05 September 2019
Keeping It Clear
The Boris and Jo show.
By John Watson
Wow, perhaps the Shaw Sheet should not be allowed to go on holiday. At the time of our last issue, at the end of July, Boris had just been elected as the new Conservative leader on his “Brexit on 31 October, do or die” ticket. Exciting stuff to be sure, but the more cynical of us wondered how long it would be before he watered down his pledge, set up a ministry of all talents, secured an extension from the EU and began a long period of inconsequential fluffing about, ending in some sort of compromise. That would be the British way of handling it, after all. Now we come back to a suspension of Parliament, the possible deselection of Conservative MPs and the likelihood of an imminent general election. Really, they shouldn’t be let out of the nursery without the Shaw Sheet to guide them.
It is a reflection of the weight we give to political utterances that so much fury has been created by the Prime Minister actually doing what he said he would do. “Do or die”, he said and “do or die” he meant. Of course, not being a complete idiot, he would rather leave with a deal, but if necessary he will leave without one and he will go through all the political tricks in the book, breaking conventions and even suspending parliament, if he has to. He has even drawn in the sinister but highly competent Dominic Cummings to act as his chief of staff, recognising perhaps that he himself is not hard and ruthless enough to lead the charge. After all, at bottom he is yet another Islington liberal.
Well, like his position or not, it is certainly a clear one, and it is matched by some steeliness on the Remain side. Jo Swinson, inexperienced as she may look at first sight, demonstrated the iron in her soul when asked on the television what approach she would take if a further referendum confirmed the leave vote, earning her spurs by replying that she would continue to support Remain. No nonsense about democracy or the public will. Good principled support for what she regards as best for the nation.
Many other MPs take equally principled positions one way or the other and a number (Philip Hammond, Dominic Grieve, Rory Stewart, et al) are prepared to risk their careers for what they believe to be right. So it should be. The question is a fundamental one and if there has to be a general election to resolve it, well, that is what general elections are for. But it is worth focussing for a moment on exactly what that question actually is because at the moment we are only hearing one side of it. The government’s position is clear enough. We will leave the EU with or without an agreement and make trade deals with them and the rest of the world. That may be realistic or it may not – that will be for the electorate to decide – but it is a clear vision, a clear objective. What is less clear is what the Remainers propose. Will we continue to stand on the edge as the EU develops into a superstate, carping and criticising, keeping our own currency and foreign policy, or will we plunge into the centre of it and become one of the driving forces in its development? That would involve sacrifices. The euro would replace the pound. Our seat on the UN Security Council would merge with that of France and become an EU seat. We would contribute to a joint military. In these and a thousand other ways we will become a large participant in a greater whole rather than a small nation paddling its own canoe. Well, Remainers, which is it?
Actually there is little choice. If the EU is to survive it will have to develop further and become some form of superstate. That will involve greater and broader democratic control, a widening of Schengen, and most important of all a transfer of funds from North to South to relieve the pressure on the Mediterranean economies. Creating this is a great and worthy venture but it needs to be sold honestly. To pretend that the EU will survive in its current looser form is surely unrealistic. It is to be hoped that Ms Swinson and her allies will recognise this and paint us a picture of their version of Elysium. Then we can look at the two possible futures for our country with open eyes and decide between them.
As the debate rumbles on, the press will continue to focus on democracy, constitutional conventions, deselection and a hundred other issues of political machinery. For the public, though, it is different. They don’t really care a lot about political machinery but are interested in getting a clear decision as to the future of the country. When the final trial of strength comes, be it a further referendum or an election, it will be for them to lift up their eyes to the hills and survey the visions on the horizon. It is to be hoped that the politicians will help them to do so and will not get themselves bogged down in advocating some illusory middle ground.