“At last, I am no longer Brexit tribeless. I admit it feels both exciting and strange”
It is hard not belonging to a tribe. The sense of belonging, purpose and crusade is a daily shot of dopamine. For months, however, I have been denied such pleasures when it came to Brexit. Genuinely in the middle of the argument (a six out of ten remainer, but recognising the undemocratic nature of Brussels), I did not like the remainer/second referendum certainties of the Anna Soubry’s et al, and was cautious of the no deal utopias from the most hardcore Brexiteers.
But, at last, I am no longer Brexit tribeless. As I set out in last month’s Standpoint, I now belong to the Common Market 2.0 clan, otherwise known as ‘EFTA-ites’ or ‘Norwegians’. I admit it feels both exciting and strange. Exciting, in that I now have a common purpose and realise that this my anchor in the great Brexit debate. Strange, because I am now regularly sitting in rooms with both Tories and members of the Labour Party — something that would have been unimaginable when I was first elected in 2010. I am certain this tribe will get bigger.
Speaking of tribes, as I write, seven brave souls from Labour have resigned from their party because of what they believe to be aggressive anti-semitism, the threat to national security and the authoritarian nature of the Corbynistas. Given these seven MPs have been involved in their Labour tribe for many years, it is quite extraordinary what has occurred. Whether or not they will succeed as a new party is yet unknown, but it does show that the wind of Brexit, is bringing about dramatic changes. It may be that, in future, MPs from all parties rally together over certain issues, whether it be education, housing, Universal Credit etc. So whilst there may not be new parties, there will be new alliances between the parties. The truth is that the binary two-party system is stuck like an old, IBM mainframe computer, whilst politicos are on smartphones and Whatsapp, as well as numerous other social media apps. Whatever happens with Brexit, it is clearly a major disruptor of the body politic.
Social media has become something that MPs can’t live with, or can’t live without, and is a tool for some of the changes I have just described. It can be a sewer for trolling, but also a free way of pushing out a message to many thousands. Parliamentarians are now dopamine-addicted to numerous Whatsapp groups that are used as both a way of bringing tribes together, but also a means to get into the newspapers. The Conservative MP Whatsapp group is so leaky (perhaps a job for Pimlico Plumbers, had the owner not recently left the Conservatives) that it has become quite a good forum for press releases. I have three rules: I only put messages on there that I want the media to see, the whips to see, or I don’t mind anyone seeing. The problem is that there are so many Whatsapp groups, I sometimes send the wrong message to the wrong group, but luckily have not had my feet burned in the fire — yet.
Recently, in a cafe in Harlow, a waitress who knew me asked if she could ask a couple of questions. She said she and her husband had just bought a house with a mortgage. She was worried about the economy post-Brexit and whether or not they would be able to afford their new house. She asked me what was going to happen. I said I didn’t know, but hoped at the very last minute a deal of some kind would be signed. Whatever one’s views on Brexit, it struck me that these kind of conversations are taking place up and down the country from people worried about the uncertainty and what a no deal might bring. Speaking to others, I get the feeling that normal folk are getting more and more worried. Letters to me from small businesses suggest the same picture. There is no doubt in my mind that we have to resolve the Brexit conundrum one way or another. It is wrong that the ruling, political class has so signally failed thus far, not only to resolve Brexit, but assuage the anxieties of the British people.