Richard North, 11/06/2019  

When in June 2007 Tony Blair resigned as prime minister, one particular politician was mightily offended by his replacement in Number 10, and the way he was appointed. He wrote:
It's the arrogance. It's the contempt. That’s what gets me. It's Gordon Brown's apparent belief that he can just trample on the democratic will of the British people. It's at moments like this that I think the political world has gone mad, and I am alone in detecting the gigantic fraud.

Everybody seems to have forgotten that the last general election was only two years ago, in 2005. A man called Tony Blair presented himself for re-election, and his face was to be seen – even if less prominently than in the past – on manifestos, leaflets, television screens and billboards. We rather gathered from the Labour prospectus that said Blair was going to be Prime Minister. Indeed, Tony sought a new mandate from the British electorate with the explicit promise that he would serve a full term.

The British public sucked its teeth, squinted at him closely, sighed and, with extreme reluctance, decided to elect him prime minister for another five years. Let me repeat that. They voted for Anthony Charles Lynton Blair to serve as their leader. They were at no stage invited to vote on whether Gordon Brown should be PM.
There are no prizes for guessing that the author of this piece was the "turd-giver" who today put his name forward with nine others as candidates for the prime minister of the United Kingdom in a contest which is an affront to the very concept of democracy.

Of course, even when he wrote his piece back in 2007, Johnson got it wrong. We did not in 2005 elect Blair as our prime minister. The peoples of the UK do not get to elect the heads of their government. We are only allowed to vote for our MPs, and it is the ruling party which then decides who will lead the government.

But during a general election, there is at least some tenuous connection between the post holder and the "will of the people", especially as general elections in past decades have increasingly taken on the tenor of presidential campaigns, run from the centre and dominated by personality politics.

Once a prime minister in office resigns, however, even that tenuous link is broken and the authoritarian nature of the British state re-asserts itself. Us plebs have no power to decide the leader of our own government. We are merely spectators in an obscene spectacle, in this case with the run-off candidates chosen by a tiny bunch of MPs, and the final choice made by around 160,000 Conservative Party members.

Small wonder the "turd-giver" complained about the "arrogance" and the "contempt". But, twelve years later, he should now add hypocrisy to the many other sins that make him uniquely unfit for office as prime minister, albeit that no other candidate inspires any confidence.

To be fair, the current contest is no more or less obscene than was the methodology used to award Gordon Brown the crown, but the sheer scale of the number of candidates announced today serves to underline the fact that the Commons is the gene pool for prime ministers and other members of the government.

Here, the ultimate failure of the system in this country becomes clear, in that there is no serious separation of powers. As long as members of the government are drawn from the legislature, there can be no proper distinction between roles, and parliament will never be an effective scrutiny body.

As to the ten candidates who have put themselves up for election, apart from Rory Stewart, none of them have unequivocally – or at all – committed to the Withdrawal Agreement, which means that nine of them don't have an answer to Brexit. With Stewart having very little chance of success, the choice is essentially between different levels of train wreck.

Especially inane are the "turd-givers" ideas, as articulated by Iain Duncan Smith, who tells us:
Boris has also made it clear that he believes that we should offer a trade deal and, while that is being negotiated, we should seek an implementation agreement with the EU under which we will both go to the WTO and invoke Article 24, which allows us to continue tariff free trade until the final deal is agreed. We can work urgently on our proposals for alternative customs arrangements to replace the backstop at the Northern Irish border prior to our departure.
So, to get this straight, the "turd-giver" would have us walk away from the EU on 31 October with no deal, whence he would immediately seek a deal with the EU, with cover for a temporary deal agreed between the two parties under the aegis of Article 24, to tide us over until a final agreement.

Then, before we actually leave with a no-deal, we will propose to – and presumably agree with – the EU "alternative customs arrangements", which would replace the backstop which would otherwise have to take effect the moment we left.

One would dearly like to take Johnson and the other cretins around him and lock them in a windowless room, letting them out only once they could answer the question: "which part of no-deal don't you understand?".

Consistently, we are getting from multiple candidates the belief that a no-deal Brexit is simply a precursor to another round of negotiations. This is accompanied by the expectation that the EU stands ready to agree any number of "mini-deals" and interim arrangements to protect our position while our new prime minister gets round to deciding which bit of the EU trading system he wishes to cherry-pick.

This advanced, institutional stupidity is now getting so pronounced, that even the Financial Times has noticed. This is where this "crude and belligerent" writer is way ahead of the field but it is nevertheless interesting to see other writers coming belatedly to some of the same conclusions.

Thus does Simon Kuper offer "Eight reasons Tory MPs keep getting it wrong", arguing (rightly) that, when it comes to Brexit, poor cognition is the curse of Britain’s governing class. "Anyone watching the contest to become British prime minister has to wonder about the cognitive skills of many Conservative candidates", he writes, then asking: "are these people stupid?".

The answer, of course, is "yes", certainly as it applies to most of them although, as always, it's complicated. Kuper, for instance, thinks many Tories are cynics faking it, publicly backing no-deal, knowing it would be a disaster, but are counting on the rest of parliament to stop it. They just want to sound hard, because they live in fear of deselection by their hard-Brexiter local parties.

Further, he says, there is no political advantage in grasping reality if your voters don't. In other words, if your voters are thick, there is nothing to gain by telling them they are wrong.

Under the title "Widmerpoolism", Kuper also writes of the "blind will to power", where power goes to the people most committed to getting it, not to those most qualified to exercise it.

Other factors cited are the inability to admit past error, where MPs who have got it wrong publicly are very reluctant to correct themselves. Then there is the tendency, where your "genuine beliefs contradict reality" for MPs simply to deny reality. This is very much what seems to be happening where the no-dealers are simply pretending that no-deal means a post-departure deal.

In any event, says Kuper, denying reality proves your fanaticism to other fanatics, the effects of peer group pressure where, by holding firm against reality, proponents signalled their loyalty to the group.

Then we have laziness, in the British gentleman-dilettante tradition, where many Conservative politicians leave "boring detail" to civil servants. But there's more to it than that. Prestige being such, snobby Tories believe detail is for the little people. To understand the detail signals that you are part of the lower orders.

And finally, we do have stupidity and ignorance. Some people sound stupid or ignorant, says Kuper, because they are stupid or ignorant. That could explain the Tory MP Nadine Dorries's complaint that May’s deal would leave the UK without MEPs after Brexit; or MP Andrew Bridgen's belief that "English" people are entitled to ask for an Irish passport (that Ireland is a forgotten British possession probably played a role too).

Kuper cites the classic essay "The Basic Laws of Human Stupidity", where the late Italian economic historian Carlo Cipolla warned: "A stupid person is more dangerous than a bandit". This he explains by saying: "Stupid people cause losses to other people with no counterpart of gains on their own account. Thus society as a whole is impoverished".

On that basis, Kuper would prefer that the next prime minister is merely a bandit. Unfortunately, given the current line-up, there is every possibility that we end up with both.

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