In medieval times, so the mythology goes, Princes and other noble young boys would not be subject to the same beatings or other corporal punishments as commoners: too undignified for a future King, soon-to-be ruler of the nation. Instead, an identical punishment would be inflicted upon a commoner. The notion seems somewhat ill-conceived. Teaching future leaders that they themselves have impunity, and others bear the consequences, seems a little odd even for the Middle Ages.
Whether it’s true, or a story embellished by John Donne, Mark Twain and others, I don’t know. But the phrase ‘whipping-boy’ came to enter the English language to describe some unfortunate person or idea, punished for the misdeeds of another. It was a tough call whether to use ‘whipping-boy’ or ‘scapegoat’ for this article; the etymology of the goat in Leviticus would have been of similar interest.
No whipping-boy has ever been flogged quite so mercilessly as Brexit. Pound goes up? The economy’s going well. Pound goes down? Send for the whipping-boy. Someone makes a racist comment? Where has that whipping-boy gone? Jobs created? That’s the industry and hard work of business. When jobs are lost, would any business in the history of the planet admit it’s their own fault? No – they’ll blame Brexit. It has become the ready-made, catch-all excuse.
More than that, even when a business doesn’t make that excuse because it’s self-evident arrant nonsense and they have sufficient professional integrity not to do so, it seems that politicians default back to the whipping-boy anyway.
The EU-Japan Free Trade Agreement recently came into force. Japanese car manufacturers used to have to pay a 10% tariff if they built cars in Japan, so they built them in Europe to avoid the tax. Cancel the tax, cancel the incentive to build in Europe, it becomes cheaper to build in Japan.
Labour voted for that Agreement. Conservatives voted for that Agreement. The natural consequence of that is that jobs in the car industry, which faces high tariffs, are going to be lost because they’ve just made it cheaper for Japan to produce cars in Japan. As Honda says, that would have happened anyway. It’s the same reason they’re also shifting production from Turkey to Japan.
The honest sales pitch for Labour and Tories would be to say ‘this trade deal will create more jobs than it costs, and cuts prices for consumers’. They can’t do that though: they’d tacitly be accepting that they voted for job losses. Fetch the whipping-boy!
When EU emissions targets make diesel less competitive, reducing the demand for diesel cars do those same politicians have the courage of their convictions and say ‘we don’t mind Nissan job losses to fight climate change’? That’s a tough sell. There must be an easier way; this time (as they’ve consistently done since the UK didn’t join the euro), Nissan joined the politicians in calling for the whipping-boy!
With all the media coverage, you’d be forgiven for thinking that unemployment has skyrocketed since the referendum. It hasn’t. Britain has record numbers of people in work. When Rolls Royce gained a contract last week to make billions of pounds worth of aeroplane engines, news outlets barely noticed.
Every scare story about Brexit is great news for big business profit margins. A Labour politician brought out the whipping-boy to claim food prices would go up after Brexit. Up? When we could remove tariffs from imports of things we can’t grow or make ourselves? Seriously? Suddenly, the big companies think they can get away with price increases.
Those politicians who backed Remain in the referendum pledged on June 24th 2016 to accept the Leave vote. My respect for them grew; they respected democracy. Then I saw them deny their own words by working tirelessly to frustrate and undermine Brexit. My respect evaporated.
The culmination of that was Corbyn’s betrayal this week of the Manifesto upon which Labour MPs were elected. If you’ve bought defective goods in a shop, you’re entitled to a refund. But if you bought Labour’s General Election claim that they’d respect the referendum result, you’re stuck with a broken product and broken promises.
This isn’t politics. It’s a three-year temper tantrum, cynical and brutal to democracy. They continue to mercilessly flog the whipping-boy for invented slights and fake misdemeanours, hoping that if they whip hard enough they might yet kill him completely. Make no mistake about it: if they kill him, they will also kill off a nation’s waning faith in our democratic process.