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Yves here. This post by Richard Murphy makes similar observations to those made by reader David on a Brexit post earlier in the week:
There’s sometimes a stage in a political crisis where it becomes insoluble within the constraints of the existing system. In this case (and simplifying a bit) all the technical solutions are politically impossible, and all the political situations are technically impossible. The British political system as a whole (and that includes the Northern Ireland dimension) is not simply hopelessly divided, it has no possibility of finding a majority-based compromise solution. No matter how serious the economic consequences of Brexit may prove to be, I have a feeling that the political consequences may be worse, and that we are headed for the running aground and subsequent disintegration of the British political system as we know it. Short of divine grace arriving to persuade the system to revoke the Art 50 declaration, or at least put it on ice for a while, the system looks set to consume itself, with heaven knows what practical consequences. No imaginable initiative by the EU can help here, because the real crisis is not between the UK and the EU, but within the British political system, and especially the Tory Party.
It’s worth remarking here that other comparable European countries (France, Germany, Italy, Spain, Portugal) have undergone massive political crises and changes of political systems several times in the last century. Britain never has, and I’m not at all sanguine the “the last functioning medieval state in Europe” in Peter Henessey’s famous formulation will be able to withstand the strain. In a sense, it’s the post-Brexit political crises we should now be concerned about.
By Richard Murphy, a chartered accountant and a political economist. He has been described by the Guardian newspaper as an “anti-poverty campaigner and tax expert”. He is Professor of Practice in International Political Economy at City University, London and Director of Tax Research UK. He is a non-executive director of Cambridge Econometrics. He is a member of the Progressive Economy Forum. Originally published at Tax Research UK
Sometimes you just have to stand back from what is going on and reflect on it. I am trying to do a bit of that right now.
It is not greatly encouraging. Such reflection must be spiced and informed by reality, of course. This morning the news that the government plans that a second motorway is to be used as a lorry park in the event of Customs chaos after 29 March adds that input. That I actually had to check where the motorway in question was did not matter. What did was that we have reached the stage where the government appears to be responsible by planning for economic chaos that is entirely of its own creation. And, despite the obvious absurdity of that situation, this government still seems to have as much popular support as the Opposition, at least in England.
We live in surreal times. The danger is we have become used to them. But worse, we live in a time when government has ceased to have any direction at all. I say that because the reality is that no one really knows what Brexit is actually about. We can speculate endlessly as to why people voted to leave. The truth is every answer may be true. And so none is collectively. But we are doing it anyway. Because apparently that is what democracy demanded, even though we do not know why.
Hence, bluntly, the mess. The Tories can’t agree.
The Cabinet is hopelessly divided – with no sign of any solution.
Labour still has at least four Policy options it might adopt and no one seems clear which might prevail.
Only the SNP of the major groupings in Parliament seems to know what it might do. And no one is paying them much attention.
In the meantime, chaos ensues because no one ever knew what Brexit was about and no one still does, but we are doing it anyway.
Despite which no one seems willing to ditch the government that created this complete mess – because this is a Tory creation from beginning to end.
Standing back what does this imply? I would suggest that it is the end of coherence. There is now no goal. That is true as a nation. It is true of much of the body politic. It may also be true as a society. We no longer know what we want. And the result is we have got what our incoherence inevitably delivers, which is a mess.
But why? That’s the harder one to answer. I’ll suggest this. Too many believed Thatcher. She did mean ‘there is no society now’. The mantra of individualism has played out. And we can no longer find a reason to live with each other. Our neighbour has ceased to be our problem.
There is, however, just one problem in all this incoherence. And that is that our neighbour is still there. And they still have an opinion. And we can’t do without them, much as we try to do so.
The difficulty is that we have lost the narrative of community, but we still live in communities. The result is much more worrying than lorries parked in the M26, absurd as that will be. The consequence will be that until we can find a new narrative that brings us together the age of incoherence will last. And the risk is that the new narrative may be as divisive as the incoherence, or even build on it.
I am worried.
When I was a teenager my elder brother assured me often that when the glorious day came, whoever’s glorious day it was, I would find myself up against the wall. I would always be too awkward to survive. I feel that the threat of that wall is there for far too many now. And the risk that it will be used to enforce coherence is all too real.
The need for community has never been stronger. It cannot be built simply by solving the Brexit mess. Sometime it will have to be built on common aspiration of the people of this country, and others, to live in harmony and not fear. The price of the alternative is much too high.