It is fitting that an enterprise as squalid as the European Union should find in its rescuers the very scum of democratic politics. If you occasionally hear it being said by hippies, or the particularly weak-minded, that the EU is born of noble and majestic intentions, then this claim grows only ever more wistful. Just look at the wretchedness – the sheer good-for-nothingness – of those from within British politics who the EU has lately enlisted as its champions and saviours. There is naturally not a traceable drop of heroism in their story.
A new class of politician has arisen over the last few months, an apparently minor subcategory of the political class but one that has bent itself to scotching Brexit. Between them, these Brexit-breakers have hatched at least six different amendments to the executive’s Withdrawal Agreement. Yet the distinguishing characteristic of these politicians is that they no longer belong anywhere within contemporary politics.
They have no honest mandate from the people and indeed many of them look likely to lose their seats at the next election. Neither are they any more at home in the hierarchies of their political parties. They are so detached from all about them as to resemble a think tank or a quango or a panel of rogue civil servants. In this respect, they form the ultimate streamlined Euro class, with little now remaining to distract them from their allegiance to Brussels.
For the Conservatives, we have Anna Soubry, Dominic Grieve, Nicky Morgan, Sarah Wollaston, Nick Boles and Justin Greening. For Labour, there is Hilary Benn, Yvette Cooper, and Chuka Umunna. They were all previously careerists who had thrived within a corporate political system that rewards mindlessly parroting whatever jargon a suitably presidential superior comes out with. Now that their careers have faltered, it is often posited that their true colours continue to shine bravely through for centrism and technocracy. One would think, from how these politicians are routinely described in the media, that they have honourably refused to serve under Jeremy Corbyn or Theresa May, sacrificing their own careers for their centrist principles.
In truth, all of these politicians were too inept to ride the populist tiger and they were all thrown off. Benn and Cooper have tried to sit Corbyn out but, to their dismay, he has survived successive tests to his leadership. The calculation amongst Conservative leadership hopefuls such as Morgan and Greening is still that the parliamentary Tory party will cook a future contest to ensure that only centrists such as themselves are left on the ballot.
Both Labour and the Conservatives had secured a mandate at the last election to leave all of the chief institutions of the European Union. The Anti-Democrats have now chosen to ignore these manifesto commitments – in many instances, their original tickets of entry to parliament – even as they harp on with every breath about protecting parliament’s sovereign rights. Moreover, they can produce no reliable alternative mandate from anywhere to negate the promises that were issued over their heads, to thousands of Labour or Conservative voters on their behalf.
In Broxtowe (52.5% Leave), a recent deselection threat forced Anna Soubry to write to her constituents reminding them that “in the run up to last year’s General Election I made it clear that if I were re-elected, I would continue to make the case for the Customs Union and the Single Market.” She won’t resign the Tory whip, and fight a by-election as an independent, even as she continues to defy her own government’s manifesto on these prime economic questions. She can justify this stance only by downplaying the importance of manifestos. She ideally desires to render the whole concept of a promise to the voters meaningless.
According to Soubry, the voters in her constituency are expected to tune out of national politics completely, ignoring the stream of messages that are generated by her party and its leader, and to instead focus exclusively on her, as though she was a local dictator. Manifestos are junk anyway, she sings, and they always have been. Alighting on one widely disregarded Conservative manifesto promise, she argues that “a number of my Conservative MP colleagues are openly opposed to HS2 and were elected on that basis to Parliament.”
This phasing out of manifestos comes straight from the EU playbook of evading political responsibility. If the Tory leader promises on television that the UK will leave the Single Market and electors in Broxtowe vote for their local Tory MP, one Miss Soubry, who duly does everything to keep the country in it, well this blurring of the mandate is synonymous with how commands from the public are regularly mislaid between Westminster and Brussels. If the voters in Italy issue one command, and the electorate in Germany another, then the pooling of sovereignty usually means that whichever is the most difficult for the political elite is necessarily horsetraded out of existence. This is how the system works and this is why it has been designed.
Alternatively, one might assess Soubry to be simply a flea who has dishonestly sold herself to the public as being a part of the dog. The last election had offered Broxtowe’s voters a pointless choice between Soubry, a Remainer, and the Remain-supporting Labour candidate. The more than half of Soubry’s constituents who had backed Brexit were thus eliminated from the reckoning. Perhaps conscious of the blatancy of this, Soubry had in her harangue to her constituents made sure to cover any neglected bases by pointing out that, “I voted to trigger Article 50 which means we will be leaving the EU in March 2019.”
It is much the same picture in Dominic Grieve’s Beaconsfield constituency (50.7% Leave), where the local Conservative party is currently so demoralised that around 40% of its activists have failed to renew their membership. There is now a petition to unseat Grieve. Another energetic Anti-Democrat, Nick Boles, is reconciled to his deselection in Grantham and Stamford (61% Leave).
The blow being dealt to these Anti-Democrats is, however, a double one. At home, in their constituencies, they appear to be running out of political ground to stand on; at Westminster, they are unlikely to be invited back into the government or shadow cabinets any time soon (all of them are former ministers). The work and pensions secretary Amber Rudd is alone in still having some ministerial road ahead of her, though in her own constituency of Hastings and Rye (56% Leave) she has a majority of fewer than four hundred.
The Anti-Democrats have gambled on technocracy. Their calculation is that the public will eventually return to them, chastened by Brexit and grateful that there are still some unsullied centrist politicians to be had. As with those Labour MPs who are waiting for Corbyn to fail, or for the SNP to depart Scotland, they could be waiting a long time. ICM sprung a poll on the world earlier in the week that put leaving the EU without a deal as the public’s most popular option (albeit on only 28% support). By two to one, the respondents in a recent ComRes poll agreed with the statement that, “Theresa May is right to warn that if Brexit is stopped it will cause a catastrophic and unforgivable breach of trust in our democracy.”
If technocracy never dawns again, the Anti-Democrats’ hope appears to be that they can break Brexit so absolutely that successive politicians will be unable to fix it. At this moment in the UK’s politics, the Anti-Democrats can either fade out of political existence altogether or they can make history the only way that is left open to them, by embracing the thwarting of Brexit. If they have no active mandate to do this, they do not sound very keen to stand before their electors again and seek retrospective approval. In the end, they will probably resign their seats and scamper ingloriously away.
Politeness or misplaced delicacy should not hinder us from questioning whether or not there is any enduring careerist element to the Anti-Democrats’ actions. Were the UK ever to be restored to the EU, there would be openings available to politicians-for-hire with a track record of public commitment to Brussels. These positions would be, as they always are, far more lucrative and comfortable than outgoing bigwigs can expect in the penny-pinching arena of national politics. The EU has in the past recruited homeless politicians such as Peter Mandelson and Neil Kinnock, who were all the more loyal to Brussels because they had been rejected by their domestic electorates. Both Tony Blair and Nick Clegg, politically unemployable at home, have been likewise so obviously wishing on the star of Brussels.
If you do the EU a favour, the EU may one day do you a favour. These Anti-Democrats may be set upon blowing themselves up along with Brexit, in the ultimate self-sacrifice, but a delectable afterlife awaits them. A sumptuous garden of buffets and plush carpets, where the faithful can cavort in soulless concrete palaces in the company of seventy-two voluptuous commissioners.