Friday, 8 February 2019

The liars who are destroying our faith in democracy

In case you still need evidence that we are abysmally served by far too many members of the political class, allow me to introduce you to Daniel Kawczynski.

You quite probably have never heard of him – he is, in fact, the Conservative MP for Shewsbury and Atcham, first elected in 2005, who now holds the seat with a majority of 6,600. He is also, I think it is fair to say, unusually ignorant, even for an MP.

Last weekend, he provided incontrovertible proof of that by claiming – on Twitter, of course, which has now firmly established itself as a global platform for nonsense of all kinds – that Britain, which he said had mortgaged itself up to the eyeballs in order to ‘liberate half of Europe’ during the Second World War, would remember how it was being treated by an ‘ungrateful’ EU.

He added, foolishly and erroneously, referring to US financial aid for Europe in the aftermath of the war ‘no Marshall plan for us, only for Germany.’ Which happens to be the exact opposite of the truth: in fact the UK received $2.7 billion under the Marshall Plan, which was more than any other single nation, including Germany, which received $1.7 billion.

Fine, you may think. Anyone can make a mistake. MPs don’t necessarily need to be history graduates. So obviously, once his mistake had been pointed out to him, which it was, swiftly and repeatedly, he would want to put it right.

Well, no. Because this is where Mr Kawczyinski proved himself to be stupid as well as ignorant. Offered the opportunity to correct the record during a radio interview a couple of days later, what did he do? He put down the phone. (You can listen to him here.)

Mr Kawczyinski is what you might call an extreme Brexiteer. Last year, he described Jacob Rees-Mogg as one of his heroes, and said he hoped that one day he would stand for the leadership of the Tory party.

He also has form. A few months back, he tweeted a picture of himself holding a couple of lemons in his local Tesco. How ridiculous, he suggested, that we have to buy EU-produced lemons rather than cheaper ones from outside the EU because of what he called the EU ‘protectionist racket.’

Except that his lemons almost certainly came from South Africa, which happens to have a trade agreement with the EU so that its lemons can be imported free of tariffs. If Mr Kawczynswki apologised for getting it wrong, I must have missed it.

Does he matter? On his own, no, of course not. He’s not the only stupid MP in the Palace of Westminster. But he is a symptom of a careless, cavalier disregard for the truth that characterises far too many of those who promote the Brexit cause.

Take the reaction to Donald Tusk’s colourful, if ill-advised, remark this week about a ‘special place in hell for those who promoted Brexit without even a sketch of a plan of how to carry it out safely.’

Cue outraged reaction from all the usual suspects. Nigel Farage, for example: ‘After Brexit we will be free of unelected, arrogant bullies like you and run our own country.’

Unelected? Not so. Mr Tusk, a former prime minister of Poland, was elected to his current position as president of the European Council by his fellow heads of state and government, who were themselves elected by their national electorates.

Jean-Claude Juncker, president of the European Commission, was similarly chosen by heads of state and government, but he also had to have the support of the European parliament – which is itself, of course, made up of elected representatives.

Does the EU have too many presidents? Of course it does. As well as Mr Tusk and M Juncker, there’s also the president of the European parliament and the president of the council of the EU (not to be confused with the European Council – see above – or the Council of Europe, which has nothing to do with the EU at all. Please do try to keep up.)

Yes, it’s bonkers. But is it sufficient reason to tell deliberate lies? It is not.

In a hugely depressing piece in last week’s New Statesman, Jonathan Powellwho was Tony Blair’s chief of staff for more than a decade and who knows more than most about how Whitehall operates, described the government’s handling of Brexit as ‘perhaps the worst-managed negotiation in living memory’.

Voters aren’t stupid. They can work it out for themselves. As Powell wrote: ‘The most worrying thing of all is the resulting collapse of public confidence in the political system. The verdict of the public is devastating: in a recent private unpublished poll, 66 per cent of voters thought the current system of politics doesn’t work and has to be fundamentally changed … If the people lose faith in our democratic system we are a short step from a more authoritarian form of government.’

So here’s my parting thought for you: however the Brexit fiasco is finally resolved, who is going to start rebuilding public faith in democracy? A couple of weeks ago, I quoted Robert Shrimsley in the Financial Times: ‘It is Britain’s misfortune that at its time of need it has been blessed with two of the most inflexible, small-minded, partisan and inept figures ever to assume the mantle of leadership in the nation’s two major parties. The UK has had bad party leaders before, but until now it has been clever enough not to have them at the same time.’

The sooner they are both replaced, the better for all of us.


Tinkersdamn said...

If neoliberalism is the problem of liberal democracies, the status quo (beneath whatever partisan banner) is not the solution.

Especially since 1980, neoliberalism has led to immense concentrations of wealth fostering political players with the power to capture the one entity capable of calling them to account: their governments. They distort democracy and violate "representation" through the capture of regulators, legislators, and media. And whether they win or lose any given race, they may still advance their cause by discrediting their governments in the process. The problem is global and demonstrates liberal democracy's plutocrats have more in common with Putin than they do with the constituents of the pols they've captured.

Change is needed, and change will not be comfy.

Anonymous said...

Isn't it peculiar how the term "neoliberalism" has little to do with liberalism, but sounds great - until you look it up. Curious also that the term "socialism" is spat out in the US by Republicans without really knowing its true meaning

Anyway, revising or refining democracy is an imperative, but not until Brexit is resolved. The current PM has been trying to bypass Parliament at every turn because "the people have voted". Never mind that the Referendum was advisory & not part of the UK's parliamentary democracy. Never mind that the people were uninformed, misinformed & disinformed. Never mind the truth

Are we so far from autocracy today ?


Tinkersdamn said...

Looking it up myself,I was struck that neoliberalism was intended to moderate classic liberalism/laissez-faire by having the free market regulated by a strong State. But as the "strong State" becomes ever more captured by the interests it would regulate, what becomes of the "moderation"? What becomes of representative democracy? It seems to me that the more representative democracy is attenuated and the more peoples' frustration grows, the more reactionary symptoms like Trump or Brexit-without-a-plan are to occur. It seems to me neoliiberalism must go. What to replace it --- that's the challenge.