The Two Brexits

Cultural Brexit - Culture Wars - Establishment

Not everything of value can be measured or counted, and Remainers opposing Brexit purely on economic or materialistic terms are doomed to forever misunderstand half the country when they refuse to view Brexit through any other prism

If we are to have any hope of knitting Britain back together after Brexit, Remainers must first acknowledge and seek to understand an entire aspect to Brexit which until now they have tended to ignore or crudely dismiss as xenophobia or nostalgia for Empire.

Brexit is two separate phenomena in one. First there is Economic Brexit, the world of quantifiable (if still largely speculative) prognostications and arguments over just how impoverished Britain will be after Hard Brexit versus the untold riches which will be ours once we have concluded that mega trade deal with New Zealand.

But there is another Brexit, too. I struggle to define it – some days I feel like it is “Constitutional Brexit”, the Brexit which concerns itself with high-minded questions of governance, statecraft and geopolitics. But on other days it feels more visceral, more inchoate, though no less important for that. This is “Cultural Brexit” – sneered at by the Economist but best understood as secession from the EU partly as a reaction against supranational European government, yes, but also an enormous cultural backlash against years of self-serving, centrist, technocratic government within the narrow boundaries of an incredibly restrictive Overton Window.

While many smug or outraged Remainers try to hang Vote Leave’s idiotic “£350 million for the NHS” bus slogan around my neck, I never believed any of that nonsense and did my best to dispel it while other Brexiteers who should have known better were still propagating the idiocy and sowing the seeds for our current impasse. Personally, I always pursued “Constitutional Brexit”. What mattered to me was not immigration numbers or trade deals per se, it was the fact that decisions like these – crucial to the development, prosperity and nature of any nation state – should be made at that national level, not set as an unsatisfactory 28-way supranational compromise in Brussels (at least until a tipping point is reached where majority of us feel more strongly European than British).

But the more I observe the furious establishment backlash against Brexit (and last year’s opportunistic centrist coup against Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership of the Labour Party) the more I find that Cultural Brexit also resonates quite strongly within me. Ultimately, I cannot separate the constitutional issues from the fact that for too long Britain has been run by cautious, unambitious identikit drones who nominally belong to Team Red or Team Blue but ultimately hold the same basic worldview and seek to inch us incrementally toward their shared vision of the future, without even thinking to meaningfully consult with the people or explain their actions.

Are the numbers important? Absolutely. To the extent that we can actually make meaningful forecasts (and note: nearly every self-professed or well-credentialed economic expert has been wide of the mark, from when they told us that staying outside of the euro would be economic suicide right up to the OECD’s continually shifting forecasts of Brexit doom) of course numbers and the impact of Brexit on the economy matters. An economically weakened Britain is a diminished Britain, even if only in the short term, and we cannot forget that government policy and spending decisions can be measured by their impact on real human lives.

But simultaneously, numbers are often very good at capturing nearly everything besides that which actually makes life worth living. That’s why I never warmed to the Tony Blair / Gordon Brown / Ed Miliband / Jeremy Corbyn view of the world. They all had their own emphases, but to listen to these leaders speak was to imagine a clinical and soulless Britain, impeccably multicultural, endlessly tolerant even as Western values were eroded, with punctual trains, benefits for everyone, a gleaming new NHS hospital on every other street corner filled with identically-uniformed staff – but very little else.

Public Services (and the taxpayer money which needed to be extorted to pay for them) are everything to this type of leftist. Civil society and the idea of individuals coming together to do anything besides consume public services or petition the government for More Stuff barely registers in their mind, because their conception of a Utopian society has little room for anything outside the public sector. Schools, hospitals and trains – absolutely. Churches, the Women’s Institute, innovative start-ups, world-beating corporations, the ambition to strive for anything besides total equality of outcome – not so much. There is (or at least there should be) more to our shared national life than the public services which we consume together.

People of this mindset simply cannot fathom why we might want to leave the European Union, because it represents risk, and to them risk doesn’t mean possibility or potential. It means the fear of less money for public services and a potential reduction in the kind of perks which middle class people like myself are supposed to be beguiled by – free movement, low roaming charges, the European Union Youth Orchestra. The idea of risking material comfort or stability for mere democracy or the chance of further constitutional change seems absurd to them – if it can’t be counted on an Excel spreadsheet and slapped onto a smug infographic to be shared on Twitter, it can’t possibly count as a valid argument about Brexit, goes their thinking.

Such people can only think in terms of Economic Brexit, and will not debate with you in good faith on any other topic – many refuse to even acknowledge the existence of constitutional or cultural concerns other than dismissing them as “xenophobia”, or angrily saying “of COURSE the EU needs further reform!” without ever specifying what this reform should look like. There is, in other words, a huge empathy gap between the two Britains, and since Remainers are often not shy in declaring themselves “better” than us unwashed Brexiteers I would submit that the duty is primarily theirs to close it.

Pete North has for a long time done a great job of dissecting both aspects of Brexit – the Economic Brexit with its need to get to grips with the minutiae of trade agreements and regulatory systems, and also the Constitutional/Cultural Brexit which gets too little attention from most commentators. But he really knocks it out of the park in his latest piece, writing:

I am often told that we Brexiters are pining for long lost glory – fighting for a better yesterday. But what if we are and what if we are not wrong? What if the relentless march of “prosperity” is eradicating the best part of us? No misty-eyed tales will be told of sitting in a Frankie and Benny’s while tapping one’s foot to the generic tones of Shania Twain.

[..] One thing one notes about modern British cultural history is that every recession is marked by a musical revolution. We had 70’s punk, 80’s metal, 90’s rave and ever since, especially since the smoking ban, culture has gone into hibernation. The place you would have booked for your face melting techno all nighter is now a Debenhams complex. If there is one defining quality of modern progressive Britain then it is the relentless commercialised tedium of it.

As we have gradually sanitised our living spaces we have also sanitised our culture and one cannot help thinking we are now sanitising thought. This is clear from the onslaught of safe space culture so that our delicate metrosexual hipster children are protected from ideas that that may lead them to stray from the path of bovine leftist conformity.

I can’t really speak to rave culture, so I’ll have to take Pete’s word for that. But there is much truth in what he says. Nobody can deny that we live in an age of technological miracles. People of my age, who experienced the early internet in our teenage years and just about remember a life before it, have to concede that much. And as a country – as the West – we are undoubtedly more prosperous. I am continually astonished walking through London, thinking back to how much scruffier and run down everything looked in the 1990s when I came on daytrips from Harlow as a boy, how dramatically the skyline has changed, how few restaurants there were compared to now, how much less variety and choice there was in all things only a decade ago.

By nearly every measurable metric we are better off and our prospects are brighter, and yet something intangible has been lost. The economic heart has been ripped out of my hometown of Harlow, Essex, with many of the prestigious large employers now gone and replaced with vast distribution centres offering only minimum wage work. The town centre is decayed and scruffy; a town of nearly 100,000 people that can no longer sustain a Marks & Spencer’s department store; charity shops and temporary seasonal stores occupying the places where more permanent, upmarket businesses once were.

Meanwhile, when my wife and I go shopping at the upmarket Westfield mall in White City everything is polished and perfect, but you could be anywhere – Houston, Paris, Dubai, Melbourne, Hong Kong. Globalisation and economic growth have brought gleaming homogeneity to the places frequented by globe-hoppers like me, but slow decay to towns like the one where I was raised.

By no means can all of this be laid at the foot of the European Union. But stories like these need to be repeated over and over again because there are still many people who fail to understand that the months and years prior to the EU referendum were in fact not Golden Years for many people.

