There’s a tendency in some fringe political circles at both left and right-wing political circles to imagine that the ‘system’ we have is secretly or overtly controlled by an all-powerful and all-seeing group of malevolent men who are able to direct events entirely according to their own whims.. They might be the Bilderberg group, the Illuminati, David Icke’s lizard-people or Dick Cheney and his neocon cabal holed up inside a mountain coolly pulling the levers of 9/11in order to justify endless imperial war.
The monumental political car-crash that has taken place in the last few days suggests a very different explanation of why things happen. Malevolence is certainly not lacking in this horrendous episode; in fact it practically oozes out of every pore of the disgusting campaign that Leave is now erasing from the Internet. In the last few days a succession of Brexiters have admitted that the promises they made and the outcomes they hinted at will not be realised, and they have also made it clear that they have no plan about what to do next.
Daniel Hannan has said that freedom of movement will not stop. Farage has said that the £350 million NHS promise was a mistake. Ian Duncan-Smith now says that the promises made during the campaign were only ‘possibilities.’ Liam Fox says we won’t trigger Article 50 without a period of reflection. In a stunningly fatuous and glib Telegraph article on Sunday, even by his standards, Boris Johnson essentially said that nothing would change as a result of Brexit. We can all go on living, working and studying in Europe. We will continue to cooperate with Europe. The only change is that the UK will extricate itself from the EU’s extraordinary and opaque system of legislation.’
Something tells me that that is not what many leavers voted for. Even the newspapers that did so much to promote and sell the Brexit idea to the public now admit that there will be serious negative consequences for their readers. The Sun had a piece over the weekend on ‘how leaving the EU will affect your wallet’. Among other things it warned that ‘buying goods or services will become more expensive’ – something that clearly impact on the British economy. The Sun also suggested that inflation will rise, accommodation could cost more; unemployment may increase and wages could fall, leaving the average worker £780 worse off; that the falling pound would push up interest rates, thereby increasing rents and mortgages.
Other predictions included a shortfall in government income from taxation of between £28 billion to £44 billion by 2019-2202, leading to higher taxes and more cuts, which might result in some families losing as much as £2, 771 in benefits, according to another of those pesky experts who Leave exhorted the public to ignore, the National Institute of Social and Economic Research (Niesr) – in a report that the Sun now quotes as an authoritative source.
No wonder one Sun reader asked plaintively ‘ Why didn’t you tell us before? Did you not think of this before the vote? Can we take it back now? Please?’ and another pointed out ‘ All info it would have been good to know BEFORE the vote. Thanks Sun.’
Some may conclude that readers who believe the Sun have only themselves to blame, but millions of people who read other papers also listened to the lies and fantasies propagated by Farage, Johnson, Gove, IDS & Co
Yet even if you conclude that this deception serves some people’s personal political ambitions, it’s difficult not to conclude that overall, this is a massive enormous own-goal by the British ruling class, which has precipitated one of most devastating national political crises in recent memory – when it was not even necessary.
In using the referendum as a vehicle for individual political ambition and a solution to internecine Tory political problems, Cameron and his opponents have acted against the interests of their own party, against their own class, as well as the interests of the nation as a whole. They divided the country like no event in its history. They have weakened the economy and lost money for their rich pals. They have threatened the disintegration of the UK while simultaneously wrecking its reputation internationally.
It is now horrifically and terrifyingly clear that the men responsible for this disaster did not anticipate it and were woefully-unprepared for its consequences, and had in fact no plan whatsoever. So we aren’t dealing with Bilderberg lizard-men here, but with political stupidity and incompetence on an epic scale by rulers who ‘neither see, nor feel, nor know’, as Shelley once put it, some of whom emerged from the weekend yesterday to share their grief and repentance with the nation:
In her famous study of historical mistakes and catastrophes The March of Folly, the historian Barbara Tuchman analysed a series of avoidable historical disasters and catastrophes from Troy to Vietnam, in an attempt to understand why rulers and governments sometimes pursue ‘policy contrary to self-interest.’
Given that we have all become spectators of precisely this phenomenon, it’s worth revisiting some of her conclusions. Tuchman found various explanations for this tendency in government. They included ‘the insidious spell of wooden-headedness’ in which governments and policy-makers become locked into a kind of internal group-think, so that its members stop asking critical questions about the policies they have chosen.
Tuchman saw this this tendency to ‘breed folly’ as a product of unaccountable power. since ‘the power to command frequently causes failure to think’. Some these explanations might apply to our current predicament, but Tuchman also quotes Ralph Waldo Emerson’s warning that ‘ In analyzing history do not be too profound, for often the causes are quite superficial.’
Meditating on this, Tuchman rightly concludes:
‘This is a factor often overlooked by political scientists who, in discussing the nature of power, always treat it, even when negatively, with immense respect. They fail to see it as sometimes a matter of ordinary men walking into water above their heads, acting unwisely or foolishly or perversely as people in ordinary circumstances frequently do. The trappings of power deceive us, endowing the possessors with a quality larger than life. Shorn of his tremendous curled peruke, high heels and ermine, the Sun King was a man subject to misjudgement, error and impulse – like you and me. ‘
This is true as far as it goes. But ‘ordinariness’ doesn’t necessarily equate with ‘well-meaning’, and it can’t be offered as an excuse for the reckless gamble that led Lord Snooty and His Pals to push their country off a cliff. That requires a combination of arrogance, superficiality, sociopathic indifference, reckless ambition and stupidity of a type that we have rarely seen displayed so openly in British politics.
And the fact that jokers like Cameron, Johnson and Gove have been able to perpetrate such a monumental folly on the nation is perhaps a symptom of a wider rottenness and decadence in the political system, in the ability of the ruling classes to churn out politicians of quality even on their own terms, and perhaps the folly is ours as well, since, as Tuchman argues:
‘The problem may be not so much a matter of educating officials for government as educating the electorate to recognize and reward integrity of character and to reject the ersatz. Perhaps better men flourish in better times, and wiser government requires the nourishment of a dynamic rather than a troubled and bewildered society.’
Perhaps they do, but these are not the men we have, and they aren’t the times we have, and it is now clear that our society is far more troubled and bewildered than many of us knew.