MALCOLM Tucker might have called it a “clusterf***mageddon”. Everyone said that last week’s treacherous political infighting was was like Shakespearean tragedy, but it resembled more The Thick Of It – the show producer Armando Iannucci says he can’t bring back because politics is now beyond satire. It’s just not funny any more.
The parade of vain and shallow egos squabbling amongst themselves over who should captain the respective sinking ships of Labour and the Tories has dismayed the nation. The entire Westminster political leadership, government and opposition is bereft of vision, unity, leadership or the foggiest idea of what to do about Brexit. This is Britain’s greatest crisis since the Second World War as the economy tanks and the country crashes out of the EU without a plan.The world is looking on in horrified amazement.
Crisis doesn’t get much worse than this outside wartime. Perhaps the aftermath of Britain’s departure from the gold standard during the Great Depression might come close. That geo-economic crisis led ultimately to the splitting of the Labour Party under Ramsay MacDonald in 1931. It left Britain in the hands of a bland, safety-first Tory prime minister in the shape of Stanley Baldwin, eclipsing more charismatic Tories including an ambitious journalist, Winston Churchill. Theresa May might fit the Baldwin bill.
But looking for historical parallels only serves to flatter the hollow men. These well-paid and privileged “servants of the people” have been serving only themselves; exposing their intellectual and moral bankruptcy. They don’t deserve to be seen as history-makers, even though they are making history of a sort as the worst generation of politicians Britain has ever had the misfortune to elect.
No-one escapes from clusterf***mageddon unscathed, certainly not Labour which has staged its own botched coup. But we must begin with the Tories who, after all, are supposed to be the Government – though no-one seems to have told David Cameron. The Prime Minister called the EU referendum and cannot escape his share of responsibility for the outcome. Yet, in pique, he has taken his ball away the better to show how the substitutes don’t deserve to get a kick of it.
Questioned about what the Government intends to do about article 50, the impending economic recession, trade wars, Britain’s future relations with the European Union, or the time of day, he gives the same answer: “Not my problem, ask the other lot, not listening.” This is contemptible. Certainly, the Brexiteers are culpable of winning a referendum they clearly expected to lose, but that doesn’t absolve the Prime Minister of his responsibility to run the country – the job he is paid to do.
Boris Johnson is no Winston Churchill, though as a journalist who earns £250,000 for a weekly newspaper column he has a similar knack of turning words into cash. But a history man he is not. His post-referendum article in the Daily Telegraph on Monday, essentially saying that nothing would change post-Brexit, was a masterclass in having your cake and eating it. Journalists rarely have to answer for being wrong because they can happily abandon their views in the next edition. The responsibility of the harlot and all that. But politicians can’t get away with that kind of intellectual dishonesty.
Here was a politician who had played perhaps the leading role in persuading 17 million voters that Britain should leave the European Union after 43 years. Yet he appeared to believe that free movement would continue, trade would sail on uninterrupted and that Britain could stay in the European Single Market without having to observe any of its rules. Not only had he not thought through the consequences of Brexit, he didn’t seem to be fully aware that it had happened. It was apparently this article that persuaded Tory Brexiteers that Boris’s Tim-nice-but-dim act isn’t one. He really is an incompetent opportunist – a chat show celebrity who can’t think further than his progress up the greasy pole.
This infamous newspaper column, it is said, impelled the bank clerk Brutus, Michael Gove, to plunge the knife into the man he had been supporting as the Tory heir presumptive at 9am on the morning of Boris Johnson’s leadership bid. Team Gove contacted mates in the press effectively saying Boris was unreliable, lazy, can’t keep deadlines, had poor people skills, can’t delegate, lacks orientation of arse and elbow etc. To which the immediate response was doubtless: “You mean you’ve only just noticed?”
This was a tad disingenuous by the quietly ruthless Scot who then declared his own leadership bid. As Robert Peston revealed in a leaked email from Gove to Johnson about the Daily Telegraph article on the eve of its publication, the Justice Secretary had had few quibbles about the piece, only commenting on the need to keep the Scots on side. In other words, he is just as bereft of a Brexit plan as Boris. But it gets worse.
