The sun is shining. The birds are singing. The sky is a brilliant, blazing blue. And our country is in grave peril.
I’m sorry if that sounds a bit Churchillian, but these are dangerous times and oh, how we need a Churchill, or even a Tony Blair. Instead, we have the worst Prime Minister in living memory and the looming triumph of a public school populist who is trying to march the country to disaster – and looking as if he has a very good chance of getting what he wants.
I’m writing this from a tiny village in Northamptonshire. A few weeks ago, my partner swapped his half of a house in north London for a thatched cottage surrounded by fields. We’re dividing our time between the cottage and my Hackney flat. When I wake up in London, I see buses, lorries, police cars and a slightly grim parade of shops. When I wake up here, I see fields of sheep. It feels like a different world. It feels like a different England.
It’s so peaceful, and so beautiful, that I can honestly see how people who live in places like this, caught on vox pops about Brexit on TV news, say things like “oh, it will all be fine!”. Our local MP is Andrea Leadsom. The woman who didn’t know that journalists tape interviews, who thinks being “a mum” makes you more qualified for high office than someone who isn’t, and who thinks Islamophobia is an issue that should be dealt with by the Foreign Office – because Muslims in Britain must be, you know, foreign.
Andrea Leadsom seems to thinks leaving the EU without a deal will be a picnic. She is “seriously considering” a bid to succeed Theresa May as Prime Minister. And people round here love her, which is why she keeps getting elected.
Since we picked up the keys to the cottage (and I shut the front door, while emptying out the car, and had to break a window to get back in) I’ve been following Brexit slightly less obsessively than before. Up until Easter, I was following every twist and turn, but I wasn’t well on Easter day and had to pull out of that evening’s appearance on Sky News. Since then, a kind of paralysis has set in. It has become clear to me that many of my fellow citizens are blissfully unworried about the whole thing. They think we should just “get on with it”, as if “it” was a trip to the dentist and then everything would be back to normal. They think doing “it” without a deal would make it quicker and more painless.
They think we should just “get on with it”, as if “it” was a trip to the dentist and then everything would be back to normal.
Their inertia is seductive and infectious. But Brexit is not like a trip to the dentist. It has already taken up three years of government time and energy, consigning every single other issue in the country to a giant backburner. God only knows when we’ll leave, but when we do, it will be the start of a process that could go on for a generation.
Peter Ricketts, former head of the British diplomatic service and current member of the House of Lords EU select committee, said at an Institute of Government seminar over the weekend that the next phase of Brexit would make the current crisis look like “a relatively simple, straightforward affair”. Tim Durrant, co-author of the IfG’s report Negotiating Brexit, preparing for talks on the UK’s future relationship with the EU, says the forthcoming negotiations will make the negotiations to join the Common Market in the Seventies “look like a walk in the park”. The Withdrawal Agreement is 585 pages, but the final document is likely to be tens of thousands of pages. Gripping reading, I’m sure.
But Nigel Farage, and his fellow hard Brexiteers, can’t be bothered with any of that. His new Brexit party has not a single policy beyond “getting out” without a deal. And it’s going to win the European elections next week. According to the most recent poll, it’s on 34%, Labour is on 16%, the Lib Dems are on 15%, the Greens on 11% and the Tories are at fifth place, at 10%. Yup, fifth place. Change UK is set to scrape a measly 5%. By failing to understand the very first thing about strategy, and refusing to work with the Lib Dems and other Remain parties to avoid splitting the Remain vote, it doesn’t deserve any seats at all.
Even more worryingly, according to a ComRes poll at the weekend, the Brexit party is set to win 49 seats in a general election. A party with literally only one policy is set to win 49 seats in a general election. Labour, according to this poll, would have the most seats in a hung Parliament. At any other time, that ought to be good news, but perhaps not when the party is led by a Marxist who doesn’t appear to have changed his views on anything since 1973.
A party with literally only one policy is set to win 49 seats in a general election.
According to yesterday’s Sunday Times, Britain’s “super-rich” are preparing to leave the country, taking up to £1 trillion with them. It’s all very well to shriek “good riddance”, but the top 1% pay about 28% of all income tax. That’s a hell of a lot of money to lose, and someone’s going to have to pay for Corbyn’s plans to nationalise practically everything.
And let’s not forget that Jeremy Corbyn is still desperate to get a deal done, so he can get on with “fighting austerity”. The austerity caused by the Tories, that is, not the austerity caused by Brexit, which he wants. The talks have been going on for five weeks and are continuing today, but there’s no sign of a deal. The Tories won’t support anything that involves a customs union and Labour still want something that preserves “workers’ rights” while also being “Boris-proof”. Another unicorn, in other words.
Whatever they cook up, Parliament won’t vote for it. Keir Starmer and Tom Watson, still desperately trying to talk about Labour policy on Brexit while sounding reasonably sane, have made it clear that Labour MPs won’t vote for a cross-party deal without a “confirmatory vote”. Corbyn, McDonnell and the robotic Rebecca Long-Bailey are fiercely opposed to any vote except an election. Plus ca change, etc.
We are in what’s technically known as a mess. A logjam. A pickle. A disaster. Pick your word, but the situation doesn’t change.
We are in what’s technically known as a mess. A logjam. A pickle. A disaster. Pick your word, but the situation doesn’t change. While Theresa May tries to hang on long enough to “deliver” Brexit, any kind of Brexit, half her party are parading their wives, fancy new suits and egos in front of the press, hoping to take her seat when the music stops. Their narcissism is literally breath-taking. Many of these people barely know what a customs union is and they still think they can lead us out of this quagmire to a city on the hill where the streets are paved with gold.
I could weep. I do weep, actually, but I am sick, sick, sick of looking at this spectacle and feeling I can do f*** all about it. People jeer when you talk about the 1930s. I don’t know what it was like to open the newspapers then and read about the rise of the Blackshirts. I do know what it’s like to open the newspapers and read about the rise of the Brexit party, and of candidates who have praised the use of Nazi slogans, joked about paedophilia and talked about “white genocide”. We are talking about the rise of the far right, and its shift into mainstream public life. If that doesn’t remind you of the 1930s, I don’t know what does.
So forgive me if I sometimes want to look at the sunshine and sheep and forget the tragic state our country is now in. I don’t know what the hell we do now. I don’t know what the hell happens next. But I do know that we all have to vote in next week’s elections. Most of us should vote Lib Dem, as the best way to fight the Brexit party and its terrible, dangerous message. Gina Miller’s new website, RemainUnited, will tell you the best way to use your vote. In England, that seems to be by voting Lib Dem.
The sun will still shine, but please God let it shine on a country we can once again be proud of. I, for one, am sick of shame.