This Twitter thread by Holger Hestermeyer caught my eye yesterday:
Some thoughts on a trade tweet that – as many have pointed out – is wrong. Now I try to no longer critcise tweets of others, but there’s a point here and I would ask you to refrain from any ad hominem attacks (thread) pic.twitter.com/URkl7aswkt
— Holger Hestermeyer (@hhesterm) May 20, 2021
Holger is one of those brilliant people who I’ve encountered thanks to Brexit, one of a whole community of people who have painstakingly pointed out all the technical, legal, political and practical headaches with what the UK Government has been trying to do since 2016. Someone who is a genuine expert, and is gracious and generous with his time as well.
Harwood who he quotes is exactly the sort of ideologically-driven fact-free grifter, lacking any professional skill or integrity, that Britain’s post-Brexit politics has boosted. The sort of person who will go – in response to detailed and forensic critique like that from Holger – “So what if it was off? I am owning the libs”. And it will be Harwood, not Hestermeyer, who keeps getting the media gigs, keeps boosting his network and following. There is absolutely no consequence for someone like Harwood being repeatedly wrong, and shown to be wrong.
So what do you do, at a human level, when faced with this?
For the past five years or so I have invested loads of time and mental energy explaining and diagnosing all of what’s wrong. The Brexit diagrams were the maps of what would happen next. And yes, sometimes I lost my cool a bit, and ranted. And then tried to get back to a more measured tone. Once in a while I tried some humour too.
But there’s a book on my bookshelf that makes me think I have been doing is all wrong, at least in the past 15 months. That book is “Don’t Think of an Elephant!: Know Your Values and Frame the Debate” by George Lakoff.
When there was something to fight for – a 2nd referendum for example, or even the prospect of electoral change at the 2019 election – there was an alternative political future to look towards. Something to make the hours slogging away over diagrams and Twitter threads worthwhile. Now that is all gone. The Harwoods and Boris Johnsons and Daniel Hannans have won. They frame the debate. Even politicians who ought to know better are saying we ought to embrace Brexit.
There are two ways to react to this. Steve Peers and Fionna O’Leary who I likewise count among the brilliant people doing thoughtful critique of what’s happening in UK politics see no option but to continue. It’s “valuable to me to point out the truth for my own mental health, even if it has no impact on public policy” were Steve’s words. In other words, fight.
But I think I have personally reached another conclusion: flight. Or – more precisely – use my time and mental energy on something else instead, something where the politics is not so sour. Where having a solid grasp of the facts counts for something. Where, after some months or years, it might be possible to have seen some change for the better.
That’s not to say all my work on Brexit has been without purpose. It has been something akin to a pathology of a dead political system, diagnosing what went wrong. But with neither hope nor expectation that something better could come afterwards.
So that is pretty much it from me for the moment on Brexit. Sure, I will keep half an eye on it, and on UK-EU relations, but if you want a take on every twist and turn you are not going to get it from me with the degree of obsession, meticulousness or detail I was capable of in the past. There will still be a few tweets, perhaps a blog post once in a while. But nothing like the intensity of the past.
In the next couple of months I am going to instead be developing a project about cross border railways in Europe, something that – were it to work – might literally bring Europeans together. Quite the change after these years diagnosing a political process that sought to push Europeans apart.