Four ways Boris could fail, and in most of them Brexit fails with him

Professor Matthew Goodwin is the author of National Populism: The Revolt Against Liberal Democracy, which I have read and found good. As an academic he maintains an attitude of detachment but it is clear to me that he wants Brexit, partly from fear that if the referendum result is thwarted the result will be a resurgence of the nativist Right, who will have been shown to be correct in their claim that democracy is a sham.

Goodwin believes the most likely thing to happen in the next few months is that Boris Johnson will succeed in delivering Brexit and will win an election on the strength of having done that. In this article, “Boris Wins Big … Right?”, he details four scenarios that end very differently. I approve of that type of thinking.

One lesson of the past decade, as I usually point out in my talks, is that we should always challenge Groupthink. It’s not that I find the above implausible, because I don’t. If things do not change then Boris has a pretty good chance of winning a majority, albeit one that in my view will be much less spectacular than Twitter would have you believe. But it could also go very wrong and we should recognise that conventional wisdom has a dismal record. Long-time subscribers of this bulletin know that it is only by challenging Groupthink that we saw 2016 Leave victory coming. So where could it go wrong for Boris? Here are four things his team need to think about.

Of the four factors he cites, only the first two strike me as big risks. They are:

– 1. He fails to unify Leavers
– 2. Corbynomics remains popular

In all the hullabaloo about Brexit it is easy to forget that a generation has grown up who only know of Margaret Thatcher as a kind of Bogeywoman and who know nothing of the failures of socialism that caused her to be voted in. Corbynomics is indeed popular, more popular than Corbyn himself. Never forget that the hard Left was a vital part of the coalition that won the 2016 EU referendum.

Added later: I said I admired Goodwin’s willingness to think about how he could be wrong in his predictions and how things could go contrary to his desires. In contrast Polly Toynbee seems constitutionally unable to think for very long about uncongenial matters. She writes, “Only a government of national unity can deliver us from no deal”, without once mentioning the Liberal Democrats. The Lib Dems are as vital to the Remain coalition as the Hard Left are to the Leave coalition; to put forward the idea of a government of national unity (headed by Margaret Beckett of all people) that does not include them is to add an intra-Remain absurdity on top of the wider absurdity of proposing a government of “national unity” to force through something bitterly opposed by half the electorate, as a commenter called “Katherine1984” pointed out.

Lest I be revealed as unable to think of uncongenial things myself, let me say that unfortunately the Remain side includes many brains more flexible than Polly’s. Dominic Grieve, for one.

Can Boris & the Tories be trusted? Yes, I know, stop laughing!

It appears that Tory leader Boris Johnson is now moving towards a reheated version of Theresa May’s terrible Withdrawal Agreement – the worst deal in history, a treaty that was accurately described by Boris as reducing the UK to a state of ‘vassalage’.

After a few short days making positive noises, the new Prime Minister is already talking about an extended period of Transition. A period when we would effectively still be in the Single Market and Customs Union, we would not be able to implement new trade deals, would still be subject to the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice and would not have control of our fishing waters. Under the terms of Mrs May’s agreement, we would also unnecessarily be paying £39 billion without the EU agreeing to any new trade deal.

– Richard Tice, Chairman, The Brexit Party

Herr Oettinger seems a bit confused

Herr Oettinger doesn’t have any input into what the British credit rating is. The European Union doesn’t, nor even the European Commission or the European Central Bank. Any and all of them can refuse to deal with Britain, the British Government, and of course we all desire that they do. But a credit rating is not something determined by a government in the slightest. It’s a market response.

Tim Worstall

Brexit punk!

The Guardian’s John Harris is a lefty, a Remainer, and a fine journalist. He saw Brexit coming, and, little though I agree with his political views, I think he sees a certain raw truth about our new Prime Minister in this piece:

“Boris Johnson is channelling a punk ethos to force through Brexit. It could work.”

Not a headline one sees every day. Mr Harris writes,

This is an increasingly familiar populist trick: encouraging a set of voters to relish taboo-busting as a kind of surrogate for a lost sense of economic agency and power. This version of taking back control is not to do with jobs, wages or houses, but the licence to say anything you want, whatever the consequences. Anyone who is offended is dismissed as a puritanical defender of joyless political correctness.

Punk spirit, cavalier style and wilful provocation will all inform the manner in which Johnson and his allies frame their greatest challenge of all: how on earth to deal with the very real crisis of Brexit and honour the Halloween deadline that the Tory party has so stupidly fetishised. And they look set to play a crucial role in gaining consent from those who have most to lose from crashing out of the EU. Faced with a set of impossible challenges, Johnson will present himself as the flamboyant, verbose, rule-breaking Englishman, positioned against the washed-out logicians of the EU machine, who were never going to help in the first place.

