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Dog Days

July is usually, on Fleet Street, the start of the ‘dog days’ of summer.  But not this year.  Not even in the taprooms and coffee shops clustered around the Palace of Westminster, usually, at this time of year, the preserve of roving bands of sweat-browed tourists.   Not even in the private members clubs, where for most of the year one can hear a pin drop and in July a bead of sweat.  

As the traditional social season meanders its way through Henley and Ascot and Wimbledon, behind the scenes of boozed-up gaiety, Brexit negotiators are taking their seats for a second ‘round’ – le mot juste, I think – and cabinet ministers who weeks earlier had pledged their grateful allegiance to Theresa May skulk in  the shadows, there to plot and scheme her downfall.  And no doubt to brief journalists who would normally take their annual leave but are now assigned perpetually to circling the Westminster lagoon, where blood has been detected in the already murky political waters.

A few ministers – loyalists and plotters alike – may be preparing to slough off to Mediterranean beaches or French chateaux; neither absence nor distance these days form insuperable barriers to keeping in touch.  But telephone lines will be kept open and servers at hand, because those circumnavigating news sharks, if they are to remain interested, must be fed daily, if only chunks of chum. 

It can’t be said that the traditional summer descent into silliness has infected the Brexit talks.  But who knows?  The whole process seems to most people inexplicable anyway.  Some would trot out shambolic, if only they knew enough to say so.  Appearances can be deceptive, of course, especially in a poker game – to which in political terms Brexit may be compared, especially when much of what we observe may be far less significant than what we can’t see.  Namely, the cards, which players on both sides of the table are still hiding, far from ready to toss their money onto the table.  And even the cleverest elements of the lumpen commentariat have failed to discern how the game is likely to play out, or even whether it will finish before the building goes up in flames – as some London observers are hoping, metaphorically, now that burning buildings are in the news here.   

Former prime ministers, and some back-benchers, are now putting it about, I suspect more in hope than expectation, that since Britain now has a shaky minority government without a mandate and a lame-duck current incumbent in their former office, the government should commit now to holding a second referendum.  One has proposed, even more radically, that the government simply call the whole Brexit business off as a ghastly mistake. 

Well, the silly season may be upon us after all.

At least we are no longer hearing ‘Brexit means Brexit’ – because no one now knows, if they ever did, what exactly that means, or meant.  Nor are we being assured that the Conservatives will provide ‘strong and stable’ government, which patently, in the present circumstance, they cannot.  

Meanwhile, Mrs. May must soldier on, in thrall to a gang of Jesus Christers in Ulster, and beholden to the good manners of the three cabinet ministers identified as the most likely to succeed her: Brutus, Casca and Cassius.  I leave the reader to decide which one is the most likely to wield the final fatal stroke – or to point out that this is less a conspiracy than a case of ‘every man for himself’.  In other words, only one dagger will fall.

And through all this, Jeremy Corbyn, the Leader of the Opposition, himself supposedly a lame duck, looks on with a perpetual smile of satisfaction, having undergone a transition from chump to champion in the space of a fortnight – a prime-minister-in-waiting should the Tories lose the plot completely by allowing any one of the three current pretenders to the throne to make his move.  Beware the Ides of October, Mrs. May has been warned, that being the month of the Conservative Party conference, when games are usually afoot and dice thrown. 

The problem for her replacement, should it come to that, would be that Brexit will not have gone away, and that he – almost certainly he – would have no greater representation in Parliament than she had.  An election in such circumstances would be more rather than less likely.  An election is the last thing the Tories should hope for.  The electorate, here as in the United States, has gone doolally.  In their present condition, the voters would put Jeremy Corbyn into Downing Street just for the fun of it.  

So we trek on, in a Micawber-like trace, hoping that something will turn up: for some to prove that they were right all along; for others to save us from our manifest follies. 

A miracle, either way, would help.

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