What Liberal Britain Needs: A Blank Manifesto and a Can-Do Attitude

boats
Alas, neither boat sank.

The heading above is not (just) me being sarcastic, it is essentially what Janan Ganesh is arguing for in the Irish Times. More specifically, according to the Financial Times mainstay, what Liberal Britain needs is a ‘single-issue anti-Brexit party.’ I had never heard of Ganesh before today but the simple fact that he describes himself as a ‘Portillista‘ provides more than enough evidence for me to state, with some degree of confidence, that Janan Ganesh is the worst person who has ever lived, including Michael Portillo.

So what does this young man who, as a teenager, almost certainly had posters of Margaret Thatcher on his bedroom wall, have to say about the current crisis in which the liberal centre finds itself?

When commentators, financial markets and betting exchanges fail to predict the course of political events, it can be fruitful to consult less obvious sources of wisdom.

Actually when commentators, institutions etc. consistently fail to predict the course of political events it’s probably time for them to fundamentally reconsider their underlying ideas, beliefs and assumptions. Alternatively, they can become a newspaper columnist and continue being wrong until time stops. Personally, I would prefer the latter. Otherwise there would be no point in this blog’s continued existence. Ganesh posits a third option.

Interested hobbyists from other lines of work can be illuminating because of, not despite, their distance from the action.

This is quite a sensible statement. What the previous period has shown is that the London-centered bubble of the media commentariat is far removed from the realities of British society. Something as simple as a conversation with a taxi-driver or a checkout assistant could be genuinely eye-opening for someone like Ganesh.

The most useful insight into politics I have heard this year did not come from a practitioner or analyst but a conversation with the creator of an American television comedy that most readers will have seen.

Now here’s a man with his finger on the pulse. Also, fair fucks to Ganesh for successfully name-dropping without actually mentioning any names.

And it pertains to the question that arises whenever politically active Britons of a liberal bent convene and the pleasantries are out of the way.

‘What’s your favourite episode of the West Wing?’

What chance of a new movement – one that cuts a path between the rampant right and left?

Er, you mean the Lib-dems? On a side note, there’s a lot of cognitive dissonance at play when you can simultaneously describe yourself as a ‘Portillista’ *vomits into a kettle* and also not regard yourself as being on the right. Maybe he’s specifically referring to the ‘rampant’ right, who are more ‘rampant’ than the Portillistas? I digress.

The entertainer, who is sympathetic to the idea, and wise to what it takes to earn a mass audience, has a theory. No new movement can amount to much unless it is defined by an individual personality or a single proposition. As soon as it aspires to breadth, it will start to lose supporters and momentum. That phase must be put off until the project has enough life of its own to withstand the fractures.

But what proposition? What individual personality? And if the answer to the latter is a British Macron then you’re a complete idiot who needs to stand in the corner and have a long, hard think about the decisions you’ve made in life.

Emmanuel Macron’s election as president of France was the ultimate example in recent years of personal force as the way to a new political order.

If I didn’t know any better I’d swear Ganesh hadn’t read this blog. Putting aside this absurd notion, I would direct him to the fact that the Jupiterian Sun-King’s popularity continues to plummet, a sign that having disastrous and unpopular austerity policies imposed by a telegenic narcissist may not be much of a way to establish a ‘new political order’ (by which young Janan means the existing economic order).

On the sound assumption that Britain has no immediate equivalent of him [Thank Christ – TPM], the prospects of a similar change in our politics hinge on the second model. The one-issue movement.

Here we go.

A new political grouping has been in fitful gestation since Britain voted to leave the EU.

I too am excited about the resurgence of Cornish nationalism.

Uncomfortable in their own parties, a few Conservative and Labour politicians have probed the idea in discrete settings. Donors are primed with start-up capital. Tony Blair has improvised a role as a curator of these forces, and at times as their frontman.

So, the basis for this new centrist movement is a bunch of unpopular MPs, Lord Sainsbury and one of the most hated public figures in the United Kingdom? Leaving aside these small issues, what evidence do you have that there is any political appetite for this putative movement outside of the Financial Times staff-room?

An electorate that has withheld a decisive win from any party since his own days as prime minister is plainly open to some disruptive entrant to the market. If it shows promise, Liberal Democrat MPs might subsume themselves into it rather than stagger on as a futile dozen.