And “Golden Years” brings me on to David Bowie, and back to the point Pete North was making. When Bowie died early in 2016, writer Neil Davenport lamented that our current youth culture could never create anything like him again:

It’s worth remembering that Bowie slogged on the margins for ages, in two-bit bands, recording very minor songs, before finally finding his voice. Back then, British society created a kind of free space in which young people who were willing to take the unpredictable route of cultural experimentation could do so.

This, too has been lost, which I think is what Pete means when he says that our culture has “gone into hibernation”. As I remarked at the time:

Who would have thought that calls to outlaw clapping and booing, tearful temper tantrums about dress codes, stifling ideas by labelling them ‘problematic’, the insistence on safe spaces and mandatory sexual consent workshops for students would have such a repressive, suffocating effect on our society?

That’s not to say that there is no great new talent emerging seven decades after the birth of David Bowie – clearly there is. But time and again, we see the biggest acts and pop stars of today are more eager to ostentatiously embrace prevailing social values as an act of public virtue-signalling rather than court controversy by cutting across today’s strictly policed social norms.

Lady Gaga took no risk when she sang “I’m on the right track baby, I was born this way” – indeed it opened the door to stadiums full of even more lucrative fans. That’s not to say that she was wrong to do so; but how often do you see an emerging pop star court real controversy or confound society’s expectations these days? You can blame some of this on commercialisation, sure, but not all of it. Something deeper is at work.

When emerging artists see ordinary people shamed and ostracised for saying the “wrong” thing or even just adopting the wrong tone on social media, how many will have the courage to incorporate anything truly daring or potentially “offensive” in their acts, or create spontaneously from the heart without first processing everything through the paranoid filter of societal acceptability?

The societal changes we have undergone in the last three decades are not insignificant, and they have not been to the benefit of all people. I think I feel this keenly and am able to empathise with Cultural Brexiteers because I have a foot in both worlds.

I have a pretty nice middle class life in North London surrounded by fellow “citizens of the world”, but I was born and raised in a Brexit town. To me, the inhabitants of Brexitland are not abstracts or nasty composite caricatures painted by the Guardian – they are fundamentally decent human beings, real people of flesh and blood who want the best for their families and children. They are friends and former work colleagues for whom voting Tory or Labour made very little difference over the past twenty years because both main parties represented the same basic consensus (of which support for the EU was emblematic).

Pete concludes with what passes for a message of hope:

In effect I see the natural consequence of Brexit being what Cameron imagined as the Big Society, where ideas like free schools and “CareBnB” can take root. In the absence of state provision people can and do fill the void. All these ideas have been tested but not allowed to take root because they are a threat to various blobs who are well served by ossified state structures.

I hope so. Aside from Brexit, David Cameron’s aborted Big Society was the last thing which passed for a significant political idea in this country, and it had merit.

The revitalisation of our civil society has a value, as does the revivification of our democracy (if only we can build on Brexit and demand that powers reclaimed from Brussels filter down further than Westminster). It may not be possible to count them up in a spreadsheet but their value is real, as is the positive impact of living in communities which are more than homogenised temporary landing pads for globe-hopping citizens of the world or run-down ghettos to house the people who serve them.

This is cultural Brexit. It’s not that the European Union is the source of every last one of these woes. It’s that many people who defend the EU and supported Remain are as deaf to the concerns of Constitutional Brexiteers as people who think globalisation is all benefit and no downside are deaf to the criticisms of those who oppose the centrist consensus. The deafness to both concerns is the same, because in both cases they are overwhelmingly the same people.

It is this failure of empathy and imagination which first gave the Labour Party Jeremy Corbyn, and then gave us Brexit. The anti-establishment backlash which powered Donald Trump to the White House was also similar, though Brexit is much more coherent than Trump’s grievance-fuelled manifesto.

Remainers can keep shouting about Brexiteers being wrong, stupid or evil. They can delude themselves that we were all hoodwinked by a red campaign bus or Russian propaganda. But if they want to tackle that pervasive feeling of divorce and estrangement from their own country which many of them painfully feel, they will simply have to consider that theirs is not the only valid or reason-based prism through which to view Brexit.

Remainers must be bold and confront rather than dismiss Cultural Brexit. And they must dare to imagine that regardless of how this government’s rather ham-fisted attempt at Brexit plays out, those who voted for Britain to leave the European Union may just be on the right side of history after all.

David Bowie - Beckenham Free Festival

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General Election 2017: Tory Apocalypse / Brexit Salvation Reax

Theresa May - Lord Buckethead

A self-inflicted catastrophe for small-C conservatives with one – potentially enormous – silver lining

Who knew that Theresa May was quite so staggeringly incompetent? I mean, we all knew that she wasn’t a real conservative, at least in the best Thatcherite traditions of the party. That much was made clear from successive party conference speeches and her idiotic manifesto’s all-out assault on the libertarian or free market wing of the party.

But her years plugging away in the Home Office and quietly manoeuvring herself into the most powerful job in the country belied the fact that as prime minister, Theresa May would be revealed as little more than a puppet manipulated by her two closest aides (also both cuckoos in the conservative nest) with almost zero reliable judgment of her own.

Through her sheer campaigning ineptitude and inability to articulate a positive conservative vision (remember how this blog kept banging on about the need for one of those?), Theresa May has allowed Jeremy Corbyn’s brand of 1970’s style socialism to regain a foothold in British politics, and for this unforgivable high crime alone she needs to be sent to political Siberia with no undue delay.

But as I made clear in my election night live-blog, Jeremy Corbyn also deserves enormous credit for improving Labour’s electoral position and enthusing so many people with socialist politics. Sure, in one sense it is easy to sway people with the promise of endless free stuff, always paid for by someone else. But as I noted a couple of weeks ago, it is still necessary to overcome voter scepticism that the promised Utopian land of plenty can actually be achieved.

Jeremy Corbyn successfully made the pitch to lots of people – or at least got them to temporarily suspend their disbelief. And he did so in the context of a still-centrist Parliamentary Labour Party which hates his guts and has been trying to undermine him since before his leadership even began, not to mention a hostile television news media which only fell into something approaching balance when election campaign rules took effect, and a pro-Tory print media which pulled out all the stops to get Theresa May over the finish line. That is no small feat.

The other major factor was the youth vote. While we still don’t actually know how many young people voted or quite to what extent they broke for Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour Party, it seems clear that the promise of free university tuition – and let’s face it, just an ounce of empathy for a generation coming of age at a time when the prospect of home ownership is more distant and potential career paths more disjointed and precarious – won the support of millions of young people.

Apparently when it comes to closing time at nightclubs, young people are spontaneously breaking into the sung refrain “Oh, Jeremy Corbyn!“. The naive chant of mostly low-information voters who wear their political views more as a trendy fashion statement than a considered position? Sure. But also a demographic which Theresa May and her campaign team, in their infinite wisdom, did absolutely nothing to court.

I blogged about this in the heat of the moment on election night, and then split out my thoughts into a separate piece here. And it seems clear to me that British conservatives (I use a small C deliberately) simply cannot go on writing off the youth vote and ceding it to the parties of the Left. We have been doing so for far too long, at our peril, and now that a charismatic conviction politician (in the unlikely form of Jeremy Corbyn) has come along who can actually speak to this demographic we are totally defenceless.

And then there’s Brexit.

The one silver lining of this confused election result is that Theresa May’s stubborn insistence that “Brexit means Brexit” – by which she means that Brexit means abandoning the EEA, denying the existence of non-tariff barriers to trade, demanding a bespoke comprehensive free trade agreement within two years and threatening to walk away with no deal if the EU failed to acquiesce – may now be moderated by more sensible voices which lean toward the once-maligned “Norway Option”.

The DUP, on whose support the Conservatives must now rely to command a majority in the House of Commons and remain in government, are against a hard Brexit, as are many Tory Remainers and many small-C conservative Brexiteers across the country. While the Tory Brexit Taliban (a wonderful phrase concocted by Pete North) will kick up an almighty fuss if they sense any dilution of their maximalist approach to Brexit, suddenly it has become a lot harder to see the pathway toward that goal. Good.

