Mad Dogs and Englishmen
Yesterday Zac Goldsmith completed his descent from eco-friendly Tory MP to racist mayoral campaign to losing a parliamentary majority of 23,000, whilst overseas our PEOTUS – already bored with governing before even entering the White House – went on a rabble-rousing tour and announced the appointment of James ‘Mad Dog’ Mattis as Secretary of Defense. Mattis famously made a speech in 2005 saying that it was “fun to shoot some people” in Iraq and Afghanistan and co-authored the army’s counterinsurgency field manual with David Petraeus. It’s a sign of how far we’ve come that he is, along with Mitt Romney, are thought to be a ‘moderating influence’ on Trump’s incoming administration.
Boris Johnson, who has already reputedly pissed off a whole raft of people, will today give his first speech as Foreign Secretary. BoJo – who just this Thursday was forced to deny a report claiming that he had told four ambassadors at a briefing that he supported the free movement of workers inside the EU, which he’s forgotten was the main force driving the UK’s departure from the EU – seems to be operating on a different planet from the rest of his European counterparts.
There’s a deep well of hubris and self-entitlement that Boris and his ilk are drawing on, immune to the reality that twenty-seven other countries are treating them with a growing and barely disguised contempt.
Responding to the bizarre notion that Britain could remain within the Single Market but control immigration AND let British people go anywhere, the German finance minister, Wolfgang Schäuble, warned him: “We’ll happily send Her Majesty’s foreign minister a copy of the Lisbon treaty,” he said. “He can then read about the fact that there’s a certain connection between the single market and the four freedoms. At a pinch, I can talk about it in English.”
Nobody’s heard of the Bullingdon Club in Strasbourg. Nobody gives two flying fucks about White’s, nor who plays polo with who.
As Jean Quatremar has written of Boris’s bungling on our behalf:
“His quip that the Italians would sell less prosecco to Britain if the UK was not able to stay in the single market not only created a diplomatic incident, but underlined the obvious weakness of the British argument: if the EU risks losing access to a market of 64 million Brits, Britain will lose access to a market of 440 million Europeans.”
Where once we had a laugh with Antoine de Caunes and Jean-Paul Gaultier we’re now faced with the altogether grimmer double-act of Philip Hammond and David Davis. We are watching the entire Brexit shambles descend to a new level of farce. This is true in Scotland as well as England, of which more in a moment, but first to Wakefield where BBC’s Question Time was a riot of unrestrained Brexit anger.
To an audience baying to “Leave now” – Ruth Davidson, Alan Johnson, Tim Stanley, and Richard Tice (from something called “Leave Means Leave”) competed with each other to make the case for Xenophobics R Us. But if the panel was its usually skewed weirdness, at least the audience had a democratic case to make. Several members of the public, from what we were told was a Leave stronghold made the point:
“We’ve had the vote, why are we still discussing the membership of the Single Market?”
Which is a good question. The answer to which must surely be that the people who reluctantly drove this car crash (Theresa May and Boris primarily) hadn’t thought it through and are now trying desperately to mitigate the disastrous consequences of the vote. To do so they have to try to delay and fudge as much as possible whilst kidding themselves (and us) that this will all work out splendidly, and that the rest of Europe will accept us completely re-writing THEIR Union for OUR benefit as we walk out the door.
This isn’t going to happen.
But neither is the scenario we’ve been asked to indulge in, that Scotland will get a special deal brokered by Theresa May, David Davis or Boris Johnson on our behalf. This may have all been an elaborate exercise in going through the motions by Nicola and all, but she has to have a backstory for IndyRef 2, an elaborate, imaginative and transformative strategy to take us from No to Yes. At the moment there’s no sign that she does, nor, if polling is to be believed, that there is any Brexit Bounce to spring us forward. That may change rapidly as the shit hits the fan, but as everyone knows extreme uncertainty and economic crisis are not good conditions to ask people to engage in decisive and radical constitutional change.
What we have here is a whole set of people kidding themselves on.
Back to Wakefield. Ruth Davidson talked about getting things “In good order” and (slightly mixing her sporting metaphors) she said:
“It’s right that the govt listen to these people, so that they can go into bat with the best possible hand, you can’t lay your hand out first and then listen to people after, you’ve got to listen to them now, and gets all your ducks in a row so that when we go into that room and we’re sitting at stable – across the table from 27 other people who all want a piece of us … we’ve got our strongest team in the room … we know exactly what we’re asking for … we know what we’re going after and we know the deals we want for the people of this country … that’s what we need to do!”
