Saturday, 12 November 2016

In denial

One of the things that struck me particularly about last night’s Newsnight Special, was the extent to which Democrats remained in a state of denial not only about the election of Donald Trump but also about the reasons why he won.  There was a palpable sense in which they simply could not believe that their neo-liberal experiment had been rejected by a substantial proportion of the population; a remaining belief that they were the ‘establishment’ and that they had a God-given right to rule and that the people had been duped by a demagogue with promises that he would be unable to carry out.   It was the same with Brexit where few were prepared to saw the ‘Leave’ would win, something many ‘Leavers’ also thought.  The polls in both Britain and the USA got it badly wrong and political elites across Europe—with national elections in 2017—are looking with increased scepticism at polls that suggest they will win and the populist resurgence will fail.  The issues which the political establishment have failed to address are broadly the same across the western world—the benefits of global economic prosperity have not be spread across society with those that have gaining more and those without losing further; the impact of uncontrolled immigration; a burgeoning sense that government is unresponsive, unaccountable (yes we have elections but the result is simply more of the same) and corrupt; and, the overarching sense that the democratic experiment is under threat from globalism and global institutions whose power is increasingly pervasive and linked to national institutions and elites.

Old and New or Old and Old?
This sense of denial is evident in the ways in which Brexit has to date been managed.  There had been virtually no preparation in case of a Leave victory; the assumption was that Remain would win (just) and that this would give the EU such a shock that it would give the UK the reforms it wanted.  The government and civil service had done little; the Leave campaign had made lots of statements about what would happen after Brexit but had not formulated them as anything more than rhetorical flourishes.  The 24 June and 10 November—the day after the vote—found the political elites in a position they never imagined. Most British politicians say, at least publically, that they accept the ‘will of the people’ adding the all important ‘but’.  ‘But’ is the establishment’s response to the referendum.  Yes we know ‘Brexit means Brexit’ but what does Brexit mean in practice.  Apart from a few diehard ‘remoaners’, we are going to leave the EU but on what terms?  The legal decision means that triggering Article 50 means that Parliament will have a statutory input but are we talking a rubber-stamping the legislation or is it something up for debate and amending?  And the negotiations should they be left to the government…it’s right when it says that you can’t give a running commentary as it would compromise your negotiating position…or should Parliament have the final say or the people through a second referendum?  The problem with the government’s position—and the EU Commission is right here—is that it wants to be shorn of the institutional dimensions of the EU whilst retaining as closely as possible the current economic benefits of membership; a case of one foot in and one foot out, a hokey-cokey solution.  Now that really is denial.

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