John Major famously referred to the ‘ bastards’ who held his government to ransom over Europe .
Theresa May is experiencing the same treatment from some new ‘ bastards’ . Some of them are in fact the old ‘bastards’ – John Redwood for instance . Edward Leigh and Peter Lilley also occasionally emerge blinking into the television studio .
To adapt the Who’s ‘Won’t Get Fooled Again’ –
‘Meet the new bastards
Same as the old bastards’
Idealogues – another word for Bastards ?
The unvarshined truth is that the ‘Bastards’ customarily now referred to as ideologues – a flattering term implying an ideology rather than an obsession- have a malign effect on not just the the Conservative Party but the Country. A plausible case can be made that when a Conservative government , in thrall to the right , tacks in that direction the national interest is harmed.
Tacking to the Right Harms the Nation’s Interests
Three examples are easy to find – and dominate current political discourse :
The Debates that Never Happened
Of course the so called political class as a whole bears a measure of responsibility for the national debates that never happened before the referendum on immigration and Europe .
By then it was too late . The atmosphere was skewed by the efforts of people like Banks and Farage-the living embodiment of Johnson’s ( Samuel not Boris ) remark that ‘ patriotism is the last refuge of the scoundrel ‘
‘Immigration a Tory Issue’ – Brown
Apparently Brown’s advice to Blair was to stay away from Immigration- it was a Tory issue (Broken Vows- Tom Bowers ) . Brown was renowned for drawing dividing lines and there was certainly a line to be drawn with the policies of Michael Howard ( Something of the Night About Him – Ann Widdecombe) . Brown’s reticence to enter into debate on the topic was shared more generally but rebounded against him spectacularly. ‘Who put me with that bigoted woman’ – referring to lifetime Labour voter Gillian Duffy – and derailed his election campaign in one swift overheard on mic moment .
That outburst reflected an equation between expressing a concern about levels of immigration, and their effect on access to services , with racism . This probably stems from the fact that from time immemorial ‘swamping’ language is a racist trope used to stir up feeling against incomers – exciting a fear of the other .
Danger of Vacating the Space
However the result of vacating the space was the absence of an engaged debate fostering an understanding of the positive benefits of immigration both culturally and economically.
All of this is compounded by the constrained nature of the funding of local services . This is heavily centrally controlled with provision always lagging behind need . This has been compounded since 2010 by the Austerity Regime and its considerable effect on local government budgets . Gillian Duffy was expressing a concern which had some foundation but was heard only for an implied fear of the ‘other’ which needed to be addressed rather than dismissed.
Boris’s Bananas and Europhobia
Similarly the Boris Johnson inspired journalism of straight bananas created a europhobic climate which politicians did not seriously seek to dispel , or if they did , their attempts had little noticeable effect .
It is too easy to fall into the “not me Guv trap”. Rather than make the positive case for Europe it is tempting for some to pass the blame to Brussels for red tape, for instance in relation to the procurement rules which by ensuring a fair and open competition saved the British taxpayer £120 million but also cost De la Rue the contract for the blue British passport. For the Brexiteers who advocate the free market and competition – going global – it was an outrage when they didn’t get the result they had expected . Examples like this do not augur well for our post Brexit world.
It is depressingly similar to the urban myths which are endlessly perpetuated about health and safety – the story for instance about schoolchildren required to wear safety goggles to play conkers in the playground. The fact the story was largely without foundation has not prevented its endless repetition feeding a notion of the nanny state and an overbearing health and safety regime. However in the light of the Grenfell Tower tragedy who would now advocate less health and safety? The lesson is these myths , perceptions and concerns need to be taken seriously and addressed when they arise . Staying quiet or sweeping them under the carpet is not a strategy for success or for the well being of our country .
Sovereignty ? I Never Noticed We Had Lost It
Having neglected over the years to make the positive case for Europe and immigration the field was left open to the Brexiteers who seized the moment to complete their life’s work and reclaim sovereignty , apparently , over our laws and borders.
Personally I hadn’t noticed we had lost our sovereignty – rather I believed that we had pooled it to the greater good . Having laws which guarantee workers’ rights , enable trade to take place fairly and without hindrance in the world’s largest market , to be able to travel feely and to live and work anywhere I chose within the European Union never seemed to me bad things.
The Sufferings of Sir Bill Cash
Neither did I see for that matter , that they undermined Sir Bill Cash’s ability to play a full role in Parliament on behalf of his constituents in Stone .