Aside from these thoughts, I am still digesting the surprising election result and the potential ramifications of a new political reality with many moving parts. But below are some of the hot takes and more considered reactions which have resonated most with me in the hours since the fateful exit poll was released.

Author and blogger Paul Goldsmith rips into the Tories’ awful manifesto, the incompetence of their leadership and their small-minded, fear-based campaign:

Let’s not beat around the bush here. Theresa May’s manifesto was almost like saying ‘come on, I dare you to vote for us’. The idea that people who had worked all their lives and paid taxes and national insurance to build up a nest-egg to pass onto their children and grandchildren should run down that nest-egg to the last £100,000 to pay for care they thought was part of their social contract with the state in return for those taxes and that insurance? A return to a grammar school system that might look superficially advantageous to poorer children but with no clarity on how it wouldn’t once again abandon 75% of the population to the mental slavery of under-education? A free vote on fox hunting? A determination to insist that the ‘will of the people’ had been clearly expressed for the hardest of Brexits including withdrawal from the Single Market and customs union and immigration controls that include the preposterous 100,000 a year immigration cap?

Let’s add that to the person delivering this, it turned out, far more madcap scheme. Theresa May came across as arrogant, complacent, prickly when challenged, and downright mendacious when insisting ‘nothing had changed’ during her unprecedented manifesto u-turn on social care. Then there was the refusal to engage in TV debates. I wonder if any leader will do THAT again. Her refusal to properly involve her Cabinet in creating that manifesto left them hung out to dry when defending it, as they were reduced to constant ‘dead cat’ strategies of shouting ‘IRA’, ‘MARXIST’ and ‘TERRORIST SYMPATHIZER’ at Jeremy Corbyn, because they had so little positive to say.

Then look at what she was up against. Every night I would watch the news with Mrs G. We are not, and never will be ‘Corbynistas’, but by g-d did he look good compared to the Prime Minister. Mrs G often said it herself “every night he seems like the only person in this election who really believes what he is saying.”

This last point is particularly valid. Don’t underestimate the attraction of a political leader who (regardless of the rightness or wrongness of their policies) actually sincerely believes what they are saying, and has the courage to defend those beliefs.

When Theresa May first called this general election, I wrote a piece pondering whether Jeremy Corbyn’s likely defeat would spell the end for conviction politics altogether. How wrong I was. If anything, the Tory implosion and Corbyn’s solid showing (and the enthusiasm he has generated among many young people) have reminded us that having strong principles and the willingness to defend them can actually be attractive to voters. If only the conviction politician in this case had been on the Right rather than the Left.

Daniel Hannan, writing for the Washington Examiner, reaches for some low-hanging fruit about how young people voted for Free Stuff:

It’s true that the Conservative campaign could have been better, but that is true of every campaign in history. The prime minister, Theresa May, was criticized for calling an unnecessary election and then refusing to participate in the televised debates. But that doesn’t come close to explaining how Labour rose from 30 to 40 percent support during the campaign.

No, I’m afraid we’re down to the simplest and most depressing explanation. Quite a few voters will support any party that seems to be offering them free stuff.

Labour’s manifesto was a ridiculous list of public handouts. More money was promised for healthcare, schools, the police, public sector pay rises, pensions and free university tuition. All the extra cash was vaguely supposed to come from “big business” and “the rich.” In the event, an awful lot of people liked the sound of goodies that someone else would pay for.

The Labour vote came disproportionately from people under the age of 25, who turned out in unprecedented numbers, confounding every opinion poll. Few of voters of that generation know about the IRA bombing campaign in the 1970s and 1980s, which far surpassed today’s Islamist terror in its scale. They do not remember the Cold War. They do not even recall, except in the vaguest sense, the last Labour government which, in 2010, left Britain with a deficit higher than Greece’s.

On polling day, a Labour activist tweeted a photograph of students queuing outside a polling station. It was, she said, a sign of the political upheaval that was taking place. But my immediate thought was: “If your guy implements the socialism he wants, we’ll all have to get used to queuing.”

He’s right. The case for free markets and fiscal conservatism has to be made anew in every generation. Many of the young people who helped power Jeremy Corbyn to victory are at best dimly aware of the extent to which post-war consensus, socialist policies doomed Britain to slow and steady decline up to 1979. They didn’t experience the Winter of Discontent themselves, just as I didn’t.

But if nobody makes the case for the kind of policies which rescued Britain from near-terminal decline and which are at the root of the historic prosperity and plenty which we now enjoy, then they will take this stability and prosperity for granted, assuming that it is the baseline, the default setting. They will wrongly assume that things can only be improved by overturning conservative policies and attacking the free market, when in fact conservative economic policies and free markets underpin nearly every good thing in their lives, from the clothes they wear, the variety of food in the grocery stores where they shop to the smartphones in their hand from which they glibly re-tweet “For the many, not the few”.

Here’s Margot James, Conservative MP for Stourbridge, making a similar point in Conservative Home:

Apart from a level of debt which is unsustainable over the long term, the economy is now in good shape.  We have brought sanity to the public finances, as we promised we would. Consequently, the economy has not been to the fore when people have been deciding how to vote.  Labour have been able to latch on to this relative economic security by peddling a message that the state should provide more at every turn.

The election descended into a profligate binge over how much taxpayers’ money Labour proposed to give away: keeping the triple lock for pension increases, maintaining winter fuel payments for older people as a universal benefit, thousands more police officers (regardless whether or not they are needed, given the changing nature of crime), more money for schools, health, and social care…all this was added to the billions needed for the nationalisation of the railways and the Royal Mail. And finally, the game-changer: an end to tuition fees for higher education.

The moment I heard Labour’s policy of free university education I knew young people would turn out to vote in unprecedented numbers.  This was a policy that would deliver votes in the same way that the sale of council houses did for us during the 1980s.

At a radio hustings I took part in, we were asked what we would do for young people.  Labour was all about handouts: free higher education with no regard for how universities were to be funded, the reintroduction of housing benefit for 20 olds and an equal minimum wage.  I was a lone voice calling for improving opportunities for young people to gain skills, start businesses, and access better jobs brought about by encouraging investment.

Paul Goldsmith picked up on this point, too:

Many right-wing commentators have pointed out that all Jeremy Corbyn was doing was bribing people with other peoples’ money. One said that the election could be summed up in six words: ‘young people vote for free stuff’. Yes, there is an argument for both. But this is why it was incumbent upon Theresa May and the few people she takes advice from to present an optimistic picture of the benefits of the free market, or maybe stepped back, considered that if you keep on cutting spending per pupil in education the country will pay the price for generations, and changed course in a way that stays true to the now normal Conservative consensus that instead of spending a load of money to manage demand, money should go towards increasing productivity and supply, and demand will take care of itself.

But no. Instead we got the cowardice of fear. Fear of proper debate, fear of the demands of those on the Eurosceptic right who  will not stand for a single penny going to the EU and who insist with no justification that the world will simply dance to our tune, and fear of antagonising those who fund her party. Meanwhile, Jeremy Corbyn offered the audacity of hope, a hope that economic theory might be turned on its head, a hope that people who would be milked for money would turn it over quietly, but more importantly a hope that no-one in this rich country will live in desperation anymore.

It is astonishing, the degree to which the Conservative Party fought the election and generally structured its messaging according to the terms of the socialist Left. Restraining the growth of the state has continually been portrayed as a regrettable necessity rather than a good thing in itself. And that’s when certain ex-advisers who shall not be named (cough, Nick Timothy) were not busy advocating an even more activist role for the state altogether.

