The Brexit vote is done, the Labour party mass cabinet resignations have yielded a leadership challenger, the Chilcot report has emerged, Cameron has resigned and Theresa May is picking her Cabinet. It speaks to the nature of recent politics that this moment feels like the nearest thing to calm we’ve had for a while. Perhaps we are in the eye of the storm. I’m starting to miss boring politics.
Something else I am starting to miss is a sense that the country is in safe hands. This isn’t a party political concern; it is more a general sense of unease and a creeping suspicion that the people running the country are making it up as they go along.
The biggest recent example of this is the EU referendum. For all that can be said about Brexit and for all that has been said, there is one thing that characterises the process post-referendum and that is a lack of planning. We’ve made what seems clear to be an irrevocable decision about the future of this country and the politicians involved in it don’t seem to know exactly what comes next.
I’m not talking about the minutia of this either. I’m talking about things like Northern Ireland. Like having no plan for what happens if we have to change their border with Ireland, or our future trade relationship with the EU and the status of millions of EU citizens living here. I can understand why some decisions in the Brexit process still remain to be made, but it is deeply troubling to me that so many important issues don’t seem to have been considered before we got here.
This is to say nothing of the rhetoric of the Brexit campaign. Its leaders cheerfully stoked up nationalist sentiments in order to win the vote before excusing themselves from the scene without bothering to help put that monster back in its cage.
More than just Brexit
Now if it was just Brexit that would be bad enough, but if we look at the Chilcot Report we can see a similar failing with the Iraq invasion. There is acceptance by Blair that things could be complicated and difficult, but the actual plan for rebuilding Iraq was an exercise in wishful thinking. Cameron was keen to stress during the debate on Chilcot that the lessons of Iraq had been learned, although the continuing chaos in Libya would suggest that he skipped the most important lesson, the one on planning for the aftermath of a military adventure.
Moving past these events and looking at the party leadership elections we can see the same problems. Johnson declaring for Brexit because he saw an opportunity to run for Tory leader, only to be felled by Gove, who didn’t seem to have planned for the consequences of this act of betrayal in the eyes of his party. Even Leadsom, whose survival over the length of an entire weekend now seems worthy of Claudius, eventually fell on her sword because she made the fatal mistake of being interviewed. The Tory contest felt like nobody involved had a long term vision that extended past lunch.
For Labour you’d think things would be better, ten months Corbyn has been in power, ten months the PLP have wanted him gone. They have a goal, they have time, surely, you would think, a bit of conspiring would have gone on. Now that the time has come for the PLP to finally try to unseat Corbyn you would expect, or you’d hope, that there would be a unifying candidate waiting in the wings. Instead, after the impetus of the resignations and vote of no confidence is all but spent, Angela Eagle appears on the scene looking not like a prepared and determined candidate, but more like she drew the short straw.
Patience is a political virtue
Taken on individually these incidents wouldn’t worry me too much, but what does worry me is the pattern that emerges. These are senior, experienced politicians embarking on hugely important projects, up to and including military action, without serious, meticulous, long term planning. The way that politicians handle their own careers and dealings with their parties underscores just how half-baked much of the thinking going on at Westminster seems to be.
Worse still is the fact that all these examples I have cited, these are all situations that have been created by the same people that failed to plan for them. David Cameron did not have a plan for Brexit, but he could have had the referendum at any time he chose, he could have waited. Tony Blair didn’t have a plan for post-war Iraq, but Iraq wasn’t going anywhere and he too could have waited. He went anyway. Meanwhile politicians of both main parties opportunistically fight to further their careers with a disregard for cause and effect that wouldn’t be out of place in a Roadrunner cartoon.
It seems that the UK is run by politicians who don’t plan for the consequences of their own actions, and this is alarming. If the leadership of both parties can’t even deal with the problems that have created themselves, just what chance do they have against problems that they didn’t create? Our politicians can’t deal with the fallout from their own referendum, are we supposed to believe that they can handle climate change, sudden influxes of refugees or any of the million other problems that aren’t self-inflicted?
Our senior politicians need to start thinking beyond the next news cycle before we short-term ourselves into even more hot water.