But the currency of experts has become devalued. It is conventional wisdom in the age of Brexit and Trump that gut instinct and heart are more powerful weapons than numerical models and rational analysis. For Mandarins, who pride themselves on dealing in the latter, this appears to be the cause of some considerable insecurity. And, given recent events, perhaps a little bit of introspection and humility wouldn’t go amiss.
Andy Haldane, the Bank of England’s chief economist gamely admitted yesterday that the Bank failed to forecast accurately the short-term impacts of the vote to Leave because it could neither predict the dynamic impacts of rate cuts and QE and – crucially – failed to anticipate that consumers would just shrug their shoulders and carry on racking up debt on the plastic regardless (though he is sticking to his longer term forecast). More damaging is the charge of Cambridge academics (experts themselves, I guess) that the economic analysis presented by experts at HM Treasury before the referendum was badly wanting, and in fact probably biased by the political demands of ministers. Ooof.
The devaluation of ‘expertise’ strikes fear into the heart of Remainers, because most experts still think Brexit is a dumb idea. As acceptance grows that Brexit means Brexit, experts are making the fall-back argument that if we must do this damn silly thing, we should at least not do it a damn silly way. In other words, soft is better than hard. Or smooth is better than chaotic. Or whatever. But Remainers sense that with every expert that quits, with every forecast that is proven wrong, with every ‘impartial’ analysis that is shown to be biased, the Brexiteers take a bit more ground in this epic struggle. This may be imagined more than real, but that doesn’t make it any less unsettling.
2. You can’t handle the post-truth
If Sir Ivan dropped a smoke grenade in reception on the way out of the door it was this: I hope you will continue to challenge ill-founded arguments and muddled thinking and that you will never be afraid to speak the truth to those in power.
For Sir Ivan the truth, based on many years of experience, is that Brexit can either be done smoothly or quickly, but it can’t be both given the challenges of getting agreement with the EU27. Brexiteers, including the Foreign Secretary, simply do not accept this truth. They think that this is no more than the dismal caution of a Brussels insider with no stomach for the fight ahead.
Remainers take this as evidence that Brexiteers are inhabitants of a Putinesque world in which nothing is true and everything is possible. As such, Remainers haven’t really put a lot of effort into understanding where Brexiteers are coming from, preferring to become indignant about how they just don’t get how the world works.
But maybe it’s the Brexiteers who do get it. Who can say who will turn out to be right and who is wrong? Perhaps taking a huge short position on the EU is the smart bet. Maybe we can get a good deal in short order. Maybe freedom of movement won’t turn out to be as non-negotiable as Angela Merkel makes out. Perhaps this nation has been too eager to take the path of least resistance. Possibly. Maybe. Perhaps. Who knows?
‘What is truth?’ asked Pilate of Jesus two thousand years ago. It’s still an apt question today. You can’t objectively disprove the claims of Brexiteers, no matter how outlandish they may seem, because as we have seen in recent months no one can predict the future. This drives Remainers nuts.
3. DeBa’athification of the Civil Service
The Sir Ivan story has also fuelled Remainer suspicions there’s a purge going on in Whitehall, which it must be said were allayed somewhat by the rapid appointment of career FCO man Sir Tim Barrow as the new Perm Rep. But how many more officials who refuse to get with the Brexit programme decide to spend more time with their DB pensions in the coming months? Governor Mark Carney – who was Rees-Mogged last year - has sort of done so, but in a less dramatic fashion by extending his tenure by the absolute minimum possible. In the longer term is this generation of top officials on its way out, possibly to be replaced by ayounger generation who may see this as the professional challenge of a lifetime?
Incidentally, CGP Grey has put another excellent video together on Rules for Rulers which is unbelievably insightful on holding and exercising power. Watch it.