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Tories’ problem isn’t Brexit; it’s the Tory party

by Ian Davidson | 06.10.2017

Brexit is like one of those rowdy playground games, played by disturbed children to conceal how disturbed they are, especially from themselves. Psychiatrists call this displacement activity.

There are reasons to follow anxiously the government’s staggering inability to formulate a coherent and intelligent policy on Brexit. Will it be a soft Brexit, or a hard Brexit? We don’t know, because they don’t know; and that’s because they don’t know even what they want, because they don’t agree on it. And yet any fool knows perfectly well that any form of Brexit will be deeply harmful to the interests of this country.

The government tells us that Brexit is “the will of the people”. Conservatives above all should be ashamed of parroting a slogan first coined by Robespierre, as he swung ultra-left to justify the repressive slaughter of the Terreur.

We do not need to debate now whether it was technically legal and politically wise to hold a referendum to decide Britain’s EU membership: it seems to me clear that it was neither. Nor do we need now to argue whether the narrow “Leave” majority was enough to take that decision; equally clearly, it was not.

But that was then. For better or for worse, (and it will of course be worse), the government is fixed on Brexit. The question today is whether a sufficient majority of the British people is aware, in any meaningful sense, of the consequences of Brexit and now wants those consequences. But by definition, the British people cannot want the consequences of Brexit, since nobody yet knows, even remotely, what those consequences will be. Moreover, the government is not telling the people what the consequences will be, since it cannot even agree on what it wants them to be.

There is, of course, a problem about the popular reputation of the EU. In the 44 years that Britain has been in the EU, I have scarcely heard a single leading figure, in either of the two main political parties, say a good word in favour of Britain’s EU membership. And yet in all that time, (spanning two generations), the marginal unpopularity of the EU has not led either party to attempt a meaningful Leave campaign; not, that is, until David Cameron thought up the referendum as a clever little wheeze to save the unity of the Tory party.

Of course, it didn’t work; as of course it couldn’t. The problems of the Tory party do not lie in the EU: they lie in the Tory party, and the consequences of Tory party policies.

Britain is not the only member state where the EU has a serious popularity problem. If a similar referendum were to be held today in France or Italy, or in a number of other EU countries, it is by no means a foregone conclusion what the result would be. But in those other countries the governments have so far been sensible enough not to offer the choice. It is only in Britain that the governing party has been so reckless over its economic and other failures, as to gamble the country’s entire future on a playground form of displacement activity.

Ian Davidson is a journalist and author of The French Revolution: From Enlightenment to Tyranny.

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    Edited by Hugo Dixon

    8 Responses to “Tories’ problem isn’t Brexit; it’s the Tory party”

    • I so much agree with the sentence, “In the 44 years that Britain has been in the EU, I have scarcely heard a single leading figure, in either of the two main political parties, say a good word in favour of Britain’s EU membership.” That’s the sad thing that we’ve got to start addressing right away.

    • As a fervent Remainer living in France I can assure you that there is no comparable press complicity turning out lies and fake news about the EU over the 40 years that this has been going on in the UK. It seems to me that most French people have gone beyond the stage where they considered their destiny to be outside that of Europe for reasons of sovereignty. They see no contradiction between their national interest and belonging to the EU. They have grown up and are no longer living in the past. They are acutely aware that in the new globalized world their future lies in Europe and they can no longer ” go it alone “. I fear the English, as opposed to the other nations that comprise the UK, have not yet matured to that point.

    • And as a fervant Remainer living in Italy I echo what David Quinn says. Italians are proud to be Italian whilst at the same time having a sensible and deep respect to being part of Europe. British tourists who visit our little town where I live stick out a mile in whichever way they voted in the 2016 Referendum. Difficult to say in what way without sounding offensive but suffice to say you can smell ‘the Shires’ a mile off.

    • Well written. Brexit does appear to be a Tory tantrum which no one really understands.

      I’d just like to make a contribution about sovereignty, one of the Brexiters holy grail aspirations. So far, I’ve not heard a single worthwhile comment from any politician to explain what this “sovereignty” benefit really is?

      One of the Brexit slogans has been “We’ll get our sovereignty back!” As we are told, sovereignty is deemed to be virtuous, whilst EU regulations are considered to be demons. The Brexiters explanation of this being that the UK will once again take control of making its own laws and regulations, and ensure that the UK is not disadvantaged by the EU. Really? Isn’t this totally non-sensical?

      I think that most rational people see that the EU, with considerable contribution from the UK at the EU legislative-creating level, is and has always been endeavouring to create a harmonised and fair playing field for all organisations.

      From the family level upward to organisations there are shared decisions and actions – this is about compromise and fairness, and about concensus politics for the benefit of all. The EU has created the same environment.

      If the EU was such a bad, unfair place to be, wouldn’t we all have heard from, say the Germans, that they wish to exit the EU as well?

      This is a Tory tantrum, but it’s a very dangerous one too!

    • Therein, in my opinion, lies the secret behind Theresa May’s grip on her position. Maybe there is no obvious replacement on the playground but maybe, even more, she is the designated scapegoat in the coming storm.