Since the EU referendum — which politicians have taken to reflexively saying “delivered a clear decision” despite the tiny majority — the behaviour of our politicians has been perplexing. Theresa May, who recognised that the UK is better off in Europe, has been inexplicably pushing for the hardest possible Brexit; Jeremy Corbyn, who campaigned to Remain, has whipped both MPs and Lords to go along with May’s unamended Brexit bill.
I have a horrible feeling the answer may be cowardice. I fear that Thomas Mair’s murder of Jo Cox looms large in the minds of May and those like her. I suspect that, at bottom, May is simply afraid of the anger of hard-right Leavers. That anger comes — rarely, thankfully — in the form of actual murderers. But it also comes in the form of hatred from the tabloid press; and in the form of rhetoric from people like Nigel Farage, saying things like “Every attempt … to delay or dilute Brexit will only increase our anger”.
My cousin Sue has been a Labour member for thirty years, and is deeply enough involved in the party and its campaigning to have given speeches at the annual conference and appeared as a disability advocate on the BBC.
In the wake of Labour’s three-line whip mandating MPs to vote for Theresa May’s hard-Brexit bill irrespective of whether any of their amendments were accepted (they weren’t), Sue tweeted “There’s only ever 1 question for me. Is today the day I let stupid idiot humans beat an ideal?”. At which point I went off on one and posted a series of tweets in response. I reproduce them below, lightly edited.
WARNING. This will be boring to many people, and infuriating to others. It surely exposes my political naivety. Yes, a case can be made that I should just get over it. Don’t read on if you don’t want to. Continue reading
I live in the United Kingdom, a parliamentary democracy. Let’s recap where we are right now:
- We stand on the brink of the greatest constitutional change in living memory.
- Leading the charge is a Prime Minister who has never won a general election.
- In fact she has never even won a leadership election of her own party, having won by default when her opponent dropped out.
- We are proceeding on the basis of a whitepaper that was thrown together literally overnight and than contains no meaningful analysis.
- Debate has been squeezed into hours, compared with weeks for the much less important Maastricht treaty.
- MPs for the devolved Scottish and Welsh assemblies have been allowed almost no time to speak (though Mark Harper took a full hour).
- The supine opposition party has pledged, before even knowing which amendments if any are to be accepted, to vote for the bill.
- Oh, and the policy that May is forcing through is one that she does not believe in, but has adopted from Nigel Farage –a man who has stood for Parliament seven times, and lost every time. But he gets to dictate policy.
This doesn’t feel like a democracy at all. It feels like a dictatorship, and one totally unprecendented in my lifetime.
[A companion piece to Why is Theresa May doing this?]
I have tended to be optimistic about Jeremy Corbyn, hoping that his Labour leadership signalled a real change in the nature of political discourse in Britain. Those hopes on the whole have been disappointed — it seems to me that having had to re-fight the leadership election again almost immediately after winning it the first time has left him so drained by his own party that he has little energy left to act as an effective Leader of the Opposition.
But it’s got much worse than that.
This kind of thing worries me: “Every attempt by the political class to delay or dilute Brexit will only increase our anger” — written by Nigel Farage.
Let’s leave aside the fact that Farage has written that a 52-48 result in the referendum would constitute unfinished business and necessitate a second referendum. What worries me here is the implication that because delaying Brexit will cause anger, therefore we should do it immediately.
As though anger in itself is enough reason to go along with a policy.
That is the logic of a toddler.
It’s well established that as recently as last April, Theresa May was strongly against leaving the EU. The BBC reports, for example, that in a speech to the Institute of Mechanical Engineers on 25 April 2016, she said:
If we do vote to leave the European Union, we risk bringing the development of the single market to a halt, we risk a loss of investors and businesses to remaining EU member states driven by discriminatory EU policies, and we risk going backwards when it comes to international trade … It is not clear why other EU member states would give Britain a better deal than they themselves enjoy … We export more to Ireland than we do to China, almost twice as much to Belgium as we do to India, and nearly three times as much to Sweden as we do to Brazil. It is not realistic to think we could just replace European trade with these new markets.
(There is much more: you can read the speech for yourself and reassure yourself that none of this is taken out of context.)
One week ago:
Dear Theresa May,
You say you got a real solution
Well, you know
We’d all love to see the plan
Now, having seen the plan:
Dear Theresa May
You say you’ll change the constitution
Well, you know
We all want to change your head