Friday, October 13, 2017

Politics has gone strange

This week has witnessed some strange goings-on in British politics. Brexit is, of course, dominating the political agenda for the UK government. Rivalries, splits and dissatisfaction have come out into the open and the Prime Minister seems to have held on to her job primarily because no-one really wants to contemplate the alternative.

For the first time that I can remember, supporters of Brexit on the right of politics started openly talking about the need for government spending to increase to prepare for a possible hard Brexit or even no deal. This was noteworthy for two reasons:

(a) Brexit was portrayed by its advocates as financially beneficial to the UK during the referendum and its aftermath. We know the £350 million per week was bogus, but there has been a continued narrative that Brexit would be good for Britain. However, it was already starting to look costly, as the devaluation of the pound had its impact on the costs of procurement for the NHS and the MoD. Now there is an admission that it will cost.

(b) Those on the political right are not usually very keen on increasing public spending. Indeed they are usually looking for cuts in spending to fund tax cuts. But in this case, even people like John Redwood were ready to spend big, and complaining that Hammond wasn't.

Meanwhile the Chancellor of the Exchequer was sticking to the cautious Treasury financial forecasts and stated his reluctance to spend on resources that shouldn't be necessary, were a tariff-free deal successfully negotiated.

This had a remarkable effect. The right-wing Brexit supporting tabloid press and the right of the Conservative party openly criticised their own Chancellor of the Exchequer for not being prepared to spend more public money. This was fuelled, of course, by the fact the Hammond was a strong supporter of remaining in the EU in the referendum, and they suspect he's still wanting to be a saboteur. For those of us who are not Conservatives, it's a bewildering and extraordinary spectacle.

It's obviously left Mr Hammond somewhat rattled. He's reported today as referring to EU negotiators as "the enemy", but later tweeted that it was a poor choice of words and was much more conciliatory.

None of this has been very edifying, and the clock continues to tick towards March 2019. As I have openly said all along, I would much prefer that we stayed in the EU, and that is what I would vote for again, given the opportunity. However, if we must leave, then chaos helps no-one. The poorest and most vulnerable members of our society need the best deal we can get in the circumstances, for they will pay the price if it all goes badly wrong. The signs are not promising. I hope I'm mistaken.

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