Who I read – John Naughton

Probably the best daily blogger of the several I read. Here’s the profile of a true polymath, an excellent writer and sharer of knowledge. I often do not understand fully the subjects he covers but I always come away feeling grateful for his insights. 

Yesterday’s blogpost featured a long discussion on Brexit, which he was against, with the title, “On Brexit, grief and moving on”, I am quoting his conclusion.

I can see where he’s coming from. During the Referendum campaign two things puzzled me. One was the feebleness of the Remain campaign — it was as if nobody was interested in making a passionate argument for continuing to participate in the greatest geopolitical experiment in European history. As a result, the Remain campaign was essentially negative — as the Europhobes dismissively labelled it — ‘Project Fear’.

The other puzzle was the failure to make a reasonable case against the European experiment. The truth about the EU is that it has always been an elitist, technocratic experiment. It would never have happened as a democratic project — it had to be driven by political elites from the moment the European Coal and Steel Community was established in the early 1950s as a (laudable) attempt to ensure that the nations of Europe could never go to war against one another again. But as it developed into the EEC — and, later, the EU — the project always had a yawning democratic deficit (as Jurgen Habermas lamented in his book The Lure of Technocracy) — a deficit that was only partially filled by the creation of the European Parliament.

In that sense, there never was much in the way of democratic legitimacy for the EU project. And in a number of crises, notably the 2008 banking catastrophe, that lack of legitimacy was painfully obvious. Similarly the creation of the Eurozone was an elite project — it had to be — because its internal contradictions would never have withstood proper democratic scrutiny. (Indeed, one of the really good things Gordon Brown did was to keep the UK out of the Euro, despite Tony Blair’s anxiety to join it.) And then there was the crazily-accelerated post-1989 drive to incorporate the Eastern European states liberated by the implosion of the Soviet empire. And, finally, there’s the fact that all these initiatives and policies were driven or inspired by a Commission staffed by a technocratic elite that had been drinking the neoliberal Kool Aid from the time they’d been in kindergarten.

So in 2016 there were plenty of reasons to debate the wisdom of continuing to belong to such a flawed institution. But mostly those arguments were never made — or if they were they were drowned out by the crude xenophobia of the two Leave campaigns. Worse still, the corollary was never explored — the idea that a Britain governed by a radically reformist regime could forge an interesting future for itself outside of the EU.

But we are where we are: out. So it makes sense to think about the future as one that could have real possibilities for radical improvement — if Britain had a radical reforming government that was competent. It doesn’t have that at the moment, so the question is: where could such an administration come from?

The Johnson administration is incapable — for social, ideological and capacity reasons — of measuring up to the task. All that vapouring about “levelling up” is just sloganeering. They don’t have a clue about even where to start. (Dominic Cummings’s fantasies about the revolutionary possibilities of a British DARPA were the ravings of an elitist technocrat on steroids.) There’s no strategy, or indeed no real understanding of what would need to be done to transform a ‘liberated’ UK into a progressive, successful, fairer, more dynamic society.

So the odds are that the slogans will fizzle out and the decay set out by ‘Project Fear’ will come to pass. The United Kingdom will fracture, with Scotland eventually going its own way; Ireland slowly re-uniting, de facto if not de jure; and a Westminster parliament with just one pocket borough left — England. Or, as Philip Stephens put it in the FT the other day, “Forget the guff about embarking on a new Elizabethan age. ‘Global Britain’ is at present heading towards the rocks of constitutional break-up.”

So what could be done to move on creatively from Brexit? The only answer I can see is a radically revitalised Labour Party that comes to power four years from now. The question then becomes: could Keir Starmer build such a party? And where would its ideas come from?

More posts here.

Published by Alun Rees

Dental Business Coach. Analyst. Troubleshooter. Consultant. Writer. Presenter. Broadcaster.

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