I’m 70 later this year. I can’t think of any time during my adult life when I have been so disillusioned with politics here in the UK. Maybe I’ve just become a cynical old fart, but I’d like to think that’s not the case. Cynicism is not a personal attribute that I recognize. I am, however, a born optimist. My glass is almost always half full.
Yet the more this Brexit fiasco grinds on to its inevitable end in March next year (unless, by some political miracle, Theresa May and her inept government actually accept their own and independent analyses of the downside of leaving the European Union), the more pessimistic I become. Someone keeps taking sips from my glass.
Maybe I should quit Twitter. Inevitably, I follow tweeters who support Remain. So maybe I’m just reinforcing my own perspectives (prejudices) about the consequences of leaving the EU. Nevertheless, I did carefully weigh up both sides of the argument at the time of the June 2016 referendum, and voted to remain.
In the intervening two years, my opinion has not changed. If anything, I’m now a more committed Remain supporter given the distortion of the truth (I hate to use the term ‘lies’) pedaled by Theresa May and the Brexiteers in her Cabinet (the arch-protagonists being David Davis, Boris Johnson, and Michael Gove) and on the back benches of the Tory Party such as Jacob Rees-Mogg, Peter Bone, and John Redwood (and too many others to mention). If nothing else, they are certainly being economic with the truth.
It’s no better on the Labour benches, at least the Labour front bench. In my antipathy to the Tories, the Labour Party should be the logical recipient of my support. With Jeremy Corbyn at the helm I’m afraid that is never going to happen. Although he’s never said so explicitly, every action (or lack of) that he makes signifies that Corbyn is a Brexit supporter. Although not as commonplace as among the Tories, there are several prominent back-bench Labour Brexiteers like Kate Hoey who made a name for herself by spouting some of the most unverifiable drivel you can imagine in support of Brexit.
It’s remarkable that when the Tory government is in such disarray over Brexit that, in a recent poll, the Labour Party now finds itself several percentage points behind the Tories, notwithstanding the party making considerable parliamentary gains during Theresa May’s botched electoral campaign in 2017.
I just don’t see how being a member of the EU is holding this country back. I am sick of hearing that leaving the EU is the will of the British people. Yes, a majority of those who voted, 52%, supported Leave. One cannot dispute that result. I do believe that the referendum was flawed from the start, and evidence is emerging that there were shenanigans in the Leave campaign. Given the constitutional, social, and economic consequences of leaving the EU (after more than 40 years) the bar should have been set much higher for the vote. By that I mean that there should have been an absolute majority vote of the total electorate for one side or the other, not just those who voted. Because of the turnout, we now have a decision to leave the EU supported explicitly by just 37% of the electorate.
After two years we still do not know what the UK government’s negotiating position really is, or what outcome it desires, other than ‘Maybot’ slogans like Brexit means Brexit, Taking back control . . . of laws, borders, money. Challenged on the BBC2 Daily Politics program yesterday to state clearly what she wanted from Brexit, Conservative MP Andrea Jenkyns just trotted out the same old slogans that I mentioned above. No ideas, no vision! If this is the best they can do after two years, Heaven help us! The situation has now became so untenable that the EU negotiators as recently as yesterday rebuked the government for living in a fantasy world.
What I find particularly irksome is the dismissal, denigration even, of expert opinion. Facts don’t seem to matter. Ideology is the name of the game. Appearing before a select committee this past week, the CEO and Permanent Secretary of Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs (HMRC), Jon Thompson (someone who should be in the know), was asked for his assessment of the economic consequences of the two future customs options being ‘discussed’ by Theresa May’s Cabinet. He unequivocally stated that both options had severe economic consequences for businesses, as high as £20 billion. That’s more than the UK currently pays into the EU! Yet, when queried about that analysis, Andrea Jenkyns dismissed it, just as other Tories (particularly Michael Gove and Jacob Rees-Mogg, as well as The Daily Mail) have dismissed other expert opinion/analysis.
So, if things carry on as they have been, we’re headed for cloud cuckoo land¹. Flying in the face of reality, in the hope that the remaining 27 EU members will fall over to give the UK a special status post-Brexit (like being a member but not being a member), or that countries are lining up to sign trade deals (palpably untrue or, if under consideration, will exact terms that most of the population would consider unfavorable or unacceptable), we’re looking over a Brexit precipice and potentially sacrificing the futures of youth today.
And if the Brexit shambles wasn’t enough to cope with, this pathetic government has been mired recently in a scandal of its own ‘hostile environment’ making. Immigration is one of the major concerns of the Brexiteers, and a tough immigration policy has been a central plank of this and previous Tory governments. The Home Office (formerly occupied by Theresa May) is responsible for implementing immigration policy. But it has gone too far, and people who had a perfectly legal right to reside in the UK have been deported or threatened with deportation, and rights and benefits they enjoyed for decades were withdrawn. This was the case in particular with immigrants who came from the Caribbean (and other Commonwealth countries) in the 1950s and 1960s, the so-called Windrush Generation. It’s not only a scandal, but it’s a blot on the name and reputation of our country. The UK under the Tories really is becoming a nasty, insignificant little country, that aspires to greatness, but has lost the plot. This article highlights just one case.
Anyway, I refer to this latest scandal, because I found something rather interesting in the Conservative Party manifesto for the General Election held in June 1970, the first time I voted (I was 21, the minimum age for voting back then), and Edward Heath led the party to victory over Labour that had been in government from the mid-1960s under Harold Wilson. It also paved the way for the UK’s successful application to join the EEC (now the EU) on 1 January 1973. I searched the manifesto for any reference to the [EU]. This is all I could find:
These policies will strengthen Britain so that we can negotiate with the European Community confident in the knowledge that we can stand on our own if the price is too high.
But then, I came across something rather interesting with regard to immigration, and highly relevant in the current circumstances:
Good race relations are of immense importance. We are determined that all citizens shall continue to be treated as equal before the law, and without discrimination . . . We will establish a new single system of control over all immigration from overseas. The Home Secretary of the day will have complete control, subject to the machinery for appeal, over the entry of individuals into Britain. We believe it right to allow an existing Commonwealth immigrant who is already here to bring his wife and young children to join him in this country . . . We will give assistance to Commonwealth immigrants who wish to return to their countries of origin, but we will not tolerate any attempt to harass or compel them to go against their will (my emphasis).
How times have changed, and how the nasty party under Theresa May today has diverged from that broader church of Conservatism that I grew up under.
Come the next General Election, where will my vote go? Certainly not to the Tories. And unless Labour elects a different leader, and brings some realistic social thinking to its policies – and supports continuing membership of the EU – then my vote won’t be going there either. It’s a dilemma. It’s depressing. No wonder I’m disillusioned. Nevertheless, a little voice does whisper every now and again that things can get better. I certainly hope so.
¹ Cloud cuckoo land is a state of absurdly, over-optimistic fantasy or an unrealistically idealistic state where everything is perfect. Someone who is said to “live in cloud cuckoo land” is a person who thinks that things that are completely impossible might happen, rather than understanding how things really are. It also hints that the person referred to is naive, unaware of realities or deranged in holding such an optimistic belief.