My late father would have a phrase for Britain’s present predicament: “A bugger’s muddle.”
I can’t improve on it.
We in this disunited kingdom find ourselves with a confused, or if you prefer, divided electorate, a government without a working majority – unless it does a deal with a group of religious bigots in Northern Ireland, a party itself a minority – and an impending negotiation with twenty-seven countries intent on punishing us for leaving the European Union.
There is, by the way, no discernible policy for how these talks should be conducted, or what we would like to come out of them. We talk blithely about ‘hard’ and ‘soft’ Brexits, as if discussing a plane landing, most of us, myself included, without the faintest idea what either really means, or what the implications are.
Much to the surprise of the Brexiteers, who voted for a business without having seen a business plan, Britain is no longer calling the shots on Europe. It never did. Europe does, and our former partners, needless to say, are not happy with us. We are about to find out how not happy they are.
Only Nigel Farage and a few of his oddball UKIP friends think they know, or believe that this doesn’t matter anyway. I’m told that a fair number of voters agree with them. I don’t know who they are, but apparently not many of them turned out to vote UKIP this last time out – which may or may not suggest, if it suggests anything, that the voters are looking for a more moderate stance from their negotiators. All I can say is that it’s a bit late for that. We are left to contemplate what might have happened. If UKIP had won a few parliamentary seats, it might by now be holding the balance of power. In the event, UKIP won not a
single seat. Zero. Zip. Bugger all. So, good riddance to bad rubbish.
Meanwhile, the rest of the voters, like children who have spilled something in the kitchen, look on bemused, or with an air of aggrieved shock, as if they had nothing to do with the mess they have created. In fact, they are the cause of the mess, the collective villains of the piece. They are now in denial. Denial, as my father would have said, is a river in Egypt.
We can rail against the politicians, left, right or other, but the fact is that We The People have been sending mixed signals to Westminster for years, and to ourselves. Two years ago Britain voted overwhelmingly, and surprisingly, for a supposedly unpopular austerity-minded Conservative government. The leader of that government, David Cameron, promptly gave the voters a chance to vote again, this time for or against membership of the EU. And this time, again surprisingly, the electorate divided itself more or less into two. A year later those same voters have now slapped down a Conservative government, one that endorses most of the policies of its predecessor, and in the process came within a hair’s breadth of voting in a Labour government led by an amiable bearded Marxist who a month ago was not considered suitable for driving a bus, let alone running a government. Now he is lauded not just for having run a decent campaign but as a prophet of his time, a Socialist Messiah.
As my Jewish friends in New York would say, “puhleeeeze”.
If another general election were to be called today – not such a far-fetched proposition, by the way – I for one would not be prepared to bet on the outcome. For all I know, for all anyone knows, the Liberal Democrats would surge into power, or become power-brokers. If that sounds too far-fetched to be taken seriously, so does last week’s election verdict.
Meanwhile, what the government is now seeking to do – other than survive – remains unfathomable. The government itself doesn’t know.
Equally unfathomable are the motives and aspirations of the people who voted last week, whether they voted to return the Tories to power or to turf them out. The young, we are told, pushed the result in Labour’s direction, inspired by Corbyn’s radical agenda, and no doubt marginally influenced by his promise of free tuition. The problem with that theory is that the vast majority of the voters are not young nor candidates for free tuition. So what did their elders vote for? They voted for keeping the winter fuel allowance as is, and against the government taking equity out of their houses for home care.
In short, everyone voted for a vested interest. What they did not vote for was any particular Brexit policy. There was no particular Brexit policy to vote for, or against. Anyway, the Conservative and Labour approaches to Brexit, insofar as they are known, are probably more or less in sync. If known unknowns can be in sync.
And so we beat on … but to what end?
Nobody in Westminster can say. Nor can the voters. Nor can the moon or the stars.
And so the great British ship-of-state sails majestically on, the band playing, without captain, spyglass, compass, or rudder, into iceberg-infested waters.
Wish us bon voyage. We shall need all the bon we can muster.