably yearn for the return of authenticity and ideological coherence to their politics. And now they face a setback which cannot be endured – the prospect of seeing their country taken out of the European Union (that great escape from accountability for Europe’s governing elites) against their will.

But they are not going to take this lying down.

The Guardian reports on an utterly despicable new development – the fact that centrist Tory and Labour MPs, terrified at the prospect of the bland, consensual form of politics in which they thrive being brought to an end, are now proposing to unite in order to form a new centrist political party.

From the Guardian:

Tory and Labour MPs have held informal discussions about establishing a new political party in the event of Andrea Leadsom becoming prime minister and Jeremy Corbyn staying as Labour leader, a cabinet minister has disclosed.

Senior players in the parties have discussed founding a new centrist grouping in the mould of the Social Democratic party (SDP) should the two main parties polarise, according to the minister. Talks should be taken seriously, though they are still at an early stage, according to the source.

“There have been talks between Labour and Tory MPs about a new party,” the minister said. “A number of my colleagues would not feel comfortable in a party led by Andrea Leadsom.”

It is understood that MPs in both parties who campaigned to remain in the European Union believe there is an opportunity to build on the newly founded relationships between centrist MPs in both parties made before the EU referendum.

A Tory party source said Labour and Conservative MPs who campaigned in favour had become closer during the campaign and increasingly come to regard themselves as “a tribe”.

In other words, if the centrists do not get their way (as they have done uninterrupted since at least 1991) then they will take their toys and leave, founding an entirely new political party for their own glorification rather than doing the hard work of convincing existing party members that they are wrong.

This seems to be prompted largely by the fact that certain prima donna centrist MPs, used to enjoying the trappings of power and influence which come from senior positions in government or opposition, are unable to tolerate even a brief period in the wilderness while more unabashedly ideological leaders have their turn running the show, and so must orchestrate a way for their own failed and reviled centrist clan to continue pushing their self-serving, wishy-washy agenda.

In Labour’s case, this is just about understandable. Jeremy Corbyn is indeed vastly different to what we have been trained to think a Labour leader should be since the days of Michael Foot. The post-Clause IV, post-Blair accommodations with capitalism mean nothing to Jeremy Corbyn, and he is proud to admit as much. Under Corbyn’s watch, the Labour Party has indeed become markedly more left wing. Therefore, a convincing case could indeed be made that moderate, centrist Labour MPs have no place in the party of Jeremy Corbyn. But since Corbyn is supported by a thumping majority of Labour Party members, it would rightly be for the centrist MPs to toddle off and find a new home (and new supporters). Labour is Corbyn’s party now, not theirs.

The Conservatives, though, have far less of an excuse. It would be interesting to know whether the Tory SDP plotters come predominantly from the older guard or from the 2010 and 2015 intakes. Logic would suggest that many of the more recent Tory MPs, who entered parliament in the dismal Age of Cameron, are most ill at ease at the prospect of being led by a superficially more Thatcherite leadership candidate like Andrea Leadsom. But then Theresa May hardly fits the profile of progressive conservatism, with her flinty-eyed authoritarianism, disdain for civil liberties and championing of a large, overbearing nanny state to watch over us and regulate our speech and behaviour. None of these are endearing qualities in a future Tory leader and prime minister, so any Conservative MP happy to wear the blue rosette for Theresa May but happy to shack up with Labour in case of Andrea Leadsom clearly has a very broken and opportunistic political compass.

The Guardian article continues:

A senior Labour party source confirmed that at least one Conservative minister and one of the shadow cabinet ministers who resigned last week had been involved in discussions about such a reshaping of British politics.

“There is a feeling that there might have to be a new party at the centre of British politics,” he said. “It’s early days, but the conversations are at a pretty high level.”

The suggestion comes as the Liberal Democrat peer Shirley Williams demands a central role for all pro-EU parties at Westminster in shaping the UK’s relationship with the EU. She warns that, without a cross-party consensus on the final deal, the country could fall apart in bitter post-Brexit division and acrimony.

