Hardeep Singh Puri’s forty years of professional life as a senior diplomat, India’s permanent representative to the UN and Union Minister of State for Housing and Urban Affairs in New Delhi has given him a unique vantage point to see the fault-lines in political narratives and the ‘delusional’ idiosyncrasies of politicians.
Many democratically elected leaders of the twenty-first century have displayed streaks of recklessness, megalomania, bizarre self-obsession and political views that are difficult to characterize.
Delusional Politics studies the actions of these contemporary political leaders with the example of one of the most momentous events our times-Brexit-exposing the self-serving, poorly calculated behavior at the heart of significant governing decisions.
It traces the rise of the right-wing anti-immigration paranioa in Britain, pitted against a Prime Minister who despite his intentions failed as a leader of the Remain campaign. Puri describes Brexit as three supreme examples of delusional thinking and politics. One, calling a referendum that was not required. Two, allowing the referendum’s outcome to be shaped by the uncertainties of democratic politics without due diligence, hard work and safeguards being put in place to ensure the nation’s future. And finally, calling an election when it was not due and when the government had a comfortable majority.
Read on to find out more about the delusional politics of Brexit
A poorly calculated and casually reached decision to decide the future of a nation and its place in the world
As the story goes, Cameron had been eating pizza at O’Hare while waiting for a commercial flight home following a NATO summit. He was with his Foreign Secretary William Hague and Chief of Staff Ed Llewellyn. The conversation that ultimately led to the unravelling of the United Kingdom apparently went something like this: We have a lot of Euro-sceptics in the party. Let us smoke them out. Let us have a referendum.
Dissent within Cameron’s own party, the Conservatives, reflected poorly on the party’s leadership
Members of Cameron’s party had essentially backed the agenda of the UK Independence Party (UKIP). UKIP had, over time, reframed its identity to become the party of the ‘leftbehinds’ of the country’s economic development. Their rallying cry became the face of the growing anti-immigrant sentiment that would pull the United Kingdom out of the EU. The rebel Tories supported Brexit for economic reasons, whereas UKIP supported it, at least in its messaging, for cultural reasons, calling for the UK’s identity to be reclaimed.
Parties on the right capitalized on the blue-collar angst and anti-immigrant sentiments.
Right-wing populists maintained their economic agenda behind the scenes, while prioritizing—publicly, at least—anti-immigration. The UK Independence Party (UKIP) spearheaded this movement, with its primarily less-educated, blue-collar, white male base at its tail. Founded in 1993 during a transformational point in the UK, UKIP called its base the ‘left-behinds’ of the country’s economic growth and pledged itself as the people’s voice against the establishment that coddled the immigrants. UKIP’s base expanded in waves, most notably in the mid- 2000s, when some Eastern European countries joined the EU, bringing with them another influx of immigrants.
David Cameron failed to galvanize his youth voter base the way the pro-Brexiters captured the imagination of their own
In the 2015 referendum, the votes of Cameron’s ‘new generation’ were pivotal. Although the young people who did turn up at the booths voted in Cameron’s favour—to remain in the EU—their overall turnout was insufficient. As the Liberal Democratic leader Tim Farron put it, ‘Young people voted to remain by a considerable margin, but were outvoted.’ UKIP and the pro-Brexiters had successfully secured the older, less educated, working class votes.
David Cameron’s incredibly privileged and well-connected background made it difficult for him to combat populist sentiments
But it is undeniable that Cameron’s privileged upbringing, his confines to the upper legions of society, and his rapid-fire ascension up the political ladder detached him from the people he so earnestly desired to serve. Regardless of his intentions, Cameron was a perfectly unfit contender to combat the populist insurgency of the right-wing Eurosceptics.
The peculiar politics and character of Nigel Farage
On the other side of the battle, the Brexit campaign was led by Nigel Farage, a self-professed ‘middle-class boy from Kent’ with an arsonist tongue characteristic of a populist leader. He correctly felt the mood in parts of the country and rode the anti-immigrant tide. He tethered the resurrection of the British identity—a past-time homogeneous white identity that so many of the Leave voters yearned to return to—to the referendum. Privileged though his background is, Farage convincingly painted himself as one of the ‘left-behinds’ who his party fought for. He fostered a connection with his base that in many ways Cameron failed to do with his. Farage’s brazen and open discontent with the establishment resonated with far too many people.
In calling the general election in April 2017, Theresa May made a decision that would turn out to be superfluously tumultuous path as Cameron’s.
On 18 April 2017, in an attempt to gain more power for the Tories in preparation for the Brexit negotiations, May called for general election, which was not due until 2020.60 Polls at the time had been showing promising figures for the Conservative Party’s success, and May thought she could turn these numbers into parliamentary seats. The election, she argued, was ‘necessary to secure the strong and stable leadership the country needs to see (it) through “Brexit” and beyond’. The elections took place less than two months after May’s announcement, on 8 June 2017. The Conservatives lost their parliamentary majority, and Labour gained seats. After the embarrassing results, May then resorted to forming a new government with the Democratic Unionist Party in order to secure a governing majority.
The emerging consequences of a referendum that was won on a ‘campaign of lies’
As Inter Press Service founder Roberto Savio succinctly put it, ‘Only now the British are realizing that they voted for Brexit, on the basis of a campaign of lies. But nobody has taken on Johnson or Farage publicly, the leaders of Brexit, after Great Britain accepted to pay, as one of the many costs of divorce, at least 45 billion Euro, instead of saving 20 billion Euro, as claimed by the “Brexiters”. And there are only a few analysis on why political behaviour is more and more a sheer calculation, without any concern for truth or the good of the country.’
Delusional Politics brings to light the fact that at the heart of delusional politics is perhaps the delusional politician.