Brexit: the costs of illusory independence

Experienced economists like William Keegan are convinced that Brexit will make ordinary British people poorer. Liberals might recognise that EU citizens may be unfairly inconvenienced by the complex process of disentanglement. Socialists may be aware of the interdependence of modern economies.

While the referendum result has put the Labour Party in an awkward position, it does seem that any stampede for Brexit may be regretted in time. Of course, the nuanced position in the manifesto was designed not to upset the electorate. And it is vital to present a united front to the public.

Nevertheless, there is the urgent question of state capacity. Contrary to the rhetoric of British patriotism, the current state seems to lack the collective authority, talent, resources and tact to make a success of Brexit. These weaknesses could be more apparent than real. Perhaps there is simply a lack of state cohesion. However, the longer the perceived incompetence continues the less viable the policy of Brexit will appear. Just because people have participated in a flawed referendum, it does not mean that they should be punished for being misled. This implies that the Labour leadership would be wise to consider adjusting its policy in the next manifesto.

David Lloyd George. The Great Outsider. by Roy Hattersley

This biography was not written by a fan of the Prime Minister who tore up the rules of the political game. The pragmatism, cynicism and occasional unpleasantness of the Liberal orator are viewed through quite a censorious lens. Nonetheless, the achievements of Lloyd George as a pioneering Chancellor are not forgotten. The result is a complex text which is marked by the envy that a politician can harbour for a statesman.

Ideologically Roy Hattersley has few issues with the centrist Lloyd George. They both wanted to help the poor without bringing about a genuine social transformation. However, the admiration Lloyd George had for Keynesian economics and his contempt for the aristocracy meant that the Liberal did have a radical content. It was his antipathy to the socialism of the Labour Party which meant that some of his egalitarian rhetoric was deceptive.

As a biographer, Hattersley has the advantage of knowing some political realities. For example, he showed that he was aware that the electorate will not be told what an election is about. Theresa May should have consulted this text before losing her majority unnecessarily in the ‘Brexit’ general election. As a social historian, Hattersley is much less acute. This is evidenced by the sections on Irish Home Rule. Hattersley provocatively wrote:

“A negotiated peace might still have been possible if the Republicans- some of whom clearly killed for killing’s sake- had not been afraid that the leadership would settle for too little.”

“You campaign in poetry. You govern in prose.” Mario Cuomo

Jeremy Corbyn has clearly realised the power of the poem. At Glastonbury, he harnessed Shelley to inspire his audience. While the Conservative Party has been slow to form an awkward coalition with the DUP, the Labour leader has been quick to communicate his message of hope with large numbers of people.

It is uncertain if Corbyn will ever ascend to the summit of politics in the UK. However, he has already confounded a great many of his critics. Along the way, he has revealed a love of reading. His passion for Joyce made several people sit up.

If governing is a prosaic activity, does it have to be a fraudulent one? Is it possible for politicians to craft narratives which will take us to a fairer future? Will we continue to be led by Machiavellian monsters like Trump and Putin? The art of political studies is to live in the world of the possible. This does not mean we should be cynical, defeatist or neutral. Nonetheless, it does imply we must avoid making predictions.

Britain Since 1918 by David Marquand

This learned discussion of democracy in the UK received a positive review from moderate Labour’s Roy Hattersley. It is hard not to be impressed ┬áby a text which informs and entertains. The democratic process might not always have delivered the goods for ordinary people in Britain, but appreciating the statecraft and ideologies which have led to negative results can be educative.

For Marquand, politicians should not be seen as cynical hypocrites. They have often been trapped by tradition just when they hoped to be innovative. Old influences like Edmund Burke have seemingly shaped some of their choices in the modern era. While political theorists may have been thinking in terms of Machiavelli, Marx, Althusser or Foucault, the behaviour of those they have been ruled by could have been shaped by less inspirational philosophy.

Nonetheless, Burke should not be viewed as a pure reactionary. His excessive distaste for the French Revolution did not make him into a simple conservative. This kind of complexity means that politicians have sometimes misread the lessons of the past. On other occasions, pressure from the people has obliged politicians to assume more collectivist ways of thinking. Marquand ends his narrative on a note which is not devoid of optimism:

“As petrol blockades, the Countryside Alliance and, most of all, the huge anti-war demonstration in February 2003 all showed, the ancient British tradition of peaceful protest was alive and well.”

Of the People, by the People by Roger Osborne

“Arguably the greatest failure of democratic governments in our time has been the surrender of power to the international financial system in return for short-term prosperity for their electors.”

This compelling narrative about the history of democracy is succinct. Nevertheless, it makes a significant number of telling points. It shows how democracy has been interpreted differently down the ages. It reminds us that the answer to problems in mature democracies is often more democracy.

For example, the author makes the point that democracy suffered major setbacks between the major wars of the last century. This was partly because of economic difficulties. However, it was also due to the rise of extreme nationalism. While vulgar forms of Marxism were also undemocratic, it was toxic fascism which emerged as the biggest danger.

If citizens of the world today want to avoid making the mistakes of the past, refusing to support overtly nationalist politicians is prudent. Socialism and liberalism are ideologies which have not got an innocent history. However, the optimism they share is necessary now.

“The many instead of the few” Pericles

The brave campaign of Jeremy Corbyn this year might not have ignited yet. However, he showed his customary wit and passion today in West Kirby. A large crowd had assembled and the newly elected Metro-Mayor Steve Rotherham was present to give support to kind local MP Margaret Greenwood.

While left populism has not made a great deal of progress outside Greece and South America, Corbyn’s Labour is polling well ahead of the demoralised French Socialist Party, for example. In part, this must be due to the impressive drive of Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell. Today, Corbyn’s oratory was quite fierce as he knows there are not many days left before the general election.

The specifics of the Labour manifesto have been chewed over by the media. The fact that it has been costed has given it a degree of credibility. Labour might have a lot of ground to make up, but on policy they have shown patches of radicalism. Nevertheless, Corbyn’s words made me think about what democracy should mean. Perhaps Pericles put it best:

“Its administration favours the many instead of the few; this is why it is called a democracy.”

Cameron by Francis Elliott and James Hanning

This thorough text is a valuable reminder of how important PR has been to Tory success. It charts the early fluctuations in the fortunes of David Cameron. It was written when it was just about possible to believe that the Conservative Party had a feeling for the green agenda.

It is hard to believe that Theresa May is the Prime Minister when reading this book. It was a blunder to associate the word nasty with her party. There must have been a more delicate way to tell the Conservatives that their brand needed an update.

May is being framed in a presidential way in the current election. While this strategy may deliver results short-term, the voters may be more inclined to blame her if things go wrong later. With the environment under increasing pressure, the Conservatives may eventually regret their utter neglect of green issues. May has the advantage of not being as aristocratic as Cameron, but her rush for grammar schools might make some modern Tories nostalgic for his more moderate values. As the writers observed:

“In delivering the Keith Joseph Memorial Lecture in March 2005 he explicitly rejected ‘ideological politics’ in favour of ‘practical conservatism’.”