Taking back control

How the holy heck did we get from this

to this

There was once upon a time when Britain had a reputation for diplomacy and pragmatism, but I guess that died with the generation before the boomers who are in charge of things now. This seems like a slow surrender, a bizarre interpretation of Taking Back Control. While I didn’t agree with Brexiters, I could see there were values  there – but oh how easily they are tossed aside. The FT has a point that Brexit is a cargo cult for gentlemen of a certain age.

Hardly any of today’s Tories actually remember Britain’s golden age of ruling India and winning the second world war. Even the party’s ageing members are merely the children of the Dunkirk generation. Economically, they have been the luckiest cohort in British history. But they and many other Tory MPs feel the shame of late birth. They disdain the UK’s tame, vegetarian, low-stakes, Brussels-based, post-imperial incarnation, which in 70 years offered nothing more glorious than the Falklands war. Now they have their own heroic project: Brexit.

A collective incompetence seems to have afflicted  the British body politic. Usually before going somewhere it pays to work out what the preferred destination is, whereas at the moment we are stuck with an ‘anywhere but here’ narrative. The parallels are more with the Psychology of Military Incompetence

arrogant underestimation of the enemy, the inability to learn from experience, resistance to new technologies or new tactics, and an aversion to reconnaissance and intelligence.

Although there’s much to be said for the drunk’s adage that to go there you wouldn’t start from here, it’s possible to envisage a successful Brexit, either in terms of the economy and some sovereignty or in terms of sovereignty and repelling immigration. Sadly at the moment we seem to be headed for a general clusterfuck that will cheer nobody at all. Drafting a view in government of what a successful Brexit looks like would be a damn good start. At the moment I am reminded of Chuck Colson’s poster

If you’ve got them by the balls, their hearts and minds will follow

and at the moment the sack-holder isn’t anywhere near London by the looks of it. Get a grip and get a clue, guys.


41 thoughts on “Taking back control”

  1. Perhaps the way the divorce bill negotiations have played out is indicative of how the rest of the process will be? It would seem that the UK doesn’t have a strong bargaining position?

    I am fascinated by the Ireland situation. The confluence of events, plots and sub-plots could easily be a bestselling book or blockbuster movie.

    With my impartial hat on, I think its infeasible for the process to be anything other than chaotic simply due to its unprecedented nature and monumental complexity.


    1. The chaotic process fair enough, and TBH Brexiters would probably make the case 50bn is five years of net EU contributions which is a price well worth paying to get away from the yoke etc. But in the UK we seem to have little idea of where we want to go, vis a vis the balance of sovereignty, economics, and anti-immigration.

      Like any trilemma, you can usually have any two of the three, and this is what should be debated in Parliament and straightened out. Instead we seem to have a load of shouty nonsense on all sides. There’s a job to do, and scoping the target/destination would be a good start. The time for hollering “we want it all” is long past IMO. Which two of the three elements matters to us the most? We don’t seem to have an answer for that in London


      1. Slapping some heads together would be nice 🙂 I’d almost be prepared to propose a second referendum, along the lines of:

        You The People told us you wanted out of the EU. Given the three issues, of

        * sovereignty (determination of life in Britain in Westminster not Brussels
        * preserving our economy by retaining the Signle Market/Customs union
        * control of our borders and immigration

        tick the two out of the three that are most important to you and you would like us to prioritise in navigating our way to a solution.

        Once upon a time the principles of representative democracy meant this would be debated in Parliament, but our current lot don’t seem to be able to deliver the goods. And yes, as a Remainer there is a temptation to add another box called ‘none of the above I want to remain’ but let’s not stir up that hornet’s nest 😉


  2. Dreadful negotiators – no street smarts. Would fail miserably in business. Always appears to be a prerequisite that to be a leading politician, one must be a plonker. Pity Farage isn`t in charge.


  3. Please, whatever direction this Brexit thing goes, don’t describe the EU as “the Enemy”. EU may need reforms, the Euro certainly has difficulties, but the EU is most certainly not your “enemy”.
    Ermine, I realize those were not your words, but using words like “enemy” to describe inter-european relations is just so offputting. We ought to be beyond that….
    And yes, UK leaders should get a grip. It is difficult to negotiate a course if don’t have a destination…


    1. You are absolutely right, for the sake of clarity: I didn’t mean that the EU is the enemy, and for most Brexiters I don’t believe they perceive the EU as the enemy. I hope not, anyway. The book is where parallel is drawn with persistent errors of judgement in a military context.


  4. The whole Brexit thing has been laughably shambolic. Even by modern standards our politicians are beyond awful. It’s as if they are so massively aware of the plebs’ disengagement with politics that they don’t even feel the need to pretend to give a **** any more. I predict a collapse of the present government and another referendum on Brexit. Project Fear will make sure it gets it right this time. I suspect bad times are ahead. I hope i’m wrong. Just took a look at the streets of my youth in Swansea on Google Street View. A once upper-working class area with tidy fronts, planters etc. Now it looks like Beirut. Most people have just given up. Thatcher’s ‘no society’ has come to fruition.


