“I could stand in the middle of 5th Avenue and shoot somebody, and I wouldn’t lose any voters” Donald Trump famously said.
Unlike the United States, British politics and society generally shies away from arms. But a sense of deep denial, and politics without consequence, seems the same.
“I could clog up the entire M20 with trucks,” you can imagine Michael Gove joking to Dominic Cummings, “and the Tories would not lose a single voter!”
Journalists can document the impending chaos of Brexit until they are blue in the face. Companies can explain the very real problems they are facing, and the huge sums they have spent to prepare. Musicians can outline how it messes with their trade. But nothing moves.
In the face of all of that the likes of Shapps (on COVID vaccine supply chains) and Gove (on general preparedness) just say straight up that everything is going to be fine. Despite a growing body of evidence that it will not be fine. Or ministers point the finger elsewhere – Truss (that Welsh farmers have not diversified enough) and Gove (that business is ill prepared) for example. Or if all that does not work, they just fall back on the old trope that the problems are all to do with our intransigent friends in the EU (Johnson a couple of days ago).
Meanwhile Westminster sails merrily on.
Katy Balls can happily map out the shenanigans post-Cain and Cummings free even from assessing the major cloud on the horizon – end of the transition period 1st January that would knock any government off course in normal times. James Forsyth can pontificate that a No Deal exit would be a failure of the west, blissfully unaware that – were it to come to pass – the rest of Europe would see it as a failure of Johnson and the Brits alone. And since the House of Lords signalled their determination to remove the problematic clauses from the Internal Market Bill on Monday this week, nothing of any substance has happened with regard to Brexit – despite the EU side needing progress by Thursday next week at the latest so as to avoid triggering No Deal preparations their side.
All of this is not just painfully lax, drainingly irresponsible, but it’s as if – to use Matt Zarb-Cousin’s term – it’s as if the populist right is playing politics with the game permanently set on easy mode. Actions do not have consequences.
But if very real policy disfunction – 50000 deaths from Coronavirus and taking the UK to the brink of a No Deal Brexit – barely shift the polls (Labour is, even now, and after having ditched Corbyn only just ahead, and with more support coming from ex-Lib Dems than ex-Tories), then why do the Tories even have to worry? It is not just – as Will Davies puts it – that elections have become akin referendums, but that UK is even now still somehow living the Brexit referendum. And Labour – now just as 2016 – is too nervous to really come to terms with what might be expected of it, and even pointing out the practical headaches of Brexit leads to the accusation of Remainers not coming to terms with what happened – despite there being no legal shortcut for the UK back into the EU.
Until the practical political decisions relating to Brexit have a direct consequence on the people making those decisions – at least in terms of their popularity in the opinion polls – then so those decisions makers will sail on, cushioned in their bubble. To those on the outside currently screaming “you’re wrecking people’s lives!” it is still all too easy to blithely respond “we are taking back control!” And just now those in the bubble can all too easily get away with it.