Friday, 31 March 2017

Hypocrites, liars and cowards -- our shrunken politicians

Last June, immediately after the Brexit referendum, I wrote: 'My overwhelming emotion is one of sadness.'

But now, the sadness has turned to deep anger -- at the hypocrisy, dishonesty and sheer political cowardice that has characterised the response to the referendum result of both the UK's major political parties.

I need to be clear: I am not directing my anger at the 17.4 million voters who voted to leave the EU. Each one of them had their own reasons -- some good, some bad -- and each vote was as valid as every other vote. I am a democrat and I believe in democracy. Parliamentary democracy.

No. I am angry at the politicians who are knowingly and deliberately taking the country along a course that they themselves believe to be profoundly mistaken. What is that if it is not hypocrisy, dishonesty and cowardice?   

It was Theresa May's breathtakingly disingenuous letter to the EU, triggering Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty, that sparked my fury. Because what it revealed, far more starkly than she can possibly have imagined, is the appalling flimsiness of the pro-Brexit case.

For example: 'Perhaps now more than ever, the world needs the liberal, democratic values of Europe. We want to play our part to ensure that Europe remains strong and prosperous and able to lead in the world, projecting its values and defending itself from security threats.'

Excuse me? If we 'want to play our part', why in God's name are we leaving the EU?

'Europe’s security is more fragile today than at any time since the end of the cold war.' (Translation: Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin are a danger to us all.) In which case, why on earth does Mrs May threaten to withhold security cooperation unless she gets her way on trade? ('In security terms a failure to reach agreement would mean our cooperation in the fight against crime and terrorism would be weakened.' Threats are never a good idea if you're trying to play nicey-nicey.)

Yes, I understand the tactics. The prime minister doesn't have too many negotiating cards to play, and the UK's expertise and experience in the fields of intelligence and security is highly valued by our EU partners. As The Sun headline put it with that paper's unerring instinct for taste and decency: 'Your money or your lives - trade with us and we'll help fight terror.'

The truth, as we all know, is that Mrs May thinks it would be better for Britain if it stayed in the EU. So do her chancellor, Philip Hammond, and her home secretary, Amber Rudd. So does every living ex-prime minister, from John Major to Tony Blair, Gordon Brown and David Cameron.

Ah yes, David Cameron. The man who apparently still thinks he was right to promise an in-out referendum, just like Tony Blair, who still thinks he was right to back George W Bush when he decided to invade Iraq. Two colossal misjudgments by two prime ministers unable to admit that they might be fallible.

Theresa May told MPs after she had sent her 'Dear President Tusk' letter to Brussels on Wednesday that leaving the EU 'is this generation’s chance to shape a brighter future for our country.'

This generation? Which generation could she be thinking of? Hers (she's 60)? Or my children's (they are in their 30s)? Because it so happens that although the prime minister's -- and my -- generation voted overwhelmingly to leave, my children's generation voted even more overwhelmingly to remain. So much for negotiating a post-Brexit deal on behalf of future generations ...

Mrs May channels her inner Thatcher (with whom she hates to be compared) when she insists that 'there can be no turning back', just as Mrs T used to insist that there was 'no alternative' to her economic policies. There was then, and there is now -- even if Mrs M needs us to believe that reversal is not an option.

Remind me, who was it who once said: 'If a democracy cannot change its mind, it ceases to be a democracy'? Ah yes, of course, her Brexiteer-in-chief, David Davis.

So what would a braver, more principled and more honest political leader have done? They would have said: 'We acknowledge and recognise the result of the referendum, even though we believe it to have been profoundly mistaken. We will attempt to negotiate a new relationship with the EU, and we will then ask British voters whether they wish to accept or reject the terms we have been offered.'

Sometimes, it is useful to look at ourselves as others see us. I was particularly struck by the Los Angeles Times headline: 'With Brexit, Britain pulls the trigger -- on itself.' The French newspaper Liberation went for: 'Vous nous manquez déjà - ou pas.' ('We miss you already -- or not.') The German Die Welt preferred just one word, in English: 'Farewell.'

Mrs May is trying desperately to convince the EU27 that failure to negotiate an equitable Brexit deal would hurt them as much as it would hurt the UK. I doubt that she'll get very far; as Stephen Bush of the New Statesman pointed out, cutting off your nose to spite your face hurts like hell and you’re never the same afterwards. 'But while you will see people without noses living successful lives, to date, no nose has managed to carry on without a person. The bad news is that Britain is the nose in this analogy.'

What makes me even angrier than the prospect of the gratuitously self-inflicted pain we are about to suffer is the way in which the Brexit disaster will crowd out any consideration of all the other major crises on which the government should be focusing.

Critical cash shortages in the NHS, schools, social care, the police and prisons? Sorry, you'll have to ask someone else.

President Trump tearing up climate change legislation? Sorry, no time to respond.

Famine sweeping across parts of Nigeria, Somalia, South Sudan and Yemen, threatening the lives of twenty million people? Sorry, we're busy.

Civilian casualties as US-led coalition forces bomb Mosul? Sorry, call back.

North Korea? Turkey? China? Sorry, get someone else to deal with them.

We have become a shrinking nation led by shrunken politicians. We deserve better.


juliet solomon said...

Good letter. But he ignores May's very limited outlook; she is a bear of, it would seem, very little brain. That's why she is so desperately dictatorial. And more than Thatcher, who always referred everything to Parliament. May can't risk that, and doesn't.

