It’s funny how history repeats itself. After Germany’s defeat in WW1 the Dolchstoßlegende conspiracy theory — the idea that the German Army did not lose World War I on the battlefield but was instead betrayed by the civilians on the home front was widely believed and promulgated in right-wing circles in Germany. Accordingly, the German government leaders who signed the Armistice on November 11, 1918, were the “November Criminals”.
Now spool forward a century to contemporary Britain, where the lunatic fringe of the Tory party are preparing their very own Dolchstoßlegende. As my Observer colleague, Nick Cohen, puts it:
Patriots who shout about their love of country daily announce their hatred of every British principle that might constrain them. The rule of law and sovereignty of parliament? The Mail echoed every totalitarian movement since the Jacobins and denounced judges as “enemies of the people” for ruling that Brexit couldn’t be triggered without the approval of parliament. Academic freedom? A government whip demanded universities tell him what lecturers were teaching about Brexit. The right of MPs to follow their conscience? Liberal Tories received death threats after the Telegraph called them “mutineers” for not obeying orders and thinking for themselves. Now the civil service is having its ethics besmirched and neutrality threatened. Jacob Rees-Mogg and Steve Baker accused it of plotting to undermine Brexit by producing needlessly pessimistic forecasts. The lie was so demonstrably false even Baker had to apologise. Tellingly, Rees-Mogg did not. Unnervingly, he may be our next prime minister.
You do not have to know much history to recognise a stab-in-the-back myth in the making… So Brexit will not be defeated because the Tory right sold the British a fantasy but because judges, civil servants, saboteurs and mutineers subverted a glorious victory…
History is indeed repeating itself. But this is no farce.
LATER Simon Wren Lewis has a thoughtful blog post about one aspect of this — the way in which expert advice based on carefully-constructed models of what a post-Brexit UK economic would be like are being rubbished by the ministers who commissioned them. Wren-Lewis quotes a paragraph from an astute FT piece by Chris Giles (sadly behind a paywall) which nicely sums up the hypocrisy of this:
“Ministers now have a choice. They can opt for an honest Brexit in which they argue in public that people should pay an economic price for their policies. Or they can opt for a dishonest Brexit, pretending they have a secret plan for economic nirvana and trashing their own internal economic evidence. Ministers’ initial reaction in disowning the analysis suggests deception is the government’s central Brexit strategy. People talk about a crisis in economics. After this episode, it is the crisis in politics that should really concern us.”