Nigel, Boris, Gove: a Tragi-Comedy

I’m obviously not one of Nigel Farage’s ‘ordinary, decent people’, because I voted to Remain. I don’t mind not being ‘ordinary’ – I don’t think anybody is, and regard Farage’s use of the word as patronising – but I resent the implication that I’m not decent. To cap that, I’m unlikely to get into Michael Gove’s good books, regarding myself as I do as an ‘expert’. He notoriously despises ‘expertise’. (And he a former Minister of Education! No wonder the teachers hated him.) Again, more people are experts, at one thing or another, than Gove might think. Most of the Brexiteers, for example, and a good many of the Tory Remainers, are expert liars. My own expertise – in modern British history – might not seem very useful; but it has helped me to see through Gove’s own gross errors when it comes to the versions of history he pedals, often in order to back up his political prejudices. (See

So you can see why I’m personally out of love with the Brexit leaders, and the mess they’ve dumped my country in; which is almost exactly what Gove’s ‘experts’, of course, predicted. Thank God that Boris certainly, and Gove probably, have reaped their nemeses (is that the plural? And can you ‘reap’ a nemesis?); though it would have been good – in a schadenfreude kind of way – to have watched them stay on and try to put Humpty back together again. And I fear Theresa May – who wants us to withdraw from the European Convention on Human Rights, no less – almost as much. (See

Perhaps I need to get over the idiot Nigel; but it’s difficult when he keeps coming out with ever more idiocies, embarrassing my country, and therefore by association me, before the world. The icing on the cake was when he accused most MEPs of never having done a ‘proper job in their lives’, when it turned out that all those sitting nearest to him in the chamber as he said it had had far more worthwhile jobs than he. One was a heart surgeon. (See Farage’s last job had been as a commodity broker.

I’ll be returning to the Continent again soon, acutely embarrassed by this man, who is universally scorned and vilified there, except among neo-Fascists, and who has done our national reputation, therefore, irreparable harm. Doesn’t he care about this, as a self-styled ‘patriot’? Or does he regard every criticism from a European as a mark of honour? ‘Nobody likes us and we don’t care’, as Millwall FC fans yell at football matches; the sign of the hooligan in every area of life.

I can see myself being continually quizzed by my Swedish friends on how ‘we’ could have let this happen, as I was on my last trip, even before the vote (they thought the debate was bad enough: see; and having therefore to put on a permanently humble and apologetic air. Actually they all know me better than to think I could have been an Outer, which means that their attitude to me will be one of pity, which is hard for a survivor of a once great Empire (if you know my books you’ll recognise the irony there) to stomach. I’m hoping that they’ll welcome my intention to apply for Swedish citizenship (below), thus establishing my credentials as an Inner, and not one of the 52%. But I’ll never be able to get over the national shame.

I’m sure that Farageists will dismiss this kind of criticism as simply confirming their view of Leftist intellectuals as being a race apart, out of touch with ‘real’ or ‘genuine’ working people, and even ‘smirking’ at them, as I was accused of doing in a comment on one of my posts here. ( Of course I would never do that. I know how much we ‘ordinary’ people are being misled and exploited by our own ‘elites’. (You think Nigel is an ‘ordinary bloke’ because he likes a pint of beer?) Anti-intellectualism has been a powerful force on the Right of politics everywhere recently, in the USA especially – see Thomas Frank, What’s the matter with Kansas? (2004), and Trump, of course, today – but now increasingly in the UK. It is ultimately highly dangerous, if it prevents one from using critical reason to examine prejudice and myth. It can create a climate, as it has in America, where good arguments are dismissed because they’re rational, as though reason itself were the enemy. That way lies…. well, I won’t risk invoking ‘Godwin’s Law’ again (; but you know what I mean.

This really is a terrible tragedy, and all the more so because it seems it can’t be reversed. It was a crazy thing to do: for an unpopular government at a time of great social unrest to propose a 50:50 referendum on a single issue which very few people (including me) knew much about, but which would crucially affect the rest of their lives. That was compounded by the now acknowledged mendacity of the propaganda on both sides, but mainly the Brexiteers’. One good thing about the referendum and its aftermath is that it has taught us much more about the EU; but by now it’s too late. We’re British, and invented ‘team games’, one basic rule of which is that you can’t change the rules retrospectively if the ‘wrong’ side wins, or even if the winning team can be shown to have cheated. So we have to live with it. I can go and live in Sweden. My children have the right to Irish passports, through their mother. But most of the rest of Farage’s ‘ordinary’ people have no such option. They’ll just have to live with it.

Apparently Boris’s next literary effort is going to be a biography of Shakespeare – as if there weren’t enough of them, by real ‘experts’, already. His own political career would make a good plot for a typically Shakespearean tragedy: hubris leading to nemesis. Unfortunately he’s brought his whole nation down with him, just as King Lear did. I can imagine him in later life, musing with his own Cordelia, if he has one. (I know he has daughters; I just don’t know if either of them is as sweet and honest as Cordelia.)

I’ll kneel down,

And ask of thee forgiveness: so we’ll live,

And pray, and sing, and tell old tales, and laugh

At gilded butterflies, and hear poor rogues

Talk of court news; and we’ll talk with them too,

Who loses and who wins; who’s in, who’s out;

And take upon’s the mystery of things,

As if we were God’s spies: and we’ll wear out,

In a wall’d prison, packs and sects of great ones,

That ebb and flow by the moon.

It conjures up a pretty, if pathetic picture. ‘Who loses and who wins; who’s in, who’s out’: politics as a courtly game; which is maybe how it’s taught at Eton. But it will be no comfort to the rest of us.

I’m sure Shakespeare could make much of Gove and Farage too. Probably not as two of his Fools, though the name fits; Shakespeare’s Fools are generally too wise.

About bernardporter2013

Retired academic, author, historian.
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