The Worst Political Storm In Years



A year ago, I attempted to look beyond the shock of the Brexit vote and its associated economic disruption, and see into the distant future. I saw a completely different political paradigm, though I could not discern its shape. And I saw a possibility that, like Hong Kong in 1997, the fears of economic disaster would prove baseless, and Britain would have a bright future, though one which I could not imagine. I called on everyone to try to make Brexit work:
Not for a long time has the future been so uncertain. In the short-term, there will be pain. But in the longer-term, the future could be exciting. I did not vote for this, but this is what my compatriots chose, and I accept their decision. So this is what we - collectively - have chosen. Now we must embrace it, fully. For only by committing to our post-Brexit world can we have any hope of making it work. While we hanker after the past, and try to find ways of hanging on to it, we remain condemned to a stagnant future. Risk is life. Let's take some risk.
Since I wrote that, the world has been turned upside down. Britain is in a deep political crisis which started the day after the Brexit vote and shows no sign of ending. America, too, is in political crisis, with a President whose grasp of reality appears ever more fragile and whose personal conduct and business dealings expose him to impeachment, and an administration whose main protagonists are suspected of treasonous dealings with a foreign hostile power.

It is now clear that Brexit was merely the first sign of a coming storm. That storm now rages all over the Anglosphere.

It is no surprise that the epicentre of this storm rests somewhere over the Atlantic. That was the epicentre of the financial storm which gave birth to this political storm. Nearly ten years of depression and austerity have ended with a revolution on both sides of the Atlantic. Though it is as yet an incomplete revolution: in both countries, public anger is focused not on the real culprits, but on the "other". In America, public anger is driven by a whipped up perception that America is "losing out" to China and Mexico. In Britain, public anger is driven by an equally whipped up perception that Britain is "losing out" to the rest of the EU. In both countries, immigrants, refugees and "foreigners" in general are scapegoated.

The EU appears secure for now, and its economic outlook looks brighter than for some years. But President Macron's victory fundamentally changes the political landscape in France, and there may be other political shocks to come in Germany and Italy. And there are earthquakes happening all along the Eastern Europe faultline. Hungary and Poland now have illiberal governments that have already fallen foul of EU rules: how much longer Hungary can escape suspension from the EU because of its persistent denial of human rights is an open question. There will in due course be a revolution in the EU, too. We should remember that after the financial crisis, the Eurozone appeared more stable than the Anglosphere, yet only four years later it was itself in deep crisis and facing the possibility of breakup. Financial storms are always followed by political storms. Europe's storm is yet to come.

But it is the current storm that should worry us all. Political behaviour in the Anglosphere is becoming increasingly belligerent towards allies and trade partners, as cooperation is replaced with isolationism and antagonism. President Trump is overturning trade agreements all around the world, and apparently intends to start a trade war with steel producers. And as I write, the UK has gone far beyond Brexit, announcing its intention to withdraw from the London Fisheries Convention - which long pre-dates the EU - and establish its own sea borders, which presumably will require military policing. Military policing, to keep out the fishing vessels of the UK's closest neighbours and allies. Surely this is not what the British people voted for?

No. It is not. They did not vote for antagonism towards our neighbours and the prospect of trade wars. They voted for higher wages, good jobs and comprehensive public services. They voted for prosperity, for themselves and - even more - for their children and grandchildren.

They were told that leaving the EU - "taking back control" - would deliver the golden future of which they dream. But they were sold a lie. Every day, the damage that Brexit will do to our complex tapestry of local and international relationships becomes more evident.

Briefly, I promoted the lie. I accepted the referendum result, and agreed to the Brexiteers' demand that everyone "pull together" to make Brexit work. But since then, I have found it increasingly hard to write. Because I sold my soul, I lost my voice. I cannot write what I do not believe.

Brexit is bad. It will always be bad. There is no version of Brexit that can ever be anything but bad. The people who overwhelmingly voted for Brexit will not suffer much, because they are old and relatively insulated: but Brexit is incredibly destructive for the young.

For the sake of my children, and their future children, I recant and return to the true faith. The vote was never about the EU. It is about the appalling dysfunction of British politics, and the economic paradigm that has imposed misery on millions. It was the inevitable consequence of nearly ten years of depression and austerity inflicted on a population as punishment for a financial crisis not of their making. Ultimately, the Brexit vote was, as ever, about banks.

The EU, of course, is an exponent of the same economic paradigm, so it is perhaps understandable that it was the target of the British people's anger. But it is not fundamentally the cause of their pain. That is thirty years of UK government policies that have favoured the rich at the expense of the poor, the weak the sick, the disabled. It is this, not the EU, that we should reject. The EU will follow, in due course: that is the shape that its own storm must take.