When you start speaking in the other side’s tone of voice, using their turns of phrase and echoing their agenda (Theresa May’s first act as PM was to stand on the steps of 10 Downing Street and talk about how government could help the “Just About Managing” rather than getting out of the way and lowering their tax burden) then you legitimise their arguments. If you concede that it is the job of an activist, paternalist state to help everybody by shovelling benefits in their direction and artificially limiting their choices, why would anybody vote for the Tories when Labour promise to do the job so much more enthusiastically?

Sam Bowman, of the Adam Smith Institute, is not in a forgiving mood:

The Tories did so badly in part because they did not give people a reason to vote for them; in part because they doubled down on a hard Brexit strategy; in part because they neglected and even attacked their own base. For many years they and almost everybody else have totally failed to make a broad-brush case for free markets, with the honourable exception of a few think tanks and newspaper columnists. With that in mind, why is it surprising that someone who despises markets is so popular? How good the moderate and coherent Osborne brand of social liberalism and fiscal conservatism now looks.

[..] The Tories did not offer anything to voters or to their own supporters. A free market manifesto could have energised Tory campaigners and candidates who would have had a reason to go to bat for May when she stumbled. It could have included policies that would have been popular with voters, like stamp duty and inheritance tax cuts, or ways of unlocking more infrastructure investment, that could have been sold on the doorstep as a reason to vote for them if you didn’t like them on Brexit. Fox hunting doesn’t count.

[..] Virtually no time at all was spent on the economy. What a colossal mistake. Many people’s incomes are the same in real terms as they were ten years ago, which is unprecedented. It was insane to ignore this and not to offer policies that might have boosted investment (chronically low in Britain by international standards) and people’s wages. All we got was a crude parody of continental European industrial policy, which in practice meant hectoring firms about worker representation on their boards and baseless claims about price gouging. What good is a polling lead on the economy for a right-wing party if you’re only interested in talking about business to attack it?

The Conservatives could have had a powerful and, to their base, exciting election platform. More homes, more investment, and better infrastructure could all have been delivered through smart, density-focused planning reforms, by restoring capital allowances in the corporation tax and cutting the part of business rates that falls on property investment, and by allowing local government to finance new infrastructure from private investment.

These ideas are free market to the core but are about fixing the problems that ordinary people have. Standing for free market conservatism does not mean having to be a dogmatic ideologue — something May and her team never understood.

Over on Facebook, Brendan O’Neill – who does himself no favours with his strident insistence that his is the only One True Brexit – does make some good points, first about the nature of the current Labour Party:

As more election number-crunching is carried out, it’s becoming clear that the Tories and Labour now play entirely different roles to the ones they played just 20 or 30 years ago.

The first thing that’s becoming clear is that people have overstated the extent to which Labour won over Leave voters. According to Lord Ashcroft’s exhaustive national survey, 60 per cent of Leavers voted for the Tories and only 25 per cent voted for Labour. John Curtice, the BBC’s key number-cruncher, reports that the biggest swings to the Tories were in Leave areas, while it was in “seats which voted Remain last year [that] Labour pulled off some of its best performances”. This means the Tories had huge swings in very poor areas like Boston and Skegness and working-class areas like Bolsover — which are Leave areas — while Labour made enormous gains in Hampstead, Kensington and Canterbury, which are Remain areas and / or well-off areas. The Tories made inroads with the poor, Labour made gains among the posh. This is fascinating.

More number-crunching is needed, but two things are becoming clear. 1) The idea that the Brexit issue or the Brexit divide has gone away is a fantasy. It merely takes a different form now, with Leave largely orientating around the Tories and Remain around Labour. Ashcroft says 68 per cent of Tory voters are Leavers and 64 per cent of Labour voters are Remainers. That is extraordinary. It’s the divide of our time, and we shouldn’t deny that. And 2) Labour, even led by Corbyn, is not a party of the working class. In fact it is becoming something else. It is morphing, or at least might morph, into being a party of the middle class that wants to *keep in check* working-class anger with institutions like the EU. Let that sink in. And let’s see what happens next.

And:

Okay, the wild Labour celebrations are getting weird now. Labour didn’t win. Even against grey, dull, U-turning May — the worst Tory leader of my lifetime, by far — it didn’t win. It is testament to Labour’s low ambitions that it is getting so excited about this. This is clearly a party that never expects to be in government again and must therefore welcome upward blips and handfuls of gains as the best it can get, proof it still has a pulse.

I also agree with O’Neill on the excessive celebration of the youth vote, as though their participation in the democratic process is somehow more valuable than that of older voters:

The message we’ve been bombarded with since Brexit and the Corbyn surge is that when the old vote, everything goes to shit, and the sooner these selfish, nostalgic bastards die, the better; but when the young vote, it’s all milk and honey and roses and light, and the sooner this fresh, caring generation takes over society, the better. The old are demonised, the young sacralised, giving rise to what must surely be one of the nastiest divides in our society right now. I can’t get behind the enthusiasm for the youth vote, I’m afraid, because much of it seems to me to be driven by a culture-war sense of entitlement against the apparently unfeeling, uneducated elderly. The culture war has come to the ballot box.

Now of course we should celebrate when a normally apathetic demographic group actually turns out to vote, but there is a worrying narrative building of young people, furious at having had their “futures taken away” by the selfish Leave votes of older people, finally striking back by supporting Jeremy Corbyn.

As well as being false, this is highly offensive. As though old people – many of whom sacrificed and laboured to give their EU-supporting kids the best possible chances in life – were not thinking about their children’s futures when they voted for Brexit, and as though young people – literally members of generation Me Me Me, consumerists who struggled to frame the EU referendum debate in terms other than what it meant for them and their own travel opportunities, love lives, mobile roaming charges etc. – were high-mindedly voting for the good of society and the future of our democracy. I have no time for this sanctimonious, false narrative, and it is good to see O’Neill also forcefully pushing back.

Turning to Brexit, here’s Pete North, angrily rebutting those who continue to fatuously declare that “the people” voted only for their specific, idiotic brand of Brexit:

As to the assertion that remaining in the single market is not leaving the EU, this is a zombie argument used by liars. The single market as it stands now is a collaborative venture between the EU and Efta states – and Norway etc only adopt about one in five EU rules by way of a system of co-determination – laws which we will likely have to adopt even if we left the single market – but without any means of disputing council decisions. Not least since many of them are rooted in global conventions.

I won’t go into the gory details because I will revisit these issues in the near future. The point of this post is simply to say that leavers do not get to call the shots on how we depart. They were given that opportunity over a year ago and declined the opportunity. It is therefore up to all of us to debate. Democracy is a continuum and though the decision to leave may well be sacrosanct the mode of departure still hangs in the balance and there is everything to play for.

You probably already know my views on this. There is no economic gain or utility in terms of sovereignty from leaving the single market. The main objective and the the single most important one is that we end political union with the EU and an off the shelf treaty is the fastest and safest path to that outcome. The rest can be sorted out later and revisited by way of EEA review.

There is no scenario where we don’t have to make compromises and fetishising sovereignty for its own sake is pointless since absolute sovereignty no longer exists unless you’re a regulatory superpower like China or the USA. Diverging from the existing regime brings us no efficiencies and comes at the cost of European trade. That was a tough pill to swallow for me being a long standing critic of EU regulation – but that is the reality of it nonetheless.

[..] In that regard do not let anyone tell you the debate is settled or let them interpret the result of the election for you. The question of how we leave has always been open ended and there is every reason to get involved. Plenty of people want to close down the debate by telling lies. The usual suspects. I’m not standing for it and this ain’t over til it’s over. The fight over Britain’s destiny did not end in June last year. The referendum was only the beginning and hardline leavers do not own this debate.

