There is just over a year to go and I feel utterly despondent. Over the weekend, some called for it to be postponed and others said that would be a betrayal. The centre cannot hold, the best lack all conviction, while the worst are full of passionate intensity, as Yeats once said at a terrible time in the history of his nation.
When I bring the subject up with my friends, they shake their heads in dismay. A malaise descends over the political life of the nation and quite possibly contributes to our dismal rating of 19th happiest country in the world. Even the United States, with all its troubles, in 18th place is happier than us.
I believe that the country took a terrible wrong turn when it voted to leave the European Union in June 2016 but that is not the point. “Winning isn’t everything” Matt Busby said. “There should be no conceit in victory and no despair in defeat.” So why do I despair?
I just do not see how we can come out of the negotiations with Brussels with any satisfactory agreement, even less with any honour. The politicians in charge mouth platitudes. They dither, deny and contradict each other in a desperate way. No one seems to have any practical solutions or any political savvy to square all the conflicting factions involved. Many are boxed into corners.
The truth slipped out in the questions that followed Theresa May’s latest speech at the Mansion House. The Prime Minister had been placatory. She had accepted there must be compromises . Then a German reporter asked she still think it was all worthwhile. After a long pause and a grimace, Theresa said that the British people had voted and she would deliver. I take her answer as a ‘no’, don’t you?
It is ironic that we have a Prime Minister leading us out of of Europe who is, in her heart, a remainer and a Leader of the Opposition whose party is edging towards Europe against his better judgement.
Politicians dismiss each new opinion and deride each new piece of research, even if they have commissioned it themselves. There was never a worse time to be an expert or a lobbyist. The never ending drip feed of reports and research that are forgotten the next day is like a slow torture.
Both parties are divided. They are failing in their duty to propose and oppose, to debate and test the issue to exhaustion in parliament. The debate on a customs union has been postponed. The Labour party avoided debating Brexit at least year’s conference because it was too divisive. They all ought to be considering what is best for the nation rather than being bound by so called ‘will of the people’.
I bemoan the overwhelming failure of political leadership. Who is going to make a film like The Darkest Hour out of this mess? There are few precedents to draw on, precious little experience in the civil service and no political majority to force through a solution. Problems are parked or hidden behind ever more obtuse terminology like “full regulatory alignment”.. I cannot believe that such intelligent people can be performing so badly abd that someone cannot come up with a clever scheme for the Irish border.
Neither do I see much sign of cross party cabals or popular protest movements emerging. Where is the march to support or the petition to sign? This is the greatest issue of our generation and we feel paralysed and unable to lift a finger of political activity. I have never felt so demoralised about national politics and have avoided the subject in this column for some months now.
In these dour times, it is too much to hope for moral leadership on other issues either. I admire Jeremy Corbyn’s measured response to the attempted assignation of Sergei and Yulia Skripal. He makes a better contribution that Gavin Williamson who tells the Russians to “go away” and “shut up”.
If I was Prime Minister, I would pull England out of the World Cup to be played in Russia this summer. The Mail and the Sun briefly touted this idea but Mrs May meekly says it is up to the governing bodies to decide. What a cop out. If we want to make an impact, we must do more than the traditional tit for tat dismissal of diplomats.
Neither, if I was Prime Minister, would I sell arms to the Saudis so that they can bomb the Yemenis. BAE Systems has acted in a corrupt and contemptible ways for years aided and abetted by royalty and ministers. It was poor judgement of those running the Great North Exhibition to approach them as a sponsor.
But defence is a major employer and politicians will not damage the economy. Neither will they put their own nest eggs at risk. Russian oligarchs donated almost £1m to the Conservative party last year. Amongst all unimportant subjects, football is by far the most important, so who would want to offend the fans on the terraces who will sooner or later head to the ballot box.
This government that will not offend anyone. As soon as there is the slightest criticism of the eminently sensible suggestion to withdraw copper coinage, the idea is dropped. If you cannot look after the pennies Prime Minister what chance of managing the pounds?
Published in Newcastle Jounral on 20th March 2018