Monday, 16 May 2016
Brexit is the road to democracy
These days, in broad terms, the left/right axis just denotes a persons most probable tribal prejudices. I can't be bothered with any of it. Insomuch as you can say there is a classic left right distinction anymore, we should not lose sight of what Brexit is really about. Democracy. What matters to me is who governs us and how we hold them to account.
There are those on the left who are terrified by the thought of Brexit because it will unleash the dark forces of the Tory right who will slash and burn all workers rights and get children back up chimneys where they belong. In that regard it's impossible to have a grown up debate. Don't get me wrong, the thought of putting the Tory right in charge of a whelk stall gives me the chills, but for wholly separate reasons.
The Tory right are wedded to libertarian fantasies not at all tempered by reality. You get a glimpse of how they imagine life after Brexit by their attitudes to regulation. To their minds its all nannying fussbucketry imposed by meddling ninnies with nothing better to do with their time and such officialdom would be dispensed with in a great post-Brexit purge.
This is because their worldview is informed by a small circle of economists who see the world only in terms of tariffs where non-tariff barriers are a peripheral issue rather than central to the whole debate. And in this, the whole system, functions on regulation. And while we have arcane and obscure regulations, the chances are they all exist for a pretty good reason and nothing would function particularly well without.
The Rees-Moggs and Hannans of this world I would not trust with the TV remote let alone running the country. But thankfully, this referendum is not an election. It doesn't put them in change and it doesn't put Boris Johnson in Number Ten either. But so what if it did? On day one of Brexit, such people would go to their respective departments and issue their grand deregulation decrees only to be met with a barrage of enquiries from diplomats, civil servants, unions bosses and trade officials all asking roughly the same question: What are you smoking?
The fact is, the order that we have established is underpinned as much by global treaties as it is a history of previous decisions built on top of decades old systems which only work because they are left alone. To make any kind of changes you go at it with a scalpel rather than an axe. It's no surprise that creaking bureaucracies take time to change and in most cases it's no bad thing. Though we might wish for efficient government, there are actually few things worse. If things could be changed with ease they would be tinkered with all the time and nothing would get done.
We grumble about bureaucracy but the more I learn about governance the more I have come to view bureaucracy as the ultimate defence against ideologues. And there is no bureaucracy on earth more resistant to change than the British civil service. And this is why it doesn't matter too much who is supposedly in charge. There is only so much damage they can do. If a minister manages to make one or two effective changes in the term of a government then they've done quite well. There rest is mere accountancy based on personal prioritising.
So being such a fan of regulation and bureaucracy you would think I would love the EU. I don't. Like I say, a mature system is its own restraint. Any bureaucracy I have ever worked in has resisted change and change has only taken with years of persistent pressure. What matters is who is applying that pressure and for what purpose and on whose behalf.
The pressure we find placed on our various departments is placed on them by way of EU diktat and directive. It places ministers in the position of having to get the job done while also having to meet entirely abstract targets and push agendas where there is no democratic mandate and the overall agenda it serves is either EU integration or meeting some or other global target where the parameters are set by preening premiers trying to outbid each other to prove who is the most right on.
In that regard it makes minister apologist and makes political party manifestos entirely redundant. And in so doing every political promise is broken, and when the mandated agenda conflicts with the EU agenda, you can guess which gets the chop. In this arrangement we have a political system where the politicians are serving an agenda rather than driving one, often in contravention with the reasons they were elected. In so doing they become fall guys and apologists.
We see a zombie like determination to implement the rules regardless of whatever upsets they may cause or which systems they disturb and no minister every has the authority to call time on a bad idea, let alone reform the rules. And this is why politics is is increasingly toxic. The system doesn't respond and nobody is ever to blame. And the reason it feels like it doesn't matter who you vote for is because it really doesn't. Our ministers are not free to innovate. They are contained by the EU agenda.
And while leftists may rejoice that this, to their minds prevents Tories running amok, it;s also what is standing in the way of their own tribes doing anything socially useful when they get a crack of the whip. The knock on effect of this is for government departments to indulge in displacement activity, confiscating powers form local authorities so that there is at least something they have control over.
