A WEEK IS A LONG TIME IN POLITICS
The Eyewear blog is no stranger to hyperbole - I can go over many of our past posts, as editor and chief writer, and see claims of looming disaster, downfall, or war, that never quite materialised; crisis is the loom on which a poet spins his best writing.
The past week in Britain - to be dramatic, in British history - has been different. It rendered me speechless. While there were some facebook declarations, I could not face this blog, or gain the strength to compose lines on this debacle. I have been profoundly hurt by this nasty decision. It has all been said, and at least as well by others. I think the Downfall video meme, featuring Boris Johnson, may be the best, but Jonathan Freedland, Polly Toynbee, AC Grayling, and others, have also done a good job of sketching out the horrors ahead, and the horrific causes of them. But the past week has just been plain bad for England, the UK, the world - and me personally, too.
Since last Thursday I have lost my 12 week old kitten Woody; and seen two great poets die, Sir Geoffrey Hill and Yves Bonnefoy; almost comically, the English football team lost to Iceland in a majour tournament; racism unleashed itself like the rabid pitbull it is; meanwhile the Labour party is tearing itself to pieces; and the UK's barely supported cynical plebiscite has ushered in remarkable chaos, economic, social, and political. Now the far-right in Austria and France look set to gain from a dark momentum. As poet George Szirtes reminds us, this is all very 1932.
Speaking to the eminent historian, Dr Green, recently at the London Review Bookshop, I gathered that this is the worst crisis since the 1930s in Great Britain; with more to come if as seems likely Scotland votes to leave; and rage over border and identity issues returns to the North of Ireland.
It is nonsense to feel shackled to this so-called "will of the people", as if the whistle had been blown and we now had to rush over the top to our Somme fate. There is a peculiar madness in English conservative thinking, that abides by the rules of even rigged or pernicious games. And the tragedy for us all is that the Tories who masterminded this referendum (with the help of the mendacious mountebank Farage) did see this as a game; we know this now, now that freakish Gove, loyal Iago to Boris, body-stabbed his friend; and now that we see how ill-prepared bumbling Boris was to lead his troops over the top, when the whistle went; he was an officer AWOL from his own jolly war.
A few Etonians played a game with the UK, to propel their own careers - each wanted to be prime minister, or close to the top seat. In a playbook too often compared to House of Cards, they sacrificed too many for an outcome they only marginally expected or even wished for. The result is perhaps no longer debatable - but how to proceed sure is.
The good 48% of voters who wanted to Remain have a mandate to defend a very sizeable majority of the educated youth of Britain, and the rest of us to boot: no vote that excluded majorities in NI, Scotland or London reflects a genuine UK consensus. Instead, the English heartland - mostly white, often bigoted, clearly angry, and let down by 30 years of Thatcherism and Blairism, revolted. Their explosion of disdain for reality (expertise) has led them off a cliff. Everything the Leave voters were told to expect they will now not get, not: money for the NHS, control, less immigration. It is a nightmare of bad thinking and very bad faith that only Mr Orwell could really do justice to.
This is a civil war - it may only be an Interregnum before sanity returns to the land. But Gove was our weird Cromwell, and he is every inch as cruel and driven; he is also set to fail. Soon we will have icy PM May, a Tory Remainer who is set on following this threadbare result to its unravelling extreme conclusions, like a moron in a broken funhouse. What should be done is legal: only the parliament can vote to trigger the now infamous Article 50 (rarely if ever mentioned during the referendum debates), and it need not do so, since the referendum was never binding.
Often in the West big referendums require 60% of the popular vote for major decisions; and also, when a kingdom has four nations, it might be wise, politic and polite to have a nation lock - two of the four (NI and Scotland) do not want to leave the EU - why should they have to? If Eyewear believed that a genuinely reflective, considered, informed and balanced cross-section of the entire kingdom had voted to leave the EU, despite the knife-wounds to the tapestry of our lands that would be self-inflicted, I would consent to be governed by this Tory poll.
But instead, without the liar Boris, some nasty newspapers owned by wicked billionaires whipping up jingoism and race-hate, and more lies than a lifetime of politics usually sees, this result would not have occurred; it just edged over, and even now, many Leavers admit they are mistaken. This is not a resounding, definitive call for change; it was a blunder; a one-night stand with thrilling iconoclastic punkish rebellion; a prank. England was dreaming.
Some MPs, including the Lib Dem leader, want to resist Brexit. And there is time. The UK and its people require sober, brave and strong leadership now to resist their own ruination. It is a test of character that few of our current or looming leaders seem to have. Resist Brexit. Save the UK. Empower parliament to reject Article 50's trigger. We can salvage from the wreck something almost resembling what we had... a week ago.