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Of course they're charlatans!

Disclaimer that there is no hot take lurking here. This is just a short reflection on something I've been finding strange this week: why is everyone so depressed about Brexit?

Obviously Brexit is terrible, and you might think the last few weeks have made no-deal or some other bad outcome more likely, and fair enough that people are sad about that. But what I have in mind is something closer to exasperation. It's a fed-up-and-defeated type of Brexit depression, whose target is not so much the fact that Brexit is happening as the fact that politicians on both sides are revealing themselves as dishonest, cowardly, partisan intellectual lightweights.

I'm not going to labour the explanation because you'll be familiar with the idea. Ministers, ex-ministers and shadow ministers routinely say things that suggest they don't know or care about the details of the issue they've been aggressively arguing over for three years. Backbenchers, by and large, are even worse - with the possible exception of your Ken Clarkes, who provoke an anguished kind of oh for the statesman of yore sentiment whenever they pop up. Everyone is a charlatan. It's upsetting.

This is a feeling I don't share and can't relate to because, well, of course they are! And I find this strange because I would not normally think of myself as that much of an anti-politics cynic. People who even gesture at the idea that 'the two parties are the same' infuriate me. But I am truly baffled that there are so many smart politics-watchers expressing any surprise - let alone frustration or depression - that politicians are like this. After the referendum campaign, the farcical 2016 Labour leadership challenge, moronic 2015 campaign, constantly fulminating and incoherent debates about Syria, the expenses scandal, the Iraq War... It feels to me like politics has always been irredeemably dumb and terrible and nothing about the Brexit saga is especially novel.

Anyway my point is not that I have much more insight than everyone else, or even that this view is actually right. It's just interesting - as a matter of psychology, I guess, or maybe cultural anthropology - that there's this gap.

My best candidate explanation is basically national, because among Australian politics-types I often have the opposite feeling. There's a widespread and quite intense screw-all-these-bastards mentality that leads people to weird places: I've seen serious commentators only semi-jokingly suggest there should be by-elections every weekend, and lots of people who seem to think any discussion of whether politicians' working conditions are reasonable is inherently  suspect.

It feels like the complete opposite of the British sentiment, and I guess that makes sense. The first political issue that I really cared about - and this is very common for young Australians - was refugee policy. Through the 2000s both major parties signed on to a policy that was obviously extremely cruel and, equally obviously, built entirely on cynical demagoguery about a minor issue. So to me... that's politics, baby! Then you layer on other stuff. John Howard fought the 2007 election with the argument that undoing his rollback of workers' rights would empower "union thugs", a label apparently meant to apply to people like my aunts and mum. The Liberal Party rolled its own leader in 2009 in the service of some cocktail of straight-up climate denialism and pure defence of corporate interests, the exact mix of which hasn't become clear even as it's driven Australian politics for the decade since. In 2010 the Labor Party sacked its sitting prime minister in fright at an ad campaign, funded by mining companies, which it knew was nonsensical, and subsequently watered down its mining taxation policy to the point that it literally raised no money. The refugee policy, as the increasingly single-subject nature of this website attests, has not got any less grotesque.

The other side of the coin is that British people seem to be congenitally disposed to believe that someone reasonable is in charge. I find it hard to see this as anything but an outgrowth of the class system. In the UK Boris Johnson constantly makes references to Latin and Greek classical texts, confident in the knowledge that the extreme and unrelatable privilege of his life is somehow not an electoral liability. Jacob Rees-Mogg talks about 'the wireless' and 'farthings', as if he wasn't born a decade after the farthing ceased to exist, and people eat it up.

Even outside the most grotesque end of the patrician class, British politicians speak nicely, like someone in a private school debating society; you'll often hear wistful comments from Americans or Australians about the eloquence of Westminster parliamentarians. And it's true. A posh British man is really the historical model of what a 'statesman' looks and sounds like. And posh British men still look and sound the same. So for a long time things have looked and sounded pretty good! Combine with a highly selective nostalgia for an era when wise and  responsible leaders made sure the country ticked along, and you seem to get a default belief that the government is run by people who are smart and responsible. Which would, understandably, make the whole Brexit debacle a bit of a shock.