Meanwhile, the Telegraph columnist Christopher Booker can’t believe our good fortune in having inadvertently steered a course between two dangerous options (Corbynite socialism and Mayite Brexit illiteracy) with the electorate’s inconclusive verdict:

After a very short night, I was woken before 8am on Friday by a call from my son Nick, 5,000 miles away in India, who had been following the drama 8,000 feet up in the Himalayan foothills. “This is yet another amazing tribute,” he said, “to the unconscious political genius of the British people. They have somehow managed to steer between the Scylla of Corbyn’s suicidal economic illiteracy and the Charybdis of Mrs May’s hard Brexit.”

“She will only be able to govern with the support of 10 Northern Irish MPs who insist that we must keep a ‘frictionless border’ with Ireland and the 13 Scottish Tories who, with Ruth Davidson, are equally insistent that we must somehow remain free to trade in the single market. That is brilliant for the Union, because both Northern Ireland and Scotland are crucial to her survival.

“With all the other parties also somehow committed to staying in the European market, plus many of the less reckless Tories, that means that it will be extremely difficult for her to press on with her hard-Brexit, ‘walk away without a deal’ line. “I am now more optimistic about Britain’s future”, Nick concluded, “than I have been for a long time.” Many of my readers, I know, will be shocked, if not surprised, to hear that I agree with him.

Booker’s son is not wrong – and this is what makes the election result so bittersweet from my own perspective. Anything that moderates the nature of Brexit and injects some light rather than heat into the debate is clearly a good thing. But Theresa May has led the Conservative Party to a very bad place, perilously close to defeat, and there is no guarantee that either she or her replacement will learn the correct lessons.

The danger is that the Tories, rather than rediscovering their ideological backbone and making the case for free markets and a less activist state to the people, instead now join Labour in a full-on race to the political left, which would be devastating for conservatism as a whole as well as being a competition which the Right can simply never win. Must the price for Brexit be the shifting of the Overton window ten degrees back toward the Corbynite Left? It looks increasingly as though this may be the case.

Conservative Home’s Paul Goodman looks at the mechanics of the Conservative Party’s current predicament:

Better by far, say the wise old owls, to hang on.  An arrangement with the DUP would give the new Government a majority, they say.  There is no prospect of a no confidence vote succeeding.  And May can find shelter behind our old friend, the Fixed Terms Parliament Act.  Maybe she should see the Brexit talks through, some muse, and then depart with the thanks of a grateful nation.

Perhaps the old birds are right.  But this site is nagged by the uncomfortable feeling that they may be failing to see the wood for the trees.  May won the biggest Tory share of the vote since Margaret Thatcher, but the landslide she anticipated did not take place.  Voters seem to have mulled her refusal to level with them over social care, her reluctance to debate, her lack of ease with campaigning and engagement – and, having weighed her in the balance, found her wanting.  It is not certain that she has the flexibility and adaptability to share power with her Cabinet and Party and Parliament, as she must now do to survive.

It is all very well to take refuge behind fixed terms plus hope in the DUP.  David Cameron had a majority, and his government was crippled by rebellions.  May was at mercy of the Commons even before the election: remember the Budget and national insurance?  Conservative MPs may not yet have grasped that we face the possibility of five years of a Do Nothing Government – with all that this implies for the proper management of the country’s finances.  On paper, such an administration may be able to stagger on – at the mercy of tide and chance, with a Party leader vulnerable at any moment to a leadership challenge via letters to Graham Brady.  But in practice?

No, Theresa May needs to go now. None of the pieces I have read since that exit poll came out have convinced me otherwise, well argued though some of them are. In a sense, it doesn’t really matter that none of the likely options to replace her are any better (and Pete North forcefully explains why this is the case). The key is that the contenders could hardly be any worse, either in their zeal for a particularly destructive form of Brexit with almost no real thinking behind it, or in their dubious commitment to free markets and restraining the size of the state. And recall, May’s successor will be equally constrained in their Brexit approach by parliamentary arithmetic, so there is no need to keep May around for fear of a more hardline approach to Brexit.

Theresa May needs to go because she single-handedly destroyed her own authority, not just within her party or the country at large, but on the world stage too. These are momentous times, and with the metro-Left political elites of most countries currently scoffing at Britain for supposedly relegating ourselves from the ranks of serious countries by voting for Brexit, we need a strong, charismatic leader who is capable of going toe to toe with Emmanuel Macron, Angela Merkel and Donald Trump. Not a weak supplicant caretaker PM whose permission to continue representing us is extended only one day or one week at a time.

Perception matters, and right now Theresa May is correctly perceived as a loser with no authority. Better to make the change now, even if it means enduring five more years of aggrieved leftists who don’t understand how our system of government works (or make any effort to change it) moaning about another unelected Tory prime minister. Better to make the switch now rather than changing horses midstream in the middle of Brexit negotiations. And while whoever replaces Theresa May will probably be just as, uh, problematic from a conservative viewpoint, we should compensate by using the turmoil to finally promote some of the more Thatcherite, liberty-minded backbenchers – the likes of James Cleverly or Kwasi Kwarteng – to cabinet positions so that next time around we have a better talent pool to fish in.

The only problem is that by the time of the next general election, the Tories will have been in government (mostly in coalition / confidence and supply agreement, but also alone) for the past seven-plus years. The window for making radical changes to the way the country operates, tantalisingly opened after the Great Recession but stymied by David Cameron’s failure to win an outright majority against Gordon Brown, will have fully closed again. How many political parties or administrations can you think of which suddenly burst to life with original ideas and bold new policies 7+ years after first coming to power? Surely none. Anything radical must happen at the beginning, before the impetus wears off, steady state sets in and the people ultimately tire of the party of government and demand a change.

Regrettably, the Tories have wasted their years of potential firstly in coalition with the LibDems, then alone after the 2015 victory and now in some still-to-be-decided arrangement with the DUP, and accomplished very little save holding the EU referendum which gave us Brexit and presiding over a reduction (but not eradication) of the budget deficit. It is now quite possible that we must soon suffer through some form of left-wing government – perhaps a progressive alliance of the childlike Left, though who can now put it past Jeremy Corbyn to secure a majority of his own if May’s government falls? – before the Tories can then return once again to fix or limit the damage.

And yet in mitigation of this depressing fact, there is now a fighting chance that the new parliamentary arithmetic will see Brexit taking a more sensible, palatable and less destructive form, which is what this blog wanted all along.

Politics giveth and politics taketh away.

 

These are my current thoughts on the fluid post-election situation, together with some reactions from other people which have resonated with me since election night. I have quite a busy few days coming up so the blog may go a little bit quiet for the next week with only an occasional sporadic update, but normal service should be resumed by next weekend.

Stay tuned to the Twitter feed @SamHooper for more short-form ranting in the interim.

 

Theresa May - Downing Street speech

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What European Identity?

Remainer paints EU flag on her face - European Union - Brexit

No, watching an arthouse movie twice a year doesn’t count

Pete North puts into rather forceful words a sentiment which inchoately bubbles up within me every time I see a tearful Remainer painting the EU flag on their face and weeping into an eagerly waiting television camera about how the cruel, racist vote for Brexit has somehow ripped their “European identity” away from them.

North scoffs:

For all that cretinous bilge from remainers about us Brexiteers “stealing my European identity”, I say bollocks. You have no European identity. It is a figment of your imagination. You weren’t watching [a] French cop show on Netflix last night were you? You didn’t go and see a Spanish superhero film at the cinema last week. You know more about US politics than you do about the EU. Culturally, militarily and politically we are Anglospheric. That is a fact.

For all that we have seen remainers amphibious with grief, I say go and look at the traffic jams and the behaviour of drivers in Rome or go and watch the Spanish torture a bull to death and tell me that your culture is in any way reflected in Europeans. That’s when I tell you to fuck right off.

If I have to pick an empire to be allied with, I choose the USA every single time. The land of The Wire, South Park, Rick and Morty, the First Amendment. The country that never needed any persuading that Communism is the manifestation of evil on earth.

