Monday 22 February 2016

Gove and Johnson's coup attempt

Watching the strange Saturday news coverage of the government dividing before our very eyes was a strange, phantasmagorical experience. The so-called reforms seem to amount to little. The whole affair is deeply theatrical. It is as if the whole dreadful performance is being enacted because the Conservative Party happens to be divided in its traditional way - between the nationalists and free traders.

In fact, the oddest part of all is being played by Gove and Johnson. Gove looks increasingly uncomfortable, and I find myself wondering - rather as the Daily Mail implies - whether what we are actually seeing is an attempt by this strange duo to seize power by peaceful means.

Not not necessarily peaceable ones. If this is a coup attempt, it is a risky one.  For us.

They know that, if their side wins, Cameron will go and they will inherit the world (or England, at least, for that may be the extent of their world).

But none of this should imply that the decision is at all straightforward. I'm a Liberal and an internationalist. I ought to be wholeheartedly for In. My fear is that the EU has doomed itself by adopting the single currency and that, to assume some kind of leadership in Europe, we need to extricate ourselves. But what kind of leadership in Europe do Gove and Johnson aspire to?

One reason I remain for In is the horrible revelation of who is on the other side. Except Gove: Gove is a thinker and you have to take him seriously.

Then, odder and odder, his lengthy statement shows so few signs of thought. Here is the key passage:

"Our membership of the European Union prevents us being able to change huge swathes of law and stops us being able to choose who makes critical decisions which affect all our lives. Laws which govern citizens in this country are decided by politicians from other nations who we never elected and can’t throw out. We can take out our anger on elected representatives in Westminster but whoever is in Government in London cannot remove or reduce VAT, cannot support a steel plant through troubled times, cannot build the houses we need where they’re needed and cannot deport all the individuals who shouldn’t be in this country. I believe that needs to change. And I believe that both the lessons of our past and the shape of the future make the case for change compelling..."

This is half true. These trade deals do constrain us in the most ridiculous ways. But there are two major problems with this argument.

1. We haven't elected our representatives in London either. We have a bizarre electoral system in this country that veers from oligarchy to oligarchy on a diminishing minority of the vote. If the UK was democratic - if my vote counted - then I would inevitably be agreeing with Gove. But it isn't.  

2. I therefore don't trust our own oligarchy to negotiate trade deals on our behalf. If I did, fine - I'd vote to leave. But what evidence do we have that our current government really understands these issues? The seem quite happy to constrain us with TTIP, after all.

"We can get rid of the regulations which big business uses to crush competition and instead support new start-up businesses and creative talent," says Gove.

He's right, but where is the evidence that his colleagues understand this issue? Or will they just sign up to whatever the US Trade Department pencils in? Will we, in fact, end up just as constrained by these same deals - but without even the pretence of a democratic say?

In fact, the more the argument progresses - which, let's face it, is not very fast - the more this seems to be a larger re-run of the Scottish independence debate.

The Out campaign is proposing that we become our own nation again. But, unlike the SNP, they have painted no convincing picture of the post-EU nation. They have shown no interest in changing anything much except their own ability to exercise more control. They have no vision at all of a different kind of nation. No sketch of the extra influence ordinary people will wield by leaving. It is too late for them to articulate one now.

Given that, I suspect that Cameron will win and that Gove and Johnson will be cast into outer darkness where the devouring worm never dies and the fire is not quenched.

And perhaps that's where people who throw the dice, with such ambition and with odds such as these, tend to end up.

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Anonymous said...

I'd add a (3). Even if there was unity among us that our democratic processes were robust in producing legitimate leaders, and we could trust them to aim to negotiate the best trade deals possible, it is highly likely that 'the best possible' would be a worse position than at present. The UK contains a tiny proportion of the world's population, and while our economic power is notionally 'above our weight' the economy has severe structural weaknesses as you've detailed in past posts. Add to that the international perception of state collapse that would follow Scots attempts to end the Union in the wake of an English 'Leave' EU vote and it is difficult to see what our leaders, however well-intentioned, would have to offer their counterpart trade negotiators.

Oh, la la said...

Cranks, fruitcakes and Europhobes.

So the Brexit's intellectual-heavy weights came out, then the Sterling took a beating.

Gove is indeed an intelligent man, yet his dogmatic views and intellectual arrogance have given him a special ability to fail and collect enemies. Plus he thinks Murdoch is a “ great man”. Boris, never mind.

Now let’s talk shop. A trade deficit, a surplus of Financial services, an ever expanding deficit, a debt at 88% of GDP. Voting out would be the easy part.
I can assume that the markets could handle 2 years of re-negotiations on trade really well because we are in a strong position. Did Osborne include Brexit in his "cocktail of threats"?
Can we have someone else beside a clever and very successful hedge-fund manager to tell us that OUT is going to be ok?

If Brexit happens, will the Luberon be French again?