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Brexit: the receding tide

2019-04-29 07:58:55

It's really generous of the Telegraph to allow the oaf Johnson to use his column as a party political advertisement for the Conservative Party - and pay him for doing it, thus completely turning the principle of newspaper financing on its head. The paper is financing the party, and expecting us to pay for the privilege.

Nevertheless, the effort - as far as I am personally concerned is totally counter-productive. The oaf is one of the many reasons why I will never vote for the Conservatives, and one of the main reasons why I no longer buy the Telegraph. And the more they thrust Johnson in our face, the less inclined I am to change my current stance.

That leaves me, along with the minority of the electorate which is tempted to vote at the local election on Thursday, to decide on the purpose of my vote. Am I going to select a specific ward councillor, as one of our three local representatives, am I going to use my vote to protest against the Conservatives in general or might I demonstrate my dissatisfaction at the government's handling of Brexit?

As it happens, I know my local councillor. He's Labour, but when I've asked for help in the past, he has actually been genuinely helpful. On that basis alone, I may vote for the man, and tick the box with his name.

That would, of course, serve as a general protest against the Conservatives, but since this is a Labour area anyway, the message would probably be lost. Then, if I wanted to make a personal statement about Brexit, we do have a Ukip candidate.

The fact that the party is so awful is actually a help. It's a way of telling the established parties that, even though this party is the dregs, they are better than you. And since Ukip is the only party on the list which is unequivocally pro-Brexit, voting for them is the only way of sending a clear message, that is harder to be misrepresented (although there will be those who try).

In that we are dealing with local election, it would be better if these matters were not part of the calculus. We should be voting for local people to devise and implement local policies for local needs.

But since successive governments even in my lifetime have ripped the guts out of independent local government, we might just as well use the vote as an extended opinion poll on the performance of central government.

The trouble is, even if we cast our votes on genuinely local issues, the pundits will treat the collective results as an opinion poll anyway. And that is one of the main reasons militating against voting Labour. The very last thing one wants to do is give Jeremy Corbyn any encouragement.

This is even more so when the Labour leader is poised to swallow the "Extinction Rebellion" guff and table a motion declaring a "climate emergency".

So, even when the nation is going through an existential crisis over Brexit in part through his making this obscene man is grovelling at the feet of a Swedish teenager, presumably in the hope of garnering the "yoof" vote, when it can be bothered to come out and tick some boxes.

The chances are that this isn't going to happen and Mr Corbyn's gesture will be largely wasted. Unofficial indications, based on current postal vote returns, suggest that the already traditionally low turnout is going to be even lower than usual.

As regards Brexit and climate change, one might recall that when Open Europe, way back in 2015, came up with a typically dubious piece of research on savings to be gained from cutting "EU rules", by far the larger part of a claimed 33.3 billion saving came from dispensing with climate change rules.

Ever since Blair's time, though, and the passage of the Climate Change Act, the UK government has been ahead of the game in the sackcloth and ashes stakes, leading rather than following Europe in economically destructive measures in a fruitless attempt to reduce global temperatures.

If Corbyn is now to suck up the entire corpus of climate change measures, any chance that there could be any significant benefit from post-EU deregulation dribbles out of the window.

Yet, any lack of action may cause less dismay than anticipated. There was never any realistic expectation that we were going to see anything approaching the "bonfire of regulations" that the "ultras" were looking for. Climate change rules have never been seriously at risk even from the Conservatives.

Perversely, while Corbyn might have lost the plot on this and just about every policy domain imaginable, we are now seeing speculation that he and his "team" are drawing closer to Mrs May on an understanding over the Withdrawal Agreement and without demanding a second referendum.

The pressure is on, it seems, to conclude matters before 23 May, to avoid having to hold the European elections. And, in this, Corbyn and May finally have a common cause where they are able to work in concert.

It is not so much these elections that are the object of concern but the hubristic statements emerging from the Farage camp about using the Euros as a platform for the general. His fielding candidates, while not necessarily gaining any MPs for the Brexit Party, could introduce a new and unwelcome level of uncertainty to an already volatile situation.

As a result, May and Corbyn share an interest in freezing Farage and his troops out of the European elections, depriving him of a platform that he can use to his advantage to further his electoral ambitions. Both might think that they can win a general election based on a straight fight, but having Farage in the ring could seriously upset electoral calculations.

For all that, the idea of Brexit being resolved on the basis of the short-term electoral needs of the two main parties is somewhat disturbing. Despite protestations to the contrary, MPs continue to order their priorities in terms of "self" first and party a close second, with country last and least a very poor third.

But then, self-interest and the needs of the party are things the average MP can understand, while the media is far more comfortable reporting on personalities and party politics. Always out of its depth with "Europe", it much prefers to report politics through the prisms of Westminster and Downing Street.

The same also applies to the rest of the information nexus, where the think-tanks in particular have never been able to come to terms with the European Union, or evaluate the needs of Brexit with any intelligence.

Interestingly, the lack-lustre performance of the think-tanks has even come to the notice of the "bubble", albeit through the extraordinarily myopic eyes of former academic and now Economist writer and editor, Richard Cockett.

Having once written a book about think tanks, called Thinking the Unthinkable, which I still have on my bookshelf, he has clearly lost any grip of the subject he ever had, writing that ,"the only outfit to have provided a bit of intellectual heft for Brexiteers is the relatively obscure TaxPayers' Alliance".

Yet, Cockett asks: "Can the traditional, evidence-based think-tank still function effectively in a populist political arena, where experts are, per se, ridiculed and distrusted?". This rather begs the question as to why the "experts" are ridiculed and distrusted, but the man who thinks that the TaxPayers' Alliance delivers "intellectual heft" isn't going to provide any answers worth having.

When this is what passes for punditry, it is little wonder that the debate is at such a low ebb. The tide has gone out on original thinking in the places where convention tells these people to look and they haven't caught up with the brave new world of the internet, where you don't need London offices, posh titles and above-the-line sponsors to produce creative thinking.

As long as we see the now discredited political paradigm play its dire games, though, we will see what we will most probably see on Thursday running through into Friday as the results come in an uninterested electorate voting for all the wrong reasons, or not at all, because there's actually nothing worth voting for.

The only good thing about the local elections, though, is that they tend to hold off on the final notices on Council Tax, until after the ballot just in case we seek to take electoral revenge for the steady increase in bills that were supposed to be the subject of local referendums. But then, it wouldn't do to have local politicians being accountable to local taxpayers. Whatever next?