Friday 24 June 2016

The Man Who Broke Britain

One man is responsible for today's fiasco, and that is the Prime Minister. Or, thankfully, the soon-to-be-ex-Prime Minister. Dave joins Neville Chamberlain and Anthony Eden - coincidentally Tories too - in the hall of notorious failures. For his political vanity, for narrow party advantage over a hard right insurgency that began petering out before he conceded them the EU referendum, Dave has inflicted incalculable damage on the British economy, on the politics of this country, and goes into retirement trailing a bitter legacy of division and hopelessness. Well done that man. Well fucking done.

There's a lot to be written about the referendum - the character of the people voting leave, what it means for mainstream politics, whether UKIP will do a SNP, and the looming no confidence vote in Jeremy Corbyn. But here, while he's still relevant, I want to concentrate on Dave's miserable figure and the trajectory of his career. And there are a couple of things that stand out. As I've argued before, actually Dave is a proven weak leader but his sole discernible talent is to look the part. Hence when politics is aestheticised and image is everything, that is able to cover for his legion of faults. This brings us to his big problem. Dave, you see, is an addict. A gambling addict, and this frame can be usefully employed to think about his career.

Dave's brinkmanship started small. Upon his election in 2005, he put the party in the bath to hose down the muck of ages and the nasty, bigoted toxins the Tories had accumulated. A lot of members didn't like it, and off they went. At the end of it we had a shiny new entity. "Vote blue go green" was the slogan as our youthful PM-to-be preached compassionate conservatism and made out with huskies in the Arctic. It wasn't long before Dave faced his true test. Going up against a wounded and flailing Gordon Brown, he took a chance breaking with the Tory commitment to matching Labour spending and used the window opened by the financial crisis to oppose the measures necessary to save Britain's banking system. Economically, it was as bankrupt as Lehman's, but politically Dave skillfully - with some help from his media friends - turned a crisis of capitalism into a crisis of public spending. Matters were helped by Brown and Darling deciding that the route back to normality meant passing through a period of austerity. Dave gambled by staking out new political ground, and won by setting the terms of the debate.

The next big gamble came shortly after. His "big, open and comprehensive offer" to the Liberal Democrats to join him in a coalition government was a novelty, and commentators - including not a few Labour MPs - were bowled over by this new "cooperative" approach to politics. In practice, there was little qualitatively different between it and any other Conservative government. But Dave reasoned rightly that the LibDems were hungry for ministerial office, and would cling on for as long as they could knowing another chance may never come their way. A recipe for chaos it was not.

Dave's next big stake was the war of equal marriage. Trying to give the Tories a progressive gloss after implementing their first round of cuts, Dave more or less purged the party of its remaining bigots and homophobes. Tory associations folded and UKIP, then presenting itself as a libertarian party, promptly junked these principles and cleaved to the old school to hoover them up as recruits. A risky gamble because a declining Tory party could ill-afford to dispense with activists, and it gave UKIP the shot in the arm it needed.

His gambling appetite was now whetted. While it had simmered away for a while, Scottish independence wasn't a decisive issue then in Scotland. But with the SNP in power, he thought to lance the boil and go down in history as the British PM to see off Scottish nationalism. I don't believe he was far-sighted or Machiavellian enough to believe the referendum would destroy Scottish Labour, but this was the happy consequence as, somehow, the project fear approach of Better Together won the referendum at the price of immeasurably strengthening the SNP and Scottish nationalism in general. It doesn't matter, as what happened in Scotland allowed him to play the English identity card and scaremonger enough voters in swing seats to grant him a slim majority.

The problem with problem gamblers is, unfortunately, they don't know when to stop. Fresh out of the Scottish referendum, Dave sought to neutralise the UKIP vote in the marginals by offering the in/out EU referendum. Fully expecting it to be negotiated away in subsequent coalition talks that didn't happen, the majority landed him with a promise he'd be hard pressed to wriggle out of. What raised the stakes even higher is Dave went away to Europe with the promise to renegotiate the UK's relationship, and came back with thin gruel. He gambled this would be enough, along with a project fear-style 'it's the economy, stupid' campaign to win again and secure his place in the pantheon of all-time greats. His gamble failed. For the sake of a small number of votes from a minor party in decline, he was happy to risk everything. With the risks so high for a stake so small, why didn't someone make an intervention earlier? It's too late. He lost, and - ironically - it will disproportionately be those who voted against him who will pay the cost of exiting.

Dave's career is one gamble after another, gradually growing in risk and increasingly marked by personal vanity. I always knew Dave would get found out one day, and when that happened he'd be finished. He has, and a dislocated and dysfunctional country is what it took.


Anonymous said...

It is obvious that if it were not for Corbyn, Labour's traditional white working class base would have engaged fully with elite opinion and rallied around the EU flag.

What low-paid precarious workers in Hartlepool and Sunderland wanted was strong leadership from a centrist member of the metropolitan political class. Obviously.

Well done Margaret Hodge. Her logic, and that of many in the PLP, is impeccable.


Phil said...

I'll have something on this in due course.

BCFG said...

Anonymous puts it perfectly really, except I wouldn't call Corbyn part of the centrist metropolitan political class. And the British working class have rallied around an elite, and probably the most vile part of the elite. So maybe not that perfect but I take the point!

Cameron underestimated the racist nature of the British public (particularly in England), no amount of EU cheer-leading can undo years of pandering to racism. This vote wasn't about housing or jobs or your childs place in school it was racist bigotry or colossal idiocy.

Those who voted for Brexit because they think it will improve the NHS are so moronic we may as well dismiss them and not bother engaging with them. people that stupid cannot be reasoned with. In fact people that stupid will soon forget the pledges about the NHS and follow sheep like to Farage's next boast. They are beneath contempt.

But the NHS defenders are the minority, the vast majority of Brexiteers are people who have been infected with poison from the unfree media. They are like obese people who have been fed too many burgers and fries. Their minds are so riddled with unsaturated fats that only a lobotomy can save them.
These people believe in mythical England, land of hope and glory, white folk in green landscapes, George and the Dragon, Britannia rules the waves, high streets free of dark skinned people with their funny smells and dirty habits. The fact their dreams are stupid and will never see the light of day will not matter as again these people are too stupid to ask questions. If you see one look at them in utter contempt.

As it becomes clear Brexit doesn't deliver the utopia this won't matter because the stupid voted for this and the stupid can be shat upon without much consequence.

You don't have to be stupid to be on the far right but it really really helps.

Dave Levy said...

On Cameron, I think you underestimate the effect of winning the AV referendum had on him; it's like Sir Robin at the Bridge, "That's easy". I'll try that again, and he thought he won in Scotland.

However, his craven capitulation to his Brexit wing by not allowing the 16-18's to vote, not allowing long term British residents in the EU to vote and not allowing EU citizens (and tax payers) to vote and running his electoral roll purge before the vote makes one ask, was he relly for Bremain? I like the Chamberlin, Eden, Cameron linkage, I hope others repeat it.

The work on both the EU and immigration has not been done by either of the main parties for years.

Ian Pointon said...

I would add to your examples, Cameron's appointment off Andy Coulson.