On Saturday I went to Chartwell. I saw the desk, and books, and clothes, and letters of the greatest leader of the twentieth century. I saw the uniforms, and robes, and velvet onesie of a big, big man who led our country through the biggest war in history, and who won that war and showed us that Britain was great. If that man had seen what had happened to our country in the past ten days, I think he would have hung his giant head in shame.
You would almost need one of the big, fat volumes he wrote to set it all down. But since blog posts are meant to be short, here’s a summary:
First, there was a referendum. That referendum was only called to calm down some very right-wing Tory MPs. It was meant to secure the reputation of a man who always thought he would be a good Prime Minister, and in many ways was a good Prime Minister, but who made one catastrophic mistake. That man had spent his whole life winning. He won the race to be leader of his party. He won the contest to be leader of the country. He won a general election and he thought he would win this.
Eight hours after the polls had closed, he resigned. Nobody had to tell him what he had lost. He had lost his job as Prime Minister, of course, but that was a job only a masochist could now want. David Cameron was calm and dignified, as he nearly always is, at least in front of the cameras, but in his wife’s face, you could see the truth. What had happened was one of the biggest disasters in British history, and it was her husband’s fault.
David Cameron may or may not, as his former henchman Steve Hilton keeps saying, be naturally sceptical of the EU. I can’t imagine many sane people wouldnt. Who could like the crazy edicts, the bloated bureaucracy, the laws that apparently meant that an endless stream of one-legged Rumanian murderers could move here, live in mansions on benefits and claim enough tax credits to build entire villages at home? Some of this stuff was mad. So-called freedom of movement was great for the metropolitan middle classes, who got cheap nannies and builders, and a lot less fun for the people who saw their wages fall. But freedom of movement was the price we paid for being in the world’s biggest trading block. It was, in fact, the price we paid for the wealth our nation enjoyed.
About three million jobs in this country are connected to the EU. Our financial services depend on it. You don’t have to like bankers to know that financial services provide one in fourteen jobs in this country and about 11% of the total tax paid. That’s about £67bn a year. That’s nearly nine times what the UK pays into the EU. The Stock Exchange predicted that 100,000 jobs would be lost in the City if we left the EU. The Treasury predicted about half a million jobs would be lost across the country.
So when Cameron heard the results of the referendum, he knew that the Project Fear he had been criticized for peddling was Project Much Better Than the Shit That’s Really About to Hit the Fan. He also knew that what he had done was quite likely to cause the collapse of the Union. Scotland voted to Remain. So did Northern Ireland. There’s now a very serious possibility that there will be giant barriers across our much-loved land. Cameron will go down in history as the man who wrecked the British economy, broke up the Union and made once Great Britain the laughing stock of the world. And all of this was written in his wife’s sweet, sad face.
Sure enough, chaos hit. The pound sank to its lowest rate for more than 30 years. HSBC said it would probably cut 1000 jobs. Morgan Stanley said it would probably move 1000 people into Europe. Siemens has put all wind power investment in the UK on hold. The governor of the Bank of England talked about “economic post-traumatic stress disorder”. The highly respected Economist Intelligence Unit predicts a 5% contraction by 2020, an 8% drop in investment, rising unemployment, falling tax revenues and public debt that will reach 100% of our national output. The Stock Exchange predicted 100,000 job losses in the City. Almost all economists are now predicting a recession.
And what happened to the people who caused this mess?
Well, one of them woke up in shock and told his wife: “Gosh. I suppose I’d better get up.” Another one, who had been telling the whole country that leaving the EU would let the sun shine in, joined him in a press conference that seemed much more like a wake. The next day, Boris Johnson went off to play cricket with an earl. The day after that, he wrote a column for the Daily Telegraph suggesting that we were now in a new Jerusalem where we would all still have access to the single market, Brits could continue to live and work in other European countries, but we would be able to pick the people who came into ours. We could, in other words, have anything we wanted, even though the rules of the EU say we can’t.
It was Boris Johnson who persuaded the nation to vote for Brexit. But Boris either didn’t understand what he was campaigning for, or didn’t believe in it, or thought he could operate under different rules than anyone else. He misled the nation. In other words, he lied. But so did everyone else.
The Brexit campaigners appeared with giant posters saying that the £350m the UK put into the EU every week (a gross figure, which is also a distortion) would be spent on the NHS. Once they won, they said it wouldn’t. They said Turkey was “set to join the EU”. Britain has a veto and it isn’t. Michael Gove said that he had “had enough of experts”. A few days later, his wife was on Facebook, begging for some “expertise”.
What happened next was almost beyond belief. Boris’s aides said he was “tired” when he wrote his column. Michael Gove suddenly decided that the friend he had known and supported for 30 years wouldn’t make a good Prime Minister and announced that he’d have a go at it himself. Boris announced that he wouldn’t stand. MPs cried. Emails were leaked. Insults were exchanged. The biggest event in British history since the Second World War turned into a spat between chums. That event, that referendum, was just part of their game, and the result was an accidental slip. Whoops, I slipped on a banana skin and broke Britain.
And is it even worth mentioning Labour? Last year, one of the worse leaders in Labour’s history lost an election, as he deserved to, and, as his parting gift to the nation, arranged for the party to be kidnapped by aliens. Nothing that has happened since then has been worth any serious attention at all. The new cult, led by an egomaniac who can barely mumble the lines he is given, has continued to enact whatever weird rituals cults enact. It has had no relevance to anyone outside that cult apart from the fact that there is now no one to speak up for the poor in this country and it doesn’t look as though there will be for many years to come. We are now in a one-party state. My MP, Diane Abbott, is a member of the cult who has made it a one-party state. I used to believe in democracy, but in democracy you’re meant to have a choice.
So here we are. My 81-year-old Swedish mother is heart-broken by the change in the country she has grown to love. My (rather English) Scottish father died some years ago and I am glad that he will not see the break up of the Union. I have always been proud to live in an open society that welcomed people who were prepared to work hard and contribute to our country and economy. In the last 10 days there has been an outpouring of racism and xenophobia. I am not proud now.
Winston Churchill saved this country from disaster. He made sure that we fought together to fight fascism and hate. His clown biographer, and his silly, silly friends, have used lies, and hate, and false promises to weaken and divide our once-great country. They have, to paraphrase that famous prayer Margaret Thatcher once quoted, brought discord where there was something like harmony. They have brought “error” instead of truth. They promised hope and brought despair. You can call this democracy if you want to. But I think Churchill would agree that it’s a tragedy and a farce.