Two articles in today’s Times have pushed this question to the front of my mind, not that it ever was too far back.
One is by Michael Gove, who did much to secure the Leave vote in the 2016 referendum. The other is by Max Hastings, who thinks the vote went the wrong way. Amazingly, though the two articles look at the problem from opposite directions, both are equally worrying.
Actually, Gove’s piece is even more so, if only because his government job makes him one of the navigators of the course Britain is likely to follow. Hastings’s article is interesting only because it illustrates widespread Remainer fallacies.
“The completion of Brexit,” he writes, “represents a declaration of British exceptionalism… [reflecting] a yearning to reassert a British tribal identity.” And there I was, thinking Brexit only “represented a declaration” of British self-government.
Hastings clearly feels that sovereignty is synonymous with exceptionalism and a yearning for tribal identity, but it isn’t. If his rancour of a sore loser didn’t override his mind, he’d notice that the only political term sovereignty is synonymous with is national independence.
Exceptionalism and tribal identity are emotional and ideological constructs that may or may not have anything to do with reality. Sovereignty, on the other hand, is merely a statement of legal status. It’s not entirely free of emotions, but it’s not rooted in them. In other words, Hastings commits a category error, and fully engaged minds tend to sidestep those.
Then, for a change, he makes an unassailable statement: “… most of our national problems – education, productivity, housing, sustaining the NHS – have nothing to do with Europe.” In fact, the statement is so unassailable that it’s hard to see why it has to be made.
But what matters here isn’t denotation but connotation, the implication that, though our problems have nothing to do with Europe, continued EU membership could have solved them. One wonders on what basis Hastings has reached this conclusion.
Uncontrolled immigration, largely, though not exclusively, enabled by the EU law on free movement? Billions we’ve been pouring into EU coffers every year? Suffocating red tape imposed by Brussels? Being steadily dragged into a single European state ruled by practices alien to Britain’s political, cultural and social ethos?
Yet it’s unfair to criticise Hastings’s article on rational grounds because he doesn’t even try to put together a semblance of a rational argument. His purpose is different: to draw the lines of future attacks on the government and specifically Johnson, whom Hastings cordially loathes (not always without reason). Now every faux pas committed by HMG will be seen through the magnifying glass of the Hastings Manifesto, with the author and his friends bathing in the tepid water of I-told-you gloating.
Judging by Gove’s idea of future governance, they’ll have rich pickings. The idea already comes across in the title: We Have Taken Back Control, Now We Can Level Up at Home.
Had I known that the purpose of taking back control was to “level up”, I would have supported Brexit less enthusiastically. However, not many of us are any longer surprised to see a supposedly Conservative government pursuing unapologetically socialist desiderata.
Gove then proves he really campaigned for Brexit in pursuit of political advancement only, not because he understands the wicked nature of the EU: “Whatever the original nobility of the European project, the reality for so many Britons was an erosion of control of their lives.”
One detects little nobility, original or otherwise, in a project that has from its very inception veiled its true aims in a tissue of lies. These were designed not to scare off potential members by openly proclaiming the true objective of creating a giant pan-European state, with constituent nations specifically designed to suffer “an erosion of control of their lives”. Gove’s phrasing suggests he sees said erosion as a betrayal of the founding ideals rather than their realisation, which is arrant nonsense.
“We have a duty to spread opportunity more equally across the UK. Outside the EU, with a good trade deal in place, we can tackle the injustices and inequalities that have held Britain back,” continues Gove’s analysis of the situation.
Any remotely conservative, which is to say sound, thinker would argue that most of Britain’s problems have been caused not by too much inequality, but by too little. Or rather they have been caused by successive governments preaching and enacting the socialist egalitarian dogma that’s guaranteed to compromise the economy and social cohesion.
One doesn’t see anything in Gove’s daydreams that couldn’t have been written by a rank Labourite. To wit: “We are committed to a fairer, more inclusive country in which those whose horizons were narrowed through no fault of their own enjoy the dignity they deserve.”
This is the usual socialist bilge encapsulated in the ubiquitous mantra of “it’s all society’s fault”. Within that idiom, fair means unfair: severing the link between work and reward. Yet even at its worst, Britain offers enough opportunities for anyone to keep his horizons as wide as his abilities allow.
In any system of thought unsullied by socialist afflatus, being on the receiving end of state charity confers rather the opposite of dignity – and any wholesale attempt to solve economic problems out of public funds will be ineluctably tantamount to state charity.
Lest you might think that Gove thinks strictly in generalities, he does mention a couple of specifics, all coming from an impeccably woke wish list: “we can… invest more in the environment” and we’ll “support our manufacturing sector… as we develop new electric vehicles.” (This last means beggaring car manufacturers by forcing them to abandon IC engines.)
This wish list is actually an economic suicide note, outlining as it does the intention to convert Great Britain into Greta Britain. This ‘project’ is guaranteed to deliver an accelerating descent into economic hell, but at least we’ll go there in our own fashion.
Hastings is right: most of our problems haven’t been caused by Europe. They have been caused by the Majors, Blairs, Browns, Camerons, Mays, Johnsons and Goves of this world, whose idea of governance isn’t bono publico but bono privato – serving themselves under the guise of serving the people. At least now they’ll no longer be able to use the EU Leviathan for that purpose.