Friday, 6 January 2017

The Current Need for Political Leadership

It's not about a 48% who want a closer relationship with exiting the European Union, it is about making the argument to oppose leaving the EU altogether. This is whether or not this Article 50 is invoked, whether or not it has to come through Parliament or the government thinks the executive can do it.

This is not something to be trivialised with name calling and labelling. The view that leaving the EU is a disaster for ethical, political and economic principles: principles of sharing with like-minded nearby political cultures in order that we come together as peoples, principles of economic overlap that turn into political overlap, with the ethics of peace and similarity, are too important to be lost in some transitional time vote that rarely had anything to do with knowledge and purpose about what the European union did.

What is needed now, I suggest, is a leading politician, and group of politicians, who are quite clear that this is a disaster and will stand to stay in the EU and make the argument. So far we have politicians who "respect" the vote and wish to see the best deal regarding economics. With a few exceptions, Parliament's politicians, who are representatives and not delegates, seem too scared to actually go beyond this limited resistance. Some may be going for cover while really wanting to stay in the EU. They are not yet 'declaring their hand'.

But what is required here is leadership, leadership that articulates the arguments now to stay, that makes the case that was never made within the limitation of the campaign. Even in the campaign, politicians for remaining in were luke warm in defending the EU. It was as if they were accused of calling it perfect. It's not about it being perfect - of course it is a long way from being perfect, and does have a democratic deficit - but the answer was never to abandon the principles involved by removal. But it's as if these principles were never discussed. Compare it with the 1975 referendum when the whole range was discussed. It's a historically disprovable to say that we were only going into a Common Market then: Edward Heath, Roy Jenkins, even Tony Benn in the negative, discussed the full range of implications of being members and the trajectory. Watch the Panorama debate where a young David Dimbleby sits back because he need not direct the respectful conversation between Benn and Jenkins. Nothing like that this time, in a terrible campaign both sides that is part of the argument for a bad vote. I'm against referenda anyway regardless, but the wrong campaigning, and wrong reasoning, and ignorance, all calls upon politicians to grasp the nettle.

We need a political A. C. Grayling. Had the vote gone the other way, there'd be no doubt that Nigel Farage would have been the political figure for that argument of removal on that side. He would not have given up. Nor should those who think we really ought to stay in.

Nor is it about this notion of unity in the UK. Unity was not there before, and not there now. It is not there among the population, nor is it between the UK nations, itself a unitary state than is starting to look more like a federation. Of course the European Union is a confederation, not even a federation, and this was never explained by its defenders. I cannot remember any information about how the EU actually works: how decisions are taken and why it is beneficial from a principled position.

Politicians may be being strategic: they are watching a government make a hash of it. There is a certain amount of holding back, before it becomes more obvious what a mess is involved. There are overlapping ministries that cause the decision making upwards to the Prime Minister Theresa May, but it looks like her absence of leadership, her indeed questionable competence, is causing stagnation, as well as the incompetence - indeed the amateurism - of the politicians we have available to run departments. This notion of 'it's your mess not you sort it out' is not good enough unless the mess they then go on to create can be stopped as it unfolds. The resignation of Sir Ivan Rogers and his reasons are only a symptom.

But this reality does call for clarity on the side of those who oppose leaving the EU. It needs a sort of government in waiting to articulate turning this around: making the argument to stay, and why the referendum is not some sacred object that must be obeyed.

When it comes to the General Election, it requires political parties. At the moment the Liberal Democrats are the nearest to offering the sort of resistance-to-reversal that is being suggested here. But it seems not quite, and the party is somewhat unclear, even if the most clear compared with muddled Labour and divided Conservatives (on what form of exit). General elections trump referenda: they are referenda with a manifesto, with a government intended. So what is needed is the Liberal Democrats to move position, but in addition individual politicians to declare themselves, rather in the manner of David Lammy and Sarah Olney. Kenneth Clarke probably will. These politicians can form an informal group, and may well be part of a possible grand coalition (as coalition is the first possibility to defeat the Tories, given the electoral arithmetic and Corbyn stuck in post ahead of Labour).

If the Supreme Court rules to uphold Parliament, those politicians who do not vote to invoke Article 50 will be the most obvious to clarify the politics of reversing this drive.

Reversal means not just stopping the nonsense of leaving but also making time for policies needed in this country for social reconstruction, policies that a dithering do-nothing Theresa May talks about but will have no time or resource to act upon. Leaving the European Union is so enormous an act in terms of law and policy and negotiation that scarcely little else is going to happen.

There is no reason to change view that this government is set up to fail, but it still needs leadership to formulate what needs to be done when it does fail.

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