The most shocking thing about the Brexit vote has not been the result but the collective failure of the political class to give any sort of coherent leadership. Instead, we have witnessed, by turns, politicians frozen like rabbits in headlamps. Look at the facts, chief dissembler Boris Johnson, supposedly intelligent appeared the morning after the vote, said nothing and scuttled away. David Cameron blubbed to the media and similarly retired hurt, but bear in mind he still has responsibility as Prime Minister! Chancellor George Osborne simply did not appear at all until Monday morning when he popped up with neither clue nor plan but long on soothing platitudes. The rest of them including Michael Gove just responded by a starting to think about their careers and a leadership election. Some commentators have called it Machiavellian, but having spent a little while looking at the work of ‘Old Nic’ I reckon he would most probably have been appalled at the incompetence! All the Parliamentarians, including the Labour party self declare as democrats but are prepared to risk leaving a dangerous power vacuum. There were even calls, not serious ones admittedly, for the Queen or Army Generals to take temporary charge! A few weeks later and their democratic credentials look even thinner with the Conservative Party preparing to elect a new leader and thus Prime Minister from an electorate of only 150,000 without the guarantee of a General Election and the possibility of rowing back from the Brexit vote (Article 50 will not now likely be triggered until at least 2017).
A Failure of Planning and Understanding
A almost incredible facet of the referendum result was the total lack of planning for a leave vote. Racist incidents soared, the currency and stock markets collapsed and international collaboration immediately started to freeze or be terminated. But no one took control and we are far from out of danger, in fact the danger will actually intensify. This was the inevitable outcome of the debate which was criticised in earlier posts here and here. I do not buy the argument that we will experience some volatility before things settle down. As things transpired only the SNP in the shape of Nicola Sturgeon were anywhere near prepared for the result. No wonder the SNP virtually monopolise Scotland, a state of affairs which does them credit but bodes ill for contestable politics in the UK. Here is why I think this is the case.
Politicians of all sides have almost no idea about the shape of our relationship with Europe in terms of trade and immigration This is disastrous since they are blithely ignorant of the reason for the Brexit vote consisting of a large mixture of old fashioned nationalism allied to a desperate anti-globalisation protest. If the vote had gone the other way with Remain taking a narrow victory, the position would have been less urgent but still as important. The problem is that there are whole de-industrialised communities around the country now expecting a step change in their prospects or circumstances. I blogged about one young Tesco checkout worker who was excited at ‘taking back control‘! There is no chance of this happening and while a co-ordinated far right advance looks unlikely at this time due to a lack of charismatic leader it is not impossible that one will emerge in the next few years to fuel and feed off the discontentment. In the past the Labour Party had politicians as disparate as Aneurin Bevan and Sir Stafford Cripps who, for various reasons, understood the attraction of far right politics for dispossessed communities. In some cases this was because they temporarily felt the allure themselves. Remember, Nazi stood for National Socialist (the British equivalent was the New Party led by Sir Oswald Mosley) and there is no reason why a modern version should not make similar headway today.
Radical Policy – A Start
A whole range of solutions need to be enacted, some of which are necessarily long term. But some things can be done now and need not involve massive expense. Here are just a few of the actions:
- Relocate economic activity away from London. Many people ask what can be done for deprived communities. Just as we have seen with the BBC there is no reason why Government agencies and Departments can be relocated. For example, why not place the Department for Work and Pensions in Ebbw Vale or Consett, Co Durham. Move the Department for Culture to Barnsley or Gateshead. For those who say this is impracticable, just look at other countries, Germany for example splits Government Departments between Berlin and Bonn.
- Strengthen the ‘misconduct in public office’ statute to include issues of deliberate and persistent misrepresentation and lying. Enforce it and improve debate.
- Assess the experiments surrounding Basic Income currently being undertaken around the world and implement a plan for introduction to compensate people for being frozen out of wealth creation which is largely centred in the City of London.
- Reform the Lords to remove oligarchs and establishment cronies and ensure that all regions and sections of the country and society have proper representation. Give it a genuine scrutiny and investigatory role enabling it to hold the Government properly to account.
- Before a General Election instigate PR which will give disenfranchised UKIP and other minority party (Green, TUSC etc) voters proper representation. Their voices MUST be heard.
- Start a major Council House building programme NOW!
- Increase resources to support the work of existing on the ground social community groups such as The Dove Workshop to help them identify and encourage new economic potential
One example will serve to illustrate the disconnect. Last year it was proposed that London should have a new concert hall, partly to attract classical poster boy Simon Rattle to the London Symphony Orchestra. As ClassicFM reported this was backed by other musical luminaries such as Sir Roger Norrington and would cost an estimated quarter of a billion pounds! A report claimed that £125m could be raised from fundraising but the rest would come from the Corporation of London and the public purse. If that sort of money is available let the Corporation of London pay for the whole of it and invest the public money in the regions. Why should the deprived well off pay for an elite vanity project which will only attract more resources to an over bloated capital. This week the great and the good such as the Governor of the Bank of England Mark Carney have retreated to Wimbledon as a kind of safe place for frayed nerves. If they do not take action soon they will find the Centre Court has been turned into inexpensive social housing as a consequence of the policies of a Far Right demagogue!