The Brexit Party needs to find its brain and articulate a philosophy of nationhood

The Brexit Party needs to find its brain and articulate a philosophy of nationhood

In 1956 the Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev told Western ambassadors that the USSR would ‘bury’ them, prompting a mass walk-out at the Polish Embassy in Moscow. But for a long time, with Soviet manufacturing output rocketing, it seemed like he might be right.

With few intellectual backers of capitalism, Britain embraced in peacetime the great state-ownership that had been necessary during the war. All across the world, defenders of free enterprise appeared to be losing to the lure of the red flag. Western academics stepped in to provide the intellectual ballast to the fifth columnists at home as the West was trying to stem their flow abroad. The UN was forced to repel a Communist invasion in Korea and the US engaged its military in Vietnam and South America in an attempt to prevent the ‘red menace’ from spreading.

But the fortunes of the free market were turned around with the advent of Margaret Thatcher in the UK and Ronald Reagan in the US. Critically, they were bolstered by the brains of modern capitalism: Friedrich Hayek and Milton Friedman. At a Conservative Party policy meeting in the late 1970s, Thatcher apparently held up Hayek’s The Constitution of Liberty and, slamming it down on the table, declared: “This is what we believe”.

Providing the brains of the new ideological approach, the support of a rigorous academic argument was a crucial component in the successful implementation of  the privatisations and deregulation which became the hallmark of the era.

The election of Jeremy Corbyn as Labour leader and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez in the US has reminded us that hard-left politics is not dead, but there is a new ideological struggle, highlighted at one point by Theresa May, which is fast overtaking it. In 2016, at the Tory Party Conference, she lumped tax-dodging global companies along with idealistic metropolitan liberals, and gave them a blunt message:

“If you believe you’re a citizen of the world, you’re a citizen of nowhere. You don’t understand what the very word ‘citizenship’ means.”

Her words offended the jet-setting London elite but her ‘citizens of nowhere’ speech nailed her colours firmly to the mast alongside the citizens of ‘somewhere’, those who believed that a nation state should be in legal control over its own land, people and laws – the basis of the Leave argument.

Nick Timothy, who is said to have written the speech, is not an academic, but it is striking how important his ideological vision contributed to the pre-election Theresa May. When she lost the man who was frequently described as her ‘brain’, the ideological drift set in and the Civil Service were only too pleased to fill the vacuum. The Prime Minister’s Brexit plan was hijacked by the europhiles in the civil service and their collaborators in the establishment made sure her earlier vision never became a reality.

It has become a cliché to say that the Leave side failed because they stopped campaigning after the referendum. But Brexit will certainly be doomed if the intellectual argument for Nation-State Sovereignty cannot be articulated by the Brexit side. Margaret Thatcher had Hayek and Friedman, but the Brexit cause so far lacks the deep thinkers who can command the respect of left-wing and right-wing supporters to articulate a coherent vision of nationhood.

The newly-minted Brexit party must quickly forge its ideology, beyond soundbites, to present a coherent vision of an independent Britain. This should not be hard. The United Nations has consistently supported the idea of Nation-State sovereignty as the best method of promoting friendly relations between nations, and there are earlier strands that can be drawn upon, such as the world-changing, but little known, Peace of Westphalia, signed in 1648, which established the precedent that states should not interfere in each others’ domestic affairs.

At present, Nigel Farage is leading a campaign group that happens to be fielding candidates, rather than the other way around. But if it is to survive it must tap into a philosophy that can confidently define what independence means and answer knotty problems of how trade deals and foreign conflicts impact upon sovereignty. It must also unite its left-wing and right-wing supporters behind an updated, deeper and more coherent philosophy of nationhood. If it achieves all this, there’s no doubt it could bury the Conservative Party once and for all.

'Leave' needs an intellectual understanding of statehood if it is to survive