Monday 16 January 2017

The blank contract con

In order to figure out if you're gullible enough to fall for the blank contract con you first need to imagine that you're dealing with a person with a very shady reputation. A used car salesman, a tabloid journalist or a politician. 

Next imagine that this shady character asks you to put your signature on a blank contract, promising you that they will fill in the terms of the contract later, offering all kinds of spectacular possibilities for the wonderful and beneficial things that they'll fill in on your behalf.

Of course almost everyone would agree that it would take a spectacularly gullible person to put their trust in such a character and stick their signature on an unwritten contract. However the evidence shows that reality is clearly a lot more challenging than this simple thought experiment about dealing with con-men.

In June 2016 17.4 million British people fell for an elaborate version of the blank contract con. During the referendum debate a load of incredibly dodgy and blatantly untrustworthy political chancers (Boris JohnsonMichael GoveNigel FarageIain Duncan SmithNeil "cash for questions" HamiltonGisela StuartJohn RedwoodArron Banksthe disgraced Liam Fox ...) promised all kinds of spectacularly unrealistic inducements to get the British electorate to sign the blank contract of Brexit.

Whatever your political perspective these con-artists had a promise for you: Signing the blank contract meant they could provide £350 million a week to the NHS, send away all the nasty foreigners, save the British steel industry, get rid of tax on domestic fuel bills, combat tax-dodging corporations, put an end to neoliberalism, make fantastical quickfire free trade agreements with the United States and other countries, stay in the single market, quit the single market, put bendy bananas back on the supermarket shelves ...). If the Brexit charlatans thought that there were naive and gullible people out there who could be convinced by it, then they said it, no matter how unrealistic, and no matter how badly it contradicted the other promises being hawked by other Brexit charlatans.

Unlike the Scottish independence referendum there was no white paper, there was no effort to spell out precisely what a leave vote would entail, there was no timetable for withdrawal. The contract was blank and these political snake oil merchants were willing to tell us literally anything to get us to sign it.

"Trust us", they pleaded. "Trust us and we'll give you exactly what you want", and shockingly, 17.4 million people actually trusted the hard right fringe of the Tory party and their UKIP Trojan Horse chums to deliver Brexit!

Within a day of the Brexit vote the con became obvious to anyone paying the remotest attention. The first thing the Brexit charlatans walked away from was the "£350 million a week" for the NHS pledge that was printed on the side of their bus. The rest soon followed.

We've now suffered well over six months of  mind-numbing "Brexit means Brexit" platitudes and secrecy over what the Tories are actually going to write into the pre-signed Brexit contract, and the omens are looking pretty bad. There's obviously no £350 million a week for the NHS, but there are plenty of increasingly fanatical hard-right fantasies that nobody even remotely sane would ever have voted for.

The Tory Chancellor Philip Hammond has threatened to turn the UK into the world's biggest tax haven and scrap the remaining vestiges of the European style social democracy. People signed the blank contract of Brexit for all manner of reasons, but only the tiny barkingly right-wing fringe signed it so that they could see a bonfire of stuff like universal healthcare, free education, the social security system and legal aid in order that Britain could be turned into a vast tax haven economy dedicated to stealing the wealth of other countries instead of producing our own.

Other Tories are salivating at the prospect of scrapping our human rights and replacing them with a set of Tory allowances. Labour rights, the right to privacy, the right to free speech and free assembly, the right to family life, freedom from slavery ... They see the blank Brexit contract as the perfect opportunity to get rid of these pesky impediments to the expansion of their own wealth and power.

The huge problem for the rest of us is that the blank Brexit contract is already signed now, with a bunch of ravingly right-wing Tories free to fill in the details to suit themselves and their dodgy financial backers.

If anyone tries to resist this dangerous Tory lunge to the hard-right then they will simply say that the contract is already signed. If anyone objects to the hard-right lunacy they Tories are going to fill in the pre-signed Brexit contract with, then the Brexit charlatans and the right-wing press will label them "traitors" and shriek about how vital it is that the "democratic mandate" is respected.

The fact that so many British people fell for the Brexit blank contract con means that the Tories now have a terrifying so-called democratic mandate to enact all of their most bonkers hard-right fantasies, and those of us who did our best to warn others that this would happen are left to contemplate the awful consequences.

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