Happy Cakeist New Year?
Two days before this New Year’s Day Prime Minister Boris Johnson declared that the ‘cakeist’ Brexit agreement means that the UK can now have its cake and eat it. We can retain our sovereignty and have the benefits of free trade with European Community. Really?
As I grew up, the idea of British sovereignty was taken for granted. These days, I have come to understand that ‘British sovereignty’ is a vague idea held by those who, like teenagers wanting to leave home, believe they will just be happy if they can get their own way all the time without having to take anyone else into consideration.
These days, more than ever, it’s unrealistic to believe that a small country with an enormous population relative to its size and few inexhaustible material resources is or can be ‘independent’. A majority of voting Brits need to understand that. When the Brexit vote was taken, we were in the minority.
For things to change a majority of voters must recognise and choose leaders who have the creativity and vision and skills to build partnerships and respectful coalitions between people who are different - to build community. And in order to choose such leaders we must first value and develop new variations of what used to be seen as the characteristic British skill -compromise. These days such skills seem to be rare.
Earlier this week an article in The Observer newspaper quoted Neil MacGregor – formerly inspirational director of the National Gallery and the British Museum and now founding director of the Humboldt Forum - a collaborative venture between German federal museums. MacGregor, having grown up in post-war UK and now working in Germany had concluded that the British and Germans mean completely different things by that charged term, ‘sovereignty’. MacGregor thinks that the Germans, influenced by their own experience of extreme nationalism during the last war have developed in a different direction. “German people see the whole purpose of a political leader is to make successful alliances. The proper use of sovereignty is all about pooling it to achieve your aims...’
Looking to Germany as a guide on political thinking is not the usual British way. But the British Medical Journal claimed earlier this year that pooling sovereignty federally rather than amassing it centrally may have helped the Germans create a more effective Track and Trace system against Covid-19 than the centralised system in the UK. I am not in a position to judge the truth of such claims but they sound plausible. What I do know is that ‘pooling sovereignty to achieve your aims’ is the basis of all good inter-personal relationships’.
So, whether or not we believe that Brexit will enable us to ‘have our cake and eat it’, all of us who want our communities to remain a United Kingdom need to think seriously about how power is being shared in our country. Nationally, we need to pay continued attention to what is happening to the ‘sovereignty’ that is allegedly being re-patriated to the UK. Some were suggesting in parliament this week that the executive will gobble it up. We must ask, ‘will parliament now hold the sovereignty which it has struggled to since the Brexit vote?’ And ‘in what sense will parliament be the expression of the sovereign will of the people?’
The answer to these questions will depend, to some extent, on all of us. Unless enough of us can learn to recognise, value vote for and most of all develop and practice the skills of community, of alliance-making, of partnership, a Happy New Year will be just another fantasy!