Tuesday, April 05, 2016

The collapse of reponsibility

Alistair Meeks wrote a very thought-provoking and, for me, deeply worrying article in Political Betting on Sunday called The disintegrating establishment about the retreat from grown-up politics.

He defines "establishment" politics as being focussed on good government and responsibility and contrasts it with "insurgent" politics which takes no interest in competence or caution.

Some people may be tempted not to take his article as seriously as it deserves because it appears at first reading to equate support for a "leave" vote in the EU referendum with insurgency and therefore with ignoring the issues of responsible government or the need to govern competently.

I certainly don't think it is fair to suggest any automatic equivalence between campaigning for "Leave" and that style of politics, to accuse everyone who supports Brexit as being an insurgent as defined in that way, or indeed to suggest that there have been no irresponsible actions from those who support "Remain."

Unfortunately Alistair's argument cannot be dismissed as simply as that, however. With the honourable exception of those "Leave" campaigners such as the "leave alliance" who have made a serious attempt to set out an "exit strategy" rather than simply fling every possible argument for Brexit at the public without making any effort to consider which of those arguments are mutually incompatible, many supporters of "leave" are indeed open to the charge of irresponsibility and abandoning "grown up politics" which he makes.

Meeks begins by defining the "establishment" as a belief in emphasising the need for competent, responsible government in line with a quote from David Cameron at the start of his time as leader of the opposition:

“Real substance is about taking time to think things through, not trotting out easy answers that people might want to hear.  It’s about sticking to your guns.  It’s about character, judgement, and consistency.  It’s about policy, yes.  But it’s about getting it right for the long term.”

At that time both the Conservative and Labour parties supported that style of politics. I believe David Cameron is Prime Minister because that it is also what the majority of the public want and Labour's defeats in 2010 and 2015 came not because they were treating politics differently, but because their record in both office and opposition between about 2007 and 2015 meant that competence and good government was not something the electorate trusted them to deliver.

But in the wake of their 2015 election defeat Labour turned completely away from any attempt to be a responsible party of government in the normal sense and Alistair Meeks believes that a significant chunk of the rest of the political spectrum has followed them. As he puts it:

"The Labour party has been taken over by a faction that has demonstrated no interest in appealing to competence or caution.  In his opening conference speech, Jeremy Corbyn made a virtue of not wanting to impose leadership lines at all times and of expecting real debate not message discipline at all times, of wishing to carry on being an individual activist.  He has been true to his word on all counts.  Blairites are as appalled by the style as by the substance of what he says.

Meanwhile, the insurgent right is currently consumed by the referendum on EU membership.
Without even a pretence of coherence, they campaign on running away from the complexities of multilateral engagement, variously on immigration, regulation, security concerns or whatever else flits across their minds (how leaving the EU is actually going to help on any of these fronts remains largely unexplored).  Their figureheads, Boris Johnson and Nigel Farage, campaign on charisma rather than competence.

With the Labour right in long-term internal exile and the Lib Dems obliterated, the sole repository of the flame of good administration at present is the current Cabinet.  Can they withstand the onslaught of the crazies?  

You would think that offering competence in government as a USP would be a great vote-winner but everyone else seems to be having too much fun being irresponsible to make adult behaviour look enjoyable."

As I inferred at the start of this response to Alistair's article, I don't think all Conservative supporters of Brexit can be fairly described as "insurgent right" in the terms of this article or that all "leave" supporters have behaved as irresponsibly as described above.

But with that one caveat I find the analysis above terrifyingly accurate and I think even some of the more intelligent "leave" supporters would agree that the Brexit campaigns have a "headbanger wing" who are acting pretty much as Alistair Meeks describes.

I am convinced that Britain does needs responsible government and that the principle of trying to govern in a coherent, responsible way in favour of what works rather than what sounds exciting is far too important to be represented only by one party or one view of the issues. If those with a firm grip on reality, and who are willing to act responsibly in support of policies which work in the real world,  do not succeed in regaining control of a larger part of the political spectrum, I don't think we are going to like the results. 


Jim said...

I am aware already that this is going to be quite a long comment, so in the first instance I am writing it using the amazing program "Notepad", so I can split it over a few comments that will work with bloggers word limit......