Trust Shirley Williams to be at the centre of this subversive attempt by the political class to reorganise themselves so as to thwart the will of the people. She may play the part of the kindly faced elderly lady very well, but is there any more noxious emblem of our centrist malaise than Baroness Williams? I can think of none.

We now witness the depressing fact that a group of Conservative and Labour MPs – we do not yet know how large this potential grouping may be – have a shared love for keeping Britain chained to the antidemocratic EU which transcends whatever minor differences they may have on policy. And those policy differences between Tory an Labour are undoubtedly very few in this centrist age. Therefore, in a last-ditch effort to avoid being dragged out of the EU kicking and screaming, these MPs are now willing to betray the constituents who elected them to parliament by defecting to join a “worst of all worlds” Party of the Damned, a cesspit of wishy-washy MPs who startle like shy fauns at the first sign of passionate ideological debate.

Even before the official result of the EU referendum was declared, there were noises being made by pro-EU Remainers in denial that some means should be found to overturn the public’s vote to leave the European Union on one spurious pretext or another. Most popular now is the idea that the referendum should be ignored or re-run because the public are gullible fools who were tricked by the slick lies and distortions of the official Vote Leave campaign (as though the Remain camp was not engaged in lies, threats and downright cheating of its own). And it now seems that this is to be used as cover, an excuse to legitimise the subversion of British democracy by a group of spoiled sore losers accustomed to always getting their way.

We must not allow these machinations to succeed. While Labour MPs – so diametrically at odds with a leader who commands overwhelming support among the party membership – should arguably do the decent thing and walk off into obscurity and irrelevance by attempting to form a new party of the centre-left, there is absolutely no excuse for Tory and Labour MPs joining together to create a hybrid centrist party – particularly when neither of the two remaining Conservative leadership candidates can be described as right-wing ideologues in the mould of Thatcher.

That such a dramatic step is even being considered shows the rot in our national and political life wrought by the EU. We are now lumbered with a largely useless political class, wobbly-lipped MPs who are terrified at the prospect of Britain governing herself and not having our government’s every decision vetted by the omniscient supranational European government in Brussels. These plotting MPs are behaving like children suddenly separated from their parents in a busy crowd – screaming, weeping, arms outstretched in anguish at having been ripped away from that which gives them comfort and succour, their alpha and omega. It is an unseemly, pathetic exhibition which they are putting on in their desperation to stop Brexit, stop the realignment of British politics along more ideological lines and return to the happy days when fast-track ministerial careers were their for the taking so long as they managed to be sufficiently bland, predictable and uncontroversial.

Hopefully before long we will learn the names of these Labour and Tory MPs who care so much about their future career prospects but so little for their own constituents that they would abandon the parties under which they were elected in order to create a new centrist holding party to achieve through political skulduggery what they were not able to achieve at the general election or the EU referendum.

And hopefully those MPs concerned will then quickly face the full wrath of their constituency parties and associations for having entertained such self-serving thoughts.

God willing, none of them will be in parliament by the time of the next general election, having been deselected and replaced by new MPs for whom socialism, conservatism, ideology and principle are not such dirty words.

 

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Andrea Leadsom vs Theresa May – An Impossible Choice, On Which The Fate Of The Conservative Party Rests

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At this difficult time we can take inspiration from our recent history and our last successful effort at national renewal

So it’s Theresa May versus Andrea Leadsom – the final two candidates in the Conservative Party leadership race whose names will now go forward to the wider Tory Party membership in September.

I’m delighted that the Conservatives will soon have given Britain her first two female prime ministers, I really am. When it comes to equality of opportunity the Tories deliver, while Labour bang on endlessly and fruitlessly about equality of outcome, peddle in tawdry identity politics and choose one white male after another to lead them onwards.

But does the successor to Ted Heath Mark II David Cameron really have to be one of these two women? When she entered 10 Downing Street, Margaret Thatcher already had the “Stepping Stones” report in her pocket and on her mind. By contrast, Andrea Leadsom brandishes an overhyped yet still rather thin CV, while Theresa May has your entire internet browsing history and the paranoia to use it against you.