Over the last three decades we have seen a gradual retreat of local democracy and our EU membership is by no means a coincidence. At every level, while we remain in the EU, power over decisions will flow away from the people. This is why those who call for greater localisation and devolution who would have us stay in the EU are so utterly self defeating.
To my mind government cannot have two masters. It cannot usefully serve the public agenda while also serving that of the euro-elites. Eventually you reach a fork in the road and you have to make a decision who gets priority. Do you put the power and the trust in the hands of the few or do you pull the lever and set the process in reverse? That to me, above all, is what this referendum is about.
I am less convinced than ever that the EU will ever achieve its holy grail of a federal superstate and I don't think we will see a European army under the command of the Council of Ministers and the utopia envisaged by Monnet and Schuman will never come about. But what we will get is something almost as bad. Stalemate. Our continued membership prevents us from responding and reforming in any meaningful way but at the same time not progressing toward anything else either.
The natural consequence of this is that things gradually break down where nobody knows who is accountable for what and there are so many laws that nobody knows whether something is legal without consulting a court. We are building an elaborate web of opposing, intertwined and irreconcilable laws at the beginning of an era where we are now accepting regulations from the global level. I see evidence of this everywhere I look.
As councils have become ever more distant form the people they serve they have become largely procurement directorate for service provision. Nobody owns it. It just happens with very little participation form the public with very little in the way of a social aspect. And how could it? The offices of my local council are over in the next town and it would take me several hours to walk there.
And because of this, though we can say that we have pretty good public services, it's the details around the edges that are forgotten. The things our corporate and distant councils didn't factor into their budgets because they neither live nor work in the districts they serve. The power and the money flows toward the centre and redistributed according to the most urgent need or fulfilling the most pressing diktat. Somewhere along the line the people have been removed form the decision making process and by definition that is not democracy. I can only see that getting worse. The Serco-state forever.
This is why I see leaving the EU as so fundamental. They say the worst decision is to make no decision at all. And that;s effectively what a remain vote is. The decision to continue riding two horses with all that entails. Only by leaving do we make a conscious decision that the government must ultimately serve the people. And as much as that has practical ramifications that would improve matters in the longer term, it is also a massive symbolic gesture that we want democracy to be the direction of travel rather than distant managerialism.
In that respect I suppose the short of it is, in the basest sense, I don't want Britain to be run remotely by a foreign agenda by people alien to Britain. This is not a dislike of foreigners. It's purely an acknowledgement that you cannot expect a connected government when it's run by people with no knowledge or natural affinity for the places they are passing rules over.
What it does mean is that we may have to run the gauntlet of having idiots in charge with bad ideas, but we have tools at our disposal. We can go on strike, we can complain we can tweet and shout and protest, but we also have these things called elections. Brexit is our chance for those to matter again.
If your whole argument for remaining in the EU is that you might end up with a government you don't like, then you had better get used to never liking a government because all you'll get from here on in is a government dancing to someone else's tune. A Labour government is going to be just as hamstrung as a Tory one.
As it happens, the parties we have are entirely aware of this dynamic. This is how they want it. Winning election s is no longer about influencing or governing. It s about holding office for its own sake in order to have the keys to the petty cash draw, to dole out your money to their backers. It is a wholly tribal exercise that has long since lost touch with anything resembling government.
And as such as the tribes become more polarised, using the true believers for legitimacy, politics becomes more corrupt until people people will no longer lend it a mandate at all. That's when you start seeing a break down of civic order. People will follow the example set by their rulers. That is not a future I want to see in Britain. I want to see an orderly transition out of the EU and on to the road to democracy.
I want to see greater political engagement and more democratic participation. I no longer wish to partake in these empty voting rituals. I want my vote to means something and I want feel like there is a point in it. As long as we remain in the EU we are not selecting leaders or even representatives. We are simply changing the management team for the implementation of the EU agenda. An agenda I have no say in and never wanted in the first place.