If – that awkward little notion

If Britain does undergo ‘hard Brexit’, what do we do next? If said ‘hard Brexit’ results in a consistent and high-reaching economic growth, what do we say? “Unlikely”, “highly implausible”, “outright impossible” might be the instinctive or well-thought through response of an expert (of the armchair or academic variety). But humour me. If something happens contrary to our expectations, how do we respond?

It’s a relevant topic, given the year we’ve had. The idea that the referendum would result in Brexit was surprising (though, for me personally, not shocking). The idea that Donald Trump would be elected President of the US really was shocking. In both cases, the presumption of many was that they could not lose; that a variety of factors and self-evident prepositions resulted in an inevitable conclusion. I do not want to raise here why your or my presumptions were right or wrong, but how we should respond when we are mistaken.

It seems to me that the underlying condition that arose in 2016 was how headstrong everyone became. Every political hue became convinced that everything they asserted was undeniable, unless you were a blithering idiot (or deplorable). Facts became relative, and forecasts became cast-iron; unless of course, I disagreed with them. When did we lose the respect for our rivals, saying “this is what I propose, but I accept you have an alternative”?

It is astonishingly normal now for a politician or political party to assert that a statistic just isn’t true, or a statement wasn’t meant in the clearly intended way, based solely upon how they feel about it. I did not vote to leave the EU, and I did not think most other Brits would either (though I did think the vote would be close). I was wrong. But I cannot see the logic, as so many people do, of asserting that the result was inaccurate, or that people didn’t really want Brexit. It was accurate because of a simple vote-count; and they do, at least the people I know who voted to leave.

This problem is universal, politically speaking. The Tories don’t accept that much of the country is struggling enormously because of local government cuts, and the chaos surrounding Brexit. Labour doesn’t accept that a credible, realistic plan for government is surprisingly important to the electorate. I think the solution is partly down to communication. Proclaiming “my policy or idea will result in X” is meaningless if you do not what it is you are trying to fix. “Because of X, we propose Y” is longer, more conditional, but also more achievable and more honest. And if X changes, we adapt.

‘If’ is not a comfortable word, especially in politics. But if voters know that you accept a fact, and have a proposal to deal with it, that has to be worth something. Most British people chose to leave the EU. This was a disappointing surprise to me, and to many others. But that was their decision. To the Lib Dems’ credit, we have proposed a way foward. This approach should be applauded, and copied for future decisions.

I don’t believe that ‘hard Brexit’ can be a success. If it happens, and if it is, I hope I would hold up my hands and say “fair enough”. But I would still think it’s a worse decision that remaining a member of the EU, albeit for different reasons. I would still want the Lib Dems to be an open, internationalist party. Facts are not dependent on belief; but beliefs are not substitutes for facts either.

So: if Britain does undergo ‘hard Brexit’, what do we do next?

* James Vincent is a philosophy graduate, keen environmentalist and agrarian, and Paris-based English teacher

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11 Comments

  • Little Jackie Paper 21st Dec '16 - 3:01pm

    I see the point, even if I don’t entirely agree.

    For many years now a lot of people seem to have got bogged down on the idea of, ‘evidence based policy.’ In reality what we really got would better be described as, ‘ideas informed by advocacy research.’ Less kindly one might say that a cottage industry of producing policy based evidence flourished.

    When Gove said people had had enough of experts he was roundly mocked – but if one thinks not of experts but pundits or interest pundits then he wasn’t far wrong for me.

    Evidence can, should be contested, challenged, weighed – not treated as if it were scripture. All of us need to understand that what is evident to one might not be evident to others. If someone’s local economy crashed 10 years before the referendum then evidence of the EU’s economic benefits won’t carry much weight.

    So, for example, some see evidence of a strong economic contribution from high levels of migration whilst some see evidence of a rather different type. Facts may not be relative, but the context in which those facts reify very much is relative.

    The real, and more far-reaching, question for me is whether we have a strong enough civil society now to strike these balances.

  • There are only two certainties in life. What might happen in the future is anyone’s guess.
    I am looking at a copy of Michael Shanks, The Stagnant Society (second edition 1971) at this very moment. Today it seems it is from a different world.
    I don’t see much basis for optimism for Britain unless it becomes a leading hi-tech economy.

  • ““Because of X, we propose Y” is longer, more conditional, but also more achievable and more honest. And if X changes, we adapt.”

