Too late to change?

Time For A Change New Ways Letters
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Interesting to see Tom Watson argue today for Labour to come out in full as the anti-Brexit party. My suspicions are that is is driven more by a fear of the ‘resurgent’ Lib Dems and recently quiet, but still potent Brexit party, rather than really trying to shore up the inconsistent stance Labour has taken on Brexit (although that does deal with that too). The combined Lib Dem/Brexit Party threat must be perceived as more potent than the fact that they might stand to lose a lot of voters of a leave variety.

On this weekend’s Coffee House Shots Podcast (and in the Spectator), Katy Balls was musing about a potential early general election, possibly in the autumn. Given that short time scale, it would make sense that Labour want to shore up their stance in the anti-Brexit direction to regain those they think they’ve lost in recent weeks to the parties that have a definite stance.

To me, Jeremy Corbyn’s somewhat indistinct stance on Brexit makes perfect sense. Brexit is not a strict political decision, you can vote left or right and leave or remain, depending on what is important to you. It looks like someone has got wind of something in the offing and decided that something has to be done sooner rather than later about the voters they had obviously lost to both the Lib Dems and Brexit Party, although to me it seems a little late for them to join to the ‘Bollocks to Brexit’ movement.

If there is an autumn election, the feelings that drove people to move away from Labour (and the Conservatives for that matter) to one of the smaller, but definite stance, parties will still be fresh in people’s memories and I rather think that they may well be tempted to keep voting that way, no matter Tom Watson wants.

No surprises

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I think most people with a passing interest in politics could have successfully predicted the main headlines in today’s papers. Even the ‘proxy’ referendum re-run appears to have come out around equal again, with both sides trying to spin it their way.

So what next? I’m still not quite sure what to make of the Brexit Party. They came out with a clear and concise message and stole a load of votes from Labour and the Conservatives in an election most people didn’t expect to even happen. But how does that translate into moving on to fight a general election, which seems less likely to be any time soon, given both main parties are on the back foot at the moment.

On the face of it, you’d have to assume Mr Farage, being Mr Farage, would be pro-business, pro-leave, lower taxes? etc. But that’s just the Conservative party. And as much as die-hard Tories like to have a bit of a hissy fit and vote Brexit party to show their erstwhile leaders just what they think of what they’ve done so far, I think very few would really hold out and stick with the Brexit Party long term unless it offered something worth sticking with.

That said, Mr Farage has surprised me in the past in debates when he’s perhaps shown that it’s he’s not so right wing in all his thinking and not averse to taking some ideas from the left. So perhaps he might try to find ways to differentiate the Brexit Party from the Conservatives. I guess we’ll have to wait for their manifesto to appear. Perhaps UBI will be in there…

On the Tory leader front, I took a quick peek at Boris Johnsons’ piece in today’s Telegraph. I do find the whole One-Nation Tory thing a bit nebulous. It’s meant many things down the years, and these days, with a burgeoning middle class, it doesn’t feel like a good story to work with. A bit like Theresa May’s ‘Burning Injustices’. Important, yes, especially things like poverty and modern slavery, but not that meaningful to your average Tory voter.

With Boris’s One-Nation thing, it feels like political game playing to get the likes of Amber Rudd onside. Fair enough if it is, but he needs to find a story for the average conservative voter soon, or there’s a real risk they will be lost to the Brexit Party. Although, if Brexit is the only issue on many people’s minds, the game may be up; I also noticed Boris’s tone on Brexit was somewhat toned down, and not as ‘Right, that’s it we’re leaving!’ as he was at the start of the weekend.

Brexit was not a populist vote

Demagogue Populist Autocrat
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One thing I’ve seen popping up time and again in the media, and in conversations at home and work is how Brexit was some kind of populist vote.

It was not.

To be populist, in the strict sense of the term, it has to:

1) be pioneered by someone who is not part of the establishment

2) claim to be representing the ‘all of the people’ in some kind of opposition to the establishment, even though, in reality it may only actually cater for a small percentage of the population

Clearly, from these definitions, the Brexit vote was not in any way populist. It was pioneered by the Prime Minister and the Conservatives, who promised to abide by the result, and both sides had representatives from the main political parties campaigning for the respective votes. It was offered to the whole of the UK. Everyone took part.

So, in and of itself, Brexit was not populist. In fact, the only thing you could argue was populist about it was Nigel Farage’s comment on the day after the vote, when he said that it was a ‘victory for real people’, clearly indicating that the Leave vote represented the whole country and that somehow the 48% who voted Remain were somehow less than real.

The Brexit Party now, though, is classically populist. Nigel Farage, continuing his rhetoric from after the vote, claims to represent the country outside of London, when really he’s just representing the Brexiteers. He rails at the ‘elites’ in power, something the failure of the Conservative party to deliver Brexit thus far has only inflamed.

Mr Farage’s piece in the the Telegraph today is gloriously populist, ticking all the boxes, with a clear and simple argument (us against them because democracy has failed). The shame, I think, is that he has a point, particularly after Theresa May’s latest offer. Even though I can see the sense in a lot of what the Prime Minister is trying to do, it all feels like a bit of a mess, trying to pander to too many different agendas and satisfying none of them.

For a really good exploration of Populism, check out Jan-Werner Müller’s What is Populism.