Unknown said...

Totally agree. Brexit is one big disaster. I feel ashamed to be English.

Unknown said...

Robin, you have put every element of what I feel about this terrible situation. I feel that this process will achieve nothing except to diminish our reputation and influence and along the way cost a fortune. This is simply a failure of our political system and a demonstration of the inevitable consequence of political cowardice over the last 25 years at least.

Keep up the good work - we need more people to realise the disastrous self inflicted disaster into which we are rushing.

Celia said...

Oh Robin. You have said EXACTLY what I think. What can we do!!!??

Anonymous said...

Socrates, Diogenes, and Thomas Paine all described themselves as citizens of the world. They're all still known and widely read across that world. Theresa May stated that if you are a citizen of the world then you are a citizen of nowhere. That appears to describe her political and mental ability pretty accurately. I'm English - born and bred here - but I'm no longer proud to state that.

Anonymous said...

Agreed on all points. Not a helpful comment on my part, but I'd like to support your 'cause'!

Richard Eastham said...

Desperately sad situation. All so avoidable too. I agree with you, I despair of the political class.

Anonymous said...

It all still seems so unreal – surely it’s just a nightmare and we’ll wake up one morning to find it isn’t really happening. We can’t have taken leave of our senses, can we? And if we’re concerned, what about the EU nationals who live and work in the UK, who contribute to society and the economy, and who must be very worried indeed about what is going to happen to them. Do we have to be so cruel?

mbrayne said...

The sad truth in post-Imperial, hubristic Britain (or England, really) is that this is a crisis we have been waiting to go through. As psychotherapists working with dysfunctional clients, we see it all the time. Only when people experience viscerally and painfully and no longer avoidably the consequences of denial and addiction - when we hit rock bottom - are they ready to change. As individuals or as groups, humans rarely change because we have a choice, but only when we no longer have a choice BUT to change. So, Robin, perhaps good may yet come from Brexit, but only after a whole lot of bad.

Barrie Foster said...

European legislators and institutions have suffered from years of insults, abuse and lies from bottom-of-the-barrel British politicians and the scurrilous rags that form the most part of our popular media. The faraj, who now looks to be ratting out on the sinking ship, spent years rubbishing the European Parliament from within its own walls and at its own expense, and the Leave campaign and its associated perpetrators and Ministers of State showed nothing but contempt for our erstwhile European partners. We should remember that "Diplomacy is the art of saying 'Nice doggie' until you can find a rock".

Gibraltar is the first of many rocks.

Rod Nelson said...

Robin Lustig....that is superb writing and thought. Like you, I am sad to my core at the way the political elite, starting with Cameron, are betraying this country. I am even more saddened by the implicit and explicit violence that is creeping ever more into the debate, which goes beyond stridency, into incitement. I find myself uneasy about discussing this topic in a public place, and I've never felt like this before.
I can not speak for my friends and acquaintances, but I think I could say reasonably safely that there is hardly a person I know who would disagree in its entirety with the message you are so eloquently putting across. We are locked into a nightmare situation by what I believe now needs to be described as a coup d'etat by an unhealthy and irresponsible Tory right wing, backed to the hilt by some very dangerous media barons and an extreme business clique.
Thank you very much indeed.

Unknown said...

Robin Lustig - just an excellent comment on the current situation concerning Brexit. What a divisive and awful thing to happen to our country. I feel almost apologetic when I speak with the many Europeans working in our country, working hard and paying their taxes and contributing to our culture. I do not mention it to some friends in case we fall out. In other words tend to keep my mouth shut unless I am out in public and comment loudly to my husband about the insanity of it all as I read the newspaper. Though I could not read the papers for a few days following the triggering of Article 50. In mourning! We do need an Opposition and I am hopeful that a crossparty one could be formed. I totally agree that when there is a "deal" we should ask the country to say whether it is in our interests to accept it. Nothing could really replace our membership of the EU in an everincreasingly dangerous world with Trump and Putin around. Sheer madness, all of it! Regards, Lesley Hampson

Paul B said...

The people of Romania took to the streets on a regular basis over months - and their government gave in and didn't dare to push through their amnesty legislation for political corruption. If we are all so desperately convinced that the British government is committing a hugely irresponsible and destructive act, why can't we do the same - protests, protests, protests, until they stop/resign?

Tony Lavender said...

My belated thanks for your excellent article about British politicians.

The thing that sickens me most is Mrs May's contention that she is carrying out the will of the British people. Actually she is not complying with the wishes of ALL of the British people, as some millions of us living outside the UK were not allowed to vote in the Brexit referendum, despite our strong family ties and - for some of us at least - frequent visits back to Blighty. The Referendum was a mockery of democracy, as is the current governmental system, where less than 25% of the total electorate and barely a third of actual voters have produced a government, which the large majority of British people rejected.

From a purely personal point of view I lost over GBP 1,000 from my pension income in the first six months after the referendum, due to the falling pound, and this loss is on course to be more than doubled by the end of this coming June. Sadly I see no way that this loss will be reimbursed under Brexit nor after I am allowed to vote again in the next General Election, if current proposals are eventually enacted. What is needed is a further referendum, so that ALL Brits can express their opinion on what was billed as the most important issue for generations.

Rod Nelson said...

Tony Lavender's points are fair.