And so, when deciding who to support in this battle to be the next British prime minister I find myself faced with an impossible choice – one may as well flip a coin.

This blog will inevitably write more about the Conservative Party leadership race in the coming days and weeks as I try to make a decision – right now I see pitifully few upsides to either candidacy, and great risk behind either option.

But for now I content myself with re-reading the seminal “Stepping Stones Report” authored by the late John Hoskyns, that masterful diagnosis of everything which ailed Britain in the late 1970s when the state socialist cure had almost succeeded in killing the British patient.

This report – and the solutions contained within it – quite literally saved this country when Margaret Thatcher, who had studied it, came to power in 1979. Without Stepping Stones, Britain would quite likely be a colder, more populous but equally poor and dysfunctional version of Greece. I say this to underline the amazing good which the Conservative Party can do when under the right leadership, and the thread by which such hopes often hang (Margaret Thatcher was considered a rank outsider when she first declared her candidacy for the Tory leadership in 1975).

At this time I am drawn to this passage in particular:

We must know what a Tory government will have to achieve, before thinking about the way in which it must win office, because simply “winning a majority” on the wrong terms may not give it the authority it needs for success.

In normal times a majority is enough. The task of government is to steer a basically healthy socio-economic system past hazards which are primarily external, while ensuring that the system’s fabric is maintained and making improvements to it here and there.

But once the system itself starts to show signs of fatigue, instability, disintegration, then we start to talk of discontinuity. In discontinuity, solutions can only be found by breaking constraints which we had assumed were unbreakable. It is not enough to settle for policies which cannot save us, on the grounds that they are the only ones which are politically possible or administratively convenient.

It is safe to say that the Conservative government of David Cameron and George Osborne has been in office but not really in power since being re-elected with a tiny outright majority in 2015. And aside from their creepy manifesto pledge about having “a plan for every stage of your life” it has been almost impossible to discern what the Tories actually stand for, besides staying in power.

Winning a majority has not been enough because the majority was won on the wrong terms – by a prime minister who often pitched himself to the left of Tony Blair in the tawdry hunt for centrist votes. And these are far from ordinary times. As this blog recently pointed out, quoting Lincoln, the dogmas of the quiet past are inadequate to the stormy present.

Theresa May is an accomplished technocrat, but also a fierce and implacable authoritarian. Even her more restrained actions – such as denying the former London mayor Boris Johnson the power to use his expensively purchased second hand German water cannon for crowd control – smack more of political chicanery rather than any shred of liberal principle.

On civil liberties, May is utterly monstrous. But more to the point, Theresa May came down on the wrong side of the most fundamental, existential question to face this country since the end of the Second World War.Worse, she supported the Remain campaign with a calculated half-heartedness, refusing to boldly commit and make the public case for her position. What kind of leadership is this?

Andrea Leadsom is no better. She has publicly and irresponsibly spoken about triggering Article 50 almost immediately, well before any initial scoping discussions have even had the opportunity to commence and well before the British government has had the proper chance to decide how best to implement Brexit, and seems intent on taking us out of the EEA as we secede from the European Union. Her haste is not evidence of super-virtuous commitment to democracy or an uncommon respect for the will of the people, but is the conclusion reached by what seems to be a rather glib and uncurious mind.

But whether you are less repulsed by the flinty-eyed authoritarianism of Theresa May or the oversimplifying, CV-padding antics of Andrea Leadsom, it seems reasonable to say that neither of the two remaining candidates have anything approaching a latter-day Stepping Stones report waiting in their pockets for immediate unveiling as soon as the Queen has invited one of them to become prime minister. And that is what we need most of all right now.

Theresa May’s authoritarian streak, contempt for civil liberties and belief in wielding the coercive power of the state is incredibly objectionable to this blog – yet as by far the more experienced candidate, May is best placed to negotiate good secession terms for Britain with the EU (assuming that she doesn’t double-cross us and effectively condemn Britian to “associate membership” on the margins).

