SO HOW was it for you? Such is the sense of relief, of an end to the agony of the last three years, that we have temporarily lost sight of what might have been – that glorious ‘unfrozen moment’ in the words of Gisela Stuart, when the huge psychological leap of Brexit could have been deployed to think big and long, and overcome deep-seated problems. For Leavers, the sense of national catharthis felt when the exit poll was announced is very different from the ‘Bliss was it in that dawn to be alive’ feeling after the referendum, of huge relief rather than wonder and hope.
That is entirely understandable, of course. It is difficult even now to come to terms with the sheer scale of the betrayal by the political class. It was not just a betrayal of the referendum, the people or the country, but a betrayal of Western civilisation. That may seem rather hyperbolic; Britain often vastly overestimates its importance in the modern world, the respect in which it is held being largely based on past glories rather than present excellence. However Brexit was different. Executed with vim and vision it could have offered a template for change to an exhausted and declining West beset by very serious long-term and existential problems: drained social capital, ageing demographics and lack of civilisational self-confidence.
If you think that the Tories under Boris will even think of addressing any of that, then I have a bridge to sell you. The Conservative Party have never shown the slightest interest in the culture war, except latterly when they enthusiastically joined what they perceived to be the winning liberal side of it, and Boris himself has telegraphed several times he is perfectly happy with most aspects of the liberal settlement. In any case the fundamental smallness and selfishness of Toryism was exposed during the campaign, with its dreary and unambitious ‘get Brexit done’ message and the emphasis on defenestrating the Brexit Party, which it judged to be a potentially greater long-term threat than Marxist Labour.
What happened on Thursday was the triumph of mediocrity over catastrophe, but it doesn’t mean that catastrophe has gone away. Interpretation of the Corbyn phenomenon by the commentariat has been shallow and unimaginative, ranging from a fluke arising from Miliband’s original blunder on Labour Party voting rules to the frustration of millennials unable to get on the housing ladder and too young to remember the 1970s. All true, but there were two further factors: declining Western growth rates have seen a widespread return to the ancient mentality of life as a zero-sum game, where resources are no longer created but acquired from others. Whether expressed through class war or modern identitarian group-based ‘woke’ politics, Socialism speaks very strongly to such instincts. Labour’s revolting anti-Semitism is just the ugliest manifestation of many such antagonisms, as well as an omen for the future. On top of all that, Brexit itself unleashed a revolutionary desire for change. On the back of it all just two short years ago, Corbyn almost made it.
Well, we dodged that bullet more convincingly this time, and doubtless some, perhaps much, good will come of it. However strategically useless and self-serving the Tories may be, they know they have to deliver at least to some extent, and individual ministers have often proved highly capable and benign reformers. Assuming we escape BRINO (a big assumption) there may well be lucrative trade deals, regulatory reform and a return to reasonable economic growth – in the short term. The great concern for social conservatives is that relatively near-sighted and easy transformations will be used to plaster over the deep cracks that afflict British and Western civilisation as whole: economics and culture are deeply entwined and whatever libertarians may maintain, you simply cannot long sustain free-market capitalism without a moderate degree of social conservatism. Without a massive and sustained cultural renaissance, a long-term return to sluggish economic growth and social division is inevitable. If that happens, Corbynism or perhaps something even more sinister will return on steroids. Catastrophe has not been averted, merely postponed.