Friday, October 16, 2020

If the light at the end of the tunnel is the burning wreckage of our future...

I am, by nature, an optimist. When the Brexit referendum was lost, I not unreasonably assumed that the victors had a plan for getting us from being in the European Union to not being in the European Union. I admit that, even then, I understood that the various strands of the Leave campaign were mutually incompatible and were merely a means of persuading enough voters to back their cause. Indeed, Dominic Cummings acknowledged that there was no one vision of Brexit that could achieve majority support, or even agreement between the different factions. It allowed them to be all things to a good many people, at least, enough to win a one-off vote on the right day.

It turned out that I was wrong. There was no obvious plan. However, these were clever people - mostly - and there was time to work up a plan before formal notice was given. And, because, regardless of what I think about them, they would have what they perceived to be the interests of the country at heart.

Again, it turned out that I was wrong. It became apparent that it was much easier to campaign against something than to develop a strategy and plan for something - that mutual incompatibility thing again. Add an emerging lack of knowledge in terms of how the European Union works and a soupcon of "two world wars and one World Cup" and the foundations were laid for failure. After all, we'd heard enough from experts...

Blithe confidence in your cause, plus a rather arrogant sense of stature in the world led to the triggering of the exit process. Unfortunately, knowing what you want and having a realistic awareness of what you might get are not exactly the same thing. And, setting a deadline tends to work better if you're the 800 lb gorilla in the room. When you're 65 million people, as opposed to 430 million, with a GDP of $3 trillion, as opposed to $14 trillion, the gorilla isn't you.

And so, here we are, the clock nearly run down, a United Kingdom government led by people chosen for their loyalty rather than intellect, and in the middle of a pandemic. The Prime Minister has announced that we need to plan for a no deal outcome, demanding concessions from the gorilla. It all seems unlikely.

We are therefore dependent on one of two things - major concessions from the European Union (which might politely be described as unlikely) or from the United Kingdom. Can the Conservative Party really offer serious concessions without looking to its supporters as though it has bended the knee? And, even if it could agree on concessions, what might those concessions be, would they be sufficient and what would they gain? I don't think that they know, let alone the rest of us.

So, let's assume that they're serious, and that we reach 1 January without a deal. What might happen? And that's a bit of a mystery, given that the ultras on both sides are offering us just about everything on the spectrum from "buccaneering Singapore-on-Thames" to "critical food and medicine shortages".

My gut feeling is that things will be worse than they are now. Putting up obstacles tends to do that - the question is, how significantly will day to day life be affected, and what is the tolerance of a fickle public for inconvenience or hardship? Polling indicates a gradual drifting away of support for Brexit, associated as it is with a government which is making a mess of handling one crisis already. How much of a sacrifice are those who supported Brexit willing to make? Or were they only content so long as it was others who would bear the brunt?

And any Government would have public sympathy if things were difficult, so long as they were seen to be trying to do the right thing. This Government isn't in that place, having wasted an entire summer, at vast expense, to achieve, effectively, nothing.

I remain an optimist. Admittedly, as a Liberal Democrat, you tend to need to be one. Unfortunately, my optimism increasingly fades in terms of the near future - you really need something to sustain faith, and Messrs Johnson, Gove and Cummings just don't fit the bill. I'm also a gradualist, a believer in sustainable change over decades, and I'm going to have to pin my hopes on that. Because something is going to have to change in this country, and someone is going to have to lead that change.

In the meantime, it's time to circle the wagons, look out for those I care about and focus on the things I can actually influence...


Frank Little said...

What do you think of the theory that Cummings, Johnson and friends have shorted sterling and will reap considerable personal reward when the government fails to reach a trade agreement with the 27?

Jack Graham said...

I'm afraid optimism and and all that goes with it is an anathema to Liberal Democrats. Perpetual pessimism leaches out of every pore, collectively you wallow in misery, defeatism with a propensity and need to find failure around every corner, in every issue.

And you wonder why you cannot either attract or even engage with the wider public, just re-read your missive above without rose tinted specs, and you will see pessimism writ large, but I'm afraid as political operators you are innured to it.

Mark Valladares said...


Friends? Perhaps, after all, if you believe in arbitrage, you’d hedge against either extreme in terms of outcomes. And there are, it is alleged, some pretty chunky bets being made against the U.K. economy.

