Week in Review: The endless attempt to escape David Cameron

He was everywhere. A week of David Cameron, for breakfast, lunch and dinner. It was like Being John Malkovich, but everyone has a face made of spam.

You put on the TV, he beams out. You open a paper, he's gazing from within, slightly shattered, confused, yearning for your reappraisal. He's on podcasts and radio news programmes and morning TV sofas.

Maybe he'll never go away. The silence of the last three years clearly created some kind of uncontainable gaseous build-up in him and now he must talk forever, seemingly contrite but incapable of introspection.

Is there really a commercial basis for this? A lot of money is presumably being spent on promotion, both by his publishers and the media conducting the interviews. Are there really enough people out there who urgently want to buy a hardback by Cameron about how he was a decent guy really? Are we really that depraved as a nation?

And what did we actually get out of this endless series of tell-alls? That he's "sorry" about what happened and "there isn't a day that goes by when I don't think about all the decisions I made and all that has followed". Yes well, welcome to the club. That unfortunately applies to everyone. We're all in the same dreary political hell-hole. The fact that he, like us, has to live in it too is frankly of little reassurance.

But even with all that, he still insisted he had been right to call for an EU referendum, because it had become "inevitable". This is false. A year before the referendum, just 13% of voters thought the EU was the most important issue facing Britain. A year after the referendum, it was 42%. That's not what inevitability looks like. The real reason Cameron held the referendum was to sabotage Ukip's prospects ahead of upcoming local elections, which are now long forgotten.

If you wanted to be really generous - and there is honestly no reason to be - you could believe that he did it to address the schism on the right of British politics which existed since Maastricht. Even that wouldn't be tolerable - why should we all have to deal with their neurosis? - but it is marginally more respectable.

But even on this more limited basis he failed utterly. The Brexit Party, Ukip's little alien seedling, now haunts the current Tory prime minister as much as its predecessor haunted him. And a substantial section of the British right has gone functionally insane as a result of the referendum. YouGov found that Conservative party members would be willing to dismantle the UK, smash the economy and destroy their own party if it achieved Brexit. That's called radicalism. And generally speaking it is not a sign of success.

His contribution on austerity was particularly ghastly. "We probably didn't cut enough," he said. "Those who were opposed to austerity were going to be opposed — and pretty hysterically — to whatever we did."

Yes, they were hysterical. And for good reason. They were forced to watch economic growth being pointlessly constricted, across the world, by imbecilic government policies which killed demand just when it was needed most.

It ripped the heart out of Britain. The cuts were focused on local councils. It was services and benefits which went. Britain became colder, harder and meaner. A worse place to live.

This was not done to deal with a crisis. Britain's debt-to-GDP ratio was not particularly alarming. It was temporarily elevated as a result of automatic fiscal stabilisers activating during the financial crash. That is how the system is supposed to work - borrow to keep the economy chugging along during bad times, pay it back during the good times.

The crisis Cameron and George Osborne invented to justify austerity was a future one in the bond market. They claimed that if the debt levels continued to rise, investors would flee, credit rating agencies would devalue Britain, interest rates would rise, and the country would enter an unsustainable death-spiral.

With grotesque irony, they pointed at the chaos in Greece as an example. But it was austerity, imposed by the Troika, which was destroying Greece. And it was their austerity which would also punish Britain.

And yet there he was, on jovial TV sofas, showing no contrition whatsoever. First Cameron imposed the right-wing shock therapy of austerity. And then he imposed the right-wing culture war of a Brexit referendum. By the time he was done, the country had been torn to pieces. And we're still there, in pieces, unrepaired. Pieces is all we know. We got the hell kicked out of us in Cameron's meaningless little horror show and the emergency services have still not arrived.

What was it all for? Some grand vision? Some sort of Hayekian anarcho-capitalist disco? A final battle between nativism and multiculturalism? It would be nice to think that the current problems at least had some meaning, some overall narrative about the great clash of ideas. Even under Margaret Thatcher, you at least had that to cling onto.