Andrea Leadsom has precious little track record in government or politics in general, and has distinguished herself by saying some downright irresponsible things about Brexit. As a result, she could potentially overshadow the democratic dividend of Brexit through unnecessary self-inflicted economic wounds (e.g. by taking Britain out of the EEA). Yet she is superficially more Thatcher-like (I won’t say Thatcherite), and has the potential, however small, to grow into a far more radical Conservative leader than the soul-sappingly ideology-free Theresa May could ever be.

Choose May and you risk turning Britain into a dystopian police state while rewarding yet another ideology-free, politics-by-numbers technocrat, the kind of person whose unambitious, managerial approach to the great issues of the day turns millions of people off politics altogether.

Choose Leadsom and you risk a tumultuous and highly suboptimal form of Brexit while taking an enormous leap of faith that an untested neophyte will successfully get to grips with one of the steepest learning curves in the world, and that they will be advised well in the process.

Who can choose between these two flawed options with any degree of certainty?

 

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Of Course Brexit Will Not Solve The Housing Crisis

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Build. More. Houses.

Rosamund Urwin has a rather strange and unnecessary piece in the Evening Standard warning us that Brexit will not miraculously solve the housing crisis:

Brexit may well enable a fast-moving few to buy, but I doubt it can offer a solution for the majority of those who want to escape renting. It’s like letting crows snack on a carcass; the rest of the aviary will still need feeding later too.

Although it may make the average home cheaper, Brexit is also expected to deplete the number of homes (including the “affordable” variety) being built. There’s a shortage of land earmarked for residential construction in London, partly because developers keep most of their vast landbanks as empty plots, rather than putting homes on them. Given the uncertainty Brexit has unleashed, developers are more likely now to delay or mothball schemes. That will exacerbate the shortage of housing stock long-term.

To top that off, building will soon incur bigger bills. The cost of imported materials has risen with the sliding pound and labour costs would increase without EU workers.

I don’t know a single person with a functioning brain who thought for a moment that Brexit would solve the housing crisis.

The only thing which will ever solve the housing crisis – bar a lethal smallpox pandemic that wipes out half of the population – is the one thing that successive cowardly, pathetic governments have not done: Build more houses.

But this government is committed to building a million new homes by 2020“, whines David Cameron in protest. Does he want a medal? Net migration is running at upwards of 300,000 per annum. Even the government’s most sunny estimate of future housebuilding means less accommodation per capita in 2020 than there is today. Every month of this dithering, prevaricating (and now leaderless) Coke Zero Conservative government is a month when demand for housing further outstrips supply.

If you were captain of a sinking ship, taking on hundreds of gallons of water a minute, you should not expect to be hailed as a hero for filling your coffee mug with seawater and flinging it overboard instead of plugging the massive hole in the ship’s hull. It is a worthless gesture which makes almost zero difference – much like the government’s furious pretence that building more council houses and cooking up various “help to buy” schemes is a fitting response to a festering national crisis.

It’s all quite deliberate, of course. To actually build the number and type of new homes that Britain needs – in the cities, and upwards not outwards – would cause house prices first to stagnate and then to fall. And since houses in Britain are now revered more as an investment vehicle than somewhere to put the flat screen TV and shelter from the elements, we are now blessed with a generation of politicians more than happy to waffle on about the housing crisis but loathe to do anything to tackle it.

Dishonest, NIMBYish politicians are what stands in the way of resolving the housing crisis and putting the dream of home ownership back within reach of millions of hard-pressed middle class Britons. Brexit makes little difference either way.

Unlike education or healthcare, the solution to the housing crisis is actually as simple as it looks. But we continue to tolerate politicians who almost take pride in conspicuously doing nothing about it.

 

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The Deployment Of Jeremy Clarkson, Self-Described European Citizen, Suggests A Remain Campaign In Disarray

What was David Cameron thinking, allowing himself to be pictured joking around with an arch euro-federalist days before the EU referendum?

