Boris Johnson’s crude assault on parliamentary democracy has, unsurprisingly, provoked hours of interviews, comment and analysis unspooling across various screens, plus the reliably depressing vox populi, shifty Tory ministers hastily backtracking on their previous opinions and a few suited spear-carriers bleating that it was really just business as usual. Among the worst moments was a rather revolting interview, through which the Prime Minister girned and smirked and waffled his way, making it painfully obvious that he thought this whole government thing a bit of a lark. It was, I suppose, the old Bullingdon Club habit: you have a rip-roaring time and smash the place up and somebody else comes along the next day and pays for the damage. Of course, we’ll be the poor sods picking up the bill on this occasion, for decades to come.
(Vuillard, Two Seamstresses in the Workroom, 133mm x 194mm
National Galleries of Scotland, Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art)
We escaped for a while to more civilized things, catching a train to Bath to buy a few books, have coffee and cake, and look at some pictures, the small and appropriately intimate exhibition of around thirty paintings and lithographs from the earlier part of Édouard Vuillard’s career—had I forgotten or did I never know that Vuillard’s Two Seamstresses in the Workroom is tiny? Walks, blackberrying and wine can also help to stave off reminders of the state we’re in. What else is there to do? Sign the petitions, join the protests if you can, cultivate or maintain a sceptical mind. ‘The uncritical mind is a prey to credulity’, Guy Davenport once observed, ‘and without skepticism there can be no democracy.’
I notice that today is the birthday of Raymond Williams, novelist, literary critic and cultural studies scholar. I always think of Williams as a representative figure in a tradition of historical and cultural analysis of which I was almost entirely ignorant until I began a university course as a mature student, never having been exposed to it at school, nor anywhere else. Had that tradition—radical, questioning, clear-sighted—been more widely taught and more centrally positioned, we might all be in a more secure place now, with an electorate rather better-informed about some of the matters that so closely affect them.
The Bank Holiday last week reminded me of the May Bank Holiday on which we went to Clodock, the parish church of St Clydawg, some of it dating back to the 12th century, though the present tower dates from the 15th century and the interior underwent a lot of restoration in the 17th century. On one wall is a decalogue – the ten commandments –which was repainted most recently in the late 1980s, dedicated to Williams (who died in January 1988) by his wife Joyce. They’re now buried together in the new churchyard there.
In a recent column, Nesrine Malik wrote that, over the past few years, there had been many, many opportunities for Trump supporters to see exactly who and what they’d voted for: ‘There really are no more excuses. A Trump voter in 2020 is a voter who can no longer plausibly pretend, to themselves or others, that their reasons are down to economic anxiety or some “left behind” resentment.’
And in this country? Are we there yet? Three years ago, many people could reasonably claim that they were frankly lied to and more generally misled (true), that they knew next to nothing about the European Union or what ‘leaving’ would actually entail (also true). But now they do know. Yet the Conservative Party is ahead in the polls and, as John Harris comments today, ‘too much of the country remains uninterested, and plenty of other people have concluded that Johnson has done the right thing.’
Thank all the gods there are, then, for Marina Hyde: