Sam Gyimah MP writes… Distorting reality is no way to run a country

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Steve Jobs, the legendary founder of Apple was often described as using a ‘reality distortion field’ to convince himself and others to believe almost anything. Employing the techniques of bravado, hyperbole and sheer persistence, he could make an impossible task seem possible.

Dominic Cummings, the Prime Minister’s Chief strategist – a known fan of tech titans such as Steve Jobs and Elon Musk – seems to want to employ these techniques in pursuit of Brexit at any price and to crush the hopes of Remainers.

The Government’s multi-million pound advertising campaign telling us all to ‘Get Ready For Brexit’ on October the 31st is designed to subliminally suggest to the voters that this is the only option open to us. Everything we know points towards the fact that there is no orderly way to leave the EU by that date. Despite this, the Government’s social media, radio and TV adverts are running every day, as if in total denial of reality.

Reality distortion is about altering our sense of proportion. So in the last week, Ministers have resorted to inculcating a sense of fear, by briefing the press anonymously that there would be riots if Brexit is not delivered on October 31st, and that the only way to stop this is to get Brexit done. It is astonishing to see the British Government using the threat of mob violence as a reason to back its Brexit plan. This is something no politician should contemplate if they were to give a moment’s thought to the future of our country. Whipping up the mob will only backfire on the government.

Cummings has learnt the wrong lessons. The Government is not a tech start-up where you can move fast and break things in pursuit of growth and profit. There is more at stake here. This is about our common future as a country, and the government has a responsibility for the jobs and livelihoods of 66 million citizens of this country, not just to the 17.4m who voted leave.

Also hustle and reality distortion cannot compensate for a flawed project. At Apple, Jobs and Jony Ive developed and designed iconic products that worked – that’s why they were so successful. Brexit however is a project full of contradictions. And three years on from the referendum, the Conservative government seems incapable of levelling with the public on the trade-offs and difficulties of delivering this project. So the Government’s approach is the opposite of that taken by the tech entrepreneurs. It’s Irish border proposals are a perfect example: they are not made in good faith and do not stand up to scrutiny. British pluck can go a long way, but it cannot defy the realities and rules of international trade and diplomacy.

So what is our current reality? There is no parliamentary majority for any deal. And when MPs talk of wanting to vote for a deal, they mean different things. Some Labour MPs want a deal that delivers the softest possible Brexit. Some Conservative MPs want the hardest possible Brexit and to do a trade deal with Donald Trump.

While Parliament remains deadlocked on the issue and the EU retains its position on the Irish backstop, the simple truth is that there can be no orderly Brexit by October 31st. At the same time, we know that a No Deal Brexit would cause unprecedented economic and social damage to our country, and would mean years of subsequent negotiations from a weakened position.

Instead of grandstanding about Brexit, casting blame at anyone who asks legitimate questions, a responsible Government would level with the British public and set out the choices available to our country. That is why the best way forward is to bring the decision back to the people, and hold a referendum with the option to Remain in the EU. And if we are elected with a majority, revoke Article 50.

* Sam Gyimah is the MP for East Surrey. He has held a number of Government positions culminating in a term as Minister for Universities, Science, Research and Innovation. Sam defected from the Conservative party to the Liberal Democrats in September 2019, when he was welcomed on stage in Bournemouth by Jo Swinson.

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  • Rodney Watts 1st Oct '19 - 2:52pm

    “Reality distortion is about altering our sense of proportion. So in the last week, Ministers have resorted to inculcating a sense of fear, by briefing the press anonymously that there would be riots if Brexit is not delivered on October 31st, and that the only way to stop this is to get Brexit done. It is astonishing to see the British Government using the threat of mob violence …”
    This, Sam, was what made me madder than anything about this immoral, & unscrupulous bunch of self-serving bigots.

  • Barry Lofty 1st Oct '19 - 3:47pm

    I agree with the the description of those supposedly in charge of our country, it has really angered me that nobody has challenged them on the propaganda radio adverts broadcast every day on, getting ready for Brexit on 31st October, it is a false message given the massive uncertainties regarding that outcome let alone the cost, I presume to the tax payer. Thanks Sam for a very good article.

  • So another set of ad’s to be reported to the ASA et al…?

  • Peter Hirst 1st Oct '19 - 4:27pm

    This Brexit government will eventually realise that they have no remaining options. They would like to call a General Election and can’t so what will they do? The sensible and perhaps only legal action will be to call for an extension.

