MITCH BENN asks whether the likes of David Davis and Donald Trump have decided that shame is a sign of weakness.
First of all, some sort of apology is order; I have been laid low with bloke-flu since last we spoke.
It seems to be one of those annoying colds which wipes you out completely for about 48 hours, then by day three you’re about 60% better but then you stay 60% better for ages, not fully recovering until weeks later.
In any event I spent a couple of days lapsing in and out of consciousness and, as such, have not been quite as on the ball news and Brexit-wise this week as I like to be.
I am given to understand that some sort of agreement was reached in Brussels a few days ago, concerning general principles such as the Irish border situation and resultant customs/freedom of movement issues.
Inevitably, both Remainers and (most) Brexiteers are hailing this as some sort of breakthrough for their side; the Brexiteers presenting it as evidence that some sort of mutually-beneficial deal is back on the table, and the Remainers citing what looks like a fairly major concession on Whitehall’s part with regard to possible continued membership of the single market as evidence that a ‘Hard Brexit’ or (the more optimistic among them) indeed, any sort of Brexit beyond Brexit In Name Only is now off the table.
Peering at the small print through my flu-goggles, it seems to me that all that’s really been achieved is a general statement of principle and intention, which doesn’t go into the practical detail of how these principles and intentions are to be adhered to/achieved. Not unlike the EU Referendum itself, in fact. Saying ‘We will do X’ doesn’t actually get you any closer to doing X, however many people sign up to it, or however long it took you even to agree on saying that.
The only person who seems to be genuinely angry at this development is Nigel Farage, who has been spitting fury all week. So it hasn’t been a complete waste of time, anyway.
Another detail which I managed to discern through the fog of Lemsip and misery enveloping my existence was at that the meeting at which this agreement was reached, the UK seems to have been represented not by David Davis but by the Prime Minister herself.
Perhaps this was the deciding factor; all it took was for Davis’s extraordinary blend of blitheness, bluster and bullshit to be banished from the room for wiser heads (i.e. all of them) to find common ground.
It is a constant source of wonder and bewilderment that Davis still has his job, or indeed any job, such has been the almost baroque level of glib incompetence he’s exhibited as ‘Minister for Brexit’, although in his hesitant defence, one might ponder how much competence someone could in fact display in a job whose very title implies turmoil and failure.
Although let’s be honest, it hasn’t been his competence at issue lately so much as what appears to be a complete fudging of the facts.
Either the impact survey was never carried out, and Davis has spent weeks perpetuating the idea that it had been (but that the report had to be kept secret, for a variety of constantly shifting but equally spurious reasons), or it was carried out, and its predictions were so toxic as to be unpublishable, and Davis, finally having run out of excuses to bury the results, is now pretending it wasn’t.
There really isn’t a third option that I can think of, and whichever version strikes you as more probable, there’s no interpretation of events which paints Davis as anything other than shamelessly evasive.
And that’s the key, isn’t it. Shamelessness.
On both sides of the Atlantic, the political right seem to have arrived at the same conclusion: shame is for losers.
It doesn’t seem that long ago that politicians, if caught in a lie or misdeed, would obfuscate, dissemble, cover their tracks. Now, at any time other than in the immediate run-up to an election (and even then, only if they themselves are electorally vulnerable), they laugh it off with a big dumb Whatcha Gonna Do About It Anyway grin.
Davis can cheerfully spin a yarn, or massage the facts with smug impunity because he knows the consequences to him will be nil.
It’s unlikely that May will sack him, as no concession to the reality that Brexit is a disintegrating clown car can be made. And even if she does, he just gets to exit the least rewarding job in the cabinet with his dignity intact.
Meanwhile, in the USA, we have a president who is now denying what he’d previously admitted – that it is in fact him bragging about being a serial sex pest on the notorious Access Hollywood tape – saying outright to the people of Alabama that it’s better to vote for a man who faces multiple accusations of having been a constant sexual predator of teenage girls while a grown man in his 30s, than someone who might not vote to add a trillion dollars to the deficit and deprive 13 million people of healthcare in order to give yet more money to the billionaire donors who quite openly dictate Republican Party policies.
Once you decide that shame is weakness – that only suckers experience a moment’s discomfort when their gross crimes and offences are pointed out to them – you can achieve pretty much anything, it seems.
But it’s a hell of a price to pay.