Was the 2008 crash a result of America spending more than it could afford on fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan? Might Ukraine be a moment when Putin also faces some harsh realities?
Journalism has been called “the first draft of history”. As the emerging story of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine unfolds, I’ve been thinking of this page of the “first draft”.
The 2008 financial crash began with problems in the sub-prime mortgage market in the US. One reading of this is that 9/11 shook the US to the core. Had it been in a stronger place, it might have been possible to seek a peaceful solution — borrowing language from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in South Africa to ask about grievances in the Middle East against the US. IF that had been possible, it might also have unlocked the possibility of an enduring peace in Israel / Palestine.
People are rightly angry about “partygate” — but moves to make it easier to scrap EU protections and “unleash the benefits of Brexit” imply things are more serious than this.
The widespread anger at lockdown-breaking parties at Downing St in May 2020 is justified. But it is also a surprise that anyone is surprised. Johnson’s unsuitability for high office has been obvious (at least) since his time as Foreign Secretary. John Major has described Brexit as “the worst foreign policy mistake of my lifetime”: partygate, serious though it is, pales in comparison beside that.
As “Partygate” comes to its (first) climax there’s the announcment of a “Brexit freedom bill” (to unwind EU-derived law), and the front page of the Daily Express says “Boris vows to ‘unleash the benefits of Brexit’”.
I can’t be the only person who years echoes in that of “unleash the dogs of war” — a corruption of “Cry ‘Havoc!’, and let slip the dogs of war” in Shakespear’s Julius Caesar. Not a good omen.
Late in January 2022, Jacob Rees Mogg suggested that a change of Prime Minister would lead to an early General Election. He must know this isn’t true: are we being softened up for one?
Rees Mogg’s remarks have been read as an attempt to stop Tory MPs in former “red wall” seats siding against Boris Johnson, but aren’t these the Tory MPs with the strongest incentive to ensure that their party has a leader who people support?
What he’s reported to have said on Newsnight is:
“It is my view that we’ve moved, for better or worse, to an essentially presidential system and therefore the mandate is personal rather than entirely party [based] and any PM would be very well advised to seek a fresh mandate.”
The relaxing of Covid rules, at a time when infection rates are rising, is a rash triumph of political will over reality, which will land badly, particularly for some minority groups.
19 July 2021 — trumpeted as “freedom day” — with Covid regulations coming to an end, saw infections rising and 39,950 new cases. The daily number of new cases hasn’t been that high since the emergency tightening of rules at Christmas (where the surge peaked at 68,053 on 8 January). That’s not a good sign. Vaccinations have helped bring numbers down, but the increased infectiousness of the delta variant is pulling the other way. No vaccine is 100% effective, and it’s right to be concerned about parts of society where people are chosing not to be vaccinated.
Denying the seriousness
In the Daily Mail of 17 July, Graham Brady argued that relaxing the rules is about freedom. He likens the people’s reservations about the change to “Stockholm syndrome” — where captives identify with their captors. Choice extracts from the article include:
“After 16 months of being told by the state when we could leave our homes, whether we could see our families, with whom we were allowed to have sex, or what kinds of sports we were permitted to play, many of us are eager to regain the human dignity that comes with the exercise of our own free will.”
“be careful what you wish for. I thought we were going to get a global market. This was going to be a new opportunity. It hasn’t turned out like this. I would never have voted for Brexit if I knew we were going to lose our jobs”
He managed 30 seconds before mentioning the “oven-ready deal that you voted for” [in the General Election], deftly overlooking the fact that, if it had been “oven-ready” it would have been signed a year ago… instead it was concluded with just over a week to go before the brutal realities of a “no deal” Brexit would have kicked in.
There are grounds for believing that some people see a “no deal” Brexit as meaning things would carry on as they before, as if it’s refusing imagined future encroachments from Europe, rather than a rash leap into the unknown.
This article was originally written at the start of 2020, but it gives a perspective on why Brexit supporters are not (yet) switching away from support for Brexit, even with the threat of no deal — or a very bad one (and why they don’t seem to share others’ horror at the Internal Market bill, even though this breaks what the British Government agreed last autumn and presented to the electorate as an “overn-ready deal” in the 2019 General Election, runs foul of our commitments under international law and has led the EU to begin legal action.
A “No deal” Brexit would mean leaving the EU without the benefits of any of the trade deals the UK currently enjoys. The UK would immediately face tariffs on international trade, major disruption along the border with the Republic of Ireland, and significant damage to all the businesses currently using just-in-time delivery chains that cross borders. Failure to recognise its seriousness make it easier for supporters of Brexit to dismiss any adverse predictions as “project fear” and fuels the claims of people like Nigel Farage, that the softer forms of Brexit are “Brexit in name only”. Both introduce an unhelpful level of unreality into the process around Brexit.
He’s (rightly) been criticised — but has an uncanny knack for mobilising people’s frustration to his advantage. Has he done it again?
I want to describe his trip to Durham during the lockdown as somewhere between “grossly irresponsible” and “utterly foolish”. But it is a little too easy to write him off.
This is the man who took a pile of grievances about things that had little to do with the European Union and coalesced them into a vote for Brexit — even though this will make life worse for most of those who voted for it.
This is the man who (apparently) took last year’s parliamentary stalement and Boris Johnson’s illegal prorogation of Parliament and enabled the Tories to win a handsome majority — even though the tiny increase in the Conservative vote makes it look more like a vote against a Corbyn government than support for a Johnson one.
Breaking the lockdown was bad, but what about the damage Dominic Cummings has done to the country over Brexit?
People are rightly angered at Dominic Cummings’ decision to visit family in Durham when the rest of us were following the government’s advice to “stay home — protect the NHS — save lives”. But this is a fraction of the irresponsibility he’s shown over Brexit. People should be looking at all that he has done — and they should be angry.
As I write this [26 May], people are angry at his decision to travel from London to family in Durham during the lockdown. Apparently his uncle died from Covid19 while he was there which doesn’t really cut it with people who’ve been unable to visit loved ones dying in hospital from Covid19 or going to their funerals.
Brexit “gets back” what was never lost — Boris Johnson has set up himself (or his successor) for failure when this becomes obvious. The consequences will be serious.
The vox pops in my social media feed on 31 January sent a shiver down the spine. There were comments on getting back “our freedom” (that we never lost), “our independence” (that we never lost), our “sovereignty” (that we never lost), our “democracy” (that we never lost) and “our industry” (that we have lost, but not because of the EU).
That’s a heady mix. On social media people were quick to lampoon these positions — with good reason — but people are believing them.
To bring over people who supported Brexit we need to expose the failings of the Johnson government as it unravels, so that “Rejoin” is the response to LeaveLies coming into focus.
Nothing has emerged since the start of the referendum campaign to suggest that Brexit promises anything more than serious harm — to the British economy, British culture and Britain’s standing in the world. That didn’t change at 2300 on 31 January.
But the way forward is more complicated than switching from #RevokeArticle50 to #RejoinEU — and not just because the process for rejoining is not so simple.