I feel I should comment on the last few days’ major political events (in Britain), but really I have nothing new to add to the torrent of opinion and speculation that is engulfing us now. It was all so predictable – at least, after May’s attempt to prevent any debate on the terms of her ‘deal’ was stymied by the courts last year. The only thing that many of us couldn’t foresee is the extent of her dumb obstinacy; still insisting that her plan is basically the right one, after having been rejected in the Commons by 230 votes, and could get through with a few tweaks. She talks about consulting other parties in order to arrive at a ‘consensus’, but has made it clear – so far – that she won’t give an inch on any of her own ‘red lines’, including ruling out a ‘no deal’, which are there, of course, to appease the mad and (largely) Old Etonian Eurosceptics in her own party: who don’t want a deal at all, but for Britain to sail away into the glorious 19thcentury on its own. That’s where a historian should come in – and many have already come in – to prick the illusion.
At one, very general, level, the problem is simple. Large swathes of Britain have been laid waste by successive governments’ austerity policies, without – their people feel – any recognition or sympathy by Tory or Tory-lite Labour governments, and no means of effectively conveying their discontent and desperation. That’s partly due to our electoral system. They never used to bother much about Europe, until the popular tabloid press, owned by billionaire tax exiles, persuaded them, for (usually nefarious) reasons of their own, that the EU – ‘Johnny Foreigner’ – was to blame for all their woes; which of course it wasn’t, but nonetheless made a convincing scapegoat. That’s what the Brexit vote was all about. It was the first great public issue on which people were asked their opinions directly, and so could channel this feeling powerfully. (It could have been almost any other issue. It was the timing that was crucial.) But neither Brexit itself, nor any ‘tweaking’ of it, will even touch the root causes of the people’s discontent, let alone the appalling manifestations of that discontent – abuse, thuggery, racism, even a murder – which the Brexit vote either gave rise to, or brought to the surface of Britain’s political discourse.
The rational solution, of course, would be for Britain to return to the European Union and use its considerable influence there, in alliance with other Leftish protesting groups, to reform its admitted deficiencies. Most of us on the ‘Remain’ side would just love that. But that would only exacerbate people’s resentment of the ‘political establishment’, as we can see from the language employed by the tabloid press – ‘treachery’, ‘appeasement’, ‘enemies of the people’ and so on – which is almost bound to make any reasonable course of action, even short of ‘Remain’, and however rationally argued, out of the question. Which is why we’re in the dreadful position we’re in now. Jeremy Corbyn’s line, in fact, despite the current press monstering of him, to force an election so that a ‘softer’ Brexit, or even none at all, could be pursued in combination with radical social and economic policies directed at the underlying causes of the sense of abandon and neglect which fired the Brexit vote, is undoubtedly the best one. But can anyone imagine the Press lords, the Establishment, the secret State and Cambridge Analytica (or its like) ever permitting that? At the very least it’s going to be a long and bitter fight.
In the meantime I’m in a Swedish hospital; not on my own account, but accompanying Kajsa who is presently under the knife to repair a broken wrist. She slipped on the ice: or rather, ice covered with snow, slush and rain. It really is very treacherous out. I’ll be glad to get back to sunny England on Monday. That is, if they let me in after all the British political shenanigans of the last days, weeks, and indeed 2.5 years.