I heard they were going to get the bus out of mothballs, the bus, the £350-million-for-the-NHS battle bus that has caused such outrage, and drive it round the country all over again. Back in 2016, the only effect the suggestion that our departure from the EU would mean that we could pour yet more money into the black hole of “our NHS” had on me was to make me a fraction more likely to vote Remain. But upon hearing this news I still thought, yeaaaaaaaaaaaaah, please, dear Lord, let me be there when they take it through Cambridge city centre.

Oh God save history / God save your mad parade / Oh Lord God have mercy / All crimes are paid / Oh when there’s no future / How can there be sin / We’re the flowers / In the dustbin / We’re the poison / In your human machine

First time round, I wasn’t a fan. But it’s growing on me.

Two polls out tonight. One clear message.

One by OpiniumResearch, fieldwork 24-26 July changes with respect to 5th July:

CON: 30% (+7)

LAB: 28% (+3)

LDEM: 16% (+1)

BREX: 15% (-7)

GRN: 5% (-3)

And one by DeltaPoll for the Mail on Sunday:

CON: 30 (+10)

LAB: 25 (-1)

LIB: 18 (+2)

BRX: 14 (-10)

CUK: 2 (-2)

The fearful symmetry of that +7, -7 and +10, -10 is burning bright in the tangled forests of polling data. I rejoice.

I do not rejoice for the Conservatives, or mourn for the Brexit party. When the Tories’ voters deserted them en masse for the Brexit Party just before the European Parliament elections I was happy for the same reason that I am happy now: those splendidly disloyal voters were sending the message “We voted to leave the European Union. Forget building high speed railways or cancelling them, or whatever other scheme you think matters, we want Brexit. And we will vote for whichever party has the best chance of getting it done.”

Edit: Good grief, there have now been four polls published tonight. They’re like No. 9 buses, you wait ages then four turn up at once. The two later polls did not give such dramatic rises for the Tories, but one of them, by ComRes, yet again followed the pattern of a rise for the Conservatives precisely mirrored by a fall for the Brexit Party. Only YouGov did not follow this pattern. It showed a rise for the Conservatives and a fall for the Brexit Party, all right, but they were not quite equal. I repeat: it is not the rise or fall of either party that interests me. What interests me is that this demonstrates there is a most un-blocky bloc of voters for whom Brexit is the key issue.

In recent weeks there has been a slew of comments from the Remain side that asked, with a pitying shake of the head, what would the poor shambling Leave voters actually do if Article 50 were revoked? Get out on the streets with their Zimmer frames and riot? (The search term riot Zimmer frame Brexit gets 51,600 results. Recycling is all very well, but someone needs to donate them a second joke.) Well, besides the route taken by one Brexit-supporting old girl who won’t see seventy again – become an MEP and make Greens cry – there is always the option of swing voting.

Boris on Corbyn’s friends

Parliament has a different feel to it today.

He asks about Iran, the right honourable gentleman who has been paid by Press TV of Iran, who repeatedly sides with the mullahs of Tehran rather than our friends in the United States over what is happening in the Persian Gulf. How incredible that we should even think of entrusting that gentleman with the stewardship of this country’s security.

We all know it, but not everyone has been paying attention. I don’t know if it has been put so bluntly in Parliament before. And the rest of Boris Johnson’s answer is equally blunt. He has certainly added some energy to the proceedings. How much of this can Corbyn take?

Jo Swinson’s Dilemma

“I want to thank all the people who put aside their normal party choice to vote for me today.” (Jo Swinson, acceptance speech, 2017 election – quoted from memory)

East Dumbartonshire was one of the top seven NO-voting districts in the Scottish indyref 5 years ago. Jo is well aware she is only an MP because a sufficient number of people (some of whom I know) who normally vote Tory or Labour put aside their party choice to prevent the SNP getting the seat. Of all the Scottish MPs in Westminster, none are more existentially committed to there being no second indyref.

Having won her seat, Jo has now won leadership of the LibDems and this too required her to commit to a couple of positions on a couple of referenda.

She wants a second brexitref. How to square that circle with her position on indyref? Could she say that, since she believes leaving a union of a few decades needs two affirming referenda, not just one, she naturally thinks leaving a union of a few centuries needs ten or twenty consecutive wins (plus another one to cancel out the referendum that the natz lost)? Suitably spaced, such win-them-all-or-lose neverendums would ensure the natz in effect kept their ‘once in a lifetime’ promise – even if they did not die before their time from mingled fury and boredom. I don’t see it ever working in real life – but meanwhile it’s a thing a politician can say.