Say what you like about Donald Trump, but Donald Trump is not America. Trump is for four years or so. Moreover, Trump is a good sign. Yes, he’s a brash, oafish wrecker but he was elected on the back of a total rejection of American leftism. That which has aggressively moved to bury all moral norms and free speech along with it.

This is why Trump is weakening relations with the EU. Ultimately the diseased politically correct establishment in the USA is the consequence of a detached and corrupt liberal elite. In that respect the USA is in a more advanced state of decay than the EU – but we should view it as a warning. The soft left political consensus of the EU, with its deeply ingrained NGOcracy is that same disease. Brexit is not Trump. Brexit means we avert having one of our own.

I concur wholeheartedly.

Ask a Remainer what their favourite television show is, and they are far more likely to cite an American show than a European one.

Ask a Remainer what their favourite movie is, and they are far more likely to cite something from Hollywood than a worthy-but-subtitled movie from France, Spain or Italy.

Ask a Remainer who their favourite pop music artist is, and they are far more likely to cite an American artist than a European one.

Ask a Remainer to name a political hero or inspiration and I would wager that they are far more likely to reach for Abraham Lincoln, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, John F Kennedy or Barack Obama than Jacques Chirac, Gerhard Schröder, Silvio Berlusconi or Angela Merkel.

Ask a Remainer to cite a famous legal case or decision from a jurisdiction other than their own, and they are far more likely to name a famous case from the US Supreme Court – Brown v Board of Education, Roe v Wade – than a case from the European courts, or those of any member state.

For that matter, look at our legal system of Common Law, which influenced the formation of the American legal system (in the original colonies through to the federal system) and which is markedly different to the civil law traditions prevalent on the continent.

There are exceptions, of course. There are some areas where Europe does exert a stronger gravitational pull over us than North America or the wider Anglosphere. But besides geographic proximity, they are few and far between. Those who claim that we are somehow predominantly “European” in culture tend to either do so from a position of wishful thinking, wanting to position us closer to European social democratic tradition because they wish that our politics would move further in that direction, or from the blinkered perspective of their own narrow social circles.

None of this is to claim that British people lack an affinity for Europe, have nothing in common with other European countries or are in any way hostile to European culture. Many Brits do have deep and abiding links with the continent, myself included – I have a deep and abiding affinity with France and the French culture and people dating back to my teenage years, but I am clear in my mind that this is a relationship nurtured with a culture distinct from and different to my own, not a mere extension of my own culture.

And anybody who seriously surveys the full sweep of cultural connections – legal, governmental, artistic, musical, touristic, commercial – and tries to tell you that the British people have more in common with mainland Europe than with our friends in the Anglosphere (particularly the United States and Canada) is deliberately trying to deceive you, and deluding themselves in the process.

 

People hold banners during a demonstration against Britain's decision to leave the European Union, in central London

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Theresa May’s Brexit Speech: Soaring Ambition On A Foundation Of Sand

A grandiose speech with little serious thinking to back it up

Well, if anything lures me back to blogging then it may as well be Theresa May’s speech outlining the government’s long-awaited plan for Brexit.

I must admit that I am rather conflicted. This blog is on the record as holding Theresa May in rather low esteem in terms of her commitment to small government, individual liberty and conservatism in general, but it cannot be denied – least of all by someone like me who routinely criticises political speeches for being dull and uninspiring – that from a purely rhetorical perspective, May’s speech was satisfying both in terms of emotion and ambition.

Here was a speech almost in the American political tradition – reaching back through history to affirm the roots of British exceptionalism, the challenge now before us and the promise that an even greater Britain can be ours if only we strive for it:

It’s why we will put the preservation of our precious Union at the heart of everything we do. Because it is only by coming together as one great union of nations and people that we can make the most of the opportunities ahead. The result of the referendum was not a decision to turn inward and retreat from the world.

Because Britain’s history and culture is profoundly internationalist.

We are a European country – and proud of our shared European heritage – but we are also a country that has always looked beyond Europe to the wider world. That is why we are one of the most racially diverse countries in Europe, one of the most multicultural members of the European Union, and why – whether we are talking about India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, America, Australia, Canada, New Zealand, countries in Africa or those that are closer to home in Europe – so many of us have close friends and relatives from across the world.

Instinctively, we want to travel to, study in, trade with countries not just in Europe but beyond the borders of our continent. Even now as we prepare to leave the EU, we are planning for the next biennial Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting in 2018 – a reminder of our unique and proud global relationships.

And it is important to recognise this fact. June the 23rd was not the moment Britain chose to step back from the world. It was the moment we chose to build a truly Global Britain.

The peroration was particularly good, as May eschewed the temptation to bribe the electorate with glib promises of riches today and instead asked us to consider the longer term good, as well as our place in the history books:

So that is what we will do.

Not merely forming a new partnership with Europe, but building a stronger, fairer, more Global Britain too.

And let that be the legacy of our time. The prize towards which we work. The destination at which we arrive once the negotiation is done.

And let us do it not for ourselves, but for those who follow. For the country’s children and grandchildren too.

So that when future generations look back at this time, they will judge us not only by the decision that we made, but by what we made of that decision.

They will see that we shaped them a brighter future.

They will know that we built them a better Britain.

When nearly every other major set piece speech in British politics is little more than a dismal effort to placate a restive and self-entitled electorate by promising the people Free Things Without Effort or Consequences (ask not what you can do for your country but what your country can do for you), here was a speech that set its sights a little higher and actually aspired to statecraft.

May’s criticism of the European Union and justification of the UK’s decision to secede from the EU was very good, particularly coming from someone who herself supported the Remain side and kept her head firmly beneath the parapet during the referendum campaign:

Our political traditions are different. Unlike other European countries, we have no written constitution, but the principle of Parliamentary Sovereignty is the basis of our unwritten constitutional settlement. We have only a recent history of devolved governance – though it has rapidly embedded itself – and we have little history of coalition government.

The public expect to be able to hold their governments to account very directly, and as a result supranational institutions as strong as those created by the European Union sit very uneasily in relation to our political history and way of life.

And, while I know Britain might at times have been seen as an awkward member state, the European Union has struggled to deal with the diversity of its member countries and their interests. It bends towards uniformity, not flexibility.

Without straying into undiplomatic language, May firmly placed responsibility for Brexit at the foot of a Brussels supranational government which is inflexibly committed to endless political integration by stealth, with member state individuality subordinate to European harmonisation.

The prime minister was also at pains to point out that dissatisfaction with the EU is by no means a uniquely British phenomenon, and that significant numbers of people in other member states hold many of the same legitimate grievances:

Now I do not believe that these things apply uniquely to Britain. Britain is not the only member state where there is a strong attachment to accountable and democratic government, such a strong internationalist mindset, or a belief that diversity within Europe should be celebrated. And so I believe there is a lesson in Brexit not just for Britain but, if it wants to succeed, for the EU itself.

Because our continent’s great strength has always been its diversity. And there are 2 ways of dealing with different interests. You can respond by trying to hold things together by force, tightening a vice-like grip that ends up crushing into tiny pieces the very things you want to protect. Or you can respect difference, cherish it even, and reform the EU so that it deals better with the wonderful diversity of its member states.

Of course this blog, unconstrained by any need for diplomatic restraint, would have gone further. Theresa May was at pains to state that a strong and united European Union is in Britain’s interest, which sounds magnanimous and sensible until you actually recognise the punch which is being pulled.

If the EU is an antidemocratic straightjacket imposing unwanted political integration on national populations who are ambivalent at best, why do we wish that the organisation prospers for decades to come? Do we not think our European friends and allies as deserving of democracy and the right to self-determination that we demand for ourselves? But this is nitpicking – the Brexit negotiations would hardly be served if May openly salivated at the prospect of the breakup of the European Union.

