When I saw a Brexit-related link on instapundit, clicked on it and realised I had arrived at the New Statesman (!!!), I almost clicked the back button. Decades ago, I gew up in a household that took the New Statesman – a schizoid hard-left rag whose first (political) half lauded the noble working class oppressed by the evil Tories, and whose second (social) half reviewed avante-garde books and arty-farty plays that no representative member of the working class would go within a mile of, in pretentiously-predictable articles mostly written by the sort of reviewers described in George Orwell’s essay “Confessions of a book reviewer”. You can picture my amazement at finding that the article instapundit linked, written by the New Statesman’s book reviewer John Gray, though not without flaws (and with a title chosen more to encourage the average New Statesman reader to read it than to convey its contents 🙂 ), has some valid points.
Trivially, the writer’s thoughts on Burke are wrong – but he’s right that misquoting a travesty-version of Burke is one of the ways the remoaners (haute-remainers is his phrase) whistle in the dark to keep their spirits up. And I’m unsurprised that a man who writes for the New Statesman, even one with some sensible observations, has a cluelessly cynical attitude to tradition.
More germane to his thesis, the writer’s idea that, for Cummings, “strategy takes priority over any ideology” perhaps shows he watched the BBC dramatised series on Brexit referendum campaign more attentively than he read Cumming’s own articles. The series was (I think, AFAICT) competent at showing the how of winning the Brexit campaign but revealingly clueless about the why – the remainers got to explain themselves but one could not tell from the script why Cummings, Boris and other leavers wanted to do what they were doing. Things must first work before they can work to any given end, and the more the ‘haute-remainers’ make politics warfare, the more Boris, Cummings and the rest have no choice but to outmanouevre them before they can pursue any end not immediately part of that – but that hardly shows they have no desired end. Gray also does not discuss (does not see?) that Blair’s constitutional innovations (e.g. the supreme court, only 10 years old this month) might not evolve but simply be abolished along with the FTPA.
More germane still is his limited understanding of how the public, as opposed to the pundits, grasp the issues.
Pundits and MPs kept saying ‘why isn’t Leave arguing about the economy and living standards’. They did not realise that for millions of people, £350m/NHS was about the economy and living standards – that’s why it was so effective. (Dominic Cummings, How the Brexit Referendum Was Won)
Gray says that
Farage has never wavered in his commitment to libertarian economics, and today this is a clear vulnerability. Johnson has to show he is committed to using the power of the state to repair the damage inflicted on society by markets [NK: ‘markets’, a revealingly inadequate word – ‘globalism’ would be less imperfect]
Gray does not realise that (to paraphrase Cummings) for millions of people, controlling immigration is about protecting them from the damage that elitism, political correctness and globalism inflict on their society.
These (and other) constructively-intended criticisms aside, the article has grasped one thing: the futility of an immediate remoaner victory even if they could gain it. As Burke developed his campaign against Warren Hastings in the mid-1780s in what looked like a very difficult political environment, a perceptive government supporter wrote, “I do not see how they will get rid of Mr Burke.” Similarly, the article grasps how all the remoaners’ tactics positively push them further away from getting rid of Brexit: “Ces institutions périssent par leurs victoires.” He also understands how modern “liberals” (US sense, though very appropriate to today’s LibDems) are very far from being the rational ones.
When liberals talk about reason they mean a mishmash of ideas they picked up at university. Scraps of Rawls, Dworkin and Thomas Piketty, together with a smattering of modish conspiracy theories, form the folk wisdom of the thinking classes. Rationality means deferring to this ragbag of ephemera and ignoring enduring truths about the deciding forces in politics.
Sense peeps out from an article in the NS! – not the Britain of my youth indeed! 🙂