Richard North, 24/04/2019  

To absolutely no-one's surprise, the May/Corbyn talks have stalled, with each of the sides blaming each other for the lack of progress.

Meanwhile, Mrs May's cabinet ministers are telling the prime minister to dump the talks, while the idiot Sajid Javid, with other ministers, is calling for the Withdrawal Agreement bill to be amended to add a "time-limit" to the backstop.

Such people, it seems, have not only learnt nothing but are incapable of learning anything. They go round and round, in their own little bubbles, completely divorced from any semblance of reality, while the time and our options drain away.

Pete has written his own piece on this, pointing out the stagnation of which we are so familiar. He describes Brexit as a fever. Unable to influence events, we have to allow it to burn through and deal with the aftermath as and when it happens.

If this is how it has to be, then we might as well retreat to our bunkers and wait for a more favourable environment. When sense has returned to the land and we are able to deal with rational argument once more, perhaps we can begin to have an impact on the argument again.

But with senior politicians taking counsel from a sixteen-year-old schoolgirl, clearly the time for rationality isn't now. Somehow, I cannot imagine, for the sake of argument, Winston Churchill dropping by to take advice on his wartime priorities from a teenage "activist". We have come a long, long way from that past, and there are times when it feels as if we are now on a different planet.

The concern for the moment, though, is not only how polarised the "non-debate" has become, but how eager people are to give their unthinking support to their champions, who are defended regardless of any position they may take.

The activities of Anand Menon are a case in point. Whatever one might think about the Norway option – better described as the Efta/EEA option – public policy determination is not well-served by his casual, unprofessional approach to the subject. We have desperately needed an open, intelligent debate and, of all the things that we should have had, this has eluded us.

What is interesting, from a forensic point of view, is Menon is happy to have chirpy little exchanges with his mates, but he will never step outside his protected bubble to address real criticism. And he will always have a ready excuse why he should not.

Such people set their own rules to control their exposure to potential (and actual) critics and, as long as they can stay within their bubble, they don't have to confront their limitations and their own dishonesty. They can preen and posture, but the restricted access to their circle ensures that they can continue undisturbed.

Probably, it was always thus. I cannot recall any time or events of significance where there has been open, free or honest debate. Of those great events that I have studied closely, media coverage has always been skewed and public perception can be easily distorted and remain so – especially when governments are determined not to tell the truth.

My study of the so-called Battle of Britain was an eye-opener in that respect. If the myths surrounding such a public event can survive unchanged and largely unchallenged, then a little matter like the Brexit debate hardly presents much of a challenge. The establishment knows how to look after its own.

Recently, I have been reading yet another book about the events of WWII, this one with the title, Their Darkest Hour, by Stuart Hylton, which paints a wholly different picture of the home front to the one of common perception.

Of particular interest was the quite disgusting treatment of enemy aliens resident in this country on the outbreak of war – and especially Italians. Many of them were refugees, or had been living in the country for decades. Yet thousands were interned, in squalid conditions, on the orders of the British government. The role of MPs and the media were instructive, easily gulled and ready to believe the worst, and even prepared to promote a quite unjustified hue and cry.

This is an area where any right-minded Briton would feel ashamed, yet the nation continues to glorify our wartime heritage, with not the slightest blemish allowed to taint our perceptions. But officially sanctioned xenophobia is an ugly thing.

With that, I wonder if it is actually possible to have a real debate on an issue as complex as Brexit. It may not only be beyond the capabilities of our politicians, but of the entire nation.

There is no group anywhere that can put all the pieces together and come up with a coherent picture. We all simply stumble around in a fog of our own making until events take a hand, whence we pretend that whatever happened was planned all along. Then the history is written to make the facts fit whatever narrative is most appealing to the dominant group.

In the UK at this time, those events are closing in and, to my weary mind, there only looks to be one possible outcome. On 31 October, we will be leaving the EU in a humiliating and largely unwanted no-deal Brexit, simply because our establishment is incapable of preventing it.

When that happens, most probably, we will start to see the start of another debate – ideally the sort of debate that we should be having at the moment, only most likely it will be just as incoherent as anything that is running currently.

The trouble is there is just as easily a possibility that Mrs May presses the revoke button or, in this mad world, we could even have the EU, against all the odds, giving us another extension. There is no way of telling.

And this means that we are most certainly doomed to six months of unremitting tedium. One can quite see why the venal and entirely unserious media should get excited about the European elections – with the UK participation not as yet confirmed.

This allows them to operate at precisely the level at which they are most capable, indulging in an orgy of personality politics without having to trouble themselves with anything complicated like policy or exit strategies. They can gibber and prattle to their hearts' content, in the knowledge that their followers will be suitably entertained.

Oddly, the very last thing most people want to see is any attempt to produce workable solutions to the crisis in which we find ourselves. Even on this blog, comment is never so impassioned as when strategies are offered, with so many rushing to find fault, or declare the unworkability of whatever it is that is on the agenda.

Here again, the nation is like our politicians – the MPs in parliament. They know what they don't want, which is usually anything that they are offered, yet are too idle or superficial to explore issues which might lead to a resolution. A diet of negativity is the easy option, which saves having to commit to anything, or get off the fence and face the knowing sneers and indifference of the Menon circle.

In the nearly three years that have elapsed since the referendum, I have written – at a rough estimate – 1.3 million words – probably more than any other person on this planet, and almost certainly more than any working journalist employed by any national media operation.

Yet, despite the brutal discipline of writing an essay every night, sometimes watching the sun come up before I crawl exhausted into my bed, I don't count myself as any the wiser than when I started. Perhaps everything I have ever believed in or written about has been challenged, but the exercise has not yielded clarity.

Events will grumble on, the tedium will mount, and I will keep writing an essay every night until it's over, because that is what I promised myself I would do. But only when it's over, and then probably not until we see the elapse of many years, will one be able to take the longer, historian's perspective, and begin to understand what has been happening.

But, by then, the mice will have been at work, nibbling at the edges of the narrative, allowing the production of an account which polishes the egos of the most important players, without actually encroaching on the truth – just as we've seen with the books about the referendum campaign.

Those who differ will be frozen out of the debate, just as they are now, so as not to disturb the preferred narrative, and no one will remember the tedium which accompanied the attempts to get it right. But, at least, there will be an end. For some, sadly, it will come sooner than others.

As for the cartoon, there are only so many ways we can say, "I told you so". And if a picture is worth a thousand words, that's another thousand words I don't have to write.

comments powered by Disqus

Log in

Sign THA

The Many, Not the Few