It’s totally incoherent but wonderfully revealing.
In short, ask lots of business people what they want – then lock Boris Johnson and Philip Hammond in a room with the rest of Europe and make them agree to our demands. You’d have to be really quite stupid to believe this was going to work, or operating at a pretty superb level of self-deception.
But what if the aim isn’t to remove Britain from the EU but to bring down the whole EU? That’s certainly what some Leavers have in mind.
One of the snarling Wakefield crowd might get their wish to bring the entire European infrastructure down. Paul Mason looks forward to the coming weeks:
“Next Sunday, we get to see whether European centrism’s “double-or-quits” strategy will pay off. In Austria, where far-right populist Norbert Hofer is neck and neck with a Green candidate in the re-run of the election for the ceremonial presidency role, the left and centre are frantically trying to mobilise party-loyal working-class voters. They may fail. In Italy, on the same day, the centre-left government looks set to lose a referendum designed to strengthen the power of the executive over parliament. If the prime minister, Matteo Renzi, steps down and the markets crash, and Europe imposes a bank rescue plan that raids ordinary people’s savings, then you could get both a domestic banking and a eurozone crisis by Christmas.”
Aside from the fact that most immigrants to the UK come from outside the EU, how do you fancy a deregulated politically chaotic Europe would cope with the influx of migrants we have created from multiple foreign misadventure? If you think sitting pretty taking a fraction of our share of the chaos in an orderly structured European settlement is some kind of terrible hardship, then watch this space. The problem with the entire Brexit debate is that it’s predicated on a false-victimhood status that somehow Ukania is somehow terribly hard done by (“30 years of hurt?”) rather than a privileged pouting recalcitrant island that’s been huffing and puffing on the edges for decades.
But if Wakefield was a snapshot of post-Brexit pre-Trigger Angry England in all its glory, hurrah for much leafier Richmond, where the Liberal Democrats have staged some kind of crazy (but almost completely irrelevant revival).
From Wakefield to Richmond
Tim Fenton from Zelo Street unpacks the Richmond result with some glee:
“In the early days of Europhobia in UK politics, there was no greater pleasure than seeing the Referendum Party losing its deposit in a whole string of General Election and by-election contests. This was not unconnected to the leader of that party being the late and not at all lamented James Goldsmith, a monumental shit of no known principle, who, like Nigel “Thirsty” Farage, was indulged by the media but never got into the Commons. Goldsmith was also despised by many who cherished free speech and the right of dissent from the conventional wisdom, as he had tried – and ultimately failed – to close down Private Eye magazine in the 1970s over allegations the Eye made over his potential involvement in the disappearance of Lord Lucan, who is generally agreed to have murdered his family’s nanny before vanishing off the face of the earth. The sheer obnoxiousness of the family patriarch has since hovered over the rest of the Goldsmith dynasty, despite the ostensibly agreeable demeanour of son Zac, who became an MP in 2010 when he defeated Lib Dem Susan Kramer to win the constituency of Richmond Park for the Tories. The collapse in the Lib Dem vote at last year’s General Election inflated Goldsmith’s majority to just over 23,000. And Zac could have remained MP for Richmond Park for the foreseeable future, but for two things: first, he put himself forward as Tory candidate for the London Mayoralty, and then took part in a campaign notable only for its disgraceful Islamophobia and suggestions that his Labour opponent Sadiq Khan was some kind of terrorist sympathiser.”
So, nobody’s going to stop a third runway, it may just collapse under the weight of its own ridiculousness, and we have the answer to the conundrum:
“Zac Goldsmith: the man who has managed to answer, twice in one year, the question, “What if you blew a dog whistle and nobody came?”
Brexiteers are acting like children stamping their feet and brandishing the Daily Mail who think that simply by going in a big Euro Huff they can abscond from the rarities of the world. It would be funny if we weren’t tied to it.
But what does all this mean for Scotland? None of it seems particularly good.
At the moment we have a Yes movement that is fragmented and in denial about the need to reframe and refresh the entire case for independence, we are too often returning to the solution of blaming an enemy, from Kaye Adams to fraudulent Tory pollsters to Lesley Riddoch. This sort of hyper-defensive close-minded outlook won’t win us anything.
It’s certainly becoming abundantly clear that the only way to keep Scotland in Europe is through a second referendum and re-emerging as a sovereign state. To do this and win will require a “fresh eye and an open mind” not a stale argument re-heated and told with a greater and greater vehemence.