Shipwrecking PR on the Rocks of Brexit: the long road back
When its base level of support is enough to return the populist coalition – or whatever it mutates into – at every election, is there any prospect at all for a liberal comeback? Well without the regime itself imploding or exposing itself to some scandal or PR catastrophe that even its supporters can’t stomach, the ray of light that would maybe present itself is not all that powerful. It is a hope.
Before all that long, ‘Project Fear’ could start looking in hindsight like ‘Project Accurate.’ The economic isolation resulting from severing all our trading agreements with Europe hits hard. The dreams of glory where global economic trading and British expertise overcome all the odds turns sour. Not that this necessarily makes a lot of difference to the base support. They’ve made an art of doubling down on their belief system against all the evidence. Confessing to their own bad judgement won’t come easy. They always said they were up for a bit of self-harm and suffering.
The rot will show up more pressingly when the impacts of failure hit on the cashflows of the multi-millionaire elites of the Tory and Brexit parties and, with strong overlaps on the Venn diagram of opulence and wealth hoarding ventures, the pockets of their chums and backers in the finance and corporate sectors. Tim Martin doesn’t literally have to be crying into his beer, but you get the picture. Now something will have to happen.
Where else can they turn but back to Europe? Not with a view to fully rejoining, of course – that would be a total climbdown. But there is potential for treaties which give limited access in the key areas of the single market and the customs union, one or both. Regrettably none of this would be happening for a minimum of five to ten years.
There has to be something to hang it on too, on a scale that can be sold as sensible readjustment in response to new economic conditions. A global recession, for example, of which one such is being touted as a cast-iron certainty in the fairly short-term. Every effort is being made to push its worst impacts beyond the 2020 USA election. We don’t suppose by the way that a responsible leadership anywhere is assessing the added effect of recession on the early phase of a no deal exit Britain.
The little bit of hope for those like us who give some credence to the scenario thus far is this. The EU will have been on full alert for an approach from the UK. The aphorism ‘once bitten twice shy’ is perfectly appropriate here. The protracted struggle the EU has had with the UK parliament over Brexit will have left them like combat soldiers in recovery from bad cases of PTSD. It was painful, costly, distracting and unsettling, to name a few. Why would any rational body open itself up to the possibility of a repeat performance whenever the winds of populism blew stronger again across the Channel? The EU is not notably itself a self-harming operation. They would surely want to satisfy themselves that the potential for a repeat anti-EU groundswell was at an absolute minimum, rendered effectively unable in the absence of some totally unforeseen seismic shift to emerge again and develop enough minority support to take outright power.
Back quickly to the present again and even if the UK leaves with a deal now, the EU must be thinking this is not the end of the story. The ERG, for example, fearing any kind of a deal as federal enslavement under Franco-German domination, is hardly likely to go passive. It will never stop applying pressure for further loosening of ties.
So exit with or without a deal and we believe a rational EU will introduce a new future condition for any nation seeking to align or realign itself substantially with the EU project. They will require it to elect nationally under a fair and proportional voting system. After all, if they are to act on the positive side of the equation when it comes to the social contract between the governors and the governed, it must dread ever again being in a position of defending the interests of a majority of a member country’s electorate, as it has tried to do over Brexit alongside protecting the integrity of its own union, against a national executive that behaves like a street gang to enforce a minority will against its own population.
Proportional representation delivers a higher standard of democratic accountability to the voters anyway. FPTP distorts the will of the electorate. FPTP suppresses turnout and the drip-drip of apathy trickles down from it into voting in all national ballots, as has been constantly proved by appallingly low turnouts in local government and EU elections. Even turnout in our emotionally charged 2016 referendum was five points lower on average than run of the mill general election turnouts in ten of our nearest neighbours. And our general election turnouts since 2001 have been twelve points less on average than theirs.
In some ways it is curious the EU haven’t already been applying pressure on the UK. The wording of Article 2 of the Lisbon Treaty surely provides enough latitude to probe the issue.
This then would be progressive liberalism’s only route back: first, to meaningful opposition in parliament; second, to reform of our electoral system to PR. Looking back it would have proved to be another of those so vitally important issues they themselves couldn’t ever coordinate on and get over the line. That great span of time they’d enjoyed the freedom and level field to play can only be looked back on with regret.