  • nigel hunter 1st Oct '19 - 4:36pm

    Yes, more ads to report to the ASA as there is a law to stop /delay Brexit The more people report it the better.

  • It’s what happens when you have a referendum with an option which was not a piece of legislation or having the basic tenets of such in the hope that its very amorphousness would dissuade and could be attacked from every quarter. Instead Leave became all things to all people and as such better than the alternative status quo; just!

    It was irresponsible and actually undemocratic to hold a referendum on invoking Article 50 without having proposed legislation as to what would happen next. Any future referendum needs to be based on proposed legislation. The questions need to be formulated by a properly constituted and informed Citizens’ Assembly outside of the party political maelstrom and their mantras. If more than two choices are to be decided upon then preference voting should be employed. Everything about the 2016 referendum should be a history lesson in how not to do it in the hope of getting a particular outcome once the issue is handed over from representative democracy to direct democracy.

  • Rodney Watts 1st Oct '19 - 8:14pm

    ” Everything about the 2016 referendum should be a history lesson in how not to do it ..”
    Quite so! Hopefully this Bexit chaos will lead to a number of way overdue changes in how we deliver true democracy. As has been pointed out by others, we need to look at a written constitution as the bedrock, as well as the way we elect our representatives, the legislative Houses and their constitution, and the place more citzens assemblies, etc.

  • The massive Government advertising scheme is something we should beware of given Cummings’s reputation for getting inside people’s heads through net based propaganda and illegal mis-use of personal data.

    Blair previously used government advertising for political advantage and this ruthless lot will be pushing the boat out as to what they can get away with. Cummings’s attitude is that nothing illegal is off the table, to get the results at all costs and worry about some measly fine for the backers to pick up later, while pretending it was the people’s will to be respected – Pah!

  • Jack McKenna 1st Oct '19 - 10:38pm

    We have to look into how Johnson and Cummings are using official government advertisements for party political ends.

  • David Osman 2nd Oct '19 - 9:43am

    The LibDem party seems to be strangely silent about the huge People’s Vote protest march taking place in London on 19 Oct. Are they backing it? Or are the LibDems ambivalent, given that they are now saying that, if they achieved a majority in the general election (let’s face it, pretty unlikely barring some major development), they wouldn’t even hold a People’s Vote, but go straight to revoke?

  • Bill le Breton 2nd Oct '19 - 1:52pm

    David Osman,

    I suspect that in recent times you have a) believed Trump would not win the Presidential Race, b) the UK would vote remain. Elections are not that easy to read these days.

    What could some major development be? Labour voters losing trust in their Leader/Party campaigning in a near future referendum to campaign for remain + Labour voters appreciating that there is no risk of Lib Dems not voting to remain in a near term referendum + Labour voters thinking that the best way to take the risk out of their position of doubt in Labour is to grab a revoke option by voting Lib Dem in a General Election + appreciating that Lib Dems are not a one trick pony + Tory remainers opting for Liberal Democrats + The Brexit Party continuing to attract Labour leavers and Tories who don’t like Johnson’s proposed deal.

    Much of that looks underway. In the last five months the numbers of Labour 2017 voters getting the message on Lib Dem policy have nearly doubled + today’s You Gov Westminster voting intention poll:

    CON: 34% (+1)
    LDEM: 23% (+2)
    LAB: 21% (-1)
    BREX: 12% (-1)
    GRN: 5% (-)

    The only surprise is that Labour don’t seem to be as scared as they should. But then, probably they think like you.

  • Mick Taylor 2nd Oct '19 - 2:46pm

    @David Osman. No, the Lib Dems have a clear policy.
    1. We want a referendum on deal v versus remain. That is still our first choice.
    2. If a general election comes before a referendum, we will campaign to revoke article 50 and if we were to win the election (ie get more than 326 seats) then we would treat that as a mandate to implement the policy we campaigned on as every majority government has done in our democracy.
    Perfectly democratic and perfectly defensible.

  • Richard Underhill. 6th Oct '19 - 11:05am

    There is a rumour that Boris will squat in Downing Street whatever decisions are taken.
    On the Andrew Marr show on BBC1 the Brexit Secretary refused to confirm what a Downing Street spokesperson had told the BBC’s Laura Kuenssberg.

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