    I think the operative word here is ‘longer’. Unfortunately the media and politicians work on sound bites these days. Anything longer than three seconds runs the risk of being interrupted by the interviewer or people getting bored. Instant and simple answers to complex questions is demanded. This along with the technique of answering a completely different question if you don’t want to answer the question posed drives me insane. What happened to Brian Walden’s approach.

  • One thing is certain, we have a by election probably in late January, early February, at Copleand. Very difficult, starting from 3%, but with a full blooded campaign, there is the time to organise it, it’s close to Westmorland, we could push UKIP into fourth place.

  • Tony Greaves 21st Dec '16 - 6:33pm

    This posting is a waste of time and space…

  • David Allen 21st Dec '16 - 6:59pm

    I disagree with Tony Greaves because I think the posting, and comments below it, are revealing of our profound state of uncertainty.

    The public mood seems to be “S*d it, get on with it, whether it was right or wrong, there’s nothing else we can do.” That is a febrile mood and will change, the question is how.

    Buyer’s remorse is a nice dream, but it isn’t happening. Buyer’s pigheadedness looks more like it. In the Brexit scenario, it is the Leave voters rather than the pet shop owner who want to glue the ex-parrot to its perch and say that it is just tired!

    I fear that Theresa will happily trigger Article 50, find out that the EU play hardball, and then whip up “patriotic” British anger in support of those heroic Tories who are standing up against a tyrannical EU. That will nicely put paid to any idea that the EU would ever have us back, even if Tim were to win an election and beg to be let back. Yes, the economy will crash, but Theresa will have the EU as the scapegoat for that happening, and will finally be able to move on from the previous lie that Gordon Brown wrecked the world. Tories don’t actually need to achieve economic success. They just need to cream off the national wealth for their millionaire donors, and to have someone else to blame for their failures.

    I don’t think we, or Labour, or More United, yet have a viable strategy to deal with all this. Granted, ours is the least bad. But it essentially seeks to carve out a niche vote amongst hardline Remainers, while not actually having a policy that will help them to get anywhere. We need to stop Theresa turning Brexit into another “glorious” bogus Falklands War against evil foreigners.

  • Alistair Forbes 21st Dec '16 - 9:22pm

    Although I share James’ scepticism about the chances of a successful hard Brexit, I think he does the LibDems good service by airing the question. Good strategists, whether military or business, consider the range of possible outcomes before embarking on a decisive course of action. This should not result in paralysis of analysis, instead it should enable rapid response to any outcome, because no outcome is completely unexpected. To Tim Farron’s credit he was the only party leader to have had a contingency plan in case Leave won. While Gove, Johnson etc floundered on 24 June, Tim was articulating the LibDems’ continuing opposition to Brexit. We will be wise to ponder “what if” questions like the one James posed, so that we can be ahead of the other parties in terms of thinking, analysis and policy making.

  • Whether or not we leave the EU, the EU will continue to be THE primary decision making for European countries to cooperate and make decisions. We can pretend all we like but we are going to end up adopting EU rules here as the alternative is to insist we have separate standards for cars, medicines, food etc which would cause huge expense for businesses and consumers.

    Hence, the issue for us is whether we wish to be one of the decision makers shaping the rules that effect lives on our continent or whether we’ll sit out the decision making and accept the rules made in our absence by other countries. No doubt the Brexiters might be happy to have France represent our interests but I doubt many others will. 🙂

  • Mark Goodrich 22nd Dec '16 - 2:23am

    This post is a bit odd. It asks us to worry about the theoretical possibility that hard Brexit happens and turns out to be a roaring success. This is not something on which I think we need to be spending much mental energy when there are much more urgent issues such as “stopping hard Brexit” and perhaps even stopping the exit from the EU to consider.

    David Allen makes some reasonable points above but I think he is all too pessimistic about turning the tide. Opinion is sure proving slow to change – James O’Brien summed up why when he said that it is easier to fool people than convince them they have been fooled. However, the position remains that the Government’s position will eventually collapse because it is simply not possible to have the single market and restrict EU free movement. As soon as they decide one way or the other, a huge chunk of voters will be extremely angry.

  • Many people were not indoctrinated by the toilet papers into hating “Europe”. They had no time or inclination to wade through a sea of lies and misinformation in order to make their mind up. They did not vote. They rely on MP’s with an army of researchers in Parliament to make difficiult decisions. Parliament in sovereign. It cannot cede power, especially not to a minority called “Brexiteers” or anything else. The Referendum was always going to be meaningless and only advisory unless it showed a majority of the population, (?say 35 million) for or against. It is time (for Parliament) to take back control.

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