    1. I have the same feeling when I look back at the places I grew up and first worked, and they are in southeast London and west London! I can’t work out if this is because over my 30 years of working I have gotten used to the good life and become much more choosy, whether the places really went downhill, or there is some variant of the childhood summers effect of forgetting the years it rained all the time.


      1. I suspect it is the second. I see a lot of places looking run-down that formerly looked pretty decent. I think a lot of the local authority-type work got contracted out to save money long-term which is why you see the pavements in such a state with weeds, litter, bi-monthly rubbish collection etc. Having worked for a private national grounds maintenance company it is easy to see what that inevitably would lead to.


      2. The effect in South London is very localised, some places that were rundown when I first lived there have become very trendy and expensive


  5. FWIW, I believe those involved are doing the best they can in an extremely difficult negotiation and I do not envy them because a lot of educated people who should have accepted the referendum decision last June are doing everything possible to put a spanner in the works at every opportunity and do their utmost to make sure Brexit does not happen.

    Of course, the job was not helped by a reduced majority after the election but when a democratic decision has been made, I think it would be more helpful to the country as a whole for everyone to pull in the same direction otherwise it is inevitable the EU negotiators will seek to exploit our divisions.


    1. Sooner or later the direction has to be set though – save sovereignty and the economy (Norway), save sovereignty and border control – crash out aka hard Brexit or save economy and border control which means some form of the ECJ and some acceptance of EU rules and ECJ. at the moment it’s simply a three-way tug of war in London.

      That can’t be blamed on a fifth column of Remainers, there seems to be a fundamental lack of grasp that at best two of these three goals are possible, and without that direction-setting is impossible. Without knowing what one wants it’s pretty tough to know what to hold and what to fold in the negotiations.


    2. DIY, Damned right, those that are trying to derail it are hero’s. Those 16 torys that were on the front page of the telegraph have my complete respect for standing up for what the believe is right for the country. You talk about democracy but I wonder if the leavers lost by 2% would Mr Farage get behind the country and support the status quo of remain! Of course he would not and nor will any remainer who believes that the country is making a terrible mistake. The referendum was a joke, not enough information, and as Richard Dawkins intimates the voters were and still are too thick to vote on such a complex subject.


      1. Yes, shame about that and illustrated the point somewhat.

        I work college of mine had a good suggestion, which was, you can either vote for X factor or a referendum but not both.

        Wish I could post graphics here. But if you have 10 seconds toddle off and look at:


        In a nutshell, brexit was won by the old, thick and poor – its a fact.

        p.s. I like your blog.


      2. For a while now I’ve been searching for a common denominator in all those negative motivations …..& I think at the root, it’s simply ignorance.


    3. “a lot of educated people who should have accepted the referendum decision last June are doing everything possible to put a spanner in the works at every opportunity and do their utmost to make sure Brexit does not happen”

      If groups that support Brexit had lost the referendum would they have quietly accepted the result – errr, no


  6. I often wonder if anyone in political power has ever heard of a Solution Effect diagram – looking at the effect a major decision will have on people, industry, the environment, the economy…whatever.
    We are going to have a major cock-up in Canada if our largest trading partner decides to punt NAFTA – and we are skilled trade negotiators, but seemingly helpless to prevent it.


    1. I fear that you’re up against the 600lb gorilla there 😦 At least you haven’t got an own goal. Over here we have an elected minister declaring that people in this country have had enough of experts,firstly because the blighters keep telling us stuff we don’t want to hear, and secondly because they screw up occasionally. At least the normally Brexit tubthumping Telegraph was able to rustle up some irony in the op-ed.

      Good luck with Mr T. Not that one, sadly – you could sort of reason with him…


  7. Apparently, WWI devastated the aristocracy in the UK because the cream of their youth rode off in search of adventure to cover themselves in glory as their class had always done – but they had no way of knowing the odds on surviving had radically altered. Perhaps this political catastrophe the etonian brigade are subjecting the country to now, will destroy them similarly by rendering them unelectable for living memory.

    As for remainers being hectored to move on, by all means if the brexiters wanted sovereignty at the cost of their own impoverishment, that’s their democratic right to get it. However, it is not their right to destroy the lives of the other half of the population – as much as they struggle with the concept of reality, that too is an inescapable fact.

    If the current negotiators manage to stay the course, the UK will most likely end up another vassal state of the US …..& see how that turned out for Puerto Rico, another impoverished small island off their coast.


  8. I agree with Mervyn Davies, who said that we’re having a nervous breakdown as a nation, with only the far right and the far left having a voice. The state of affairs is positively psychotic.


  9. The original stupidity was Cameron’s decision to have the referendum. Inevitably an extremely complicated issue got reduced to a vote against the status quo.

