The only thing that hasn’t changed since the election is Boris Johnson, argues MITCH BENN. So how do Remain regroup and go forward?
As you may recall, I left last week’s column on a cliffhanger, saying I’d been thinking about things we – as in the Remain movement – could still do in this new and (so the smugger end of the Brexit lobby tell us) hopeless phase of proceedings.
Let’s start with the intellectual steps we can take – they’re easier to implement, after all, and probably essential in order to get into the right frame of mind to tackle the practical stuff.
The first little mental exercise I’d recommend is this: remember what’s changed and what hasn’t changed. The election result alters the political reality but it doesn’t impact much on actual reality.
This is something we’ve been banging our heads against for the whole three and a half years of the ongoing Brexit fustercluck; the false idea that voting for something determines not just whether it’s popular, but indeed whether it’s real or possible. And governments of all stripes have a long history of confusing authority with ability, of believing that being entitled to make a given change to society means you actually have the capacity to make that change happen.
For example, for years now we’ve been hearing one Home Secretary after another pledge proudly to “crack down” on the scourge of internet porn, generally to a standing ovation at conference time. But after the applause fades, either no new initiatives are announced, or those which are announced are quietly shelved before implementation as the grubby reality of the situation – that there’s not a hell of a lot anyone can do about online porn without shutting down half the internet – dawns.
Similarly, while the government’s new majority gives it the ability to get whatever Brexit (or other) legislation it wants through the House Of Commons, it doesn’t make a successful Brexit any more achievable or ‘deliverable’ than it was two months ago.
There will come a point when the government’s promises of a new dawn of British exceptionalism start to ring as hollow to their supporters as they always have to us, and we have to ensure that we’re still around in some capacity to flag this up and give them no quarter.
Because the other thing that hasn’t changed is Boris Johnson. Two months ago Boris Johnson was a mendacious, selfish, workshy dilettante; now he’s a mendacious, selfish, workshy dilettante who’s won an election.
One never gets much of a sense of a long game being played where Johnson is concerned; in his tenure between his elevation by the Conservative Party and his general election victory he showed little stomach for the hard work and responsibilities which accompany the job of prime minister, and he’s continued to display such a lack of application since Christmas.
In the aftermath of Donald Trump suddenly deciding to assassinate the Iranian general Qasem Soleimani, the prime minister refused to interrupt his winter vacation on the private island of Mustique to reconvene parliament or even, initially, to issue a statement. Many London-based Twitterers recalled that when, during his time as mayor, the capital was plagued by rioting, Johnson was similarly loath to change his holiday plans and left the city to burn in his absence.
This isn’t being statesmanlike. It’s just being lazy.
Mind you, a weakened government has nothing to fear if there’s no opposition, which brings us to the Labour Party, or what’s left of it.
In the immediate aftermath of the election, my main feeling was anger. Yes, anger at the Conservative Party for wrecking the country in pursuit of narrow self-interest, but at the end of the day, wrecking stuff in pursuit of self-interest is kind of the whole point of the Conservative Party.
Brexit is just the most extreme example of what the Tories always do, and Tories gonna Tory.
My real anger was reserved for the Labour Party, because they had a straight choice in the run-up to the election: protect their own leadership, or protect the people of this country. They chose the former.
The Labour Party has one last chance now to wake up from the Corbyntologist fever-dream and become a viable party of government. It seems 50/50 whether it will.
Now it’s not my place to point out that it’s still less than £5 a month to become a Labour Party member, or to make passing reference to the fact that joining before January 20 (my 50th birthday, incidentally) would entitle one to a vote in the upcoming leadership ballot, nor indeed to muse on whether a mysterious surge in moderate entryism into the Labour membership would be a good thing given that it was a surge in radical entryism which gave us the Corbyn era in the first place…
I’m just pointing out that there are practical things we can do to shape the course of events, both in the immediate and intermediate term, that’s all.
In the meantime, stay in touch with each other. We’ve built networks of like-minded people in the last couple of years and we need to maintain those networks now. Perhaps we don’t yet know what banner to regroup under; maybe if we do the regrouping first the banner will reveal itself in due course.
Oh, and keep buying this newspaper, obviously.