But, do I believe that members of the Government are actively looking to profit from a crash? If true, it would represent treason, and I cannot bring myself to believe that anyone holding public office would work to bring about harm to the nation and its people.

That may be a naive view in retrospect, but can you really engage in politics if your working assumption is that your opponent wants to destroy the country?

Mark Valladares said...


What an unexpected... no, sorry, I really can’t finish that sentence.

It is so kind of you to take time from your busy schedule of eviscerating live kittens and pulling the wings of hummingbirds to patronise this humble blog. Such casual unpleasantness adds so much to the sum of human experience.

Might I suggest that, if you have time on your hands, you might find something to do which makes someone else’s life even a little better?

nigel hunter said...

If Davey has only got half of our last leaders support he should up his game and show the future is bright back inside the EU and become positive in get ting EU support from the UK voter and EU friends and work for it. Faint heart never won fair maiden.

Alas, I would not be surprised at all if disaster economics was around in Brexit.Remember a lot of Tories are well off and money begets money.Greed grows if you can get away with it.

David Evans said...

I'm afraid Mark, that your post shows so clearly why the Lib Dems have so disastrously failed over the last 10 years. Quite simply it is because of unending misplaced optimism rather than a pragmatic assessment of reality. Thus no-one senior challenged Nick Clegg over five years when the future of our party was all but totally destroyed - the evidence was clear for all to see but senior people chose to look away, no-one challenged Jo Swinson over her naively optimistic gamble on a quick general election and no one challenges Mark Pack over his ridiculous argument 'The problem wasn't Nick losing us seats in coalition. It was what the party did pre Nick, when it was when we were winning seats', closely followed by 'Let's go back to being just a pure Liberal party once more (ignoring where being a pure liberal party got us from 1920 to 1950).

In past posts you told us us how hard it is to get things done even just in Creeting St Peter, but then say 'I not unreasonably assumed that the victors had a plan for getting us from being in the European Union to not being in the European Union.' They did have a plan - it was to lie.

And it worked. We are no longer in the EU. Get used to it.

But then you say 'Blithe confidence in your cause, plus a rather arrogant sense of stature in the world led to the triggering of the exit process.' But equally you could and should have said a long time ago 'Blithe confidence in our cause, plus a rather arrogant sense of our stature in UK politics led to mistakes in coalition being ignored, triggering the near annihilation of our party'.

Let's not pretend to ourselves. David Cameron used us to do what he didn't have the backbone to do himself - keep his party's rabid Europhobes in line for five years. We sacrificed almost all our political capital (painstakingly accumulated over 50 years) to let him rebuild his party's reputation in five, while he undermined our party at every opportunity he got. We knew it was happening, but we did nothing to change it.

Then when we weren't there anymore - look what has happened. And when you look for the reason, don't say it was bad luck, bad timing or it turned out you were wrong. Look at the optimist in the mirror.

It's always easier saying "I remain an optimist. Admittedly, as a Liberal Democrat, you tend to need to be one." Actually what the Lib Dems need much more than any more optimists is people willing to face up to problems when they occur and stop parroting this self comforting mantra - "I am what I am. I can't change what I am because I am right. So I won't even think about it, even when my party has been almost destroyed, because it is so much more comforting to cling to that than to admit that the problem is I would rather the party failed than admit I was wrong.

If we are to recover as a party, we have to learn from our mistakes, but first we have to individually admit, clearly, unequivocally and publicly, we made those mistakes. Then we have to help the next generation to learn from them. That is the only way, so they don't repeat them again the next time they get a chance like the one that generation Clegg so spectacularly squandered.

Mark Valladares said...


Thank you for your reminder as to why I am somewhat more remote from day to day Liberal Democracy then was hitherto the case. You come here, using the post as a tangential hook for repeating to me the same message that you've been purveying for the past eight years or so, as though it's my fault.

Yes, a minor bureaucrat, holding one extraordinarily obscure post (that most people don't even know exists, and will hopefully never encounter) in a political party, is somehow responsible for its current state.

Take a good hard look at yourself in a mirror, David, and when you've finished, go and find someone else to play your broken record to. I have heard it often enough.