In her outreach to other European leaders, assuring them of Britain’s continuing goodwill, one almost hears an echo (okay, a very, very distant and diminished echo) of Lincoln’s first inaugural (“The Government will not assail you. You can have no conflict without being yourselves the aggressors…”) as May asserts that the UK government will negotiate in good faith so long as the EU reciprocates:

So to our friends across Europe, let me say this.

Our vote to leave the European Union was no rejection of the values we share. The decision to leave the EU represents no desire to become more distant to you, our friends and neighbours. It was no attempt to do harm to the EU itself or to any of its remaining member states. We do not want to turn the clock back to the days when Europe was less peaceful, less secure and less able to trade freely. It was a vote to restore, as we see it, our parliamentary democracy, national self-determination, and to become even more global and internationalist in action and in spirit.

We will continue to be reliable partners, willing allies and close friends. We want to buy your goods and services, sell you ours, trade with you as freely as possible, and work with one another to make sure we are all safer, more secure and more prosperous through continued friendship.

You will still be welcome in this country as we hope our citizens will be welcome in yours. At a time when together we face a serious threat from our enemies, Britain’s unique intelligence capabilities will continue to help to keep people in Europe safe from terrorism. And at a time when there is growing concern about European security, Britain’s servicemen and women, based in European countries including Estonia, Poland and Romania, will continue to do their duty.

We are leaving the European Union, but we are not leaving Europe.

All of this is good. So why am I not celebrating?

Because then the prime minister proceeded to outline her government’s plans and priorities for the upcoming Brexit negotiation. And at that point it became clear that we are not dealing with Abraham Lincoln but rather with James Buchanan.

In other words, the real problem with Theresa May’s speech came when she pivoted from the background context to the government’s 12-point plan (or exercise in wishful thinking).

Pete North says it best:

In just a few short passages May has driven a horse and cart through all good sense.

For starters May has misunderstood the exam question. The process of leaving the EU is to negotiate a framework for leaving and a framework for continued cooperation. Instead she has taken it as the process of securing a trade deal – which doesn’t even begin to acknowledge the depth and complexity of the task. Because of this Theresa May will ensure we pay the maximum price possible.

By any estimation there is no possibility of securing a comprehensive agreement in two years and if we reach any kind of impasse then all of the leverage falls to member states as we beg for an extension.

Worse still, May has fallen for the mantra that no deal is better than a bad deal and is prepared to walk away from the table. This would result in the WTO option and would be the single most egregious act of economic self harm ever recorded. As much as that is to be avoided there is now every chance that it will happen by accident as our time expires.

May has drunk deeply from the Brexiteer kool aid and Britain is about to find itself substantially poorer with fewer opportunities for trade. This will be the Tory Iraq. Blundering with half a clue and no plan and no real understanding of the landscape, resting the fate of the adventure on some overly optimistic patriotic nostrums that fold at first exposure to reality.

While the EU Referendum blog patiently explains why Theresa May’s declaration of intent is such a tall order:

Mrs May has set her face against a rational, measured Brexit and is embarking on a wild gamble, the outcome of which she has no way of predicting.

Such is her idea of pursuing “a bold and ambitious Free Trade Agreement with the European Union”, an undertaking which others have tried in the recent past – the most recent being Canada, which has spent eight years now in trying to bring an agreement to fruition, and we’re still waiting. The possibility, therefore, of the UK negotiating a deal (and getting it ratified) inside two years is, to say the very least, remote.

Nevertheless, there are those who think otherwise. They argue that, because the UK is already in the EU and achieved full regulatory convergence, transition from one type of agreement to another should be relatively straightforward and swift.

That, however, is completely to understate the complexity of modern trade agreements. In addition to regulatory convergence, there must be a dynamic arrangement that will ensure the automatic uptake of new regulation, and also the changes mandated by ECJ judgements. There must also be internal market surveillance measures, agreed conformity assessment measures, customs agreements, dispute settlement procedures, agreements on competition policy, procurement and intellectual property rights, as well as systems to deal with rules of origin.

These and much else, will require an institutional structure to facilitate communication and ongoing development, a form of arbitration panel or court, and a consultation body, which allows input into, and formal communication with the EU’s regulatory and institutional system.

And concludes:

This is my way of saying that to achieve a “bold and ambitious” free trade agreement with the EU inside two years is not just difficult. It is impossible. It cannot be done. And it doesn’t matter how many times it is discussed amongst the chattering classes, it still can’t be done.

It has been over eighteen months since this blog woke up to the fact that lazy Brexiteer tropes about quick-n-easy free trade agreements being the golden solution to every problem simply do not cut it in the face of such an unimaginably complex undertaking as extricating the United Kingdom from the European Union.

Since that time, it has become clear to me and many others that forty years of political integration cannot be unpicked within the two-year timeframe granted through Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty, and that any attempt to negotiate a bespoke solution within this timeframe would see us hit the deadline without a deal in sight, leaving us at the mercy of the EU27 as we scramble for an extension or risk going over the cliff and resorting to WTO rules.

But what has been clear to this blog (since I first read of the Flexcit plan for a phased and managed Brexit with an eye to developing the new global single market which must eventually replace the parochial EU) and to a growing number of Brexiteers remains completely opaque and mysterious to Her Majesty’s Government:

So as a priority, we will pursue a bold and ambitious free trade agreement with the European Union.

This agreement should allow for the freest possible trade in goods and services between Britain and the EU’s member states. It should give British companies the maximum freedom to trade with and operate within European markets – and let European businesses do the same in Britain.

But I want to be clear. What I am proposing cannot mean membership of the single market.

European leaders have said many times that membership means accepting the ‘4 freedoms’ of goods, capital, services and people. And being out of the EU but a member of the single market would mean complying with the EU’s rules and regulations that implement those freedoms, without having a vote on what those rules and regulations are. It would mean accepting a role for the European Court of Justice that would see it still having direct legal authority in our country.

It would to all intents and purposes mean not leaving the EU at all.

And that is why both sides in the referendum campaign made it clear that a vote to leave the EU would be a vote to leave the single market.

So we do not seek membership of the single market. Instead we seek the greatest possible access to it through a new, comprehensive, bold and ambitious free trade agreement.

That agreement may take in elements of current single market arrangements in certain areas – on the export of cars and lorries for example, or the freedom to provide financial services across national borders – as it makes no sense to start again from scratch when Britain and the remaining Member States have adhered to the same rules for so many years.

But I respect the position taken by European leaders who have been clear about their position, just as I am clear about mine. So an important part of the new strategic partnership we seek with the EU will be the pursuit of the greatest possible access to the single market, on a fully reciprocal basis, through a comprehensive free trade agreement.

Okay, great. And you plan to accomplish this in just two years, at a time when we are rebuilding our national trade negotiation competency from scratch? And what about the numerous other aspects of our co-operation with Brussels that do not directly relate to the single market? What process is there to be for evaluating and renegotiating these?

Ministers clearly still view Brexit through the narrow lens of wanting to sever all of the ties that bind us to Brussels and hope that a “quick and dirty” free trade agreement will somehow be a good substitute for patiently considering and unpicking each individual strand of co-operation between London, Brussels and the EU27.

And unless Theresa May has another, top secret Brexit ministry devoted to unglamorous issues like mutual recognition of regulatory standards (rather than burbling inanities about tariffs) then we are in for a very rude awakening at some point within the next two years.

Look: I like the ambition and confident tone of Theresa May’s speech. I like some of the swagger and self-confidence. And if May had been speaking about any subject other than Brexit in this manner I would be on my feet, giving a standing ovation. But unfortunately the prime minister has chosen to be smug and blasé about the one topic where airy self-assurance alone cannot win the day.