But we seem to have painted ourselves into a corner. Even though the inconclusive election in June stripped away the layers of lies and exposed people's real concerns, Brexit is what people voted for, so Brexit is what they will get. Brexit ideologues rule the roost, and the rare voices of sanity - such as Philip Hammond's reminder that people didn't vote to be poorer - are drowned out by shrieks of"Brexit means Brexit". No-one has the guts to say to the British people, "This wasn't what you meant, was it?". No, we will go ahead with Brexit, even though it is already squeezing incomes, destroying jobs and threatening public services, and there is far more pain to come.

We are intent on ripping our tapestry to shreds in the search for some kind of dream - some Camelot down to which we can float once we have "taken back control" of our lives. But the tapestry IS our lives, and those of our children. The gaping holes we will tear can probably be repaired - eventually - though the scars will remain forever. But how many lives will be wrecked by this wanton destruction?

If Brexit is bad, the situation in America is infinitely worse. "Make America Great Again" is an even greater lie than "Take Back Control". Britain, by pursuing a path of antagonism and isolation, is destroying its closest relationships and even threatening its own integrity. But it is no longer capable of threatening the peace and stability of the whole world. In contrast, America, far from making itself great again, seems hell-bent on leading the world into a dark age. Not only is it picking fights with all of its trade partners, including its nearest neighbours, it is ripping away its own thin veneer of civilisation. Intellectual elites are being sidelined, replaced by voodoo science and economic shamanism. Right-wing partisan press outlets are being favoured over mainstream press. The rights of women and minorities are being attacked: access to healthcare for ordinary Americans is about to be systematically dismantled in order to give tax cuts to the rich.

This is not government for ordinary people, it is government by the 1% for the 1%. The rich are in the ascendant, and the poor will suffer.

Going ahead with Brexit when the government has no mandate and the opposition is in chaos is bad enough. But going ahead with Brexit in the teeth of a major geopolitical realignment driven by the greedy, the corrupt and the insane, is utter folly. Brexit must be stopped.

And so must Trump and his acolytes. On both sides of the Atlantic, we need to complete our revolution. Camelot must die, and Excalibur be consigned to the depths of the lake, and government by the people, for the people be restored.

Related reading:

Austerity and the rise of populism
Seeing through the smoke
The Lady of Shalott  - Tennyson
Morte d'Arthur - Tennyson

Image: "The Worst Storm In Years", UK Met Office. 

Comments

  1. May&tories continued to mouth the mantra Brexit means Brexit withhout once explaining exactly what that means! Most of UK populace accepted this rubbish as they were told Austerity would return British fortunes&cut debt!
    BOTH were a LIE! Austerity was an ideology designed 2 deliver the rich pickings of UK sold assets into Tory,Corp&Establishment hands under the guise of paying down the debt(now fast approaching £2trillion?) Debt that was accrued by Labour when they bailed the banks but which has Exploded from Tory gov lavish bungs to private corps to take over NHS&public service depts, Raising of politiciand salaries while many 2 parent families are forced 2 accept precarious zero hourjobs?
    However Austerity was two fold
    1 it gave Tories opportunity 2 claim (falsely that Labour were bad economic managers
    2 It convinced the British people of the Lie that Gov debt was same as Household debt!
    In last 7 years Cons hav lived up to their name! They conned an entire nation into Cutting councils, all public services& calling Social security Welfare!
    The NHS has been gutted despite staff working themselves into an early grave propping it up!
    Grenfell Tower Fire ripped the curtain off the whole Tory Gov charade exposing the results of Unbelievable cuts&scrapping of Vital services and departments in the name of saving a few £'s while deregulation has taken UK back to the Greed&inhumanity of the Victorian era as some citizens find themselves sliding into the same misery &starvation conditions that existen then!
    Conservative demonisation & persecution of the Disabled&vulnerable in UK society has ruined its repitation for Decency& Compassion globally!
    Corbyn& real labour are only faction who wish to right some of these wrongs and now the youth vote is finally realising this!
    However they are dogged by Plp mps desperate to.protect theor Tory lite careers which is why the back stabbing of Umanna& others in an effort 2 destabilise Corbyns leadership?
    Even Tories have woken up to fact that YOUTH IS THE FUTURE!

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  2. Wowsers! If this is you when you've lost the will to write heaven help us when you rediscover it! This all boils down to absolutely appalling leadership and it seems to be catching. There seems to be a mass delusion that we can somehow make a modern interconnected global economy into something it hasn't been for centuries. The world was still highly connected in the age of clipper ships for goodness sake and by the old silk road.