So on the whole, I see her other referendum-related commitment as the more troublesome for her. The LibDem’s price for forming a coalition with Cameron was a referendum on ‘reforming’ (i.e. changing) our voting system. It was a crushing defeat for the idea and for the LibDems. Now Jo has made electoral reform the “front and centre” price of any coalition with anybody. Will the LibDems be content with the offer of two referendums (to be held sometime after a referendum on it that they must win just to annul their prior referendum defeat)? Will they be content with the offer of even just one referendum – even one in which their getting first to the post with just one vote extra would suffice for victory? This is another issue I hope never arises in real life – but meanwhile, what does a politician say?

Even in today’s LibDem-friendly media environment, the new leader may not be able to avoid the occasional question about why she thinks we common people must vote ‘Leave’ twice before she’ll let us leave the EU, but she’ll let herself change what our votes mean through a mere parliamentary deal.

General election pacts

The outraged #NotMyPM twitterati think that new prime minister Boris Johnson should call a general election, since he was only put in place by a handful of silly old Tory party members and has no mandate. One problem with a general election is that the Brexit vote could be split between the Brexit Party and the Conservatives. So Nigel Farage has suggested there is the possibility of an electoral pact, whereby the Brexit Party does not contest all seats.

It would be fascinating if, for example, previously safe Labour seats went to TBP due Corbyn’s promise that the Labour party would back Remain. Or if votes were split between Labour and Lib Dems, since Jo Swinson has ruled out a pact.

Boris’s next moves will greatly impact the shape of the Great Realignment. Via the medium of electoral arithmetic, Nigel Farage will have a great deal of influence, I suspect.

The ruling class of an unrecognised state

In today’s Sunday Times, Matthew Goodwin reviews, favourably, The Great Betrayal by Rod Liddle. Goodwin writes,

Brexit was always destined to bring Britain to a constitutional crisis. After all, it was the first moment in British history when a majority of people outside of parliament asked for something that a majority of people who had been elected to represent their fellow citizens in parliament did not want to give. This profound disconnect is why, as my academic colleague Vernon Bogdanor argues, what happened on that fateful day in June 2016 is probably the most important constitutional event in Britain since the restoration of the monarchy in 1660. In one fell swoop, the shock vote left a lot of people who were used to feeling like winners suddenly feeling like losers and a lot of other people who had grown used to feeling like losers suddenly feeling like winners — at least for a while. For all of these reasons, what happened next was never going to end well.

Here I must interject that “it” has not ended yet. But Mr Goodwin is on to something with his focus on the shock and disbelief felt by those whose previous experience of electoral defeat had been the relatively trivial one of seeing “their” party dislodged for five years by some very similar people from the other party.

Just after the referendum Rafael Behr wrote a piece for the Guardian called “How remain failed: the inside story of a doomed campaign”. Behr, a convinced Remainer, saw the same phenomenon then as Goodwin sees today:

But over the course of the campaign, the most senior remainers found collegiate sympathy in a shared world view. As one put it: “We were the pluralist, liberal, centrist force in British politics.” Pro-Europeanism became a proxy for the fusion of economic and social liberalism that had been a dominant philosophy of the political mainstream for a generation, although its proponents were scattered across partisan boundaries. These centrists were the ruling class of an unrecognised state – call it Remainia – whose people were divided between the Conservatives, Labour and Lib Dems; like a tribe whose homeland has been partitioned by some insouciant Victorian cartographer.

And yet I suspect from his more recent writings that Mr Behr regards talk of a “deep state” as Trumpian paranoia.

Culturally, and in some respects politically, I am closer to the ruling class than to most of those who wounded it so deeply on June 23rd 2016. Goodwin goes on to write,

Liddle chiefly rails against what one might call “double liberalism”, the relentless pursuit of social and economic liberalism and all that flows from it

and

On economics, meanwhile, most people worry about the growing gap between the rich and poor, between London and the regions, and have no problem with more equitable taxation and nationalisation.

I would put “equitable” in quotes and I do have a problem with nationalisation. I would be quite happy for our relentless pursuit of social and economic liberalism to end by successfully catching them both – though I mean “liberal” in the old sense. I would know the right answers to the questions on the Remanian citizenship test. I even believe some of them. But however wise and sensible and liberal it is, I do not accept that the “ruling class of the unrecognised state” is entitled to hold on to power after being voted out.