Britain’s troubles will be fixed outside the conference halls
24 September 2018 07:00
As DRUGSTORE CULTURE approaches the end of its first week as a digital platform, we would like to thank very warmly all those who have contributed, commented on social media, and contacted us with ideas, constructive advice and words of support. That is exactly what we had in mind when we said that a modern magazine should be a ‘community’ – and this is only the beginning.
On our launch day, we promised to be optimistic, and that is a pledge we shall stick to. But there is a difference between optimism and naiveté. Watching Theresa May’s humiliation at the EU Summit in Salzburg and the flailing performance of Jeremy Corbyn on the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show yesterday morning, we are reminded of Barack Obama’s mantra: that just as the issues got big, politics got small.
It is no exaggeration to say that mainstream representative democracy in Britain is in crisis. Trust in politicians has been eroded, sequentially, by sleaze in the Nineties, spin in the New Labour era, the Iraq WMD debacle, the parliamentary expenses scandal, the failure of the governing class to foresee the 2008 Crash, and – most recently – the growing evidence that the electorate was systematically lied to in the 2016 EU referendum.
Who now seriously believes that Brexit would deliver a weekly dividend of £350 million? The more pressing question in 2018 is whether hospitals would be able to preserve their supply chains of medication, blood and other essentials if no deal is achieved between the UK and Brussels.
The Conservative Government – propped up only by the Democratic Unionist Party, whose support has been bought with taxpayers’ money – increasingly recalls Disraeli’s description of Gladstone’s Cabinet in 1872 as a ‘range of exhausted volcanoes’.
It has no resilient plan for Britain’s departure from the EU, oscillating between pointless defence of the dead Chequers deal and vague hints that there might be a compromise resembling Canada’s relationship with the EU. It is a scandal that we are so close to the nominal date of departure – March 29 – and that so little has been decided.
Asked by Marr what the Government’s next steps might be, Dominic Raab, the Brexit Secretary, was unpersuasive in his bid to present the diplomatic motorway pile-up as no more than a ‘bump in the road’. Like Jeremy Hunt, the Foreign Secretary, he took issue with the EU’s dismissive manner – which he compared to David Walliams’s catchphrase ‘Computer says no’. Alas, this evocation of Little Britain was an unfortunate reminder of just how little we have indeed become.
The spectacle of May, humiliated and excluded at Salzburg, was not only an ignominious moment for her. It was a bleak memento mori, an omen of what might lie ahead for Britain if swift action is not taken to avert the disaster of a bad-deal or no-deal Brexit.
Our first editorial backed a People’s Vote, which we regard not only as a moral imperative but also a patriotic necessity for Britons in a world of global interdependence. It is good to see Labour edging towards a similar position – though Corbyn’s support is equivocal and depends upon party members being given a meaningful composite motion in Liverpool to vote upon. It would be all too easy – and thoroughly in character – for the Labour leader to equivocate and stop short of embracing a proposal that could, at a stroke, bring British politics into fizzing life.
As the mainstream parties dither, there is also a risk of fatuous fragmentation and disaggregation. According to the Sunday Telegraph, Jeremy Hosking, a City financier and prominent Leave supporter, has threatened to subsidise a breakaway Brexit party if the PM fails to respect what he regards as the mandate of the 2016 referendum.
Meanwhile, all the talk of a glorious new centre party conspicuously sidesteps the most basic questions it poses. How would such a group avoid looking like the liberal elite on strike, demanding its job back as the default governing force? What, beyond opposition to Brexit, would unite the supposed defectors from other parties? How would the new grouping establish grassroots support and amount to more than a Westminster clique with lots of money and too much time on its hands?
This is why DRUGSTORE CULTURE shall focus at least as much upon grassroots politics as upon the sorry bearpit of Westminster. At ground level, there is a spirited mobilisation of issue-based campaigning, driven by the happy convergence of civic activism and digital power: groups inspired by the #MeToo movement, the spread of Black Lives Matter across the Atlantic, the remarkable work of the pro-EU campaigns Our Future, Our Choice and FFS (For Our Future’s Sake), and countless other social enterprises that incarnate the difference between British politics and Westminster.
The latter is in a terrible state. The former is vibrant and rising. The question is how and where the two may meet and collaborate for the common good.
We shall, of course, keep an eye on the main party conferences. But we do not expect many answers to the great dilemmas Britain is facing to issue from the sweaty halls of Liverpool and Birmingham. For that, in a spirit of confidence and hope, we will look further afield.