Monday 17 October 2022

Sometimes, abandoning the ship is the only sensible course of action


As they survey the wreckage of their party and watch the political death throes of this month’s outgoing PM, the minds of Tory MPs seem to be more than a little preoccupied by the question of who should become next month’s outgoing PM, and what the mechanism should be for choosing that next lame duck. It’s the sort of short-sighted perspective which is probably the inevitable outcome of their personal obsession with retaining their own job, but the more important questions for the rest of us are who should succeed next month’s outgoing PM, how, and when.

Whilst watching the implosion of successive Tory governments with ever increasing rapidity is a fun spectator sport, it’s not the end, nor even the beginning of the end, of the pain unless there is an alternative available which is not only credible (and without needing to move a muscle, the possibility of a Starmer government has come to look not only credible but unavoidable, as he watches the ratings of Labour’s traditional opponent reverse past him at incredible speed), but which also has a different plan, which escapes from the underlying beliefs which have led to the implosion. On that latter point, Starmer is looking a good deal less credible; and changing the personnel whilst keeping the mission largely intact will do little to help the lives of those being so badly damaged by the ideologues of the Tory Party.

There are, of course, a number of different reasons for the implosion, but the centrality of Brexit cannot be ignored. However, it isn’t Brexit itself which is the underlying problem so much as the delusions of grandeur which underpinned the whole exercise. The ill-fated budget was based on the same delusion as Brexit itself, which is that the UK is a major player in the world economy on a par with the US and China and can behave with the same disregard for rules and norms as those two countries can, unlike perceived ‘minor’ players such as Germany or France which should know their place, and be ever grateful for the UK having saved them during ‘the war’. The more evidence accumulates to support the alternative proposition – that the UK is, in fact, nothing more than a middle-ranking off-shore island of Europe – the more that evidence must be denounced as fake and irrelevant by politicians who simply double down on the notion that ‘we’ cannot be expected to accept such a lowly status and must be given whatever ‘we’ want.

How different, really, is Starmer’s position? Continued references to ‘making Brexit work’ without saying how suggest the answer is ‘not a lot, really’. In truth, Brexit doesn’t even need to be completely reversed in order to achieve a workable state of affairs; it just needs a willingness to move a great deal closer to (and preferably to join) the single market and the customs union. Without doing that, ‘making Brexit work’ is just a meaningless slogan, which there is no way of implementing. Yet the starting point of the probable next-but-one government (after both this month’s and next month’s outgoing PMs have duly outgone) appears to be that only minor changes in the tone of discussions are required and all will be well. It’s no less deluded than the current lot – and ultimately it’s pretty much the same delusion at work.

Escaping our current plight requires more than a change of the hand on the tiller; it requires the UK to develop a realistic understanding of its position and status in the world, a willingness to co-operate with others, particularly our closest neighbours, and an overhaul of political structures and processes which give outright total power to cultists on the basis of a minority of the votes. When I look at Starmer and Labour, I see none of that, only a lust to have their turn at pulling the levers. It would be comforting to think that, shorn of Scotland, Wales and the remainder of Ireland, English politicians would at last be forced to confront the reality they’ve been ignoring for decades, but it seems more likely they’ll just double down on the same delusions in their reduced territory. Remaining in an arcane union out of some sense of responsibility to help them (Welsh Labour’s favoured position, apparently) merely dooms us to be dragged along by the same delusion for the foreseeable future.

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