Richard North, 16/11/2019  

Given the long-term consequences of the last time Alexander Boris de Pfeffel Johnson toured the nation in a bus, you might think that he would be a little more cautious about repeating the exercise. This is especially the case when he's gone for a German marque – a Mercedes-Benz Tourismo, which is diesel-powered to boot.

But then, as others are beginning to remark, this is a man who doesn't do empathy – or tell the truth. Nor does he do credible slogans. "Get Brexit Done" is the line of choice.

In high dudgeon, the Independent has Tom Peck, its political sketch writer, note that the genius of the Vote Leave campaign in 2016 was to have one simple bus with one simple lie written down the side of it. "So, it's fair to say", he avers, "Boris Johnson’s reinvention of the strategy is not without its risks".

The problem he faces, says Peck, is that there are just too many lies now to fit down the side of one measly forty-by-fifteen-foot bus. So the new strategy, as unveiled at a televised but otherwise secret event in Manchester from which print journalists were banned, "was for Boris Johnson to stand where the lies traditionally go".

Fortunately for Johnson, Corbyn's madcap scheme for nationalising broadband provision – which BT chief Philip Jansen suggests will cost £100 billion - has proved to be a successful distraction. So effective has it been that the prime minister in office's repeated commitment to ending the transition period in December 2020 has largely gone unnoticed.

Despite Farage's best attempts to prevent a Tory victory, the Mirror reckons he's been "humiliated". And with his limited company fielding 274 candidates in the election (short of the 300 boasted), both the polls and canvassers are signalling that the tide has turned in favour of the Conservatives – even if there is a general lack of enthusiasm for all parties.

A Panelbase poll, for instance, puts the Tories ahead on 43 percent (up three), with Labour trailing behind on a static 30 percent. The Lib-Dems are also showing no change, on 15 percent, but – in common with other polls – Farage's limited company is showing a decline in support, down three percent to a mere five.

Interestingly, despite the rhetoric on the "climate emergency", the Greens are making no headway. Their vote share is stuck obstinately in the low single figures, showing two percent in the Panelbase poll, down one point from a week ago. And I don't believe that Johnson's airy promises of a "green energy revolution" are dragging votes away from the Greens. Their agenda simply isn't registering with the general public.

On the basis of current sentiment, therefore, one might have thought that the greater media attention would be given to what most likely will be, rather than something which has no chance of happening.

Even then, it's a pity that Labour have plucked broadband out of thin air, so to speak. Their plans for returning the water industry to public ownership are relatively sensible and, of all the policies that the opposition has produced, this is one I could support.

The Thatcher privatisation should never have happened – the system was not built with central government money and it was not theirs to sell. Now, we have water bureaucrats on million-pound "compensation" packages and the obscenity of local water enterprises part-owned by foreign states (such as Singapore's 20 percent stake in Yorkshire Water), while nearly all continue to under-perform on key operational parameters, while they milk positive cash-flow to buy up other enterprises.

Furthermore, Labour are not entirely off the wall with their nationalisation promises. A YouGov poll records 56 percent in favour of railway renationalisation, with only 22 percent opposed. Water gets 50 percent support, with 25 percent opposed, and even nationalising gas and electricity companies gets 45 percent, with 29 percent against.

These issues, under different political management, could be significant vote-winners but they are not high on the publicity agenda. Instead, we get eye-catching announcements from all directions, with big spending promises which quite obviously could not be delivered even in the good times, and even less so if a botched Brexit pushes the economy into recession.

Yet, a botched Brexit is precisely what Johnson is promising us. He is offering an "absolute guarantee" of no extension to the transition period, as long as he gets "nine more seats" to give him a working majority. And it is that, rather than Corbyn's broadband fantasy, which should be the lead item on the news.

Of course, it is quite possible to aver that this is only the utterance of a congenital liar, who will change his mind as soon as he is elected to office. My concern, though, is that Johnson actually believes his own propaganda. And since he must opt for an extension by the end of June, yet the negotiations could run on to December, by the time he realises he's in trouble, it could be too late to do anything.

Nevertheless, after Johnson's last-minute effort with his bastardised version of the withdrawal agreement, we have got used to the idea that rules and procedures go by the board when it suits the parties to dispense with them. It is thus always open for EU to come up with a last-minute fix which will keep the negotiations alive, and reduce the impact of what would otherwise be a "no-deal" departure.

That expectation is enough to dampen down concern in some quarters, but we are still in a situation where neither the media nor the opposition parties have properly (or at all) explored the impact of us leaving the EU with the withdrawal agreement in place but without an agreement on a future relationship.

In many ways, this is the worst of all possible worlds. At least the earlier no-deal scenario has the rather dubious merit of us walking away without paying the so-called "divorce" fee. Here, we pay the money and get nothing in return, while having Northern Ireland still caught by the "wet border" provisions.

What is also being glossed over is the fact that even agreement on a "Canada-plus" deal would represent a less attractive trading arrangement than we currently enjoy, so even on the best possible terms that Johnson is setting out to achieve, the UK will take an economic hit.

But if we do leave the EU without a future relationship agreement in place, the effects will be even more disadvantageous - and very far from "project fear". Adverse effects arising from the lack of an agreement are real, and would have an immediate effect on our economy. And, as we are seeing, even the uncertainty is casting a long shadow.

However, as long as the media are so easily distracted, and show their usual aversion to addressing Brexit detail, then the politicians can toss any wild schemes into the pot and divert attention from the more important issues.

The only good news for the moment is that, after the weeks of turmoil in the People's Vote campaign, its chairman, Roland Rudd, has resigned as head of the group and from Open Britain. As the rancour continues, it is comforting to know that internecine bickering is not confined to the Eurosceptic groupings.

This internal disarray is an inevitable feature of politics, a phenomenon which has torn Ukip apart and continues to cause strife in the "leave" community, such that it is. This turns the election into a battle of the dysfunctional, which is where we came in. No wonder the politicians want to fight on any grounds but Brexit.

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