Brexit revolution devours its children

Published by The i paper (November 28th, 2022)

The Tories are floundering in the polls, their brand scarred by serial incompetence. So perhaps they should have looked a little closer at Leon Trotsky and learned from his fate when an ice axe was buried in his skull. The murder in a leafy Mexican villa of a Marxist Russian ideologue, architect of the 20th century’s most significant uprising, might seem of little relevance to the spats and squalls of Westminster parliamentary politics. But it proved the truth of a well-worn adage, first articulated during an insurgency in France that promised liberty but unleashed a reign of terror: that revolutions always devour their children.

The French Revolution, which saw even leaders such as Danton and Robespierre lose their heads on the guillotine, underscored this concept that was first coined by a moderate journalist who despaired of the populist circus and extremism that he witnessed in Paris. We have seen its truth play out repeatedly since the 18th century after idealism and the intoxicating excitement of insurgency degenerate into pain and panic. Just look at events in Egypt since the Arab Spring, where the heady days of revolt have led to the rise of an even worse despot. Now our nation must suffer the consequences of a minor-key rebellion that descended into extremism, factional feuding and a flailing government as the ruling party is corroded by its own revolt.

Brexit may have been peaceful but it was a rebellion against the established order in London, led by a bunch of charlatans who exploited fear over change and some justified grievances in struggling communities for their own selfish purposes. The consequences have been profound after we left the club that gave us a uniquely-good deal, with cut-price membership and our own currency, at a time when events in Europe such as a wave of Syrian migration aligned to give weak arguments for severance added piquancy. This decision has led to lower growth, hampered trade, intensified staffing problems and snared many firms in a terrible tangle of red tape while the bickering continues over how best to deliver the idea.

Little wonder polls show support for Brexit at a record low, with one in five of those who voted in favour now saying they made a mistake. Yet the merest hint last week of closer relationship with Brussels to smooth over bumps in the flawed deal agreed by Boris Johnson sparked outrage among the fanatics that seized the Conservative Party, along with their self-aggrandising ally Nigel Farage.

So Rishi Sunak rapidly responded by ruling out any suggestion of alignment with European Union law, saying ‘I believe in Brexit’ since it gave Britain ‘proper control’ of borders. Three days later the Office for National Statistics revealed highest net migration levels since the Second World War, fuelled by foreign students, wars in Afghanistan and Ukraine and the exodus from Hong Kong. 

Following in the footsteps of their Marxist soulmates, leaders of the Brexit rebellion blame everyone but themselves for the constant failure of their idea, insisting it would work perfectly if only it could be implemented properly. They jettisoned their own pledges made to the electorate – such as supporting the Swiss and Norwegian models or staying in the single market – as the revolution became more extreme to appease the hardliners.

Now the influential Tory ideologue Daniel Hannan accuses Brussels of frustrating our desire for a softer deal. Lord Wolfson, Brexiteer boss of Next, bleats about the lack of foreign workers while saying ‘it’s definitely not the Brexit that I wanted.’ Former environment secretary George Eustice admits our post-Brexit trade agreement with Australia was not ‘a very good deal’ for Britain.

These folks can keep running but they cannot hide from an obvious fact – Brexit has been an unmitigated disaster for the Conservative Party. The Eurosceptic revolutionaries captured the upper echelons of their party and ejected their internal enemies, only to expose their own shallowness when rhetoric crashed into reality.

Now their party looks clueless and worn-out as its clings to power under its fifth prime minister in six years. Sunak is trying valiantly to restore a semblance of order and economic stability, but his core focus is simply to avoid electoral catastrophe in two years time rather than tackle the country’s pressing problems. Still the factions continue to bicker and frustrate his plans, his backbenchers having tasted the blood of rebellion, forcing him to pull a vote on mild plans for housing reform. Levelling up seems to be fizzling out. And like rats leaving a sinking ship, at least eight MPs have said they are quitting at the next election. 

Labour is also trapped by Brexit, its leader staying shamefully silent while benefiting from the Tory mess as they surge in polls despite few identifiable policies. Yet its front-bench team looks strong by comparison with their chaotic counterparts, as shown by the vigour of the health and treasury teams – or by the home secretary’s dismal performance before a parliamentary committee trying to defend her policies.

The latest polling by Lord Ashcroft, former deputy chairman of the Conservatives, puts Labour 14 points ahead under Sir Keir Starmer and leading on every key issue from the economy through to immigration with sole exception of national security. ‘The Conservative brand is in as bad a state as I have seen in all my years of polling,’ he concludes. Slowly but surely, we see another revolution eating its children.

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