The prime minister accurately summed up many of the problems with the European Union, and did a good job in reminding people what an indispensable country Britain really is to the future economic, cultural and geopolitical prospects of Europe. That’s great. But it doesn’t begin to explain how Britain is going to negotiate an entirely bespoke new relationship with the European Union within two years when far less extensive deals focusing purely on trade routinely take over a decade to complete.

Ambition is good, but it must be tempered with reality. When John F Kennedy dedicated America to landing a man on the moon and safely returning him to Earth before the end of the 1960s, the specific technologies and facilities needed to achieve the historic feat may not all have existed, but the competencies to invent and build them certainly did. Not so with Britain and the goal of a two-year bespoke Brexit deal.

Unpicking forty years of political integration within two years would be an unimaginably tall order at the best of times, even if the organisation into which we are subsumed had not gradually drained us of the critical competencies required to complete the task. Theresa May promising a clean Brexit given our current national capabilities and negotiating climate is like President Theodore Roosevelt promising a moon shot in 1903, when the Wright brothers rather than Wernher von Braun represented the pinnacle of aviation technology.

So mixed feelings. How nice to finally hear a political speech that is so outward-looking and ambitious in content, positive in rhetoric. How sad that this particular one is likely to end in disappointment and recrimination.

 

theresa-may

EU Renegotiation - Brexit - European Union

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There’s Nothing Virtuous About Being a Rootless ‘Citizen Of The World’

citizen-of-the-world-roula-khalaf
Someone give that woman a medal

Most self-described citizens of the world are actually no such thing. They might enjoy the company of very similar people in increasingly similar global cities, but they probably couldn’t think of a single thing to say to somebody of different socio-economic status from a smaller town twenty miles down the road

Pete North explains perhaps better than anyone exactly why those people who style themselves as liberal “citizens of the world” are often no such thing – neither tremendously liberal, nor engaged citizens of anywhere, in any meaningful respect.

North writes:

In the end there is nothing especially virtuous about people who are well travelled and outward looking. A society needs all stripes to function. We need people to work the routine jobs and then we need a fluid workforce not tied down with responsibilities. Moreover, having dealt with more well pampered HR people than a person ever should, one thing I have noticed is that travel does not necessarily broaden the mind.

If you take an incurious person and lavish travel upon them you are wasting your money. Some of the most shallow, snobby and fatuous people I know would consider themselves liberal citizens of the world. Such people have no concept of what it is to be building or maintaining something with a long term plan. They latch on to the fashionable and socially convenient worldview that the EU is the manifestation of liberal values but it little more than virtue signalling.

And develops his argument:

What I find is that the broader your horizons, the harder it is to fit in wherever you go, and so there remains a polarisation between the settled and the travelled. It is then no surprise that there is an obvious demographic divide and opinion is split between the ages.

In this, the remain side of the Brexit debate seem keen to pour over these demographic studies to pathologise the leave vote, and consequently delegitimise it, as though you need to be of a particular set for your opinion to hold any worth. Democracy is lost on such people. The whole point of democracy is one person; one vote, where we take a sample of opinion and move together on the basis of compromise.

In something as binary as EU membership though there is only winner takes all. There is no third option on the ballot so we move with the majoritarian view which is to leave. For whatever reasons they voted for, they did so in accordance with their own views based on their own choices. Their worldviews are formed by what they see and hear in the media, but also in the street and in the workplace. They are the best judges of what is important to them. To suggest that choosing a more conservative lifestyle means you are not qualified to make such an estimation is to invite the very sentiment behind the leave vote.

What these people know better than anyone is that the frivolous and rootless people telling them how to vote are no better than anybody. I imagine the working classes would like nothing more than to live a more adventurous life but they don’t because they can’t afford it. It’s then a bit rich to tell them that the EU brings them freedom of movement and prosperity.

Earlier this year Theresa May said “If you believe you are a citizen of the world, you’re a citizen of nowhere. You don’t understand what citizenship means”. I smiled when I heard that. Nothing quite so succinctly demolishes the flimsy worldview that believing in the borderless homogenised EU, along with all the pompous garb that goes with it, is somehow enlightenment. May recognises that being a citizen is more than holding outwardly liberal views. It means making a contribution – to be part of something.

It takes no particular talent to drift through life going place to place – and in so doing all you’re likely to meet is others who have made the same choices or enjoy an extraordinary privilege. Far from broadening the mind it merely reinforces a particular mindset which is never exposed to the values of the settled community. It’s why self-styled “citizens of the world” have no self-awareness and do not for a moment appreciate just how naff they sound to everybody else.

In my experience, self-described citizens of the world have tended to describe their outlook in terms of what they get from the bargain rather than what they contribute to the equation. They call themselves citizens if the world because being so affords them opportunities and privileges – the chance to travel, network and do business. Very few people speak of being citizens of the world because of what they give back in terms of charity, cultural richness or human knowledge, yet all of the people that I would consider to be true citizens of the world – people like Leonard Bernstein or Ernest Hemingway – fall into this latter, rarer category.

What does it really mean to be a modern day “citizen of the world”, anyway, besides having a determinedly self-regarding outlook? Most of those who claim the title – either members of the ruling class or young hipsters whining that their futures and European identities have been somehow ripped away from them – are from the big cities, London most prominently. But to a large extent, many world cities are so alike in culture that one can negotiate and skip between them fairly easily,  even with a language barrier.

London has Starbucks, museums, galleries, bars and hipsters. So do Paris, Berlin, Copenhagen, Rome, Warsaw, Manchester, and everywhere else in Europe. In our interconnected world, large global cities are if not interchangeable then at least often share a common culture and vibe.

So you can successfully get smashed in Lisbon, Dublin, Stockholm and Munich? Congratulations, Mr. Citizen of the World. What do you want, a medal? Now go try to strike up a conversation with someone from your own country but from a different social class or region. Try going for a night out in Harlow or Wolverhampton or Preston. Your non-prescription hipster spectacles and quirky denim dungarees might buy you immediate entry to the trendy coffee shops of Amsterdam or the bars of Barcelona, but they’ll get you nowhere in Stoke-on-Trent.

And increasingly this is what it comes down to. We have a broad class of people with access to (and the desire to be part of) this emerging global tribe based in the top cities, and a class of people either cut off from this world or with little desire to participate in it. Now, we should certainly use economic policy to lift those who want to live more global lives into a position where they can do so, and avoid the urge to persecute or condescend to those who do not. But in general, we could all do with a bit less smugness and sanctimony from the Citizen of Starbucks Brigade.

For a start, the vast, vast majority of these people are such poor citizens of their own countries that they would feel adrift and culture-shocked, as though in a foreign land, if you lifted them from their home city and moved them to a smaller town thirty miles down the road. This is not some elite band of super-enlightened, non-judgmental, globally-minded, culturally-aware aesthetes, eager to experience new things. This is a pampered, cosseted tribe of relatively well-off millennials, many of whom are in thrall to the divisive Cult of Social Justice and Identity Politics, who barely understand their own compatriots yet arrogantly believe they are ready to be unleashed upon the world.

There is nothing particularly noble or praiseworthy about overcoming a language barrier to work and make friends with other people just like you who happen to live in other countries – which describes the vast majority of those people now tearfully painting the EU flag on their cheeks at anti-Brexit demonstrations and angrily declaring themselves “citizens of the world”.

Want to do something more challenging and actually worthy of praise? Try earning a reputation as somebody with friendships that span ages, social classes and other demographic indicators. Try living up to the ideal set by Rudyard Kipling:

If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,

Or walk with Kings—nor lose the common touch

And if you do so, you might not necessarily become a Man, my son. But at least you won’t be just another insufferable, identikit, cookie-cutter individual who conspicuously supports the European Union – despite barely comprehending what it really is – purely as a means of signalling your virtue to your insufferable, identikit, cookie-cutter fellow citizens of the world.

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Bottom Image: albawhitewolf

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