In the run up to the EU referendum the blogosphere, newspapers and broadcast media were filled with the great and the good, all telling us that either staying in the EU or leaving it would lead to catastrophe. Opinion was polarised by ‘Project Fear’, the cynical exercise whose failure swept its authors from power in 24 hours. At the same time, the ridiculous claims of the mainstream leave campaigns (£350 Million a week) left their main protagonists with a massive problem – in that they had never expected to win but simply to be in the best position to continue the fight through the party system. It wasn’t Gove who finished Boris’ ambitions for No10 – it was simply the realisation that he could never deliver what he’d promised, Gove became the excuse.
Brexit means Brexit. And it does – Britain will leave the EU. For my part, I pressed a particular kind of Brexit during the campaign, one which I think still has a more than fair chance of becoming reality via EFTA and the EEA agreement. But this first stage which I advocated along with many others was only the first stage.
What I think is clear though, is that people on mass, (17 million of them), did not vote for Liberal Leave or Flexcit. They had no idea what either of these propositions were. While we would love to think that what we did made a significant difference in the campaign, I am under no illusion that for the majority we had no impact. We could kid ourselves that the narrowness of the margin might mean that the Flexcit based articles of EU Referendum and the Leave Alliance, Ambrose Evans Pritchard, Ben Kelly and Christopher Booker in the Telegraph, or the ASI Liberal Case for Leave and the subsequent coverage, swung that crucial couple of percent. But in the post referendum world it’s really about the core ‘Leave’ vote – and their motivations, not ours. It is also about those who vehemently oppose Brexit, and how to reconcile the two.
In the last few months while I have hibernated away from the arguments in the media, I have gained a distinct impression of dissatisfaction in those Brexit voters, a feeling that the political class stopped listening to them a long time ago. They don’t think the major arguments about how the country is run should be considered ‘settled’ any more. For me, this is in a small way, a repeat of the 1979 experience which swept Margaret Thatcher to power – the loss of confidence in the post war settlement. This is the end of the post ‘cold war’ settlement, the expansion of the post conflict European dream of a single state called Europe. People are no longer sure that the prize was worth the cost.
Everything is up for grabs
Left and Right have been becoming outmoded ideas for a long time. State and Private have become merged since the 1990’s and the increased involvement of private companies in state provision and funding. The last big moment of the labour movement, the abolition of clause 4, drew much of the governance issue over how the state operated into a narrow central band of policy, largely driven by the aim of European integration. The result of EU integration was a drawing to a potentially false centre of our main political parties, leading the voters to believe that all politicians were largely the same. Political engagement at the ballot box sunk to low after low.
Brexit opens up nearly everything in the realm of public policy up for debate again. Globalisation, public ownership, labour law, migration and immigration, rights law, poverty, education, health – there will be major decisions ahead. Once the people have found a voice, it’s unlikely that they simply go away quietly if they don’t feel that they have been heard. This was one of the aims that I discussed on the Brexit Door Blog – the revitalisation of political debate in the UK once it was clear where responsibility lay for policy.
What is this blog for?
The New Westphalian Blog is not here to be simply a conduit for my own views, though of course it’s impossible for it not to take that role as well. I’d like it to be a venue for discussion of events and policy, where we can converse over ideas with thread headers being a simple starting point.
My intention is not to moderate unless there are serious breaches of decorum. I would prefer it if the language here was kept clean, but I won’t employ an automatic filter.
More importantly, I would like to hear new ideas and see new research from across the political spectrum.