I wrote an article for the Spectator this week about what I think Keir Starmer’s likely approach to Brexit from here will be. I was fascinated by the response, particularly from Leavers who basically agreed with me. I feel like getting people talking again about realistic paths back into the Single Market and Customs Union is part of what I’m trying to do with all of this, so this pleased me greatly.
One response from the Brexiteer wing of British politics intrigued me in particular. An article in the Daily Express which was essentially a riposte to my piece, which you can read here if you’re interested. In particular, what interested me was the proposed Tory counterattack, should Keir Starmer be thinking along the same lines on Brexit as I have predicted he shall.
“….if Sir Keir should decide to impose this strategy……..the Conservatives “could frustrate such a cunning plan by creating facts on the ground. The Tories could counter by creating jobs in critical constituencies, especially in the North, where Labour still holds a significant presence, meaning Sir Keir’s pledge for the UK to re-join the single market “would then take on a different quality”.
What’s interesting to me about this is that the Tory response to a threat from Starmer to plausibly get the UK to re-enter the Single Market – the one Margaret Thatcher herself helped greatly to forge, let us add here – is to create government jobs in the north. There is a word for this I’ve been grasping for…..oh yes, socialism. The Tory plan to make Brexit work is a form of socialism that isn’t far from some of the stuff the more cogent Corbyistas have been talking about for some time now.
This is key. Brexit is now no longer talked about as something that will unleash the power of the free market to create prosperity throughout the UK. Basically, the way the Tories will fight Starmer at the next election could be by being more effective socialists than Labour. Is Lexit about to carry the day in the strangest way imaginable?
Let’s really think about what we’re talking about here. A Labour leader could go into the next election promising to liberalise trade and allow market forces to create jobs in the UK, while the incumbent Tory government argues against that and says that we will use the protectionism that Brexit has created in order to create a host of public sector jobs in the north.
It says a lot about how deep tribal allegiances run that the Tories are becoming a sort of updated version of an Attlee-esque Labour Party and yet the vast majority of Conservatives, most of whom I would assume joined the party because they liked the free market at least a little bit, are not even really complaining all that much. Brexit, which was supposed to create a libertine fantasy Britain, is becoming an excuse for the Tories to morph into an actual socialist party.
How long can this continue? Will we really go into the next general election with a Labour Party that is basically the liberal party, as in, socially and economically liberal but with some social liberalism of the type the Lib Dems used to do? All against a socialist Conservative Party that is socially conservative (in other words, the exact opposite of the Cameron Conservative Party)? It is really starting to look that way.
There is a section of the Conservative Party that will undoubtably think this matchup would have the Tories win hands down. They will point to the 2019 general election for comfort, citing that the Lib Dems tried to be the socially and economically liberal party and look where that got them. Except this is completely false comfort – the Lib Dem 2019 campaign was riddled with unique problems that stymied their efforts greatly, not to mention their supposedly liberal pitch on the economy wasn’t well thought out, to put it mildly. A much better comparison could be 1997, when a reasonably liberal sounding Labour Party managed a landslide against a Conservative Party that had screwed up a lot and that people were completely sick of. It is understandably why this isn’t the comparison Tory Brexiteers reach for, however.
If the answer to making Brexit work is socialism, I think it will fail spectacularly. Yet I suppose we’ll wait and see. I suppose I would say that given I am liberal who believes in markets, free trade, internationalism. You know, all those things the Tories used to believe in only a few years ago.
I have a book out now called “Politics is Murder”. It follows the tale of a woman named Charlotte working at a failing think tank who has got ahead in her career in a novel way – she is a serial killer. One day, the police turn up at her door and tell her she is a suspect in a murder – only thing is, it is one she had nothing to do with. There is also a plot against the Foreign Secretary and some gangsters thrown into the mix while Charlotte tries to find out who is trying to frame her for a murder she didn’t commit.
Also: there is a subplot around the government trying to built a stupid bridge, which now seems a charming echo of a more innocent time!