ARE the Tories finally about to get it? The announcement by Michael Gove of the Tories’ new Brexit publicity campaign ‘The UK’s new start: let’s get going’
suggests that, decades after the fact, they are beginning to understand the importance of seizing the cultural narrative. As the Left has long understood, it is the dominant cultural narrative that ultimately shapes what subjects are discussed, the questions asked, the answers to them, ergo the ultimate direction of travel for society.
For some of us this is what the opportunity of Brexit was really all about: a psychological shift, a new national narrative, a can-do spirit to tackle all sorts of deep-seated problems, many of which are not linked to membership of the EU and affect the entire Western world.
This has become doubly important in the post-Covid age: although the Tories were plainly very unlucky in facing the perfect storm of a pandemic whilst preparing for Brexit, their execrable response to it has led to yet further cultural calamity. For one, the ridiculous overreaction to Covid, presenting a nasty but mostly non-fatal disease as something akin to the Black Death, has exacerbated long-established trends towards an ultra-risk-averse, feminised and conformist society with greater state control of our lives. If all that wasn’t bad enough, along comes Black Lives Matter, seizing the cultural narrative of our past with their statue-smashing iconoclasm. (A little-understood consequence – or perhaps the Left understood this very well – is how effectively the now established BLM narrative can be used to blunt the Brexit one: whenever someone mentions Brexit in the context of our great maritime trading past, you can bet the response from the Left will be ‘Ah, but slavery.’)
It follows that the government is now faced with two colossal and intertwined battles, one economic and one cultural. On the economic front, the government faces not one paradigm shift in Brexit but two, as the post-Covid world greatly accelerates existing trends to home working and with it the dawning revolution in transportation technology towards both automation (including automated flying cars) and a shift from passengers to freight. It is no longer enough to concentrate on maritime trade and initiatives such as free ports, greatly welcome though they are, but to plan for the complete rewiring of the country. Obviously full-scale infrastructure spend on these futuristic technologies is currently out of the question, but then so should be some of Boris’s grotesquely expensive ‘shovel-ready’ projects that risk leaving us with a lot of white elephants. Let Brexit Britain be far more visionary but somewhat more fiscally conservative: for instance for a fraction of the cost of HS2 we could have serious investment in pilot projects for drone vertiports, magways and the like. When it comes to transportation, government has an inevitable role in providing and regulating infrastructure. If Brexit Britain can become the best place for these futuristic transportation companies to innovate, it will leave us in a very strong position to be among the technologies’ early adopters. Eventually this would create opportunities not just in robotics and the high-value cognitive occupations of the future but also for the more practically minded ‘left behinds’ in construction, manufacturing and maintenance of these wondrous new machines.
However, to realise such gargantuan ambition first requires that the cultural battle is won – no country ever pulled itself up by its bootstraps without first believing in itself. That requires a cultural narrative big, bold and outrageous enough to fill the slough of despond and doubt we find ourselves in now. It follows that the scope of the Brexit narrative must be a universal one, applied to every aspect of national life, to drive this vast programme of renewal: We are not timid, we are not racists, but a daring, innovative, maritime people with a largely glorious past and an even more glorious future, striding out confidently into the world again. The Brexit narrative cannot be confined to bits of policy or the side issue of dry economic trade deals. To win, it must be followed with even greater ruthlessness and persistence – even fanaticism – than the Left have used hitherto to transform our society via domination of the cultural narrative. The alternative is to continue the long, slow slide into socialism and stagnation.
It will be very hard, and one must doubt the Tories’ ability or willingness to undertake it. However, the prize is very great. Black Lives Matter currently owns the narrative on our past, Covid our present, but Brexit can still win the cultural narrative for our future.