But that was not the reality. It was just a series of nakedly cynical short-term political calculations. Cameron promised to match Labour spending, until he didn't think it beneficial and turned fiscal hawk. He promised to get the Tory party to stop "banging on" about Europe, until that wasn't useful either and he announced a referendum. He was green until he wasn't. He was liberal except not really. He was relaxed about immigration but against it. He loved multiculturalism but insisted it had failed. There was simply nothing there. None of it meant anything. He was a tactic where a strategy should be.

That's partly why this week's incessant chirping from him has been so tiresome. It's like trying to get your calorie intake through eating wallpaper.

So, fine. He's written a book in his tasteless little shed. Well done. Let's hope it sells badly - not out of spite, but so we can retain a sense of hope about the taste of our fellow countrymen. And then - finally, mercifully - let's hope he goes away forever.

Ian Dunt is editor of Politics.co.uk and the author of Brexit: What The Hell Happens Now?

The opinions in Politics.co.uk's Comment and Analysis section are those of the author and are no reflection of the views of the website or its owners.

Corbyn is offering Remainers a shot at what they want - they should take it

You get as much from Jeremy Corbyn's tone as you do from what he says. When it's an issue he cares about, like austerity or foreign policy, his expressions clench up into a little face-fist and he hammers away with no moral equivocation. When it isn't, you get this passive, restless approach, like a child being dragged around the shops to pick a school uniform.

You could practically smell that lack of interest today in his latest update to Labour's ever-evolving Brexit policy via an op-ed in the Guardian. But, if you could get to the end of it - it's not a gripping read - you'd have a pretty good idea of what Labour's plan is for the election campaign.

If Labour wins, they'll negotiate a softer Brexit, then hold a referendum on it. Corbyn himself will stay neutral in that referendum. He doesn't say that last part outright. As usual, and in a way which - it bears repeating - is quite profoundly tiresome, you have to deduce what the Labour leader will do by what he doesn't say rather than what he does. But that seems the clear message.

For Labour Remainers it's a disaster. And they're right to be outraged. Labour is a Remain party going through the most seismic moment in British history with deep threats to the lives of the worst off. And yet their leadership has been largely missing in action.

But if you're a Remainer outside of Labour, it's not actually that bad. Would Corbyn honestly be such an asset in a referendum campaign? Not really. He wasn't last time. He's an asset of sorts in campaigns he cares about, but he won't care about this one.

It might even be helpful. If the referendum is happening at all, it's because he is prime minister. Having him distant from the campaign might discourage protest votes against the government. Think back to 2016: Remain would almost certainly have done better if David Cameron was not associated with it.

By staying neutral, Corbyn also gets himself out of the bizarre problem of having to negotiate a deal and then campaign against it.

Of all Corbyn's errors, this is the one least of his own making. The policy of negotiating a deal and then holding a referendum on it is perfectly logical. The first step minimises the damage of Brexit in the worst-case scenario and the second tries to prevent it altogether in the best.

But when you translate that into an doorstep message - of striking a deal and then campaigning against it - it sounds quite mad. Staying neutral sidesteps that issue entirely.

Remainers have spent years being mocked and ignored by Corbyn supporters as centrists and God-knows-what else. After all that, and Corbyn's other moral failures, it is hard to see what's on offer even when it's ultimately perfectly satisfactory. But this is actually pretty decent. It's an offer to the head, not the heart. But there's nothing particularly wrong with that.

Corbyn is providing a route to Remain. It is really the only viable route available.

Yesterday, Lib Dem leader Jo Swinson made a speech at the Liberal Democrat conference on what she'd do as prime minister if she got a majority. That would indeed be very nice, but it is not going to happen. The Lib Dems are not going to win the next election. Nor are the Greens. The SNP and Plaid are not in contention. No outright Remain party can secure executive power except as a coalition partner to Labour.

It is simply crazy for Remain parties to launch strong attacks on Labour where there is a danger it would allow the Tories or Brexit party to win in that seat. On a basic strategic level, it makes no sense. 

Corbyn has offered enough to stave off a Remain attack. That, after all, was the point of voting against Labour in the European elections: to send a message. It worked. Now Remainers are threatening to allow their anger at Corbyn to derail their own success at shifting his position. He's offered a shot at Remain - not as a movement, but an outcome. They should take it.