    My belief is that the current generations in the UK (and the West in general) have little sense of seriousness. The previous generations experienced WWI and II, life and death, national survival in the balance, the Great Depression. Those experiences forged an adult outlook on life and a keen sense of priorities. The long period of peace and prosperity since WWII has been great but has bred complacency and a lack of appreciation of how nasty the world can be. Travel in Asia these days and it is ominous to see the rise of the Chinese. They are hard headed and ruthless. We won’t stand a chance if we continue on the way we are.


    1. I think the problem with the 52% is that they have no experience of how shit being a poor country really is. They go around talking about sovereignty, national pride, not wanting to be told what to do by some foreigners somewhere…. It’s almost as if they don’t understand that *everybody* is a proud people, when they can afford to be.


  10. I found this BBC article quite interesting -> http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-15390884

    Gives more of a ‘long-view’ of the whole issue. I was interested to see that members from all parties have had a crack at calling an EU referendum, albeit Cameron was the one that eventually succeeded!

    As for ” Travel in Asia these days and it is ominous to see the rise of the Chinese. They are hard headed and ruthless…”

    What is also true of current generations is that casual racism is deemed less acceptable. That’s probably a good thing?


  11. I’m struck by the observation that were the referendum held today it would probably go the other way, as a sizeable number brexiters are by now 6ft under.


    1. Yes but an equal number of youngsters have become oldsters in the meantime… so if young=remain & old=brexit, the balance is unchanged.


      1. From a stats nerd POV surely more oldsters cash in their chips than enter old fogeydom say @40 since you’re more likely to peg it at 60 than 40? Plus there’s the population pyramid thing and the large cohort of baby boomers who are reaching the danger point…


      2. But are you more likely to peg it at 60 than to turn 41 after you reach 40? That’s the comparison.
        The baby boom observation is right of course, that’s why it’s called that. But my point is that it’s too simplistic to think that oldies die off where youngsters stay young.
        Not to mention simplistic to imaging that old=leave/young=remain, says I who am so strongly remain at 66 years old that I moved to France last year.


      3. You’re assuming people become brexiters as they age rather than keeping more or less the same political disposition, no? I don’t think that holds. There’s an obvious correlation with age at the time of the referendum and that’s all. Also while the oldest are expiring and everyone is aging, young people who were too young in 2016 are reaching voting age. There’s nothing “wrong” with age correlated political views (obviously) but there is something wrong with a single snap-referendum with generational impact being held as the only source of truth – will of the people etc.


  12. Sometimes I think it’s a little like The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, in which they find out the answer to life, the universe, and everything is 42. Like our 52-48 referendum, it’s not very illuminating because no one really understands what the question was. In THGTTG the mice realise they need to create an even bigger computer (the Earth) to understand what the question was. Of course, just when the Earth is about to reveal all, it gets bulldozed to make way for an intergalactic highway.

    Personally I think we need another referendum to decide on the outcome of Brexit, But we need a pre-referendum to the post-referendum to decide what the question should be. Should it be a choice between the negotiated deal and staying in the EU, or should it be a choice between the negotiated deal and a hard ‘no-deal’ Brexit? And while we’re at it, let’s throw in some other referendums for a laugh, because why not?

    Or, you know, we could just stop all this madness and pretend it all never happened. That would be the optimal response I think.


    1. Far out in the uncharted backwaters of the unfashionable end of
      the western spiral arm of the Galaxy lies a small unregarded
      yellow sun.

      Orbiting this at a distance of roughly ninety-two million miles
      is an utterly insignificant little blue green planet whose ape-
      descended life forms are so amazingly primitive that they still
      think digital watches are a pretty neat idea.

      This planet has – or rather had – a problem, which was this: most
      of the people living on it were unhappy for pretty much of the time.
      Many solutions were suggested for this problem, but most of these
      were largely concerned with the movements of small green pieces
      of paper, which is odd because on the whole it wasn’t the small
      green pieces of paper that were unhappy.

      And so the problem remained; lots of the people were mean, and
      most of them were miserable, even the ones with digital watches.


  13. If you came this way,
    Taking the route you would be likely to take
    From the place you would be likely to come from,
    If you came this way in May time, you would find the hedges
    White again, in May, with voluptuary sweetness.
    It would be the same at the end of the journey,
    If you came at night like a broken king,
    If you came by day not knowing what you came for,
    It would be the same, when you leave the rough road
    And turn behind the pig-sty to the dull facade
    And the tombstone. And what you thought you came for
    Is only a shell, a husk of meaning
    From which the purpose breaks only when it is fulfilled
    If at all. Either you had no purpose
    Or the purpose is beyond the end you figured
    And is altered in fulfilment. There are other places
    Which also are the world’s end, some at the sea jaws,
    Or over a dark lake, in a desert or a city—
    But this is the nearest, in place and time,
    Now and in England.


  14. Another favourite! I was re reading it only last week..

    We shall not cease from exploration
    And the end of all our exploring
    Will be to arrive where we started
    And know the place for the first time.


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