So this is how it ends – for the country of my birth, though not of my allegiance any more. A proud history in some ways, a shameful one in others, but ‘distinguished’ in either case; sinking into sheer corruption and buffoonery; which either pride or shame would be preferable to.
Really, you can’t take this government seriously, can you? Johnson with his wet dreams about ‘global’ – even ‘galactic’ – Britain, and doing brrrm-brrrm noises and rabbiting on about Peppa Pig at a serious conference of business leaders; Rees-Mogg playing the Victorian pantomime villain; Priti Patel acting even more villainously for real; all of them filthy rich and despising the poor, but poor people voting them into power regardless (‘isn’t Boris a card?’); unbelievably incompetent in the face of the most serious pandemic to hit the world in a hundred years; alienating just about every other nation in Europe, especially our best friends (or should-be best friends) the French … what isn’t there to despise about Boris Johnson and his minions?
Yet at the moment they appear invincible. The Opposition can hardly land a blow that really hurts. That’s not entirely its fault, of course: Britain’s electoral system doesn’t play in favour of even majority oppositions if they can’t get their acts together. Forget that 80-seat Tory majority, which doesn’t reflect opinion in the country at all, as neither do the ‘populists’; and certainly doesn’t justify the extreme form of Brexit we find ourselves saddled with. (I’ve been following the current political shenanigans here in Sweden; which is a mess to be sure: a new prime minister having to resign after only nine hours in the job! But at least that reflects a real-life shenanigans in the country. Britain’s parliamentary situation clearly doesn’t.)
Nonetheless, the current Labour leadership hasn’t helped itself by undoing all the benefits it inherited from Corbyn’s time – popular enthusiasm, a growing party membership, good and really alternative social-democratic policies, a new civil form of politics – and spitefully casting the bearer of them, the most honest and honourable party leader in decades (whatever his other failings might have been) – into the outer darkness; and by failing to capitalise on the Conservatives’ obvious weaknesses.
It looks as though Boris himself might be in trouble soon (only ‘might be’ – he’s shown amazing survival skills in the past): challenged by those in his own party, and in his previously supportive Press, who think he has ‘lost his grip’ – as if he ever had it. If these joined with the Opposition parties in a vote of no confidence against him personally, or against his government, he’d be out, for sure; but that wouldn’t necessarily be the end of any Tory government. Who would lead that government is now being discussed, apparently, by Conservative malcontents; but the names emerging so far don’t inspire confidence that the new candidate would be any better. The billionaire capitalist Rishi Sunak is one. Others are the intellectually dishonest Michael Gove and the lightweight Liz Truss. Say no more.
As a historian of Britain I think I’m qualified to offer the opinion that this is the worst – most inefficient, corrupt and sheerly ludicrous – government in modern British history, without necessarily being suspected of having allowed my political prejudices – which do of course lie in the opposite direction – to get the better of me. I’m also going to suggest that in my new book, rather than pussyfooting around it, as historians tend to do when they come on to the present day. Gibbon wrote about the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire a thousand years-plus after it happened. I don’t see why I should wait that long to chronicle the Decline and Fall of Britain, in both its pride and its shame, if it’s happening so obviously today.