Tag Archives: Corbyn

A televised Brexit debate? A guaranteed turn-off

I’ve tried really hard not to devote too much of this blog to the soap opera that has become Britain’s withdrawal from the European Union. Hot air, posturing and bare-faced lies have blighted any attempt at a sensible discussion about the UK’s future relationship with the EU since the 2016 referendum was first mooted. Whilst May and Corbyn have not been the worst offenders in this regard, nor have they been blameless. Each has made statements that stretch the truth and have served to confuse and obfuscate rather than clarify and crystallise the choices facing the country through this critically important process. From May’s recent crass description of EU workers coming to the UK as “queue-jumpers”, to Corbyn’s meaningless and wholly unsubstantiated claims for a “jobs-first Brexit”, they have both played the role of small-minded, party-focused, tinpot apparatchiks, when the country was crying out for strategic leadership.

Now, with the EU having signed off on a Withdrawal Agreement and framework for a future relationship with the UK that they have made clear is the final, fixed offer, May faces the seemingly impossible task of persuading enough MPs to support her ‘deal’ in a vote in the House of Commons in mid December. Somewhat bizarrely, she has embarked on a two week tour of the UK to ‘sell’ the deal, presumably in the hope that public opinion will be brought to bear on those MPs who are minded to defeat the proposal either because it’s too Brexity, or because it’s not Brexity enough, or because they never wanted any Brexit in the first place. The irony is that May’s deal seems to have achieved more in uniting the competing factions than any other proposal so far since the referendum result in 2016. Unfortunately for May, all the factions are united in opposition to it.

Which brings us to the proposal that May and Corbyn will be offered a prime time TV slot to debate their respective positions on the Withdrawal Agreement and future framework as it stands. I can’t imagine a greater TV turnoff than a head-to-head between these two political pygmies. The past two and a bit years’ of Prime Minister’s Question Time encounters between the two has generated all the chemistry and dramatic tension of a wet Wednesday afternoon just outside Ousefleet. It’s not as if we don’t already know how the debate will proceed. May will bang on about a deal that ensures strength and stability (despite all the evidence that we will be poorer as a country, less significant in terms of our place on the world stage, and with a widening of the gap between the rich and the ‘just about managing’ that May made such a fuss about in her ill-fated post-Brexit election campaign). Corbyn will spin his own vision of a unicorn-filled future in which the UK will be outside the EU but will retain all the EU market access and employment protections that our current membership affords. They’ll both agree that their vision respects the will of the 37% of the electorate who voted to leave the EU in 2016 (conveniently ignoring the fact that all recent polling suggests that the slim majority in favour of leaving then, has had serious second thoughts having properly understood the implications.

However, these aren’t even my strongest objections to the TV debate proposal. Even more worryingly, it’s being seriously suggested that this charade of popular politics might replace Strictly Come Dancing, Dr Who and I’m a Celebrity Get Me Out of Here in the prime time Sunday scheduling. Frankly, nobody voted for that in the referendum.

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In, out, shake it all about…

So – that’s it then. Brexit. The UK will be leaving the European Union at some point in the next 2 to 3 years. New treaties and trade deals will be struck; a new leader will be elected for the Conservative Party and, (by the looks of things), Jeremy Corbyn will be ousted from his role as leader of the Labour Party. At the moment, things look bleak. The pound has lost ground against the Euro and the Dollar. The FTSE 100 has fallen by 5%. There are dire warnings about the implications of the decision to leave on jobs, economic growth, pensions, the NHS, higher education, and national security. On the plus side, from the Brexiteers’ perspective, the UK has regained control of the country, and can now move to sort out immigration.

At least, that’s the narrative that ran throughout the campaign. ‘Project Fear’ pointed to economic disaster if Brexit succeeded. Vote Leave raised the spectre of unlimited immigration and even more European interference in UK affairs if the vote was to remain.

In reality, it’s unlikely that either of these domesday scenarios has any real basis in fact. There will be a short-term shock to the economy, but the Bank of England and most responsible financial institutions had already made provision for that. There will be an impact on research and development, and capital investment decisions in the private sector; and whoever is Chancellor of the Exchequer by this time next week will probably need to increase public capital expenditure to take up that slack. The rate of immigration to the UK will decline as some non-UK citizens decide that they no longer want to stay; and others decide against coming here in the first place. There will be skills shortages and higher job vacancy rates as a result. Unemployment (already at or around near historically low rates) will not be effected to any great degree. And immigration will return to something near current levels as the reality dawns that in fact we need people to do the work that generates the revenues that the country depends on.

The rash promises of the Leave campaign (£350m a week saved; remove VAT on domestic fuel; maintain farm subsidies at current levels; reduce immigration below 100,000 a year; and so on) will be slowly diluted or abandoned altogether. By enlarge, it’s very likely that in a couple of years, things will be pretty much the same as they are now.

The problem, of course, is that because things will be the same, the anger, the sense of powerlessness, the disillusionment with the political class, the belief shared by at least 51% of the voting public that they are not being served by the current system, will remain. And the big question then will be : so what happens next?

That’s the challenge for post-Brexit politics. How can whatever emerges from the train-wrecks that are the current Conservative and Labour parties re-engage with people in a way that makes the political process real and meaningful again. It won’t be easy.