Has there ever been a more bewildered, uncertain time in this divided country of ours? I mean Britain (in case any readers of the American persuasion should be asking the same question of their own country) and the cause is Brexit.
I can’t think of anything more problematical in my lifetime than Brexit.
It has reduced the nature of political discourse to exchanges of insults. It gnaws away at the fabric of what we told ourselves was the last polite society on earth. None of this is merely because we are split between ‘remainers’ and ‘leavers’ but because the consequences of the electorate’s decision to get out of the European Union are only now being seen in retrospect for what they always were: dangerously unpredictable and perhaps hopelessly irresolvable.
The government is no help at all. This country’s leaders are dangerously and hopelessly clueless. And because they are, so, if we care to admit it, are the rest of us.
I was in a discussion among friends over lunch yesterday on what will happen over the next six months. We failed, with all our collected wisdom and intellectual might, to reach any kind of consensus – other than the glaringly obvious truth that anything might happen, and that the next six months will be the most interesting, exciting and potentially most devastating in living memory.
We floundered, we self-appointed titans of erudition, over all the unanswered questions. Will a deal be struck? Can a deal be struck? If so, what kind of deal – soft, hard, somewhere in between? The so-called ‘Canada’ option, for instance, now being talked up around Westminster; or the ‘Norway’ alternative, until recently regarded as unworkable. Or neither of those.
If we had been filling in a form, we would all have written, in a pathetic cop-out that belied our collective power of reason, ‘none of the above’. Brexit has done that to us. It has done it to everyone – butchers, bakers and candlestick makers. It has reduced us all to spectators at a game with rules that most of us have yet to grasp, and in some cases never will.
If ‘none of the above’ is no answer, let us reduce it to a racetrack wager: what is the betting? A second referendum, said some, without much conviction. A general election, said others, without offering any insight on exactly what that would resolve.
We even failed to agree, as the wine bottles accumulated on the table, on whether any of it actually matters – or, if it does, to what extent. Are we heading for chaos and a recession of unprecedented enormity, with potentially disastrous long-term economic and social consequences? Or will we simply ‘keep buggering’ on, as Mr. Churchill might have said – and as the English are known to do at times of crisis – confident that we shall all wake up one morning and discover that nothing really bad has happened to us after all.
And what kind of government is likely to emerge from this convoluted process that seems to be taking place with no end-game in mind on either side of the negotiating table? A Conservative administration with an inspirational new leader or a Labour one led by an unreconstructed Marxist without an original thought in his head?
The main parties are apparently running neck-and-neck in the opinion polls. That in itself ought to be remarkable, given that the Labour Party has been taken over by a group of surly apparatchiks who long to restore an economy based on the Soviet model, with talk of five-year plans, ‘commanding heights’ and the like. But not so remarkable, perhaps, given the current frantic state of conspiratorial anarchy in the ruling Conservative Party, in which Shire-dwelling bumpkins like Jacob Rees-Mogg and headline-grabbing opportunists like Boris Johnson are seriously considered leadership material.
The voters are united only in their anger at the politicians who got us into this mess in the first place, except that if truth be told it was the voters who did it, two years ago, with a shameful display of blind xenophobia aimed at the people best qualified to spark some life into a moribund economy.
Meanwhile, as the Conservatives immerse themselves in a kind of political board game of their own devising – which they hope will result, on the throw of a dice or a lucky card, the emergence of a Messiah – while Labour becomes ever more preoccupied with deciding whether the hapless Jeremy Corbyn hates Jews and endlessly debates whether anti-Zionism equates to anti-Semitism.
Historians like to write books with titles such as ‘Ten Days That Shook the World’, or ‘Five Days in May’. One of them is no doubt preparing one called ‘Six Months that …’
But six months that did what? Brought us to our senses or brought us to our knees?
To echo the title of my favourite radio panel game, “I’m sorry, I haven’t a clue.”