I strongly suspect that David Cameron will come to regret trying to enlist Jeremy Clarkson and the remainder of the ex Top Gear rabble to support his tawdry and deceitful campaign to keep Britain in the European Union.

For while it made a great photo op, our dashing prime minister ladding about with old Clarkson, unfortunately Jeremy Clarkson then opened his mouth and spoke. And what he said was very far from the official Britain Stronger in Europe line of “oh gee, the EU is awfully frustrating, but we have to stick with it because we are just not good enough to handle this whole independence thing”.

No, as we saw earlier this year, Jeremy Clarkson is a committed EU federalist – and to his credit, he makes no effort to hide the fact that he feels European first and foremost, and that he wants the embryonic common European state to hurry up and finish hatching so that he can be a true European citizen.

And so, just when David Cameron needed Jezza to come out with a suitably “Eurosceptics for Remain” soundbite, Jeremy Clarkson instead gave us this (my emphasis in bold):

Really, it’s my gut. My gut tells me, as you know, I feel European, and therefore I want to be in Europe – for no other reason.

Because I’ve heard some very compelling reasons for leaving, sitting next to people who want to leave. And they are quite compelling.

And then Clarkson’s sidekick, James May, joins in the unwitting sabotage:

If I’m honest it’s a gut feeling for me as well. It’s because I feel that Britain is naturally disposed, if we’re not careful, to being rather backward in its view on the world. And there are too many people who think that we’ll be alright because we’ve got the E-type Jag. But that’s just not true, and being part of Europe is part of moving on.

In other words, instead of “I hate the EU too, but we are stuck with it because it’s the only thing on offer”, instead Clarkson and May gave us “Britain sucks and we’re all European citizens anyway! Let’s strive on to complete the grand project!”. Which rather undermines every single thing that the prime minister has been saying since he launched the Remain campaign – namely that the EU is a benign club devoted to trade, cooperation and nothing more, with no intentions to further impinge on our democracy, as well as the already-tenuous idea that voting Remain is in any way the patriotic thing to do.

It also rather contradicts the Remain campaign’s claim to have all of the facts on their side, while we knuckle-dragging Brexiteers exist in a kind of Trumpian, Palinite post-fact world. After all, Jeremy Clarkson’s argument for remaining in the EU doesn’t even remotely touch on the economic scaremongering which is so central to Stronger In’s messaging, which rather calls it into question. If the economic question is key and the “expert opinion” so settled that Brexit would be a disaster, why is the prime minister doing a photo op with someone who couldn’t give two figs about the economy because all he cares about is casting off his hated Britishness and becoming a truly European citizen?

Watch David Cameron’s pinched expression as Clarkson goes on about how European he feels, and then when May waxes lyrical about hopeless, parochial Britain with its backward inhabitants. You can see in the prime minister’s face the suppressed annoyance of a man who realises that his clever photo op has just massively backfired, and that the video footage they are capturing will be of absolutely zero use during the remainder of the campaign.

Why? Because unsurprisingly, the remaining undecided voters in this EU referendum campaign are not themselves ardent euro-federalists. Indeed, almost nobody falls into this peculiar category. And the last thing that the Remain campaign wants to be showing undecided voters – most likely people with no great love for the EU, but with gnawing fears about the economic risks of Brexit – is a self-satisfied millionaire celebrity who probably spends half the year sunning himself in the south of France and who sniffs at Britishness and considers himself European.

But still, one has to respect Jeremy Clarkson for at least being honest, as this blog pointed out when he first nailed his colours to the EU mast:

Unlike an oleaginous Turncoat Tory, Clarkson does not feel the need to butter us up with constant anecdotes about how he hates Brussels just as much as we do, honest. And unlike those bland Remainers on the Labour benches, he does not just mutter inanities about countries “working together”, as though intergovernmental co-operation were not possible without the umbrella of an undemocratic political union.