    I stick with my prediction that Brexit will never happen and that better leaders come along. I don't mean Macron either who is about to be taught a harsh lesson on what happens to leaders who try to Anglocise (is there such a word?) the French way. I put a few thoughts together about why I don't belong in any gang, please delete it if this is inappropiate to you Frances. bill40
    https://bill40.wordpress.com/2017/07/02/do-ya-wanna-be-in-my-gang

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  3. Thank you Frances. You are absolutely right and you must speak out. We are in a runaway train and we need to find the brakes!

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  4. I suspect the underlying problem is the adversarial nature of American and UK politics coupled with their past apparent successes that are now decaying away. Essentially the politicians are hanging on to a broken model of how to develop their nations.

    Democracy is the name given to a wide slew of political systems, at least two of which look to be in trouble. Worse, those nations and systems that appear to be doing a little bit better seem to be more consensual, more disciplined and less individualistic, these features are anathema to UK and American politicians, hence Trump and Brexit. Trump and May yell the word 'democracy' but what they are selling looks to be broken.


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    1. Roger :

      Totally on the button. Having worked and lived in Europe and Asia it has become clear that the "adversarial" UK parliamentary system is essentially divisive and destructive and will never lead the UK into renewed prosperity.

      Just watching the buffoons trying to score points in the parliamentary sessions makes me cringe and feel embarassed that in 2017 this behaviour is even tolerated. Administering a nation should be regarded as a serious and professional matter, and not as a fun hobby and a bit of a joke.

      Apparently, so I have been told, there are a lot of well-meaning and hardworking politicians who are utterly frustrated by the system.

      The problem is that any change has to come from within the system, and this is never going to happen. There are too many vested self-interests.

      In the fast moving modern global economy, unless the administration can introduce longterm 20 year strategic policies that are agreed and supported by all parties and followed through despite government changes, the only way for the UK is down the plug hole.

      - infrastructure

      - heath care

      - education

      - housing

      - pension

      and now due to Brexit

      - trade agreements


      It is simply not efficient nor productive to either avoid the main issues totally or keep on faffing and farting around, changing direction every couple of years.

      The UK is heading down the plug hole.

      Incredibly it is now 12 months since the Brexit vote. The professional European administrators are already waiting and prepared to have discussions based on formally agreed contracts.

      The chaotic UK administration is blundering around, clueless, incompetent and way out of their depth. The latest election is a major step backwards and has only made things a whole lot worse.

      Utterly pathetic.

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  5. Thank you. Humility and honesty aren't commonly seen today. Coupled with piercing words and analysis, very welcome.
    However bit that was missing for me is who gains from fermenting this maelstrom ? Answer is simple when we see bots on twitter. They are relatively quiet just now because as long as Brexit and disruption of EU (and America) happens, it doesn't matter whether far left or far right that achieves it. Daisymplewis

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  6. Regarding the London Fisheries Convention, given Gove's role, does anyone else suspect the hand of one R Murdoch? I fear he is out to cause as much trouble as he can.

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  7. Brexit was ambushed by some who saw the chance to take control,not the people but some Oligarch's and have no compulsion to change,no matter what the damage is has long as there power is enhanced,strangely i saw this coming and was one of the reasons i voted Brexit i to expose them,ii it would almost certainly back fire on them iii the best way to effect change is to force change iv the best way to defeat those who use chaos to control is to create chaos they can't control,it seems to be going rather well!but hopefully commonsense will prevail,but the damage to so many reputation hopefully will clear the way for better people to run the country,that was a chance i was taking when i voted brexit,but a calculated one in which the odds were rather on my side!ps i've always been pro EU but i do think it needs to change and one way is every 15yrs all members have in/out referendums if only to stop it going off track like it has!

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  8. Yeah, yeah, yeah. So, what else is not news? Government of, by, and for the people is the goal, huh? What in the pluperfect hell does that mean? What would it look like? What would it do? And how do we get there from here? I have offered my answers to these questions but they either get ignored, or I am threatened with banishment for bringing them up. So, I will hold my tongue for a while, just so that there will be plenty of space for you to express your solutions to all these problems. It is not a solution to simply say that we need government of the people. One must say much more. You have given broad answers to the first two eternal questions: "Where do we stand? How did we get here?" but you haven't begun to answer the last two: "Where do we want to go? How do we get there from here?"

    I bring up these points to emphasize that you and most other pundits are spinning your wheels. All you can do is catalog the problems. You cannot provide answers but you love to shoot at those who can and do.

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    1. This is more than slightly unfair. I've given you plenty of opportunity to air your views. I have never deleted a post of yours or threatened to ban you from the site. On the contrary, I have read your posts with interest and at times discussed them with you. I don't know why you are now slapping me down, but to say I am disappointed is an understatement. Please rethink.

