Flat White

Let’s hear it for the nation state

15 December 2019

4:00 PM

15 December 2019

4:00 PM

Congratulations to Boris Johnson. They’ve been comparing him to Churchill, and while it might be a little hyperbolic, this is one of the most momentous elections in world history.

One where a victory that seemed unlikely in prospect becomes pre-ordained in retrospect, and where loss could have changed the world significantly.

This UK election was about two things – whether the nation state is the best and primary unit of democratic governance; and welfare capitalism versus retro-socialism, cultural Marxism, and Modern Monetary Theory.

The result looks to be unambiguous, and coupled with Trump’s win in the USA three years ago, and Scott Morrison’s here, plus the stern rebuke given to Trudeau in Canada, suggests that the Enlightenment, and classical liberalism and intelligent conservatism, are all successfully fighting back.

It also confirms a realignment of political support, at least in the Anglosphere.

On the right, you have a coalition of the free enterprise, individualistic, free-thinking members of the elites, with the common sense working class: small business, clerks, retailers, salesmen and tradesmen.

On the left, the coalition is swathes of the managerial, professional, artistic and academic classes allied to the indigent and supplicant classes.

Or put another way. On one side the coalition is those who do, and on the other those who talk and take.

The primary argument that has won in the UK is that while cooperation between countries is a good thing, and supranational bodies are an important mechanism to achieve that, these bodies should be no more than coordinating mechanisms.

Sovereignty should remain with the demos and governance is something that should be done as close as possible to the people it directly affects, and in most of the world, this is the nation state.

There is certainly no point in drowning-out the voice of 65 million Britains, citizens of one of the most successful nations the world has ever seen, amongst those of 511 million from the EU, many of whom live in countries still finding their feet after years of authoritarian oppression, or looking for a sugar daddy to prop up failed economies.

And the argument was reinforced by the behaviour of the elites.

While Brexit had 52 per cent support, that support surely hardened and expanded as parliamentarians, and the judiciary, frustrated that original vote, prolonging the process over three years.

It must have, because the Tory take-out message was “Let’s get this thing done” – “this thing”, not even “Brexit”. Voters had just had it with the talkers.

Corbyn’s pitch was also lacking in realism. Labour had no real position on Brexit, which in effect meant it had no position on where sovereignty resides. That would have resonated widely, encapsulating doubts about where they might stand on securing borders and culture, as well as the primary question.

Their economic policies also lacked credibility.

The policies were based on a form of populist Marxism, demonising some in order to legitimise appropriation of their income. This was combined with policies derived from Modern Monetary Theory (which is the pretence governments can borrow as much as they like, or just create credit, so they can build everything and supply anything anyone could want, and at the same time pay everyone a Universal Basic Income).

Boris wasn’t exactly parsimonious, and there will be a reckoning with some of his promises, but the Tories have a reputation which stems from their Thatcherite legacy. Margaret Thatcher (to whose 1983 victory this will be compared) famously compared the national budget to a household budget, both of which she argued, needed to be funded.

Just watch this focus group of Labor voters from a week and a half before this poll. They’d clearly absorbed the lesson that the problem with socialism is that eventually you run out of other people’s money.

This isn’t a comprehensive list of reasons for the win. There were a myriad of local issues, including the effect Corbyn’s anti-Semitism had on the Jewish vote – critical in some urban constituencies.

And some of the reasons for the win were technical. The campaign that Boris, or rather Linton Crosby, ran was brilliant. It was so focussed that the message penetrated as far as the Antipodes, and it was done without taking itself too seriously.

It ticked all the boxes (unlike the previous Theresa May one) including tightening the vote at the end with strategic leaks that it was going to be tighter than it looked.

Above all Johnson is not your typical politician. He takes risks, just like Trump, and to a lesser extent Morrison. Watch his Love Actually spoof and think about it.

Here is a guy with a reputation as a philanderer who can’t be trusted with “your wife or your wallet”, romancing the vote of a woman on her own doorstep, with her husband inside, at the same time nicking a scene from a movie which starred one of his arch enemies, it runs for close to a minute, and millions watched it, millions more heard about it.

Dodginess on dodginess, but Johnson wasn’t running away from himself, and that made it alright. If you had residual worries about his honesty (and I’d say the focus groups said middle-class women did) then it was OK. “You can’t trust me on much,” he seemed to say, “but you can trust me on this. Let’s just get it done.”

This election also puts the lie to the idea that demonstrations count for anything (as Extinction Revolution clogs up yet another bridge). The Brown Shirts of social media and the Squadistri of the streets are bullies. If they had the arguments, they wouldn’t need to yell, scream, posture and provoke.

There are lessons for local politicians. They are similar for all sides. Be clear in your intent, be proud to be Australian, support mainstream values, lighten-up, be yourself, and don’t be intimidated by social media, popular discourse or journalists. If you have personal failings (and you all do) own them, don’t hide from them.

But that’s just the beginning. Things have slipped in the UK as they have here. There shouldn’t have been a constituency for what Corbyn was offering, but he’s won over 200 seats, so there was.

That’s because, as in Australia, the talkers elite infects, and frequently runs, all of our institutions and large businesses. They are no one’s friend because they are only absorbed in themselves.

Election results like this UK one give us all, not just the British, an opportunity to re-engineer society and put it back on a firm basis. It should not be squandered.

Graham Young is Executive Director of the Australian Institute for Progress and founder and editor of On Line Opinion.

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