At least Johnson has ambition, high public recognition and willingness to lead. Michael Gove has stated repeatedly since a World At One interview in 2012 that he is not equipped to be prime minister; would make a disastrous prime minister and does not want to be prime minister. He even offered at one point to sign a statement to that effect in his own blood. This would count as admirable and refreshing self-knowledge in a backbench MP, but not in someone seeking to become Prime Minister.
Which leaves us with Theresa May, the safety-first candidate, who will no doubt win, largely because she is not Boris Johnson. May is a Remain supporter who now thinks “Brexit means Brexit”; a home secretary who promised to cut immigration but didn’t, and has no known political views apart from once describing the Tories as perceived as “the nasty party”. She is the Being There candidate who wins because the Tories are in a state of nervous collapse and need to clutch the hand of someone who sounds like nurse.
Labour is also suffering a nervous breakdown. Labour MPs can’t go near a microphone without bursting into tears, like ex shadow business secretary, Angela Eagle, in her resignation interview with John Pienaar. Despite her distressed state she managed to brief the Westminster press corps that she was going to challenge Jeremy Corbyn for the leadership of the Labour Party – not a task for the faint of heart. This followed the most inept political coup in history, when 80 per cent of Labour MPs signed a motion of no confidence in their leader expecting him to fall on his sword. He didn’t.
Angela Eagle was supposed to have launched her leadership campaign on Thursday. She cancelled it, we’re told, to give Jeremy Corbyn more time to do “the decent thing”. It had nothing whatever to do with a YouGov poll on Thursday that suggested Jeremy Corbyn would beat her. Even Eagle’s Wallasey constituency Labour Party urged her to support the current leader. The Eagle was stranded.
What Labour’s hopeless conspirators don’t seem to realise is that quite a lot of people think that mild-mannered Corbyn is a rather better bet than the howling egos around him. Some 60,000 new members have joined the UK Labour in the past week and the majority, according to a party survey, support the incumbent leader. Labour now has more members even than in 1997 when the party won its last election landslide under Tony Blair. Corbyn was elected nine months ago with the largest mandate in Labour Party history.
You can’t argue with success – only you clearly can, because the Labour MPs clearly aren’t going to give up until Corbyn’s head is on a stake outside Methodist Central Hall. But the rebels lacked an executioner, and they haven’t got an Oliver Cromwell. So Corbyn staggers on, undead, leading a zombie Labour Party heading for an election it cannot possibly win.
This can’t go on, and I expect Jeremy Corbyn will stand down shortly. His position clearly is untenable. A sneaky Labour insider leaked a list of shadow cabinet posts indicating that most of them were now held by someone called Vacant – the multitasking member for nowhere. However, when he does finally go there’s likely to be a civil war in the party that will make Ramsay MacDonald look like a unity candidate.
Stands Scotland where it did? Amid the chaos, the First Minister has emerged as the most effective and competent politician in the UK, leading the only united party. The Liberal Democrats don’t count any more because they seem to have disappeared beneath the political event horizon. Unfortunately Nicola Sturgeon is a leader without a country. Unless she tries to engineer a reverse takeover and make England part of Scotland, she is condemned to remain on the sidelines of this psychodrama.
She received a decent enough welcome for her jaunt to Brussels last week including big hugs from Jean-Claude Juncker. But she knows as well as the President of the Commission that it is the UK, the member state, that is leaving the EU and Scotland as part of Britain, goes with it. Tory and Labour jeers and catcalls congealed in their throats as they eventually realised that this was precisely what the First Minister’s mission was intended to demonstrate. The only way back to Europe is through independence.
It wouldn’t be easy. Leaving the UK would involve hard choices and even a degree of sacrifice. But compared with remaining in this dysfunctional UK, with its bankrupt establishment and racially divided populace, one suspects that many Scots may now be ready to do the deed, though not until the Brexit fog has cleared. If tiny Iceland, population 330,000, can make a go of it, and produce a football team capable of defeating the wealthiest gathering of football prima donnas on the planet, surely Scotland would make a decent fist of it.
Sunday Herald 3/4/16