A Leave Tantrum?

This might be the weirdest article I’ve ever written on here but I think “Leave” is throwing a collective tantrum

The Thwarted Will to Win

I stress repeatedly that much of what happens in politics is misunderstood because people lose sight of or don’t recognise the motives at work.

When you understand the motives so much more makes sense. That doesn’t mean an action or strategy will work or a statement or policy is well considered. It just means you can weigh that in the balance more successfully and better consider likely outcomes and responses.

The last couple of days, however, have defied such logic. So many things have been said or done by one side of the brexit debate that fit no motivational pattern except perhaps one – the thwarted will to win.

It is as though they are football fans whose team lost a big match. They rant at and about the referee, at and about the opposition, and about their tactics. But there is no motive there because the outcome is already over with.

What a Tantrum Looks Like

In politics we won’t see MPs, editors and campaigners throwing themselves on the floor screaming and flailing their arms about. Hopefully.

Instead we see rants and claims that become absurd. Here’s some examples:

Jacob Rees-Mogg reportedly said the Supreme Court was wrong in its judgement because of factual errors. He isn’t a lawyer. He never was one. He didn’t even study law at university. He’s just upset, like a rugby fan convinced a sin bin was technically cut short despite officials with clocks and the TV companies knowing it wasn’t.

Jeffery Cox QC launched into a blistering attack in Parliament about the immorality of Parliament. He expressed this view the day after the defeat having never expressed such a view about 800 years of political history before. That’s a bit like a football fan shouting abuse at the winning team’s fans having never cared about them before losing.

Editors at Leave EU and some newspapers started seemingly desperately rushing to besmirch and/or find dirt on the Justices. This is anger and retribution, not intimidation. The Justices already ruled despite recieving death threats. So there’s no outcome being pursued but rage being hate here. A bit like chanting “you’ll never make the tunnel”. 

So all in all this feels like a reaction to losing and an emotional response. That also seems particularly powerful an influence for a movement – leave – that has focused its credibility and legitimacy for years now on winning. 


While the desire to see method in the madness can mislead us in some cases, that does not mean all actors on the stage are equal. Three key exceptions are notable. 

First, all the ranting is not being contained very well. That’s highly unusual for a government. Defeat is bad but appearing to lose control is worse. However, in some regards letting the “troops” let of steam might help reset them for the next match. It also probably helps keep a bigger picture alignment to the wider leave population’s general desire for outrage right now. 

Secondly, Nigel Farage is better at this game than other leavers. He plays at emotions but keeps his eye calmly on prizes. So his call on Johnson to offer his resignation “as a matter of honour” and his description of the decision to prorogue as a “disaster” is noteworthy. These comments stepped away from the general “leave” tone of wild emotion against remainers or the establishment, instead putting the blame on a fellow leaver he is still at party political war with

Thirdly, Michael Gove took to the airwaves to laughably describe Johnson as a “born winner” and the “Pep Guardiola of British politics”. With so many defeats to his name even Johnson might crack up at making such a claim. But Gove is playing a different match. He wants to be party leader. Johnson was appointed because he was believed to be a winner, so Gove is both demonstrating his unwavering loyalty while putting a comparison in minds that demonstrates Johnson is definitely not delivering what the Tories paid for. 

Bigger Picture  

Events are clearly not being well co-ordinated by Downing Street. They haven’t been since the formation of the Rebel Alliance in August after which almost all strategy collapsed in favour of ever more extreme measures to just do something – anything – that could be thought of to make it go away. 

That reflects the turmoil the Tories and “leave” face right now. Polling suggests that if brexit does not happen at the end of October they will suffer badly at a subsequent election. The Conservatives might lose votes to the Brexit Party (also leavers), but they will lose seats to the rebel alliance (who might then cancel brexit). 

Their one big opportunity to avoid that – offered freely by Parliament before it was falsely prorogued – is to agree a deal with the other EU countries in the next three weeks. Of course leavers themselves would need to like whatever deal it was. That is far from certain but it is potentially the only path left for achieving brexit now, so they might hold their noses and accept an imperfect deal. 

That would save brexit, save the Conservatives at an upcoming election, and potentially even save Boris Johnson’s leadership. 

Trouble is that everyone else knows that too, and leavers know everyone else knows it too, which may explain why just another defeat this week has triggered not a rethink or a new strategy or a pull together to hold the line, but a tantrum.


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