Simon Kuper in the Financial Times:
https://www.ft.com/content/8d7d7e0e-871 ... a-GkFg9CYE
• Many Tories are cynics faking it. They publicly back no deal, knowing it would be a disaster, but are counting on the rest of parliament to stop it. They just want to sound hard, because they live in fear of deselection by their hard-Brexiter local parties. Tory MPs know that the job market for ex-Tory MPs is currently pretty weak.
• The corollary: there is no political advantage in grasping reality if your voters don’t. Steven Sloman, cognitive scientist at Brown University, points out that most people cannot describe the workings of a toilet. The EU and the international trade system are even trickier. Sloman says the only way to handle complex issues is therefore to listen to experts. Politicians sometimes did that, until populism came along.
• Widmerpoolism. Kenneth Widmerpool, the creation of English novelist Anthony Powell, has become a byword for the blind will to power. Educated at a school modelled on Powell’s Eton, Widmerpool builds a glittering career (including a stint as MP) on tireless manipulative infighting. Powell’s insight applies here: after correcting for birth, power goes to the people most committed to getting it.
• An inability to admit past error. If you have supported Brexit for years, you will look silly if you let new information nuance your views. Recall how Dominic Raab was mocked for confessing he “hadn’t quite understood the full extent” of the UK’s dependence on the Dover-Calais crossing for trade. Karen Bradley received similar treatment for admitting that she only discovered while Northern Ireland secretary that Northern Irish nationalists “don’t vote for unionist parties and vice versa”. It’s safer for politicians to be consistently wrong.
• If your genuine beliefs contradict reality, deny reality. Tory MP John Redwood is a fanatical Brexiter. So when he wrote that the UK’s exit bill on leaving the EU was “Zero. Nothing. Zilch”, as if Britain held all the cards, he was probably forcing himself not to see reality. A related Tory trait is what the French call volontarisme: the notion that willpower can change reality.
• Denying reality proves your fanaticism to other fanatics. Tory MP Daniel Kawczynski tweeted in February: “Britain helped to liberate half of Europe . . . No Marshall Plan for us only for Germany.” In fact, as thousands of people swiftly told him, Britain was the Plan’s largest beneficiary. Yet Kawczynski stood by his false claim for two weeks. By holding firm against reality, he signalled his loyalty to the cause.
• Laziness. In the British gentleman-dilettante tradition, many Conservative politicians leave boring detail to civil servants. Added to that is the callowness of today’s Tories, the luckiest members of the luckiest British generation in history. When you know your class will always prosper, you can afford airy gambles. Hence Cameron’s bet that a referendum would put the European issue to bed, reunite the Tory party and see off the threat from Nigel Farage.
• Stupidity and ignorance. Some people sound stupid or ignorant because they are stupid or ignorant. That could explain the Tory MP Nadine Dorries’s complaint that May’s deal would leave the UK without MEPs after Brexit; or MP Andrew Bridgen’s belief that “English” people are entitled to ask for an Irish passport (that Ireland is a forgotten British possession probably played a role too).
Ignorant people can succeed if success depends on other, unrelated qualities. Many companies promote good-looking people. The Tory party promotes articulate public schoolboys.