Ian Dunt is editor of Politics.co.uk and the author of Brexit: What The Hell Happens Now?

The opinions in Politics.co.uk's Comment and Analysis section are those of the author and are no reflection of the views of the website or its owners.

Week in Review: A deal is as unlikely as ever

The chatter begins. It always starts quietly at first, then slowly builds up. Maybe there is hope, after all. Maybe a deal with Europe can be done. Maybe Boris Johnson is the man to do it.

Then come the news reports. The prime minister is startled by the implications of no-deal. The DUP are softening on regulatory separation between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK. The Europeans are willing to change or erase the backstop.

It's becoming almost a tradition. Expectation builds, slowly and from multiple angles, reaches a crescendo and then finally breaks on the cold, horrible shores of reality.
Reports now suggest the Europeans would accept changes to the backstop. But these would amount to the backstop in all but name: regulatory and customs alignment as an insurance policy against the failure of 'alternative arrangements'.

The suggestions of a DUP shift are also overstated. The maintenance of alignment in the UK is more important to the party than Brexit. The latter is a key policy, the former is a near-Biblical historical commitment. They have arguably been the most consistent of all the Brexit camps since the referendum. Even when many of the ERG hardliners backed Theresa May's deal on the third attempt, they held firm.

Others insist that now Johnson has been blocked from pursuing no-deal, he's really serious about getting one. He would apparently be able to 'sell' it better than his predecessor. But after the events of the last two weeks, even that latter proposition looks dubious. He's not the master salesman he was made out to be.

And then there is the timetable. Even the most positive reports concede that the Europeans have not been shown a viable plan by the UK yet. It's far from clear that Downing Street is capable of constructing that plan. If it somehow could, it wouldn't allow it to emerge before the Conservative party conference, because all hell would break loose. But there's just over a week between the end of the conference and the crucial EU summit where the deal would need to be agreed in mid-October.

Plans for a deal of this complexity and importance can't just be unveiled at a summit. They need time to be discussed, negotiated and agreed. The timing just doesn't work. So even if there was a viable plan in place, you'd still be looking at an extension of Article 50, which takes Johnson past his self-imposed red line.

Coming back to the Commons with a deal - any deal, even one without the backstop - would also sabotage Johnson's electoral prospects. Many in the ERG and the Brexit Party now view any deal as a betrayal, quite apart from whatever the arrangements are on the Irish border.

If he lost the subsequent vote, the swerve back to no-deal would be difficult. He would not be able to regain the image he currently enjoys as someone prepared to embrace the full spiritual mission of Brexit. He'd be turned into May Mark II.

So to even consider this course he'd really need to be confident that he could get it through the Commons. And there's little reason to think he would. He would struggle to get the ERG on board. The DUP are extremely unlikely to vote for it. That means that he needs to find enough pro-deal Labour MPs to make up the numbers.

There had been hints that might be possible. A new group of pro-deal MPs, headed by Stephen Kinnock, are agitating for another crack at May's deal. But, as Chaminda Jayenetti wrote for the site this week, the deal they'd be offered by Johnson would be even worse than what they got under May.

The assurances on staying aligned with worker and environmental rights would be gone. The future relationship document would be amended to rule out customs union or single market membership in future. The fact that the rest of the UK would be able to move away from European standards, leaving Northern Ireland behind, clearly entails a move towards American deregulation in a bid to secure a deal with Donald Trump.

And despite their protestations, the Labour pro-deal contingent have, when it comes down to it, voted against this kind of outcome. People like Lisa Nandy or Caroline Flint, who have pointedly rejected Remain, have almost spotless voting records in blocking Tory Brexit deals. That deal would now be put forward in a less attractive way, by a leader they find more offensive than May. Whichever angle you look at the problem from, the votes are hard to find.

Nothing is impossible and in British politics things now change very quickly. But you would need an optimism close to pathology in order to believe that a deal was in any way likely: the incentives are not there, the ideas are not there and the votes are not there. The rest is just hopeful chatter.

Ian Dunt is editor of Politics.co.uk and the author of Brexit: What The Hell Happens Now?

The opinions in Politics.co.uk's Comment and Analysis section are those of the author and are no reflection of the views of the website or its owners.

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