Why Brexit must not become the sole identity of the Conservative Party
We had a deal, then a dolchstoss, a march up the hill and then a swift march down, next a bill passed that one Brexiter cited as proof for her majesty’s support of it. In between this, our party saw our Foreign Secretary flaunt cabinet discipline in what can, at best, be considered an extremely inappropriate manner, our number two at the treasury rip government policy, Chris Grayling prove his usual incompetence and Gavin Williamson asserting his micro-militarism via daily express leaks. Jeremy Hunt, too, was rightly put down by Greg Clark over his remarks about Airbus. I believe this chaos and indiscipline is inextricably linked to Brexit. It has throttled debate and tortured our discourse because, rightly, it provokes such strong opinion. Yes, Liz Truss did not mock Gove over his Brexit stance but it would be hard to imagine her making such scathing speeches without such a polarising backdrop.
It was said Civil Servants liked David Cameron. Purportedly this was because instead of asking for long presentations about a problem he preferred to be told the problem quickly with fare more emphasis being placed on the solution. So, let me try and please our former leader by saying this is our problem: we have become the Brexit party. For those die hard leavers, it will be no problem. Of course, you say, you are just a remoaner, an enemy of the people, a dangerous metropolitan subversive etc. I make no pretensions about my support for the European Project and stress my belief that Brexit itself is a very serious error. It harms our economy, paralyses our political system and poisons our society. However as serious and real these as concerns are, I am not going to Labour further on the plain mess that Brexit has divulged into (with only 9% of the public believing it to be going well) but instead point out the political harm of being so i linked to it as a party.
Now, in the short term being idiosyncratically linked to Brexit is a problem, with the prospect of another election and thus the very real threat of a Corbyn government. Yet it is the long term problem of such a predicament that should worry us more. 75% of young people that voted, voted to remain in the EU. Opinion polls, from Survation to Yougov, suggest that figure would now come to 82%. As someone who marched on the 23rd of June, too, the sheer number of young people was startling.
Our generation has grown up with cheap flights to Malaga and Marseille, Prague and Paris, Rome and Rhodes. On the whole we feel far closer to our European brothers and sisters than previous generations. Thierry Henry and Eric Cantona, Eric van Der Sar, Cristiano Ronaldo and Paolo di Canio filled our TV screens. Our universities are cosmopolitan. We, by and large, do not perceive so much the sharp distinctions borders once had. Brexit, because it threatens all of the above, and is in spirit a rejection of all which the young have become accustomed too is an aberration. From 1865 until 1965, the Democratic party were solidly the party of Jim Crow and rightly so. Avoiding electoral disaster despite this was more down to the oppressive segregation for which they became known, rather than an overlooking of their past. Generations do not forget and they do pass on.
It's very easy to protest but much harder to create policy; to find solutions; to find a way out. In my opinion there are three routes to follow:
The first is continuing down the Mayite route. A corporatist, makeshift approach to government that transcends into every aspect of government policy. Trying to fudge Brexit. Then, trying to be Corbyn-lite by promising spending based on a fictitious dividend. No real philosophical direction, but a lot of Corbyn bashing.
Yet, in a battle to outspend a person who would happily bankrupt the country is like trying to outdrink an alcoholic. We will lose because we simply won’t spend as much as they will and thus will become less attractive. Moreover, our economy needs to have the millstone of government debt lightened and eventually removed. The deficit, too, has almost been eliminated. Only lingering due to our obsession with Brexit.
The new Lizites, making Maggie proud via their glossy think tanks tell us to take a sharp turn to the right. The problem with this is simple: we spend too much. Consequentially tax is too high and the government is too involved. There is serious weight in their argument on reducing government intervention, yet it is their calls for a return to some bygone era of swashbuckling free trade conducted by nation states that lets this approach down. The world has become more polarised and increasingly centres around the superpowers. Sadly, we are no longer one. China and potentially India will assume these roles. So too does the US (though this may soon change).
The EU, in its pure mass, is increasingly looking like they will become a candidate. These countries are the most attractive for trade due to their mass markets, yet it is precisely because of their size that trade deals with them are not the answer. This is because the balance of economic power lays in their favour. Moreover, striking into emerging markets will be impeded by superpower’s ability to protect their own trade.
When it comes to Brexit, I am of the firm opinion that it must be stopped. Nevertheless I realise the will of 17 million people that voted leave must be counted. The most democratic way to remove a political figure is to vote them out in the next election. Ultimately, to overturn a democratic decision therefore, requires a people’s vote on the basis of a choice between the deal obtained by Theresa May and remaining a member in the EU. Parliament rules for the people and thus must cast ultimate say back.
However, it is also the duty of parliament to guide the country. As a party, in parliament and in government we cannot be afraid of this duty of leadership. Yet our party cannot be defined by its approach to Brexit alone. We must present a vision for this country that is not contingent on Brexit, personally I would like this vision to have the UK remain in the EU. Herein lies the true way of avoiding the electoral nightmare of Brexit.
How I believe this vision should look is a subject for another day, but in short it entails a return to pragmatic based policy bolstered by the principles of economic and social justice, internationalism and co-operation. However, for now I stress the message of this article: Brexit is a millstone we are in danger of attaching to our necks. Many would like to compare our potential exit to Trafalgar or Waterloo, the defeat of the Armada. I would like to draw a serious comparison to seventeenth century Venice. A country that could not adapt to the times, caught in an identity crisis, led by incompetence who sensed a false underlying destiny arising from their people. For our country's sake, let alone our parties, we cannot allow Britain to consign itself to the pile of international has-beens, which a poor Brexit deal may well result in.