May is Short to Barnier’s Kasparov

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May is Short to Barnier’s Kasparov

The common law basis of our political system means disputes are mostly local and can be resolved at that level, Sean Walsh argues. The EU’s structures were always in conflict with that intuition. The vote to leave those structures was an expression of that intuition. The Prime Minister is blind to it, hence her negotiating strategy has failed to incorporate it. 

Let’s get to the resignation issue first. Clearly, the only two Cabinet ministers to have taken a principled view have already gone. Any future resignations will, therefore, come from those who think that in some unprincipled way the Chequers abomination could be consistent with the expressed will of the people. I have two primary candidates. I gather these columns are read in lofty heights.

Andrea Leadsom will not, as they say, “trouble the scorers”. Her departure from public life would amount to little more than swapping one form of obscurity (paid for by us) for another (hopefully not as much). But she owes us a form of professional self-immolation because having stood for election as leader of the Conservative party in 2016 she then withdrew before that party was allowed to comment on her presumption. She was, in effect, the blocking candidate for the egregious creature who now occupies that office. She is currently Leader of the Commons. She would therefore be resigning from a position which, should her boss get her way, would, in any case, be of as much significance as Town Crier in a minor Cotswold village. I’ve actually held that office- when it was removed from me after an “incident” I did not feel the loss that keenly. Once I’d sobered up.

Second, step forward Mr Michael Gove. Mr Gove has an impressive backstory. Unfortunately, that has now been overtaken by a preposterous front story. Gove breathed deeply on the febrile atmosphere of June 2016 and emerged as the helium voice of his own fitness for high office. In short, he shafted the only viable Leave candidate with the imagination and recklessness to have delivered the referendum instruction. Mr Gove needs to seriously consider his position, possibly late at night as he strokes his white cat and indulges his fantasies of world domination. I’m sorry for bequeathing to you that image.

Are there any winners to be discerned amidst the chaos of this capitulation? Well yes. M Barnier has shown himself as a sort of Kasparov pitched against Nigel Short in 1993. After much discussion about how that match should be “sequenced”, Mr Short agreed terms that were obviously injurious to his case.  He then got thrashed. He would have been thrashed anyway, which is where the analogy perhaps reveals itself as imperfect.

It’s not fair to compare Theresa May to Nigel Short, obviously. Mr Short is a well-regarded grandmaster in his chosen field with a record of success generated by a natural talent. Mrs May on the other hand has managed – in the midst of the greatest opportunity offered to any UK politician in centuries – to continue to draw a salary.

The people who argue that the worst-case scenarios here are (1) no deal leading to chaos or (2) a Corbyn government are missing the point. What May is doing is systematically dismantling the covenant that exists between the governed and those we entrust to that governorship. In dismantling that covenant she is also eradicating the structures of permission that exist in a democracy worthy of its name.

The most significant public consultation in our history instructed that we leave the EU. What “leaving the EU” means is something therefore defined by what the EU is. And what the EU is is a system of institutions ordered in the direction of a secular theocracy. A “system of rules” which are conveniently flexible in the service of that end state but “inviolable” when that suits. If you stay in the customs union then you are staying in that system of rules; you remain tethered to the corruption.

We voted to get out of this. We consented to leave, whatever the economic impact. Yes, whatever, the economic impact. If May gets her way then the whole context of consent that makes even voting meaningful will have gone.

Our political system operates without a written constitution and on the basis of a common law which expresses that disputes are mostly local and can be resolved at that level. The EU’s structures were always in conflict with that intuition which is peculiarly ours: keep out unless we ask you in. The vote to leave those structures was an expression of that intuition. May is blind to it, hence her negotiating strategy has failed to incorporate it. As I’ve said before, she is the art collector with no appreciation of aesthetics; the sheet-reading musician deaf to the fact that music offers the modality from which other worlds speak to us.

There is no “fixed dispensation” within which political activity occurs. The dispensation itself requires that we trust those institutions which form and express it. Conservatives should know that. Our current Prime Minister, alas, is no conservative.

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  • Sean Walsh
    Sean Walsh
    Sean Walsh is a former university teacher of philosophy. He has a doctorate in the philosophy of artificial intelligence and his current research interests are in the philosophy of mind, metaphysics and the philosophy of religion. He is also interested in philosophical issues around addiction. He lives in Wiltshire and works with addiction and recovery agencies, and with a homeless charity. He runs a lot.
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