Samir’s Selection 08/03/2017 (p.m.)
Brexit reveals Britain’s enduring flaws | Simon Kuper >>>
Like both previous disasters, Brexit reveals three enduring flaws in the UK’s workings.The first flaw is running a country on rhetoric. Brexit was made about 30 years ago at the Oxford Union — Oxford university’s version of a children’s parliament, which organises witty debates, and where future Brexiters such as Boris Johnson and Michael Gove were presidents in the 1980s. In 1990, Hannan founded the Oxford Campaign for an Independent Britain at the Queen’s Lane Coffee House on the city’s high street. This generation of mostly former public schoolboys didn’t want Brussels running Britain. That was their caste’s prerogative.The referendum was won like a Union debate: with funny, almost substance-free hot air. Remember Johnson’s policy on cake: he was pro-having it, and pro-eating it. In Britain, humour is used to cut off conversations before they can get emotional, boring or technical…Oxford Tories built a cross-class alliance with the tabloids, a scaremongering force unique in western Europe. In 2002, their spectre was Saddam Hussein bombing Britain. In 2016, it was Turkey joining the EU.Voters were misled. Whenever we Remoaners say this, Brexiters accuse us of calling voters thick. That’s not what I’m saying. Rather, most voters aren’t very interested in policy. They have busy lives. So when they are told that Brexit will free up £350m a week for the National Health Service, they tend to believe it.But after the referendum, the Brexiters were tasked with managing Brexit.This was like asking the winners of a debating contest to engineer a spaceship. Results have been predictable. The Brexiters cannot wow Brussels with rhetoric, because the EU’s negotiators prefer rules. “That is a cultural difference,” notes Catherine de Vries, professor of politics at Essex University…Actual foreign information keeps surprising the Brexiters. Because the referendum skated over boring policy stuff, even cabinet ministers are discovering only now that Britain will pay the EU a large divorce bill. Who knew that all real-world choices are suboptimal? The tabloids weren’t fully informed either. Though they always complained that Britain was ruled from Brussels, few of them bothered keeping a full-time correspondent there.The ruling class’s insularity, the UK’s second flaw, is linked with its third: delusions of grandeur. Britain became a great power because it pioneered the fossil-fuel economy in the 18th century, and because being an island was excellent protection when states still invaded each other. Neither advantage exists any more. Britain today is like a cute little bonobo ape that thinks it’s a gorilla.The ruling class doesn’t quite believe it can make Britain great again. Rather, the updated strategy is more or less “America First, Britain Second”. This means subordination not just to the US (as in the decision to invade Iraq) but also to the American model (as with the financial crisis). Brexiters are now praying that Donald Trump will reward the UK’s fealty with a sweetheart trade deal.Meanwhile, Britain ignores its genuine strengths, such as its knowledge economy. The other day I whizzed around central London, from the barristers’ chambers at Lincoln’s Inn Fields, past the London School of Economics, the City and the Foreign Office, and ended up having coffee by Google’s offices at King’s Cross. Almost all these clever people (now known as out-of-touch elites) are mere spectators at the Brexit slapstick. As Orwell said, in his attempt to describe England in a phrase: “A family with the wrong members in control.” Westminster’s distance from the knowledge economy had previously enabled the financial crisis. Britain’s ruling rhetoricians treated the City as an incomprehensible magic money tree, until in 2007 the tree fell down and hit the country…I wrote in 2011, “Running a country on eloquence alone hasn’t worked out disastrously — or at least not yet.” But maybe now it has.
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