“2015 was a warm-up for the liberal Ragnarök”, writes Peter Franklin for UnHerd
He is wrong, obviously. The sign of the coming of Ragnarök is not warmth, it’s cold – the Fimbulwinter.
Apart from that, he’s right.
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! 🙂
Living in Scotland, I inevitably know plenty of people who voted remain in 2016 (and who believed every story against Boris – “He has the attention span of a gnat” and suchlike). Working in the media, Rod Liddle likewise has an extensive remain-supporting acquaintance (and I daresay many had similar opinions of Boris)
Recently, I’ve noticed a change. “It’s no longer the issue – it’s the principle of the thing”, is said by remainers who think the Scottish court ruling absurd and feel we have to have an election and have to have Brexit – not because they all now think it’s a great idea (though I sense “Project Fear”-exhaustion in them) but because they see what we all see: parliament is destroying its credibility – and its legitimacy.
I was already planning this post when I noticed Rod Liddle’s article in the Sunday Times today. Two-thirds of his remainer friends now just want Brexit to happen.
So the remoaning political class is talking only to itself – and only talking at us. Except that the issue is stopping Brexit, not one of its other pet projects, what’s new, you might say? What is new is: even remainers are noticing. And it seems there’s a difference between remainers and remoaners; winning isn’t everything to some remainers I know – or, it would seem, some Rod Liddle knows.
Two swallows don’t make a summer. What do you see and hear?
If the Great Realignment is coming, it is interesting to attempt to date its appearance on the horizon and chart its trajectory.
Ostensibly politics are aligned on a left-right axis with the left being opposed to economic freedom and the right being opposed to personal freedom. However this may not have been true since Thatcher and Kinnock were replaced by the likes of Blair and Cameron. Since then, both parties have become increasingly authoritarian, with ever less to choose between them.
It does not seem so long ago that the Labour Party elected Jeremy Corbyn as its leader, and how we all laughed that it meant the end of the Labour Party. The new axis of alignment would be revealed by the nature of their replacement.
Then the referendum happened, and Theresa May happened, and it does not seem so long ago that we were worried that if the Conservatives made a mess of Brexit, we would end up with Jeremy Corbyn as Prime Minister. Should that occur, politics might realign along a comrade-traitor axis.
Today the end of the Labour Party may be in sight again, though this time around I am less certain. For now, politics seems aligned mostly along a leave-remain axis. The two main parties ought to be the Brexit Party and the Liberal Democrats. But realignment takes time and we are stuck for the moment with Conservatives and Labour sort of wanting to leave but not really.
Soon Boris will be Prime Minister and it will be November 1st. If we are still in the EU on that day, it may not be long until the two main parties are the Brexit Party and the Liberal Democrats. If remain (or a remain-like version of leave) ultimately wins, some combination of the old three parties will likely remain, the Great Realignment will be cancelled, and ever ratcheting authoritarianism will return.
If somehow we leave the European Union decisively, how quickly can we move on? Will the argument be between those who want to protect industry from trade and keep out immigrants, and those who want to keep regulations and taxes in line with the EU?
Or will one of the sides be tempted by the growth to be had by freeing trade and attracting investment with easy movement of people and goods across borders, fewer regulations and lower taxes?
I would like to think that having discarded EU authoritarians, we can get to work on Westminster authoritarians, and that British political debate can centre around discussion of the role of the state, along an authoritarian-libertarian axis. A debate which, of course, the good guys will win.
We are standing on the fulcrum of history, and which way it eventually tips will require a very different set of behaviours.
(test post – but also true)