No, Jeremy Clarkson owns his position, and has the guts to tell us that not only should we learn to love the European Union as it is now, we should actively fight for further political integration.

Of course, this failed photo op took place before the tragic murder of Jo Cox MP changed the atmosphere of the referendum campaign. But it provides a snapshot of a Remain campaign not functioning as well as it should, and making bad tactical decisions – like wheeling out an ardent, unapologetic euro-federalist to try to reach a group of voters with significant doubts about the EU.

Whether or not the Remain campaign has used the past few days to steady the ship and reassert some sensible decision making will probably become clear on Monday, when both campaigns spin back up to full speed. But little vignettes such as this do paint a picture of a Remain campaign in disarray, if not outright panic – which can only be good for Brexiteers.

 

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The Economist Endorses Remain, In A Display Of Bad Journalism And Worse Citizenship

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How to suck at modern citizenship, by The Economist

The Economist has, inevitably, now thrown its support behind the campaign to keep Britain in the European Union.

Their endorsement of the EU is full of the usual denial about the EU’s trajectory and bromides about cooperation and not weakening Europe at a time of global uncertainty, but more astonishing is their condemnation of the very campaign in which the Economist – like all other major media outlets – played a major role.

In a separate piece published concurrently with their endorsement of Remain, the Economist declares:

Such has been Britain’s EU referendum. David Cameron first promised the vote in 2013, spooked by UKIP’s success in local elections and importuned by UKIP-inclined MPs on his Conservative benches. The result has been an unedifying campaign that has both bolstered Mr Farage and carried his imprint. It has been divisive, misleading, unburdened by facts and prone to personality politics and gimmicks. What might have been a hard-nosed debate about Britain’s future, about the pros and cons of EU membership, has turned into a poisonous row about the merits of what is ultimately Mr Farage’s vision of England: a hazy confabulation of content without modernity; of warm beer, bowler hats, faces blackened by coal dust; of bread-and-dripping, fish-and-chips, hope-and-glory.

The outcome has been a contest with the logical architecture of an Escher drawing: Remain and (in particular) Leave issuing assertions that double back on themselves, Möbius-strip arguments that lead everywhere and nowhere. Knowledge has been scorned (“I think people in this country have had enough of experts,” huffs Michael Gove, the pro-Leave justice secretary). Basic facts have fallen by the wayside: Mr Cameron claims Brexit would help Islamic State; Leave implies Turkey, with its 77m Muslims, is about to join the EU. The complicated reality of an evolving union and Britain’s relationship with it has been ignored.

[..] To some extent the referendum has revealed things that were already present: the growing void between cosmopolitan and nativist parts of the country, the diminishing faith in politics, the rise of populism, the inadequacy of the left-right partisan spectrum in an age when open-closed is a more salient divide. Yet it is hard not to conclude that the campaign has exacerbated all of these trends. Polls suggest that trust in senior politicians of all stripes has fallen. And that is just the start. If Remain wins on June 23rd, Brexiteers will tell voters they were conned. If Leave wins, Mr Cameron will go and his successor will negotiate a Brexit that does not remotely resemble the promises of the Leave campaign, which trades on the lie that Britain can have full access to the European single market without being bound by its regulations and free-movement rules.

Either way, politics is coarsened. Voters will believe their leaders less. Short of a total reconfiguration of the party-political landscape (possible but unlikely), the existing Westminster outfits will look increasingly at odds with political reality. The currency of facts will be debased, that of stunts inflated, that of conviction sidelined. It will be de rigueur to question an opponent’s motives before his arguments, to sneer at experts, prefer volume to accuracy and disparage concession, compromise and moderation. Mr Farage’s style of politics has defined this referendum. It will live on in the muscle memory of the nation.

It is frankly astonishing that the Economist can survey the dismal scene of this referendum campaign and choose to be dismayed not by the behaviour of our prime minister – a man who has boldly and shamelessly lied, bullied, deceived, threatened and intimidated the country into voting his way – but rather by the now typical antics of an increasingly sidelined Nigel Farage.

