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Editorial: The Establishment bites back

BORIS JOHNSON’S tactics in the day-to-day jousting in Parliament are entirely consistent with his strategy which is to ramp up the toxicity of the Brexit debate, coarsen the currency of political exchange by verbal and political provocation and polarise opinion even more sharply than the unsavoury course of post-referendum politics already has.

And the hyperventilated rhetoric that meets him in Parliament, the media and social media world serves his purpose admirably.

Shadow home secretary Diane Abbott — who really is the target of abuse on a scale which make other MPs’ accounts of the harassment they receive resemble primary school playground squabbles by comparison — injected a note of plain common sense in the discussion when she told the Today Programme that politicians have been rude about each other since Victorian times.

Johnson has his eye on the latest opinion poll which shows that 61 per cent of people want Brexit done and dusted. So the conclusive result of three years of shilly shallying and serial retreats over the implementation of the referendum result have ramped up support for Brexit by a full nine points.

Grandstanding by lightweight and loudmouth MPs — both on the government benches and the opposition’s — serves Johnson’s strategy which is to keep the focus away from Labour’s policy offer for as long as possible and to poison the ground before the more even-handed rules which shape the broadcast media’s conduct of election coverage kick in.

One bizarre aspect of the present situation is the way in which that section of Remain opinion which sees the present prime minister as the incarnation of Establishment power presents itself as the bearer of insurgent values of liberal toleration.

This will come as a surprise to a mostly working-class tranche of the public which finds itself the object of derision and contempt from an entitled petty-bourgeois faction which sees the entirely rational hostility of working people to the EU as bearing the stigmata of an intellectual inferiority by which they identify their social inferiors.

By such social attitudes, the language by which it is expressed and the political instruments by which it is articulated in the public space, Boris Johnson’s strategy is served. Jo Swinson, put your hand up to the charge that your political tactics dovetail with those of Dominic Cummings.

When the Supreme Court overrules a lower court which declared Johnson’s proroguing of Parliament legal it seemed redundant to repeat the evident truth that our ruling class is divided.

There is no automatic or mechanical connection between the class composition of the judiciary and the judgements it hands down, and it is not uncommon for lower courts to be overruled.

But in this case the elegant phraseology and measured language reveals that the Establishment — by which we mean the most decisive sections of our ruling class — has intervened in a way that demonstrates its long-term aim to secure an arrangement with the European Union that changes as little as possible. This has become the business of the state and the judiciary alike.

Labour is in a position to regain the initiative only if it begins to demonstrate a unity of purpose and a disciplined language which chimes with as many sections of the people as can be reached with common-sense, practical policy proposals which address their everyday concerns.

This week’s conference began the task of putting Labour’s programme before the people. Anyone, shadow minister, backbencher, functionary or rank-and-file member who gets in the way of Labour’s message reaching the widest possible audience needs a good talking to.


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