I haven not written anything political for a while. I haven’t had the motivation, or anything much to say. Nothing much of interest, to be brutally honest, has been happening on the domestic stage – stagnation seems to have been the order of the day. Brexit means Brexit means Brexit means Brexit, but beyond that life has just gone on as the journalists chatter and politicians bicker with each other. However, suddenly, after months of nothing much happening, everyone has suddenly realised that the much-hyped exit date is only a few months away, and we appear no closer to getting any sort of deal than we did two years ago. Oh dear.
It is interesting to read back through my articles over the last two years on Brexit. My thoughts have meandered around in various ways, starting from being a fairly tepid Remainer, becoming more positive about the whole Leave affair before slowly declining to where I am today. I am generally fairly optimistic when it comes to affairs of state, but this good-feeling has been slowly ground down as the Brexit negotiations have worn on. My contempt for those that supposedly govern us has, unsurprisingly, increased in direct counterpoint. The government, to be fair, have an almost-impossible task to complete, but the whole Brexit process now seems to have become more an ideological struggle between different wings of the Conservative Party, each more focused on their relative party power rather than the national interest. The hardcore Brexiteers block every semi-sensible compromise that the government come up with, apparently on the basis that ‘no deal’ with the European Union – our closest trading partner and neighbour – would be better than a ‘bad deal’, which in their eyes apparently seems to mean any reasonable deal at all. Every time they do so, May’s already-weak government loses prestige and bargaining power. All the while, the European negotiators – some, though not all, very keen to make sure Britain suffers in order to strengthen the rest of the Union – prove ever more intractable.
The Labour Party are no better, to be honest. They are so desperate to win the next election that they are essentially refusing to give any meaningful input to the whole process at all. In any case, they have their own ideological battles to fight, between Corbyn’s traditional socialists (many of them, including Corbyn himself, who are Leavers) and the New Labour brigade (mostly Remainers). Throw in the Antisemitism fiasco which is crippling them and you have a useless organisation as far as the nation is concerned.
Beyond that? The other parties are non-existent, especially the pale wreckage of the Liberal Democrats, whose attempt to brand themselves as the ‘Remainer Party’ has utterly failed. Only the DUP is worth paying attention to, due to their ability to hold the Conservatives hostage if they so please. As such, while Parliament remains fractured and bickering, the date of exit comes ever closer, with less likelihood of a decent deal for anyone. Parliament’s focus seems to be on their own internal squabbles rather than the fate of the nation they supposedly represent and govern. So much for the British traditions of compromise and working together for the national interest that we used to be so proud of promoting.
I can’t help but feel that Britain is in a state of decline. Six years ago we seemed to be at the centre of the world stage – the Olympics was an incredible success, the economy was recovering, and the politics was relatively benign. Now we seem fractured, divided, unstable, and the politics has been driven away from the centre to the fringes. Yes, I know that it is a sign of the times and the rest of the world is not without the same problems, yet that does not help solve the main issues. Brexit is the most significant national event to happen since the Second World War, as far as I can see, and our political masters are unsuited to the task they have been set. It is stupid, I know, but you can’t help but wonder whether we would have been better off if there was a Lloyd George, a Churchill, an Attlee, or even a Thatcher at the helm, with all their powerful teams supporting them. In comparison, the slew of politicians we have today look decidedly feeble. A national government might have been nice as well – at least an attempt at bipartisanship – but that thought was never even aired.
Where do we go from here? There is talk of a second referendum, but I’m not entirely sure that will help. People’s views on the core issue haven’t really changed that much, I don’t think, and it will just cause more uncertainty and instability. A good, bespoke deal which makes most people happy is unlikely as well – the hardcore Brexiteers sabotage every possibility of compromise, and there isn’t enough time to wrangle one out with the Europeans. As far as I can see it, we are going to either have a ‘Norway-style’ arrangement – basically access to the market but without many of the privileges of full membership – or a ‘no-deal’. Out of the two the first is certainly better. Not particularly inspiring, but at least it means we retain access to the single market, and can at least claim that we have ‘left’ the EU. However, it will be incomparably better than a ‘no-deal’. No, I don’t think the whole country will suddenly become a third-world dystopia with food rationing, no electricity, etc. But it will hurt our economy, especially as none of the much-vaunted trade deals with the rest of the world have yet to actually be started (and they take years to sort out). It will also hurt our general standing in the world. A no-deal, in the eyes of just about everybody except hardcore Brexiters, would be a failure. In the worst case scenario it might lead us to go begging for trade deals, cap-in-hand, to various countries, who would be in a much more powerful negotiating position than us. Yes, Britain would still be a rich, developed nation with some world-leading institutions and industries (education, finance and technology, for example), but a large part of our international economic appeal comes from our privileged access to the European Union. Whatever the hard Brexiteers say, we are going to suffer in some way if no deal is arranged.
As you might be able to tell, when it comes to British politics, I am not feeling very positive at the moment. The nation seems to be sliding ever more quickly towards failure, and I am not sure we can recover successfully. Worse, amongst our establishment, ideology and petty politics has taken precedent over duty and the national interest. I cannot help but be reminded of the famous lines from Yeats’ The Second Coming:
‘The best lack all conviction, while the worst/ Are full of passionate intensity’
Maybe something will be hammered out. Maybe it will all come out nicely in the wash. But as it stands, I cannot see the cloud breaking any time soon.