I’m genuinely not sure whether this says worse things about me, him, or the government as a whole, but the biggest shock when I learned that Dominic Raab was being promoted from housing minister to Brexit Secretary was that Dominic Raab had previously been housing minister.
In my defence, he didn’t have the job long – he was appointed in January – and in the six months that the seventh housing minister since 2010 stayed in post, he did almost nothing that might have offered a useful clue that he was the man charged with addressing a major domestic policy crisis. Perhaps the new housing minister will be the one to finally break the log-jam. Eighth time’s the charm.
Raab’s six months spent failing to address a brewing crisis for which there is no solution that won’t alienate half the country will at least prove excellent training for his new role. And since it’s not clear he’ll actually get to do anything – the real Brexit Secretary, Tory grumblers suggest, is the Prime Minister’s Europe adviser, the civil servant Oliver Robbins – one could argue that Raab’s tenure as housing minister makes him, if anything, over-qualified.
There is at least a certain charming irony to the appointment. In 2012, Raab was one of five up-and-coming young Tories who, having been bitten by a radioactive Ayn Rand at a formative age, produced Britannia Unchained. This jointly-authored tome proposed turbocharging the British economy by – I paraphrase, but not by much – making everyone in it live in a constant state of terror that they are about to get sacked and starve to death by some bins. One widely-mocked extract from the book described the British as “among the worst idlers in the world. We work among the lowest hours, we retire early and our productivity is poor”. It is nice that obtaining ministerial office has presented Raab with so many opportunities to demonstrate his point.
If the Brexit Secretary’s job is not to negotiate Brexit, of course, one could ask what exactly is the point of him? Why even have a separate Brexit ministry, rather than simply folding it back into the purview of the Foreign Office?
One answer is presumably that, of all the many possible actions that won’t make being Theresa May any more fun right now, further empowering Boris Johnson must be near the top of the list. And as the entire post-post-disgrace career of Liam Fox shows, being about as useful as a soluble teapot is no barrier to high office, so long as you noisily believed the right things in the summer of 2016. (Note: At time of writing that paragraph, both those men were still in post. It’s been one of those days.)
Another explanation is that this is red meat for the worst people in British politics. Raab was a fervent campaigner for Leave, and remains committed to the harder brands of Brexit, despite having a constituency that strongly voted Remain (no concern about the will of the people here). And not only does he support economic policies of the sort that’d make George Osborne look like Clement Attlee: he buys into the US-style culture war bullshit that appeals to the sort of people who are even now threatening to dive-bomb the Prime Minister over her Brexit policy.
Raab’s other charming interventions have included a 2011 Politics Home column which reads like an incel manifesto posted to r/RedPill, and which concludes that “Feminists are now amongst the most obnoxious bigots”; the claim that most foodbank users are simply suffering from temporary cash flow problems; and the moment in last year’s election campaign when he dismissed a woman’s plea that the state stop allowing disabled people die through underfunding as nothing more than “a childish wish list”.
Promoting Raab risks making it look like the government now endorses such views – which would be bad enough even if it actually silenced the more extreme Brexiteeers, but quite obviously it won’t. Once again, Theresa May has chosen to poison our political culture for no gain whatsoever.
The whole thing should bother me, I know. That a man with such views is in the ascendancy, while those Tories who worry about trifling things like the economy, let alone people who work in it, are too scared to speak out. That the government is going off the rails at a point when we’re running out of time to make a deal. That, right now, the default position if negotiations fail is a damaging hard Brexit.
But I no longer have the energy to care. We’re fucked. Whatever happens from here on in, we’re fucked. We might as well have fun while it happens. Bring it all on, say I. The Tory civil war. The leadership challenge. The third general election in four years, leading no doubt to a House of Commons that is exactly as capable of addressing the contradictions of Brexit as the current one.
Sod it, let’s go for a real constitutional crisis. There’s a very real chance the Queen might die before we’ve fixed this mess, isn’t there? And then we’re really off to the races. The end of the union! Independence for Cornwall! Michael Gove declared dictator for life! Raise the barricades on the M4!
Some men just want to watch the world burn – and some of us want to live-tweet while it happens. This government has achieved almost nothing in the last two years. At the very least it could give me that.
Don’t waste your time appointing a new housing minister though, Theresa, we all know they’re not actually going to do anything anyway.