The Economist is quite right to point out that politics has been coarsened throughout this debate. This is partly inevitable – we are debating serious, existential issues in a once-in-a-generation plebiscite. And human nature being what it is, distortions will be made and tempers will flare. But it is thoroughly depressing to see the Economist seemingly hold the people in charge of the country on the Remain side to a lower standard of behaviour than those outsiders, typically with less experience of top level politics, who are advocating Brexit. Apparently we should all be aghast at the fact that there are some Little Englanders and conspiracy theorists on the margins of the Brexit movement, but simply accept that the prime minister of the United Kingdom has become a serial liar who happily threatens his own people.

If a certain style of politics is to “live on in the muscle memory of the nation”, as the Economist frets, it will be the style of politics practised by those on the Remain side who have abused their offices of state, their bully pulpits and any sense of common decency to wage a narrow campaign of fear based almost entirely on economic scaremongering. It will be the Tyranny of the Experts, in which the politically motivated verdicts of Highly Credentialed People are shouted louder and louder to drown out dissent – as though a consensus of “experts” has never been wrong about anything before (and as though democracy can be measured in an economic model).

But since the Economist is so willing to overlook the scandalous behaviour of our own prime minister and concentrate all of its fire on Nigel Farage’s personality, it is worth calling into question the Economist’s own role in this referendum campaign. Have they helped to shed light, to inform, to raise the level of debate? No. They have peddled in exactly the same glibly superficial, personality-based lazy journalism as nearly every other major outlet.

All this time, out of sight of the shining ones at the Economist, there was a rich, informative and inspiring debate taking place online which the rest of the legacy media entirely missed because they were so busy quoting each other and hanging on the every last word of Nigel Farage and Boris Johnson.

The bloggers of The Leave Alliance in particular have exposed the fascinating world of international trade and regulation, and the slowly emerging global single market – comprised of the real global “top tables” – of which Britain could be a part, if only we had the national confidence to stop hiding behind the euro-parochialism of Brussels. This is really interesting stuff, when you dive into it – the kind of topic which might make an excellent Economist Special Report, come to think of it, though it is apparently too obscure for their journalists to take the time to learn.

What the Economist (and many other publications) fails to realise is that Nigel Farage and Boris Johnson do not speak for the entirety of the Brexit movement, least of all the liberal Leavers whom the Economist scandalously misrepresents in their sloppy wet kiss to the EU. A few quick Google searches and some basic human curiosity (combined with a willingness to look outside the Westminster bubble for original thinking and writing) on the part of journalists could have completely changed the nature of this EU referendum. Opened it up. Taken it to a higher level, where we actually debated the importance of global regulation and how Britain can best wield our influence in the global bodies which actually hand regulations down to the EU. We could have spent this time debating the meaning of democracy and sovereignty in the 21st century, and how Brexit could just be part of a process of democratic renewal in Britain.

In short, the Economist has no right to scorn the very referendum campaign in which they were themselves utterly complicit. They could have sought out other, more informed voices and given them a platform and a sceptical but fair hearing. But all they wanted to hear from the Brexit side was the ranting of Nigel Farage, so that is all they did hear. The Economist wanted to see the Brexit campaign as a Little Englander movement spurred by nostalgia, insularity and xenophobia and they made sure to pay attention only to those facts and those voices which reinforced that viewpoint.

And in so doing, the Economist gave its readers exactly what most of them wanted to read – people in that prized demographic too busy being captains of industry with glittering international careers (and buying the Patek Philippe wristwatches advertised on the back cover) to really care much about democracy or how we exercise control over our leaders. Why would they care? They are generally doing very well, thank you very much. Most of them don’t see any need for things to change, or for people to be held to account for bad decisions in government which only ever affected “other people”, very different to themselves.

You can call that what you will. The Economist are certainly very proud of themselves. But to my mind it is shoddy journalism, and a truly rotten form of citizenship.

 

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Top Image: Miles Cole, The Economist

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