Richard North, 24/05/2017  

During the height of the Troubles in Northern Ireland, I recall some serious discussion about whether there should be a complete block on high profile publicity on bomb outrages – on the basis that to afford them front page headlines and huge media coverage was to give the terrorists exactly what they wanted.

Something of that argument carries over into the dreadful incident in Manchester, late on Monday, the news of the incident and its aftermath driving other news out of the media, with even general election coverage suspended.

The essence of terrorism is that it is a grotesque form of attention-seeking. If we let them, this murderous freak in Manchester and his co-conspirators are going to have more effect on the outcome of Brexit than a thousand or more pundits and politicians, simply by virtue of their closing down the public debate.

These people seek to disrupt our way of life, to create an atmosphere of tension and crisis and to distort and channel our politics, all so that we should conform with their agendas. Therefore, an essential response to terrorism is to attempt, as far as is possible, to carry on as normal.

But, as Pete remarks, media incontinence and the inability to focus on more than one subject at a time, means that Brexit will be buried even further. Already, in this election, this pivotal issue is woefully neglected and the media need little excuse to chase after issues that are easier and more rewarding to report.

Unwittingly, therefore, the media is doing the terrorists' bidding, something that we are unwise to allow. Thus, we must, with due respect and deference to the dead and injured, press on with an issue which is vital to the long-term prosperity of the UK, an issue which will shape our politics for generations to come.

Right up front in this department is the extraordinary mess Mrs May seems to be making of her election manifesto, and the apparent U-turn over the so-called "dementia tax". The elements of this have enormous relevance to Brexit.

To help understand this, we can go to The Times (behind the paywall) and a piece headed: "May's flaws are now exposed for all to see". Here, we see Rachel Sylvester write:
Mrs May, prizing loyalty over knowledge, relied instead on her small, close-knit team of advisers who appear to have failed to understand the basic issue. Even the cabinet was not consulted on this critical policy, which was reportedly inserted into the manifesto at the last minute by Nick Timothy, the prime minister's chief of staff.
Sylvester then goes on to say: "None of this bodes well for difficult Brexit negotiations that will require flexibility and empathy as well as determination if she returns to Downing Street".

"The problem", she says, "is that it's part of a pattern. Only a few weeks ago the prime minister had to abandon the key budget announcement about a rise in national insurance for self-employed workers because she and her team had apparently failed to spot that it clashed with a manifesto commitment made by David Cameron".

The complaint is one of "tunnel vision in No 10" that prevented political perception. At the Home Office, where Mrs May also relied on her inner circle, says Sylvester, "she ignored all appeals by her cabinet colleagues to take students out of the net migration target, despite the damage the policy was doing to universities".

Even though she repeatedly missed the pledge to bring the number of immigrants down to the tens of thousands, she stubbornly insisted on repeating it in her own manifesto.

In the view of the Times columnist, looking inwards not outwards makes for bad policy and ineffective government. The Tory manifesto, she says, is starting to unravel. The prime minister needs to learn to listen to those beyond her core team if she wins on 8 June or she will quickly see her premiership doing the same.

Unfortunately, Brexit is a central part of the manifesto and, as other policy areas seem to be unravelling, Mrs May seems to be hardening her approach to Brexit, relying on what she thinks is a popular policy to salvage her tarnished reputation.

In so doing, she is supported by the Brexit cult within the Conservative Party which, as Pete remarks, is in the process of convincing itself hat there is no cliff edge. And like Mrs May's own political process, they seek to do this through obfuscation and denial, building up an elaborate belief system based on a number of self-deceptions.

The latest manifestation of this is in Conservative Home where the spectacularly moronic Christopher Howarth joins his fellow Tory Boys in a thoroughly dishonest attempt to support the WTO option. Howarth, of course, is Steve Baker's gofer and the researcher for the European Research Group, that group of Tory "Ultras" dedicated to pursuing a "hard" Brexit.

Thus does Howarth argue that: "The US trades with the EU under WTO terms, but that does not mean that the US has no agreements with the EU", thereby completely misrepresenting the WTO option. Necessarily, as we've pointed out on numerous occasions, not least here, The WTO option arises from unilateral action taken by the UK. The moment you broker side-agreements to supplement the basic WTO rules, you are no longer dealing with the WTO option. The unilateral becomes bilateral.

But this is how you win arguments in Tory land. You change the definition of the terms, to give them your own unique meaning which happens to suit your personal requirements. By that means, adopting the WTO option does not involve driving over the cliff edge, because you've just redefined it.

Exactly the same game was played by Lee Rotherham, who asserted that: "What people forget is that what are referred to as 'WTO terms' are accompanied by a range of other agreements that build on them and further facilitate trade".

By such sleight of hand, it is possible to win any argument, demonstrating also why it is fruitless arguing with a Tory. They live in that alternate universe alongside Mrs May, the presence of which so frustrated Jean-Claude Juncker. This is a universe where black is white and the unilateral "WTO option" is miraculously converted into a series of bilateral agreements.

Unfortunately for Mrs May, should such arguments be taken to Brussels, they will be tested under hostile conditions, outside the warm, comforting embrace of Conservative Home, where the arguments are won before writers even put fingers to keyboards.

In this very different reality, the argument is not necessarily going to be any better but it is not going to buy into the cloying conformity that binds the Tory clique. The UK's "Team Brexit" is going to be fighting for its life and, with arguments that find such an easy resting place in CH, it is going to lose.

If we're to avoid a plane crash Brexit, Mrs May is going to have to realise that she cannot rely on her "inner circle". She will have to break free from the grip of inbred Tory stupidity and listen to something that has a half-life of more than nanoseconds outside the closeted environment of the Torygraph, the Daily Mail and CH.

Failing that, she will deliver a plane crash Brexit and, with that – as Sylvester warns - she will quickly see her premiership unravel.

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