Something that gets lobbed at liberals these days is that the reason we feel so befuddled is because politics has been inverted by Brexit and Trump, and that our confusion is simply us feeling what everyone else felt for several decades. I’ve tried to empathise with this position as much as possible, partly to understand the current era in greater detail, partly to understand where liberalism went wrong and how it can rebuild. But events keep getting in the way of this since it feels like those cheering on Brexit and Corbyn, the two great democratic forces liberals dislike, are constantly obscuring the obstacles their own projects are creating to the world they supposedly want to live in.
Perhaps the most interesting thing about the current political era is the perception of lying by political figures. It became almost a truism for a period between the onset of the Iraq war and the start of the EU referendum campaigning period that politicians mostly lie, all of the time. In reality, during this period of 2003 – 2015, politicians, in Britain anyhow, hardly ever outright lied, ever. They bent the truth and certainly tried to obscure it when it wasn’t in their favour, but British political figures pretty much never actually lied during this long decade. It was too risky – if you were caught out, it was the end of your career. These days, politicians rarely tell the truth, and yet the public seems slightly (only slightly, but still) more trusting of what they have to say.
Take Brexit. Several items spring to mind from only the last twenty-four hours. A Telegraph piece regarding some polling they’ve done around attitudes towards Brexit, looking at the difference between Leave and Remain voters, is unintentionally revealing. 72% of Leave voters want the government to carry on as is – yet this result is highly skewed by there being another option on the menu: “government to pursue a ‘softer’ Brexit option”. How exactly is the government not pursuing a soft Brexit option now? What would a softer option even look like? This autumn, one of two things will be presented to parliament: either a fudge of some description which allows numerous interpretations according to personal Brexit level (the government’s preferred option) or a very, very soft Brexit (if the EU stands firm and offers the UK government not wriggle room). This isn’t a prediction on my part – this is what is objectively unfolding in reality. So, Rees-Mogg gives a speech saying May’s position will be imperilled if she presents a soft Brexit option to parliament. But surely he knows that May is toast after the Brexit negotiations are done anyhow, so this is the world’s emptiest threat. Also, the Prime Minister knows that Rees-Mogg will vote for this softest Brexit deal imaginable since to do otherwise risks both Brexit not happening at all and a Corbyn-led government – and he knows that she knows this. In fact, his mob voting against the final deal is probably the only thing in the world that could deliver both of these things.
Meanwhile, McDonnell goes on the radio this morning and announces that anti-Semitism will no longer be tolerated in the Labour Party without saying exactly what will happen to make this so – and then tries and “subtly” blame outgoing general secretary Ian McNicol for the whole problem!
“We woke up to it two years ago when it was pointed out to us, we launched the Chakrabarti report, they have not been implemented effectively. We have now brought in a new general secretary, they will be implemented.”
I can no longer work out what most Labour and Tory figures are doing any longer. “Playing the long game” has become so long and confused that I can’t work out what the game is any more. Thing is, I don’t think they can either.