The State of the Nation: What is to be Done?
by Sean Gabb
(20th June 2017)
I have been asked to explain our present mess, and how the country is to be saved. I will begin with the easier, and perhaps the more cheerful, part of this question.
I did not want a referendum on our membership of the European Union. The country has no urgent problems that are the fault of the European Union. We already have as much control over our borders as we need to deal with immigration. That control is not exercised is the fault of our own government. There are few economic and financial regulations that our own government does not in principle support, and that it would impose of its own motion. Those regulations which are unwelcome could be mitigated or wholly evaded, given the political will. Membership is a symptom of what has gone wrong with the country, not a cause. Leaving will be part of an agenda of reform. Like membership of the United Nations, it does not need to be very high on that agenda.
I also doubted if the referendum could be won. There has never been agreement on how to leave, or on what to after we have left. I believed that these divisions would wreck any Leave campaign – and that a vote to remain would be taken as a vote of confidence in the general scheme of how the country is ruled.
However, we had the Referendum, and we voted to leave. For a while, I was decidedly pleased. It was as if the head of a household had bet everything on a horse with very remote odds, and had won. When that happens, you stop nagging about the risk, and look forward to a better life. And it did seem that everything was in our favour. The European institutions were in shock. Many European governments were facing elections. Our own government had a majority, and faced a broken opposition. It seemed to be a matter of telling everyone what we wanted, and insisting on getting it. We might not get everything. But it is the purpose of diplomacy to make the fullest use of latent power.
Then the Prime Minister did nothing. Then there were legal challenges to face that should have been pre-empted by early action. Then many of the Europeans had their elections. Then she called an election of her own. She lost her majority. She allowed the Labour Party to rise from the dead. It is now the second day of our leaving negotiations. As expected, our side has no leverage. For all it matters, our negotiators might as well come home, and leave the other side to negotiate with itself. We might then be given an unexpectedly good deal. Or we might be presented with a modern version of the Versailles Treaty. There is nothing we can do either way.
Or there are three things we can do. First, we can leave without an agreement. In a healthy, flexible economy, losing access to the Single Market would be inconvenient, but rapidly offset by other opportunities. The world outside Europe is a fine place for a country with low taxes and light regulation. Sadly, ours is not a healthy, flexible economy. Our taxes are not low and our regulations are not light. Nor is there the correlation of political forces to move us half an inch in that direction. The most likely effect of leaving without an agreement will be ten-mile traffic jams on the motorways to Dover, and empty supermarket shelves. Anyone who believes otherwise is living in a fantasy-Britain filled with thrusting, dynamic businessmen, all itching to get to the cutting edge of whatever the new economy is supposed to be. Dream on.
Second, we can rejoin EFTA, which I believe will allow us to remain in the Single Market while we make other arrangements. But, given our spineless politicians, that will probably amount to associate membership, in which we accept all the rules of the Single Market while giving up even the pretence of shaping them. And this assumes that the option of EFTA is open to us. We have to apply to join, and the other members may decide that, considering we may be only temporary members, and that we have hardly been cooperative in our membership of the European Union, the proper response would be to send us on our way.
Third, we can give up on leaving the European Union. If the Referendum were to be held again, I suspect last year’s result would be overturned. I suspect also that even the hard core of Eurosceptics would do nothing more than grumble. Or we could get the negotiations extended from two to five or ten years, and let the whole project die a natural death. The difficulty here is that withdrawing the notice we served a few months ago would probably involve giving up all our opt-outs. We would have to join the Schengen Area and commit to joining the Euro. Neither of these things might, in itself, be a disaster. But it would be a terrible humiliation.
So, what is to be done? Here I come to the hard part of the question. The answer is that there is nothing we can presently do. Something unexpected may turn up – and we have been luckier for much of our history than we deserved to be. But there is nothing we can do, or can be expected to do. The country is morally ruined, and all our problems are symptoms of that ruin.
Now, let me be clear that, when I talk of moral ruin, I am not sliding into some Daily Mailish whine about buggery and porn and funny cigarettes. The Pax Romana was built and maintained by men who had Catullus and Martial in their heads. When they were not worshipping dildoes, they were bombed out of their minds on cannabis and magic mushrooms. The Pax Britannica was as much about sex and drugs as making money and spreading the Word of Christ. When I talk of moral ruin, let me explain by reference to how the ethnic minorities arrange their lives.
So far as I can tell, the great majority of Moslems live in genuine communities. They live close by their relatives. They do business with their relatives and neighbours. The mosque is at the centre of their communal life. They take their disputes to their imams, and settle their general affairs under the supervision of their imams. They have a constellation of schools and other places of learning in which their cultural values are handed on to the next generation. There is a Muslim Council of Great Britain, of which the individual communities are federated parts. If they find themselves in dispute with the external authorities, they stand together. They do not inform on each other to the authorities. When Anjem Choudary comes out of prison, he will have no trouble finding somewhere to live. His new neighbours will not feel embarrassed to be seen having lunch with him. He will have friends to help with his welfare applications, or to find him some light and agreeable work. The other day, when that man crashed his van into some of them in Finsbury Park, they pulled him straight out and handed him to the police, and they arranged for the care of the injured.
Compare this with our own degraded state. We are, for the most part, atomised sheep. If the authorities come for us because of something said on FaceBook, or some other fanciful crime, our neighbours look the other way. We usually have no idea who our neighbours are. We have at best a vestigial sense of acting together for our common good. To be sure, the institutions that once bound us together have been taken over by the leftists. Churches, schools, universities, clubs – these no longer serve their historic function. But they lost this function more than two generations ago. We have done nothing to replace them. When those terrorists attacked our people by London Bridge earlier in the month, our people, for the most part, ran like scared rabbits, and applauded when the police turned up to spend fifty bullets on shooting three men.
I will not romanticise the Moslems. They are, however, doing something right for themselves. If we spent less time complaining about them, and more learning from them, we also might do something right for ourselves.
Until the native majority in this country can rebuild some kind of institutional life – an institutional life that cannot be co-opted by our enemies – arguments about trade policy are at best a diversion. How this European mess will be sorted, if at all, is beyond my knowledge, and beyond our control. I am not saying that we should ignore it. We have some duty to exercise what remains of our democratic rights. But something in our control is how we lead our personal lives. The sooner we start forming new communal institutions, and regarding ourselves as members of a community, the more likely we are to find less trashy politicians, and the more likely we are to avoid crises of the sort we are now living through.
Your answer may be that we are living through these crises, and that what I suggest does nothing to address them. But, as I have said, there is nothing we can do. And I will add that they are hardly existential crises. Even the worst-case scenario involves only more than average inconvenience and embarrassment. We shall have another recession. The pound will become somewhat more worthless than it already is. We shall recover in a year or two, and continue drifting as we have. The point is to start with our own habits of life, and to make sure that we shall eventually stop drifting. That is something entirely in our own hands.