Uncooperative circumstances

PGW-Ethel-Paris-Review    Tolstoy-1897-Wiki

(P. G. Wodehouse and his wife Ethel via Paris Review; Leo Tolstoy via Wikipedia)

‘Unfortunately, however, if there was one thing circumstances weren’t, it was different from what they were’, Bertie Wooster reflects with his usual keen insight into the nature of things, as he bowls along with Jeeves in the old two-seater on the way to Totleigh Towers.[1] There is too a warning from Tolstoy in Kutuzov’s reflection that, ‘With his sixty years’ experience he knew how much dependence to put upon hearsay, knew how apt people are when they want anything to arrange all the evidence so that it appears to confirm what they desire, and how ready they are in such circumstances to overlook anything that makes for the contrary.’[2]

So this is where we are. ‘We find ourselves in a fantastical place: deep in the mire of post-Brexit politics before Brexit has happened’, James Meek writes. ‘Brexit used to be about leaving the European Union. The contest for the Tory leadership [ . . . ] has been a glaring signal that quitting the EU may not be the referendum’s gravest outcome.’ And he adds that ‘the true winners in a Johnson victory are the insurgents who have worked inside and outside Parliament to make their version of the ideas propelling the Brexit cause into a ruling ethos for the nation.’[3]

Simon Heffer, noting that Amber Rudd, ‘apparently desperate to retain her cabinet seat, suddenly became reconciled to a no-deal Brexit’, comments: ‘Many former Remainers did a Rudd some time ago and decided to support Johnson, their ambition trumping anything that might hitherto have impersonated a principle.’[4] And certainly such phrases as ‘the public interest’ and ‘servants of the people’ are looking pretty outmoded these days.

We have had, today, Dominic Raab—now Foreign Secretary, it seems—claiming on the BBC that negotiating a good trade deal with the EU could be ‘much easier’ after a no deal Brexit. I’ve tried reading that slowly, quickly and upside down – but nothing really helps. (He is also busily talking up the fiction that the EU’s ‘intransigence’ has been the real obstacle to those fabled sunlit uplands, something already gleefully embraced by our sycophantic and xenophobic press.) We have, then, Monsieur Johnson lumbering towards the no-deal Brexit that his richest and most influential backers so desire. We can expect the pretence at negotiation, carefully scuppered in advance, the pained recognition that we can’t negotiate with these people, then the general election to secure a mandate to cut us free from that awful European Union, which has held us captive for so long.

This, Martin Kettle opined recently, ‘is a hard Brexit coup dressed up as politics as usual.’
https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2019/jul/25/power-brexit-boris-johnson-radical-conservative-party

‘To call this a coup is wrong’, suggests Matthew d’Ancona, on the basis that, apparently, no rules have been broken. ‘But it is certainly a hostile takeover.’
https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2019/jul/29/boris-johnson-vote-leave-eu-exit

Well, the significant number of people who have, from the beginning, seen the whole Brexit business as a right-wing coup are unlikely to have been shaken in that belief by recent events, not least the make-up of Johnson’s cabinet and some of the other figures implicated in The Project. Still, the mystery remains. There was, unnecessarily and unwisely, a referendum on staying in the European Union or leaving it. It was an advisory and non-binding referendum, narrowly won in crude numbers by those voting to leave, that total representing just over one-third of the electorate, while two of the four constituent parts of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland voted to stay in the EU. The vast majority of those who voted (and those who didn’t) knew nothing whatsoever about the European Union (surely including the majority of British MPs) and never gave it a moment’s thought from one month’s end to the next. (I gauge this by remembering just how little I myself knew – and I follow politics and have been known to study history.) Yet, three years on, it has consumed people’s lives: many Conservative Party members would willingly suffer financial damage, the loss to the union of Northern Ireland and Scotland, the destruction of their party to secure this separation. Individuals in streets and pubs and markets, microphones thrust in their faces, declare that the most important thing of all is that we should leave the EU by 31st October.

Rob-Ryan-poster

(Rob Ryan poster: https://shop.robryanstudio.com/ )

The most important thing. Not the climate crisis, the millions in deep poverty, the crises in health care, social care, education, transport, housing and the rest, the relationships with the United States, Russia, Iran but – leaving the European Union.

‘With the spectacle of madness before one’s eyes’, Lawrence Durrell once wrote, ‘one feels the odds shorten. The eclipse of reason seems such an easy affair, the grasp on sanity so provisional and insecure.’ And the conservative thinker Allan Bloom observed: ‘It may well be that a society’s greatest madness seems normal to itself.’[5]

I take some comfort from the fact that it doesn’t seem normal to me just yet.

 
References

[1] P. G. Wodehouse, The Code of the Woosters (1937), in The Jeeves Omnibus: 1 (London: Hutchinson, 1990), 217.

[2] Leo Tolstoy, War and Peace, translated by Rosemary Edmonds (Harmondsworth: Penguin Books, 1982), 1214.

[3] ‘The Two Jacobs’: James Meek on Post-Brexit Britain, in London Review of Books, 41, 15 (1 August 2019), 13-16.

[4] Simon Heffer, ‘A great betrayal’, New Statesman (26 July – 1 August 2019), 29-31.

[5] Lawrence Durrell, Monsieur: or, The Prince of Darkness (1974), in Avignon Quintet, one-volume edition (London: Faber and Faber, 2004), 25; Allan Bloom, The Closing of the American Mind (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1988), 75.

 

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