Is it? What exactly is it about the significant increase in votes among both main parties to the disadvantage of the smaller parties that suggests any desire for a new political force? Moreover, how does Ganesh not see any contradiction between suggesting that there is an appetite for a centrist, anti-Brexit party while referring to the actually existing centrist, anti-Brexit party as a ‘futile dozen’?

For all this, the breakthrough never comes – and not because Britain’s first-past-the-post voting system stymies the new. The project never gets that far.

Yes, for much the same reasons that ‘Krugmania’, my proposed wrestling tribute to the economist Paul Krugman, never secured any support; they’re both stupid ideas.

The trouble begins earlier. To avoid caricature as pro-European monomaniacs, and to let their restless energies roam, the people involved aspire to stand for something broad: political moderation in an age of extremes.

Jesus Christ, this is a fucking Carl Digger tweet.

This requires them to have policies, or at least first principles, across the full spectrum of government business. But each time a putative party settles its view on, say, fiscal policy or healthcare, it will alienate some of its original and potential supporters. It also loses definition.

Yeah, that’s the problem with political parties; the ‘politics’ bit.

Before the project has a single achievement to its name, it is bogged down in matters of internal theology. It becomes a paradox: a fissiparous political party with no MPs.

Or policies, or support, or membership.

“The moment you decide,” Blair writes in his memoirs, “you divide”.

Like when Blair invaded Iraq and divided loads of Iraqis from their internal organs.

He might not know how right he was. To avoid dividing into smithereens, the new movement he wants to midwife into existence must reduce its decisions to just the one. It must be an anti-Brexit force and, at least for a while, nothing else.

And how the hell is that going to work?

People could join without having to air their views on other subjects, much less reconcile them with those of other members. There would be no manifesto to honour or breach, no vaporous commitment to “new politics” or “radical thinking”, just a single cause of extreme salience. It is possible to overrate the importance of ideas in politics.

Only a man with no ideas whatsoever could downplay the importance of ideas in politics. So what Liberal Britain needs then is a single-issue party with no policies aside from overturning the ‘leave’ vote, something which is unlikely to happen for years, if at all? These people who join without having to air their views on other subjects, what happens when they finally actually have to take positions and agree on policies? Do they just suddenly stop having opinions about things besides Brexit and come together in mindless unity?

The problem is too much substance, not too little.

The fact that Ganesh can write this sentence and intentionally publish it without being overwhelmed with shame and self-loathing says everything you need to know about him.

A broad political party would struggle to even describe itself. “Centrist” means less and less when a single voter can have a dog’s breakfast of left and rightwing instincts. “Liberal” would alienate big-state social democrats. “Progressive”, a word that rather assumes unanimity on the ideal destination for society, is even worse. “Anti-Brexit”, on the other hand, is unmistakable. Even voters who despise the new outfit would understand the point of it.

Are you sure? I mean, I despise this entirely hypothetical outfit and yet can’t really understand the point of it. Then again, even people kindly disposed to a movement against Brexit would probably be equally perplexed. Sooner or later this conversation will happen:

Ganesh: Hello there my good man, how do you feel about Brexit?

Remain voter: Not too good to be honest, I was very strongly in favour of remaining in the European Union.

Ganesh: Have you thought about joining an anti-Brexit political party?

Remain voter: Oh, like Labour?

Ganesh: NO! NO! I mean a party that want a new referendum as soon as possible. Or even to just ignore the result entirely.

Remain voter: Oh, like the Lib-Dems?

Ganesh: NO YOU IDIOT! NOT THEM! *Ahem* I mean, would you consider joining a brand-new anti-Brexit political movement?

Remain voter: Er, maybe, I guess? What are its policies on things besides Brexit?

Ganesh: *stares vacantly*

Remain voter: You alright mate?

Ganesh: *runs away*

Remain voter: What a strange man. I hope nobody ever gives him and his half-baked opinions a platform in a reputable international newspaper.

This is probably one of the most deluded things I’ve ever read, and I follow The Flat Earth Society and Louise Mensch on twitter. The fact is that most remainers accept the result and only a hardcore minority wish to go against the democratic wishes of the population. Moreover, the electorate has moved on. The question isn’t whether or not to accept the result, but what kind of place post-Brexit Britain is going to be.

This then, is how low ‘Liberal Britain’ has sunk. In diagnosing what liberal, centrist Britain ‘needs’, Ganesh argues for a party with no ideas or policies that refrains from using the words ‘centrist’ or ‘liberal’ to describe itself.

How low the mighty have fallen.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s