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    2. I was not talking about my views, I was talking about yours. To say simply that things are wrong may have, once upon a time, contributed something worthwhile to the discourse, but no longer. You have made the point repeatedly--things are wrong. We know. Now is the time to define a way forward. It is time to say more than we need government of the people by the people and for the people. What would such a government actually look like? What would it actually do? How do we get there from here? Please extend your thinking. I know it is hard. I know it is much harder than just complaining from time to time. One reason for the difficulty is the understanding that our current government, political, and economic systems will not be able to solve the problems you have complained about for so long. It is hard to think through a redesign of these systems. But if you and I don't do it, who will?


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    3. This blog is my thinking space. I write here what I want to write. If what I write is not what you want to see, start your own blog.

      Delete
  9. Jerred Seisyll, if my blog is so bad, why are you bothering to read it, let alone comment? I've deleted your comment, and will delete any more that break the rules of this site. I welcome constructive criticism, but I do not tolerate rudeness, personal attacks on me or anyone else, or comments that are way off the topic.

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    1. This comment has been removed by the author.

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  10. I consider myself a pragmatic Remainer, I despise the reality of the EU, it's just better the devil you know, so to speak.

    But the fundamental corruption and sclerosis of the EU has not gone away, the EU may have the upper hand in Brexit negotiations, but it's still on shaky ground. Widening and deepening by it's very design created huge client bases of politicians and other elites at national and local levels throughout all the members states. They all have their mouths at the teet; from party grandees (has beens) stealing pension top ups as commissioners to local councilors collecting 'allowances' for sitting on some or other EU quango (all these pork barrels nominally financed by the benevolence of the 'EU', but in reality paid for by the taxpayers of the net contributors). The old school tie of the chumocracy where the mates of the political elites in big EU states get lucrative contracts with the EU's sticky fingers all over them, right down to local strongmen in East European backwaters whose houses are built with materials stolen from the new EU funded highway that inexplicably racked up a massive cost overrun. The armies of official bureaucrats and associated NGO workers all on better terms than their domestic counterparts. The EU gravy train has never known austerity or pay freezes, there are no pay caps or belt tightening. Suddenly whole classes of clients bought off to ease the passage of ever closer union face the money-go-round being dialed down. There will be shocks, and to facilitate this corruption the EU system is designed to avoid accountability and transparency, making it far more brittle than the populist but democratic bullshit going on in the Anglosphere.

    Think about Eurotrash politicians like Juncker, once the best he could of hoped for was to be the boss of a tax haven with a population the size of Liverpool. Now he and some of his fellow travellers can aspire to imperial grandeur as big men in the modern liberal empire. The EU has only got bigger and it's budgets richer up till now, but there will have to be a reckoning, and that's one thing the EU has always avoided at all costs.

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  11. Happy to say I have always thought Brexit to be the most stupid idea on the face of the planet.

    Reason? What would it take to make Britain a highly successful economy outside the EU? We would probably have to lay concrete and tarmac over Surrey, Hampshire and Hertfordshire, build workers flats alongside new motorways to new ports and build major new industrial complexes. Then sell Norfolk to the Chinese and then we start on serious educational advances. That is about the scale of the necessary transition. I don't think Parliament is capable of doing this.

    As things stand we have absolutely no plan and absolutely no moves toward making the UK economy anything like dynamic enough. This is probably because the realities of para 2 frighten the Tories (and anyone else) so much that they are now paralysed with fear and just hoping that Brexit can be whittled away to nothing and we can go back to being sleepy old UK again.

    Snag is the genie is out of the bottle. The EU faces the same difficulties so one fewer competitor is all to the good. A nearby dumping ground and place to do cheap work would also be good and what will get offered. If they and Parliament follow past form the whole business will drag on for a very long time giving an illusion to the Red Top press that successful negotiations are proceeding. The reality will be visible in declining tax revenues and GDP numbers and increasing desperation. So the Tories (or whoever) are now in a tight spot, either wriggle out of Brexit somehow or bite the bullet and abandon the Green Belt and everything else to the market or hope something will turn up.

    Frances is right, we are in for a bumpy ride.

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    1. Roger - all the things you say are the consequences of leaving are for me the consequences of remaining. Leaving gives us a chance of avoiding this outcome, but it will be hard work.

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  12. The first problem is that people did vote to be poorer - it's just that, as a result of lies, most didn't realise this. The problem following on from this is that, when reality hits home, those responsible for misleading the electorate will escape any penalty other than the judgment of history. There will be a lot of anger and disillusion; and I worry about what will then happen

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    1. I disagree. People knew what they were voting for. Over and over I hear people saying they voted to leave for reasons of democracy and expected to be worse off in the short term.

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  13. You may be right that some people knew what they were voting for. You may be one of them, although your implication that the economic disbenefits will be only short-term raises a question. My point was that most people didn't realise the consequences. What evidence do you have otherwise?

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