The end justifies the means: a bad motto to live by

December 28, 2019

Some thoughts on the UK election

Well, what a massively depressing result – for many reasons, not just the fact that we have to put up with this odious cretin as Prime Minister for 5 years:  

First and foremost amongst them is that (as I feared) the election has not really moved us on from where we were after the EU referendum, 3 years ago.  OK, sure, it has made it clear that Brexit is going to happen – that’s hard to dispute.  But the Conservative Party manifesto did not set out how it would resolve the extremely difficult choices facing the UK, like how far we align ourselves with EU regulation - which is the price of a reasonable trade deal with the EU, but is likely to cause major problems with the manifesto’s stated objective of also negotiating a major trade deal with the US.  Or how it proposes to secure jobs in car manufacturing which depend on frictionless trade with the EU.  Or how farmers and fishermen will manage with significantly reduced access to their major export market.   I could go on, but as the Conservative Party correctly intuited in this election, people are bored with all this (look at the picture - even Boris is bored with it and he's supposed to be keen on Brexit), so I will just leave it there.

Its campaign also claimed that its Brexit deal was "oven ready" and Brexit could be “done” by the end of next year, allowing the government to concentrate on other things – when in fact, all that has been agreed to date are the terms of the UK's withdrawal, not the really difficult bit, which is its future relationship with the EU.  In reality, Brexit is likely to continue to take up vast amounts of time and energy for most of the new government’s 5 year term - because you cannot neatly decouple yourself from a highly complex 40 year relationship  in 11 months.  So just as in the referendum campaign, there has been a total lack of honesty about the trade-offs and the timetable, with complex issues being simplified out of existence – and with wholly unrealistic expectations being generated.  

The depressingly cynical lesson if you want to be a successful politician is that it does not pay to be straight with people.  You should just do whatever it takes to get elected and then deal with the consequences afterwards, interpreting your victory as the people putting faith in you to do what you think is right (even though you deliberately didn’t make it clear exactly what you had in mind – because you knew all too well that, if you had, some people might not have voted for you).

It’s always someone else’s fault, not yours

What other lessons could you draw?  Well, the most remarkable thing about the Tory victory is how they have managed to exploit a mess which was entirely of their own making.   The figures at the top of the Leave campaign were mostly drawn from the Conservative Party and are now at the top of government.  Rather than acknowledge that the mess of the last few years was primarily down to their own failure to have a deliverable plan for exiting the EU, they have blamed everyone else for arguing over what that plan should be.  

If they had put forward a clear plan in the first place, such a protracted period of argument would not have been necessary, as the way to implement the referendum result would have been clear -  whereas in fact, the proposition to voters on how to leave the EU was left deliberately vague, covering anything from a very close relationship with the EU (like Norway) to a “clean break”, no deal Brexit.   This helped build a bigger coalition for Leave, but not surprisingly led to considerable debate over how we should exit the EU after the vote (with questions also being raised over whether that coalition of the 52% could still have been assembled if the Leave campaign had been straight with the people and opted for a particular model of Brexit).

So the second lesson you could draw is to deflect blame for your own failings onto your opponents by any possible means – ideally by claiming repeatedly that they are thwarting the will of the people, even if that will isn’t entirely clear (naturally, that’s why they so badly need you to interpret it for them).   This is also pretty depressing because it’s a recipe for no one ever taking responsibility for anything and always pointing the finger elsewhere.  Of course, it also helps if your opposition is utterly useless, as in the case of the Labour Party – which has failed miserably to hold the government to account throughout this process, despite being presented with countless open goals.  In particular, it has fallen down very badly on holding the Brexiters to account for key promises made during the referendum which they have failed to deliver, as highlighted here.

The end justifies the means?

But what worries we most is that those who led the charge on Brexit appear to have taken the view throughout this whole process that the end always justifies the means – and those same people are now in government for 5 years.  I fear for the consequences if that approach is applied more widely.  For example, the Queen’s Speech suggests that the government is looking to alter the balance of the UK’s unwritten constitution (and its majority will give it the power to do so – unlike other countries, we have no concept of entrenchment where you need a "super-majority" to make changes of this nature).  

The end justifies the means may be all very well if you think you will never have to relinquish power – but no one in a democracy should ever make that assumption.  I hope those in government will reflect on how they would feel if their opponents got into power and engaged in the same kind of behaviour – and because of changes they made while they were in charge, they were left powerless to push back against it.  However, sadly, I fear that we are in an environment where demonising your opponent is becoming the norm – and that consequently, any means of keeping them out of office (however cynical, dishonest or duplicitous – and however bad a precedent it sets) can be said to be justified.

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About Me

Paul Samael Welcome to my blog, "Publishing Waste" which will either (a) chronicle my heroic efforts to self-publish my own fiction; or (b) demonstrate beyond a scintilla of doubt the utter futility of (a). And along the way, I will also be doing some reviews of other people's books and occasionally blogging about other stuff.
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