Quote of the Day: The cult of the faithful

No doubt both have always been in some degree present – and it would be a soulless politics indeed that was purely technocratic. But it becomes extremely problematic when feeling and sentiment completely swamp rationality and evidence. That is not just because it creates unworkable policy but because it becomes self-re-enforcing: the more the policy fails, the greater the belief that with more faith it would work. It’s not just that it isn’t evidence-based or even that it is evidence-immune, it is that it thrives on evidence that contradicts it.

Chris Grey on the collision between technocratic politics based upon rational argument and evidence, and faith-based politics based upon feeling and sentiment

The Will of the People

Much is made by the Brexit bunch that the 2016 referendum represents the will of the people and must, therefore, be implemented. The same people, however, are shockingly averse to any effort to establish what the people actually want from Brexit. Now Charlene Rohr, David Howarth and Jonathan Grant have done the legwork.

But our study of what people value about the EU does tell us. And we find that their priorities map most squarely onto a Norway-style model for future relations with the EU.

People place a high value on having access to the EU markets for trade in goods and services. They like the option for the UK to be able to make its own trade deals. They also value that the UK is able to make its own laws, but not as much as access to the single market or the ability to make trade deals. They worry about freedom of movement, but mostly because of concerns about demand for public services. They strongly dislike the idea of having to get a visa to travel for their holidays.

I touched on the issue of access to public services some time ago. In short, every other EU country restricts access to benefits; the reason Britain doesn’t is that the Department of Work and Pensions IT systems are old, broken and not fit for purpose.

Power without responsibility

Rafael Behr points out:

A clique of Tory ultras have lately told Downing Street they might tolerate the UK staying in a shared customs space with the EU until 2022, two years beyond the transition period envisaged at present. This has been reported as a formal concession by the Brexiteers, although they have no official role in the process. The position of chair of the European Research Group, occupied by Jacob Rees-Mogg, has no constitutional value. It meant nothing two years ago. Somehow it has become the pulpit from which permissible boundaries of thought and deed are dictated to the prime minister.

This, for me, sums up much of the problem with the Brexit process so far. The extreme wing of the Conservative party managed to frighten David Cameron into holding an ill-judged referendum on an issue that most people didn’t care about. Then Theresa May allowed herself to be panicked into taking a series of incoherent and inconsistent positions until we reach the current state in which the country looks into the abyss and starts arguing about whether to jump now or take a run-up first.

And the people pushing hardest for Brexit have no idea what it is they are trying to achieve, which would explain why none of them wants to get anywhere near having to take a decision.

The ERG are a minority that will never be satisfied and May’s fear of her far right is ill-founded. Regardless of what she does or says, they will always push for her to go further and take a yet more extreme position and the only threat they have is to trigger a no confidence vote. They might be able to find enough MPs to trigger such a vote, but I don’t believe that a majority — or even a significant minority — of Tories would be willing to support this bonkers faction. So May would remain in power and the ERG would be left with nothing.

Now would be a good time for the Government to acknowledge that Brexit is nothing more than a very expensive way of increasing hardship for all, and to call a halt to the whole charade.

Consequences

Amidst the increasingly hysterical Brexit coverage among some parts of the UK press (which will probably get a lot worse before the Tory conference is over, this comment from Chris Grey is worth repeating:

Britain, through its vote and its government’s actions, has chosen to leave and to do so in the form that it has. That entails losing all of the benefits of membership of the EU and of the single market. It is not bullying or punishment to be expected to face the consequences of that choice. Britain has not been forced by foreign aggression to ‘stand alone’: it has chosen to do so. It has backed itself into a corner, through lies and fantasies about the practical realities of what Brexit would mean. It is now in danger of telling itself lies and fantasies about why that has happened.

Britain voted to leave and Theresa May allowed her lunatic right to drag her into committing to the hardest, stupidest and most self-defeating version of Brexit possible.