Monday 16 January 2017

Has Philip Hammond given away the Tory Brexit strategy?

Philip Hammond's bizarre comments about Brexit to the German newspaper Welt am Sonntag have been interpreted by many as threats against the EU, but in my view they're actually a bit of a give-away about what the long-anticipated Tory "Brexit strategy" is eventually going to be.

For over six months after the EU referendum result came in Theresa May and the Tories have kept their Brexit strategy carefully hidden behind a wall of meaningless platitudes like "Brexit means Brexit" and "red, white and blue Brexit", but Hammond's comments give a very strong indication of what the actual Tory play is going to be.

The six months of strategic vacuum from the Tories has left people with little choice but to speculate about what kind of negotiating strategy the Tories are going to adopt. Will they press the economic self-destruct button by aiming for "hard Brexit"? Or will they enrage the significant Tory bigot demographic with a "soft Brexit" agreement to keep Freedom of Movement in return for access to the Single Market?

The problem with this hard vs soft debate is the fundamental assumption that the Tories have actually been working on a negotiating strategy with the EU, rather than devising a propaganda narrative to convince the British public to accept a savagely right-wing interpretation of Brexit.

Take this quote from Philip Hammond:
"If we have no access to the European market, if we are closed off, if Britain were to leave the European Union without an agreement on market access, then we could suffer from economic damage at least in the short-term ... “In this case, we could be forced to change our economic model and we will have to change our model to regain competitiveness."
Essentially what he is saying is that if the EU doesn't cave in to the Tories impossible demands to retain access to the Single Market whilst scrapping the right to free movement, then the Tories are going to set about trashing the remaining vestiges of the European social democratic model in the UK (universal healthcare, free education, the social security system, legal aid, workers' rights ...) in order to turn the UK into the world's biggest tax haven.

It's bitterly cynical, but the propaganda narrative the Tories seem to be trying to set is a pretty smart one. The hard-right fringe of the Tory party have always hated the socialist NHS , workers' rights and the idea of providing a social safety net to alleviate poverty and suffering. They want a ruthless right-wing dystopia where the rich are freed from all social and economic constraints whilst the poor and vulnerable are left to fend for themselves or die. They know that they can't push this savagely right-wing agenda as a choice, so they're going to try to dress it up as an unfortunate necessity that has been forced on us by the nasty foreigners.

It looks like the Tories have no honest intention of negotiating with the EU whatever. What they'll do is table an impossible proposition, then attempt to frame the debate so that the EU are the bad guys for dismissing the impossible proposition, rather than the Tories being the bad guys for tabling what they knew to be an impossible proposition with the intention of destroying the negotiations before they even got started.

The likely propaganda narrative will be that the evil EU is going to cruelly "close off" Britain, leaving the brave and defiant Tory party to take "the only possible action" of reducing corporation tax to pretty much zero and wrecking what's left of our public services.

"We don't want to do this" they'll protest as they gleefully trash the post-war legacy "but the evil EU made us do it". And disappointingly millions of people will buy into the story that the UK has to take a massive lurch into fanatical right-wing territory, not because that's what the Tories always actually wanted, but because the nasty, awful, horrible, evil EU made them do it.

The beauty of this propaganda strategy is that it feeds into the self-pitying victim complex mentality that Nigel Farage and the Ukippers have fostered as a national characteristic, and which worked such a treat in convincing people that things like the EU and immigration are to blame for the appalling consequences of four decades of hard-right Thatcherite economic dogma.

If millions of people were gullible enough to buy into the austerity con (that the burden of the economic crisis should fall on poor and ordinary people rather than the super-wealthy bankers who actually caused it with their utterly reckless deregulated gambling), then it seems pretty damned likely that there will be plenty enough idiots to buy into the ridiculous self-pitying idea that Britain has to turn into a fanatically right-wing Tory dystopia of a tax haven economy because the nasty EU made us do it.

The Tories and the right-wing press will frame the whole thing as a story of plucky down-trodden Brits doing what's necessary to stand up to the nasty European bullies, and millions of people will actually celebrate the ruination of what's left of their public services, the annihilation of their workers' rights, the removal of their individual liberties, and the massive reductions in corporation tax and regulation.

They'll actually celebrate it like some kind of magnificent victory for plucky little Britain rather than a deliberate hard-right assault on their wages, public services and standards of living obscured behind a thin veil of self-pity and xenophobia!

It looks an awful lot like the strategy the Tories have been working on isn't one of how to form a post-Brexit co-operation with the rest of the EU, but actually a plan to convince a significant enough portion of the British public that there's no alternative to their wet dream of turning the UK into a savagely right-wing tax haven in order that they don't end up losing their grip on political power in the process of enacting such an atrocious scheme.

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