For weeks my wife had complained about Johnson and his lies and wondered how on earth he had managed to survive. How did he get away with it and when will we be rid of him?
I explained that although he would go eventually I wanted the crisis caused by his repeated lying to continue as he was dragging the rest of the Tory Party down with him. I also explained that his biggest lie was Brexit and Kier Starmer wasn’t calling him out on it. In fact, he was repeating the lie by claiming he could get it to work.
When she wondered how long Liz Truss would last I ventured the opinion that the longer she stayed the more divided the Tory Party would become although I also said she was already toast. Once again Brexit loomed large and about the only useful service she provided was to admit it in her very short, 89 seconds, resignation speech – ‘we set out a vision for a low-tax, high-growth economy that would take advantage of the freedoms of Brexit.’
Indeed she did. She demonstrated that ‘taking back control’ was a fantasy and that attempting the national road to growth the Tories planned for Britain was deluded. The Guardian columnist Polly Toynbee wrote that the Labour Party, Lib-Dems and ‘moderate’ Tories should now strike her ‘extreme brand of libertarian, state-destroying, Europe-baiting, austerity politics . . . dead so it never resurrects, so no one ever tries it again any more than they would advocate Stalinism.’
Unfortunately, while she may prove correct about the Right, although I doubt it, she has already been proved wrong about similar nationalistic, Brexit-supporting ideas on the Left, which range from Starmerism to Stalinism, plus some ‘Trotskyism’, which spoils the alliteration, but that still makes for a strange unity of purpose. The opinion poll by Tony Blair’s think tank asked for one word that describes Brexit for its supporters and opponents. For supporters it was the word ‘Freedom’. However, if such ‘freedom’ doesn’t make a nationalist capitalist programme possible how much more impossible is the idea of such freedom bringing about socialism?
The dominance of such a stupid idea arises not from the idea itself but from what it seems to allow – a much reduced role for the state or a much increased one; its reactionary character demonstrated by the fact it can succeed in neither. Far from thinking it has been achieved by Johnson’s ‘Get Brexit Done’ Government, more believe it hasn’t that has, with only 6 per cent thinking it has been completely accomplished. Sixty per cent think it has made the economy worse; in the North of Ireland its rating is negative 72 per cent and negative in parts of the so-called “red wall” in the north-east of England.
This doesn’t prevent about two-thirds expecting some benefits from Brexit, but since the most likely anticipated is new trade deals this has already been disappointed. The prospect of ‘better UK laws’, ‘less immigration’, ‘better-funded public services’, ‘greater influence in the world’ and ‘lower prices’ are all being disproved. No matter how blinkered its supporters may be, even with blinkers you can still see what is going on.
Where an alternative might come from explains a lot of the crisis in British politics. Asked which option you would choose for the UK’s place within Europe in the next 10–15 years, only 23 per cent said inside the EU, while 36 per cent said some sort of new trading partnership outside, and 11 per cent said outside the EU but inside the single market. In other words, almost half thought they could choose having your cake and eating it, or an arrangement that made Brexit pointless at best. Only 45 per cent of Remain voters supported joining the EU. That this is the case is suggestive of the role of political parties in setting out what appears possible; after all, if next to no one is saying it would even be a good idea then achieving it becomes, at best, something remote.
I informed my wife that the press were reporting some Tories saying that it would be better if the Labour Party took over; something that none of them would have claimed had Corbyn been leader, not altogether for rational reasons it must be said. This told us that such a view was informed not just by the idea that the Tory Party needed a period in opposition to get their act together but by the view that the mess created would be better cleaned up by Labour. Labour could then take the hit for all the unpopular decisions that the Tories are promising and still formulating.
Of course, allowing a general election when some opinion poll shows Tory support at 14 per cent means this is rather an unattractive position. At this level they would seem to be justified in believing that the only way is up. Instead, therefore, they will likely try to climb their way back with the new leader– the richest man in parliament, increasing taxes while his household has avoided a reported £20 million, and introducing austerity in which claiming ‘we are all in this together’ can only be seen as so much transparent nonsense. Misguided attempts to suppress energy prices or reduce their impact will not so much be more targeted as just avoid aiming at most of them. Inflation will continue and so will support for a war drummed up by unprecedented censorship and propaganda that has millions believing the righteousness of a state previously noteworthy for its corruption, internal division and endearment to fascists.
Having been trounced by the financial markets and the state, in the shape most obviously of the Bank of England, the new Tory leader will be on-side. Despite being a supporter of Brexit, he will still be detested by the hard-right of the Party, although its traditionally good at hanging together instead of hanging apart.
Which brings us back to Keir Starmer’s Labour Party, which has to reckon on being the opposition, something it hasn’t been very good at. Starmer’s Party has been characterised as a policy-free zone, but this does not mean policies will not, in the absence of an alternative, impose themselves. In a longer time-frame, ‘making Brexit work’ will not work. Immediately, calling for a general election only puts more pressure on it to set out an alternative, and the more we see of that the less alternative it looks.
We will look at that in the next post