A Month in UK Politics
October 2nd 2016
When Theresa May took to the stage to tumultuous cheers from the Tory faithful at the beginning of October 2016, she probably allowed herself a moment of self congratulation. The opposition were in turmoil, she’d headed off the UKIP threat by adopting their policies and her ministers had just announced a series of new initiatives addressing the immigration problem. OK, one particular policy announced by Amber Rudd borrowed a riff from Mein Kampf, but hey, only a lefty activist would worry about that and most of them had never read Mein Kampf.
Theresa May has pulled off the most audacious political coup in modern times. Unelected, she now heads a government of right wing politicians who most people thought would never see power again. She is able to implement policies that never appeared in any manifesto without fear of opposition because the main opposition has decided to withold their labour as they don’t like their leader.
So when she strode onto that stage, drinking in the adulation, she must have felt almost invincible. The TV cameras zoomed in and out juxtoposing close ups of her every triumphalist utterance with the wildly cheering Tories in the audience. It was the second coming, they had their Maggie back.
The problem with all of this, the anti migrant rhetoric, the hard brexit line, the bullish utterances on being naturally closer to the US than the EU, was that these pictures, these utterances were being networked right across the world.
I’m guessing the average UK resident doesn’t pay a lot of attention to European politics, our media barely bother to report it after all, but I’m not sure the same extends to the European middle classes. The hated metropolitan elite are very numerous in Europe and guess what? Some of them will be negotiating the terms of our Brexit. So I wonder what on earth the Tories were thinking of?
The message has been relentless these past few weeks. The UK that the Tories have invented dislike metropolitan elites, they dislike foreigners more and would prefer to revert to the good old days when John Bull bestrode the world like a colossus, diplomacy was carried out by gunboat and we traded with whoever the hell we wanted to without having to worry about things like safety regulations and other lefty nonsenses.
The promises the Brexiters made, have been discarded one by one, I don’t think a single one remains. The Tories have looked into the runes and decided that the vote wasn’t a wave of rebellion against an out of touch inward looking government after all, it wasn’t about the National Health or being told what to do by an unelected bureaucracy, it was instead a wave of revulsion about immigrants. No matter that the rhetoric peddled by the poisonous Nigel Farage and his cohorts during the Brexit campaign was unpleasantly racist in its tone, no matter that the Tory government had used race as a card repeatedly in both their election campaigns and in their approach to Brexit. No matter that hate crime doubled in the immediate aftermath of the Brexit vote, the people had spoken and what they want the government to do is to kick out the immigrants.
Theresa May and her government want their cake and eat it. A lot of the rhetoric about immigration has been about whipping up a problem that they can capitalise on. Statistically, there is no problem, in fact immigration and free movement of labour keeps many of our businesses afloat. The Tories however have looked out of the ivory tower of Westminster, shuddered and returned with a view that immigration is a sure fire vote winner. The line peddled by many Tory MP’s regarding the Brexit vote is that the people have spoken and the government are merely acting as the people’s servants. This is nonsense. The politicians at the head of government are acting in their own interests by first stoking the fires of racism and then promising to solve the problem.
November 5th 2016
A month in politics is a long time and this month has been longer than most. The Pound is worth a fraction of what it was just four weeks ago, officially the worst performing currency in the world, and every utterance made by Theresa May drives it down further. On Friday, three of the most senior judges in the country returned a verdict that May does not have the power to trigger Article 50 initiating Brexit, without formally consulting parliament.
The reaction to British Judges issuing a British verdict on a point of British law has been extraordinary even by English standards. First out of the blocks was Nigel Farage opining ominously that he sensed “betrayal in the air” and that those responsible “did not appreciate the depth of public anger” this would cause. Carefully chosen words, just the safe side of incitement.
The Daily Mail, Express and Sun wasted no time going into overdrive and exercised no such caution about being the right side of incitement, launching an attack on Gina Miller for bringing the case and on the judges, disturbingly reminiscent of the febrile atmosphere in Germany shortly before the Nazis took control. The judges were criticised for being “non-expert”, “non-elected”, “self appointed elite”, homosexual (in one case), activists etc etc. The wholly British Gina Miller has been criticised for being rich, foreign, born abroad etc etc. The tabloids have printed headlines declaring the judges to be “Enemies of the State” and called for the populace to “Fight, Fight, Fight”. The newspaper proprietors presumably are expert in matters of law, elected and not self appointed.
All this is a matter of record. So far Theresa May has refused to comment on the matter of the Press undermining the judiciary. To be clear, the press have actively attempted to undermine the judiciary and the Prime Minister has been asked by members of her own party to condemn them. She has declined. Liz Truss, the Lord Chancellor has issued a feeble statement more than 24 hours after the event, entirely omitting to condemn the tabloids actions.
A cursory glance at the comments sections in the tabloid press reveal foaming at the mouth bigotry in full flow. There is talk of revolution, of armed insurrection, murder and worse. This is the reality of where the UK has got to in four short weeks.
A collection of non-domiciled newspaper owners have chosen to whip up the fires of racism. Hate sells papers and in a declining industry they desperately need to sell papers. The Government need the Tabloids to keep people voting for them. This relationship goes to the heart of the political landscape in the UK. It is known that Theresa May met with Rupert Murdoch while she was in the US a week or so ago. What was discussed is not known, but when she returned, the second phase of the Leveson Enquiry — that of setting up a regulatory body to enforce ethical conduct by the press, was unceremonioulsy booted into the long grass. Presumably Theresa May is comfortable with the ethics on display this week.
I don’t know at this point in time whether the government is too stupid to realise what is happening in the UK, too incompetent to manage it or deliberately ignoring it because it serves their interests. Probably a mix of all three. I fear for the future of the UK and I have no confidence that our political class is up to the challenges facing them. Theresa May appears to be completely out of her depth at this moment in time, frozen in the glare of the headlights.
The law is that parliament have to be consulted in order to trigger Article 50. We need parliament to agree the best Brexit — the terms under which the country will prosper and the money in our pockets be worth more than its chocolate equivalent. We also need a grown up to take charge and roundly condemn the actions of the tabloid press, if necessary by initiating legal action. Quite who that is, looking around the political landscape is not clear.