Optimistic. Positive. Bring the country together. No more dither and delay.
These were the words of the Health Secretary this morning, discussing the looming election, the first in December for nearly 100 years. When I say these were his words, what I mean, of course, is that these were the words that came out of his mouth. They weren’t his words. When Matt Hancock ditched his opposition to a no-deal Brexit and his principles to join Boris Johnson’s cabinet, he signed away his right to string together his own words. The words that come out of his mouth now are chosen by Dominic Cummings, or Lee Cain, or James Slack, or any one of the Vote Leave apparatchiks who appear to have taken over our Government and our country.
These apparatchiks, by the way, prefer not to use their own names. Dominic Cummings is the only who doesn’t seem to mind. He seems, in fact, to like his new incarnation as Devil-in-Chief at Downing Street, and puppet master to the PM. Like certain poets I used to work with, who had clearly had trouble attracting the laydeez until the word “poet” stopped the blockage and did the trick, he is loving the attention, gulping it down like a glass of Veuve Cliquot someone’s about to snatch away.
The others? Not so much. Or perhaps they’ve been forbidden to give their names by the Devil-in-Chief, in case it makes them seem less like Old Testament prophets thundering from the inner sanctum and more like – well, more like the PR men they are.
Either way, they have been rumbled by Peter Oborne, the former chief political commentator for the Daily Telegraph who is also a Daily Mail columnist. Or was until last week. In a searing piece for Open Democracy, he wrote about the “fake news” that has been pumped out of Downing Street since Johnson took over as PM. Night after night, some of the most highly paid political journalists in the country have been reporting the latest comments from “No 10” as if they were interesting contributions to a debate and not propaganda and empty threats. Journalists, as Oborne pointed out, are meant to challenge, not act as handmaidens to the powerful, particularly when the powerful lie. And at the moment the powerful seem to be lying an awful lot.
Which brings me back to Matt Hancock. “Bring the country together”? With an “optimistic” and “positive” vision?
It’s possible, of course, that Hancock really does believe the words that have been put in his mouth, in the way he believed it when he stopped saying that people would die with a no-deal Brexit, and started saying that they wouldn’t. Perhaps he thinks that a Brexit deal that a leading research institute today says would cost the country more than £70bn in 10 years really does offer a “positive” and “optimistic” vision of the country?
Perhaps he’s comparing it not with a situation where we could, you know, cling on to what we have, but to the world in Cormac McCarthy’s The Road, where pretty much the whole of humanity and civilisation has been wiped out?
Anyway, here we are. Our Prime Minister is having an election because he can’t get his Brexit deal through. Oh, hang on. Sorry. That’s not quite right. He did have a majority for his Brexit deal last week. He had a majority of 30, which is quite a lot. What he didn’t have was a majority to push through that deal in three days, so he could reach his Hallowe’en deadline. You know, the one that was “do or die”.
Let’s just remind ourselves. Boris Johnson promised that he would “get Brexit done” by 31st October. He hasn’t. He promised us a ditch, but there’s no sign of one. No deal, no ditch and he seems to be alive.
He could probably have “got it done” not long after Hallowe’en if he wanted to. He doesn’t want to because that’s not the story the PR men have dreamt up. That story is that our valiant Prime Minister, committed to the buccaneering Brexit the “British people” voted for, has been thwarted by the politicians. It’s “Parliament versus the people” and the people will decide.
“The people” could, of course, decide in a referendum. They could decide in what you might call a “people’s vote”. I was one of around a million people who marched in London last Saturday, practically begging for a “people’s vote”. Brexit is the issue that has divided the country. Brexit is the issue that has to be resolved. You can bang on about the NHS as much as you like, but Brexit will rob us of the money to fund it. The polls have consistently shown that a majority would now vote to remain in the EU. Which is why Johnson won’t let us.
The thing about the Tories is that they fight to win. Boris Johnson doesn’t care about Brexit. He knows it will wreck agriculture and manufacturing. He knows it will probably break up the United Kingdom. He has even managed to make me feel sorry for Arlene Foster, which may be his biggest achievement yet. Brexit, for him, is just a tool. As his former boss David Cameron said in his memoir, For the Record, Johnson chose to support the Leave campaign because he thought it was his best route to power. He was, and is, perfectly happy to risk the future of the nation to get it.
Jeremy Corbyn doesn’t care about winning. He likes addressing rallies. He likes meeting Palestinian leaders. He likes talking to people who agree with him. He’s tetchy with people who don’t. His main campaign strategy, he hold colleagues last week, was to start “eating more porridge”. His campaign chief, Karie Murphy, told Labour MPs that she doesn’t “know much about polling”. She wouldn’t be looking at “target seats”.
Honestly, I’m not making this up.
Jeremy Corbyn is not fit to be Prime Minister of the United Kingdom. Boris Johnson is not fit to be Prime Minister of the United Kingdom. Jo Swinson isn’t going to be Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, however many times she tells us she might.
The options currently facing us are pretty damn awful. But some are for five years and one is for the rest of our lives. If the Tories win a majority in this election, we’ll get a very hard Brexit, with a very real risk of a no-deal Brexit next year. Our Government will cut workers’ rights in order to get free trade agreements that won’t get anywhere near to making up what we’ve lost. And we won’t get those rights back.
It’s time to get tough. It’s time to get strategic. The Tories won’t get Brexit through without a clear majority. Every other scenario offers a tiny shard of hope. Who has the best chance of beating the Tory in your constituency? It doesn’t matter if you like them. It doesn’t matter if you hate them. Put a giant clothes peg on your nose and vote for them. It’s our very last chance.