Thursday, 1 December 2016

Brexit part one: a dog's breakfast

Brexit was never going to be a good thing, but it's instructive to consider how much worse it is than it needed to be. Yes it's a dog's breakfast, but it might at least have been a breakfast fit for a dog. Instead we've had an indigestible mess slopped all over the worktop by cat lovers with little knowledge of canine nutrition and no real goal beyond resolving a private domestic dispute.

The problems go back to before the May 2015 election, when Cameron agreed to the referendum to stop the Tory right defecting to UKIP. Of course he never thought he'd have to call it because he expected to have to carry on the coalition with the Lib Dems after the May election, which would have been the perfect excuse. "Sorry, not having a referendum is the price of the deal", he could have said, and in practice there wouldn't have been anything the likes of Gove and Davis could have done about it. Unfortunately for him he ran into a statistical quirk of Britain's first past the post electoral system, which I've named after the county where it had the biggest effect.

The Somerset quirk

Across the country the Lib Dems get lots of votes from Tories who want to keep the Labour Party out in their constituency, and conversely from Labour or Green supporters who want to keep out a Tory. In 2015, though, they were in a coalition with the Tories. This was just fine with right wing people who were voting Lib Dem to keep out the Labour Party, but across the west country in particular people who had usually voted Lib Dem to keep out Jacob Rees-Mogg and all the other lizards thought "you know what? The Lib Dems can go fuck themselves. I might as well vote with my heart". As a result, the Lib Dem vote in the west fell while the Tory vote stayed the same, the Tories got loads of west country seats they never expected, and suddenly Cameron found he'd won, and therefore lost.

It was a miscalculation on his part, in retrospect, but you can understand how it happened. It seems like a glaring oversight to us in the Green Party because we can identify electoral quirks from dawn to dusk and still have plenty left for the pub, but Cameron is a champagne Tory and they have people to do that kind of thing for them. Those people, of course, could hardly be expected to realise that a majority would be a bad thing, because they just do the numbers so how were they to know their employers were mainly at war with each other?

And they weren't the only people to misread the situation. The Lib Dems must have been a bit shocked to learn that the west country's apparent fondness for them was mainly tactical. I expect they'd thought their eccentricity struck a sympathetic chord or something. Come to that it must have been a bit of a shock for Labour and Green voters in Somerset when they realised they'd basically caused Brexit.

The reckless adventurers

So there was Cameron, having to call a referendum on account of his unexpected victory. Of course they never thought there was any way they'd lose it, so they never set it up properly. They may have been a little distracted by the whole pig thing, who knows, but then to be fair so were the rest of us. I remember the day after the story broke a DIY enthusiast tweeting about her current project quite innocently mentioned applying soapy water for a smooth, even finish, and I couldn't believe it wasn't about the pig.

Now we're all thinking about that again. Focus, people, focus. We were talking about the referendum, and how they made a right - no not that metaphor. They made a right mess of it, and in lots of different ways. They didn't give it any legal force, which they quite easily could have done, but left it advisory. Neither did they properly define what leaving the EU actually meant. Was it to leave entirely, trading all access to the single market for total domestic autonomy, or was it to leave yet retain access to the single market in return for agreeing to free movement? It was never spelt out, and the Leave campaign managed to claim both, up to and even after the result.

Even now, questions remain. What is the correct legal route to an exit? No-one is sure. That's hardly surprising, though, there's lots of weird stuff the government wouldn't know how to do.  Legally, how do you set up a pirate fleet? How do you sell Anglesey to the Wirral? There are questions so silly that governments feel free to leave the answers vague. How do you destroy your own massively complex trading system for no reason? seems to belong on that list, and surely there was no chance we'd end up actually having to answer it?

Enter Boris Johnson. Unafraid to argue vaguely for a silly thing he doesn't even believe in, he single-handedly plunged us into this mess. Single-handed? Am I sure? Well yes, because - no, I'll save that for next time. Boris gets a post to himself, I think.

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