Evidently Sir Bill has long and fervently believed otherwise .
However I have yet , despite the many opportunities he has been given , to see him mount a compelling argument as to the demonstratively negative effect of an E.U. law rather than an imagined one , or at least one exaggerated in the telling . We were of course at one time free to require our Junior Doctors to work all the hours under the sun . The Working Time Directive put an end to that . I find it difficult to construct an argument that this undermined our Parliamentary sovereignty any more than that the E.U. is preventing the U.K. sending children up chimneys , to refer to the time honoured example.
The Power of the ‘Simple Lie’
Austerity and demagoguery were fanned by a ‘simple lie’ (Andrew Cooper – All Out War – Tim Shipman ) Emotive phrases like ‘ I want my country back’ , largely devoid of any defined meaning , filled the space around immigration and Europe which had been left empty for years – and the result was the vote to Leave the E.U.
An Open Optimistic Britain
It was a huge blow to all those who value an open , optimistic Britain , confident of its place in the world , proud of its heritage and the contribution made by all our citizens . The Britain I know and love was graphically brought to life in the opening ceremony for the London 2012 Olympics .
Now instead of that happy , positive memory the Windrush is linked forever with a scandal which is a source of national shame . A scandal which has its origin in the tack to the right to appease the right wing of the Conservative party and those more generally who might have been tempted to vote UKIP.
Controlling our borders has been elevated to the defining policy priority in determining our approach to Brexit along with the ability to strike our own trade deals .This is important to the adherents of ‘Going Global’ notwithstanding that , within the EU, Germany for example already exports five times more what we do to China.Little by way of substantive argument is produced to support the claimed necessity to be able to negotiate our own trade deals. Instead the Brexiteers invoke a vision of a bold new future heavily coloured in the pink of maps of empire.
Ideology or Obsession?
This focus on “controlling our borders” and unachievable, tendentious net migration targets has already given us the hostile environment policy and its product the Windrush scandal. The Brexiteers are not daunted by the consequences of their policies. It’s all the fault of someone else . They press on tackling any attempt to produce a plan for the future which stands a chance of minimising the harm their “ideology” or more accurately “obsession” will do to our country with accusations of craziness, being cretinous , and of course, the clincher, “thwarting the will of the people”.
As commented earlier at the time of the draft withdrawal agreement when Mrs May had teetered on the brink of failure they got behind her. That draft agreement covered Northern Ireland and the border with the Republic with a cast iron guarantee that there would be no hard border. Three options were outlined to achieve this which have become known as:
the backstop – of Northern Ireland retaining regulatory alignment
Now the Brexiteers regard the backstop as an outrage being foisted upon them by Brussels. A Customs partnership would be crazy or cretinous. Their preferred option is maximum facilitation notwithstanding there is a clear conflict between this and the pledge that there will be no hard border. Maximum facilitation – they say – would be better than anything anywhere else in the world which by extension , therefore, means they acknowledge it as untried and untested. They variously quote as examples of borders that we should emulate and improve upon as Norway/Sweden, Turkey/EU and USA/Canada. None of these come remotely close to meeting the pledge of no hard border.
No Hard Border?
Major and Blair
Major and Blair were derided by the Brexiteers during the referendum campaign when they visited Northern Ireland to make the case for how important membership of the European Union, and the absence of borders which went with it, had been to underpinning the Good Friday agreement. No one, they argued, should underestimate the importance of the architecture which had enabled the Good Friday agreement to bring about peace and prosperity.
This was greeted as scaremongering .
This is the defining example of the incoherence of the Brexiteers’ thinking . Major and Blair’s cautionary words were brushed aside yet here we are nearly 2 years after the vote without a satisfactory solution in place and the Brexit Committee of the Cabinet in disarray .
It Takes One to Know One
One of the prime minister’s options, apparently her preferred one, was criticised as crazy by the Foreign Secretary in an interview yesterday with the Daily Mail on his trip to America to appear on Fox and Friends in a failed attempt to dissuade an ideologue, with a distant relationship with the truth and proclivity for pursuing policies which are devoid of any practical means of realising them , from pursuing a course of action which the rest of the world believes will do harm.
The Bastards are Bad for Britain
It all sounds too close to home for comfort. Mr Johnson would have done better to stay at home and reflect on why he and his fellow ideologues a.k.a. bastards were hellbent on pursuing a course of action that the rest of the world believes is mad and will do our country harm.The evidence is clear. Whether it is immigration, Europe or Northern Ireland the bastards are bad for Britain.