......As thought provoking as you do find it, if I were you I would not worry too much about it Chris.

Think more of "the establishment" as the SW1 Bubble, and the "Established campaigns" - those being BSE (Stronger In), Vote Leave Ltd, Leave.Eu and Grassroutes Out (GO), include some members of the political parties as well if you like. A strange thing will happen, it will change from something that should concern you to something you smile about.

Personally I don't see it as equating someone who supports voting leaving the EU with insurgency and ignoring responsibility, I see it more as a dig to the "Establishment" (as i defined it above) which is really quite deserved.

So why do I say you dont need to worry about that?

Well, you will recall reading in many of my previous comments, Brexit is a process it is not an event. There is no way it ever can be really (despite the number of times the Establishment will tell you it is, and just like Chicken Licken, tell you the sky will fall in if we vote leave or remain).

Now I am pretty sure you are of the opinion, as are most sane people, that whichever way this referendum goes, it’s not going to be a land slide, it’s going to be close. Let’s say 5% either way, just to pull a figure out of the air, but anyway it’s going to be close. This means that in the event of a leave vote 45% of those who voted are going to be pretty miffed. Also the government, who now need to negotiate a Brexit via article 50 TEU are not exactly going to be singing and dancing about it......

Jim said...

......It will become apparent pretty darn quick we should go for a deal that includes a lot of compromising, and the only way of doing that in the real world, within the time frame is to go for EEA membership. This also causes the fewest headaches for the EU as well as us.

It still amazes me how many people on both sides think a clear cut and run exit, where we take the EU Treaties rip them up and set them on fire is even possible, let alone likely. In fact it would cause utter Havoc, to both the UK and the EU, and since only the "establishment" (which does not include the government negotiating a brexit) joined the "suicide squad" no one will be asking for it, no one will want it, everyone will actively try to avoid it, so it won’t happen.

In every respect both sides (UK and EU) will want to avoid opening up any pre settled agreements that they do not absolutely have to for any negotiation, as the main concern is not in reality changing things, in fact both sides will want to change as little as possible about our relationship whilst achieving the "main aim" The main aim of both sides is really a paper work exercise to "technically" change the status of the UK from EU member state to Ex EU Member state. That’s it. The actual day 1 of Brexit wont be the sky falling in, it will be more like a dull grey boring cloud drifting by on another wise uneventful day......

Jim said...

...... Think of it like this, its Dec 31 1975, the UK has recently voted to remain in the "common market" and that consent starts with full effect from midnight. We will have all the regulations, treaties, rules etc that are in force on 1st April 2016, but we are going to do it all at midnight 1 Jan 1976.... Ready for the new year count down....5, 4, 3, 2, 1 bang - Happ aaaaaaaaaaaagggggggggghhhhhhhhhhhhhh!!!

So why did it not happen that way? - well because it’s silly, and no one, not us not the EU (then EEC) wanted that, so it did not happen. That is why leaving that way is just as silly and no one (at least no one sane) want that, so it’s not going to happen either.

If we want to leave the EU we will evolve our way out, Brexit on paper comes first then we change things bit by bit as we go, causing minimum disruption as we go and all continues. Much the same way as we joined, and evolved our way to where we are today.

On day one of Brexit, things look exactly the same way they did yesterday. We are now members of the EEA and we are sat in a sort of Phoney war departure lounge. It’s pretty much what everyone wanted, a zero risk option. Banks are happy, so is business, the government is quite content and the people are reminiscing about the millennium bug.......

Jim said...

......But Jim, its 1st Jan 2019, the first day of brexit and we have Ukip headbangers jumping up and down in rage because we still have free movement, Did you see Nigel Farage and Aaron Banks going bats**t crazy on telly this morning? You said it would be like a dull grey cloud passing by, and it would be really boring, were you wrong?

- No, that’s exactly what it’s like, but even the dullest cloud has a silver lining Chris. Happy New year, and enjoy it for today, there is a lot of work to do over the next couple of decades. I hear it rumoured they are planning to start with a debate about replacing the old CFP with something that actually works in our interest…………