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Four Days in June

Four days to go to Referendum Day and excitement is mounting.

Well, not excitement, exactly, more a sense of impending relief that it will soon be over, this endless and demeaning campaign for the heart and sole of the nation.   Sorry, that should be soul.

Personally, I feel nothing but dread.  The opinion polls are too close to call – within the margin of error, I think is the way pollsters put it – but that means, incredibly to me, that nearly half the population takes seriously what the Brexit gang is telling it.  

This country, taking leave of its senses, has allowed itself to be whipped up into a frenzy of fear over immigration by the likes of Nigel Farage, and other stripe-suited demagogues with no representation in parliament.    

I wouldn’t trust any of the leaders of the Brexit campaign, least of all Farage, with my grandmother’s handbag, let alone entrusting them with the reigns of government. 

Can you dare to imagine a Britain outside Europe, with few allies in the world, led by a right-wing government under the premiership of the buffoonish Boris Johnson, and including in the top posts those perennial losers and haters Michael Gove, Chris Grayling and Ian Duncan Smith? 

Is this really what British voters want: a government of opportunists, plotters, political carpet-baggers and wash-ups – like IDS – hoping for one last chance to revel in revenge for past slights and hurt feelings?

I can’t believe it has come to this.  I can’t bring myself to believe that the British voters, normally such a collective tower of common sense and political acuity, will come even close to contemplating such a disaster. 

And a disaster I’m convinced it will be if Britain finds itself endlessly, tiresomely and in the end pleadingly negotiating new trade agreements with former partners that will be disinclined to be reasonable or friendly, and potential partners that will seize every opportunity to press for the deal most advantageous to them, knowing that Britain has severely restricted options.       

The Brexit team would say poppycock to that.  All along they have pooh-poohed the idea that Britain will lose much of its bargaining power in such trade talks.  But how could it not be diminished when facing a resentful European Union, an indifferent and possibly hostile United States and a predatory China?  Britain, owner of the world’s largest Navy, and the most productive factories, could once thumb its nose at the world.  We now have no navy and our factories turn out a fraction of what they once did, and many of them are foreign-owned. 

We will still have the loyal Commonwealth on our side, the Brexiteers will say, and grateful it will be to see us back once more in the ‘family’ where we belong and which we so cold-heartedly and foolishly left in the lurch.

To which I can only respond as some of our less cultured American friends might: “You gotta be shittin’ me!”

The fact is that this is a needless election.

David Cameron is guilty on two counts; of lacking the quality of leadership or will; and of playing party politics with a serious national issue.  The electorate may use this election to vent spleens about immigration, but at root it is a domestic political skirmish between opposing wings of the Conservative Party. 

Weeks before the last general election, it looked as if the Conservatives might lack enough parliamentary seats to avoid remaining in a coalition with the Liberal-Democrats.  At that point a powerful cabal of disgruntled right-wing Tory members of parliament – about sixty of them – saw their opportunity to embarrass Cameron on the EU and other issues, notably immigration. 

They demanded concessions in return for their support and Cameron, convinced that his re-election prospects were less favourable than they turned out to be, panicked and offered the referendum.  This, he must have thought, was a win-win.  If the party once more found itself in a coalition, then the referendum could be postponed indefinitely under pressure from the Liberal-Democrats.  If not, then sentiment would almost certainly be in favour of Britain remaining in the EU anyway, giving Cameron the opportunity of seeing off his opponents.    

He got the whole thing wrong – the election outcome, the power of his right-wing and the sentiment of the country – and now he may pay for it.  Whichever way the vote goes, the country will pay for it, either in a parliamentary season of renewed political in-fighting or in years of chaos and uncertainty. 

Churchill might have relished the Brexit challenge, and taken the country into battle with him.  But Boris Johnson ….?  

If the result goes the ‘wrong’ way on Thursday, then I suppose I would still rather live in a Britain run by Prime Minister Johnson than an America run by President Trump – but it will be a close-run thing.

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